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Author Topic: Ma Rainey & the String Players  (Read 5587 times)

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Offline CF

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Ma Rainey & the String Players
« on: October 15, 2007, 04:46:47 AM »
Ma mostly recorded with jazz bands where the sole string accompaniment would be a banjo but she did record with some great guitarists & banjoists in smaller settings including Tampa Red, Blind Blake & Papa Charlie Jackson. In circa March 1924 she did two recordings with Miles & Milas Pruitt, 'Lost Wondering Blues' & 'Dream Blues'.
'Lost Wondering Blues' is played in the key of 'F' which seems to have been a favoured key/position by the bros. & is a great key for vocalists. Milas, the guitarist, seems to be playing out of an uncapoed F position. Besides Ma the real star of the song though is Miles & his great single-string banjo playing & his periodic flailing/flaying & strumming. The arrangement is fun too with the bros. periodically jumping into double-time jaunts between the lines of the first & fourth verses & on the break & their use of stop-time in the 3rd & 5th/final verse. The stop-time gives Ma's final verse a kind of declamatory feel & really propels the song into it's climax. 'Lost Wondering' begins on the II chord (G) & the progression seems to be, loosely, F/Bb/F . . . Bb/'B'/F . . . G/C/F & on the break they seem to be slightly confused & lapse into a I IV V, &, as I said, in double time.
'Dream Blues' is a beautiful ballad blues in the key of 'B'. Milas is playing open-tuned & using a slide, sounding kinda hawaiian & slightly out of tune at times. Miles is doing more great single-string accompaniment on the banjo. The progression is standard I IV & V. There is no break at all in the song with the twins providing solid backing to what I think is one of Ma's most interesting vocals. On these earlier sessions her voice is not quite as deep as it would become, but on 'Dream Blues' especially she sounds quite youthful & even vulnerable. This is an interesting song that I could hear in Jimmie Rodgers' repertoire.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2007, 10:05:39 AM by cheapfeet »
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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2007, 11:13:25 AM »
As an aside for those unaware, the release was advertised in the Chicago Defender of 7 June 1924 as a "souvenir record" followed by the legend:

"The famous Mother of the Blues doesn't want you to ever forget her?that's how much she loves her friends! So we put her picture on her latest record, 'Dream Blues.' On the other side is 'Lost Wandering Blues' by 'Ma.' Accompaniments by Pruitt Twins on those guitars that made Kansas City famous.... This is the first time, to our knowledge, that any artist's picture has ever appeared on a record. Paramount is always first with the features."

Ah, they don't write 'em like that anymore! ;D

Offline CF

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2007, 11:23:55 AM »
That's great Bunker, thanks for that. I may have seen that label somewhere . . .

In circa August 1924 Ma recorded two songs with guitar accompaniment. Who these guitarists might be is unknown but one of the two on the first song of the session, 'Shave 'Em Dry', is assumed to be Milas Pruitt. To me the playing on these two tunes is very reminiscent of Leadbelly's style, in fact it may even be a 12 string 'Milas' is using. I say Leadbelly because that is my reference to this earlier style of guitar playing which is rather like piano accompaniment, & even like banjo-style in the attack of the notes. It is a very busy & exciting style & I almost wonder if a pick as opposed to fingers or finger-picks were used . . .? 
'Shave 'Em Dry' is in the key of 'Eb', the guitar tuned down a whole step to 'D' with 'Milas' playing out of an F chord I believe. The second guitarist is barely audible but if tuned down to 'D' & capoed up to the 5th fret playing out of a 'C' position is doing a lot bending on the 'B' string . . . or possibly capoed on the first fret & doing octave bends out of an 'E' position (a la' Patton in 'Pony' & etc.) & the same if tuned down to 'Eb' & uncapoed. The progression is I . . . I/VI/II/V/I/VI/II/V or (in chord position) F . . . F/D/G/C/F/D/G/C . . . (the VI or the 'D' sometimes not being played) with 'Milas' doing great runs out of that 'F' position. There is a descending note over the first chord, in the key of 'Eb' . . . C#/C/B (or, out the 'F' position, F. . .Eb/D/C#) & the second guitarist seems to be playing them as chords with 'Milas' picking the introductory riff under them. Ma is in her usual fine form with what is an uncharacteristically brisk pace for her recorded work. 'Milas' ends the song on the C# note (first fret G string) much like Leadbelly ended songs like 'Roberta' (also in 'F' position). 
 
« Last Edit: October 16, 2007, 11:25:06 AM by Cheapfeet »
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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2007, 11:42:39 AM »
That's great Bunker, thanks for that. I may have seen that label somewhere .
Lord knows how this is gonna reproduce but here goes...

Cooljack

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2007, 12:20:42 PM »
Im not much of a Ma Rainey fan personally, though I've not listened to much but what I have listened to is her work with Papa Charlie jackson and I wasn't that fond of it overall.

Offline CF

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2007, 12:52:01 PM »
Thanks again Bunker . . . not a great likeness is it? CJ, Ma's stuff is certainly not for everyone but I would suggest you try some of her better sides with a full band. Obviously, this is some 'old-fashioned' stuff that not a lot of prewar fans, especially guitar-centric listeners, warm up to, part of the reason being there hasn't been as much celebratory material written about them & partly for aesthetic reasons. Also, Ma wasn't recorded especially well so I think you have to be a sympathetic & curious listener to hear what's great in her recordings. My intiation into prewar blues included men-with-guitars blues & classic female blues & I was a fan of both right off the bat. Perhaps not your cup of tea . . . bully for you  ;D

'Farewell Daddy Blues' was recorded circa August 1924 with possibly Milas Pruitt on sole guitar accompaniment again & is in the key of 'Ab'. Again, he may be playing a 12 string . . . 'Milas' is probably tuned down half a step & playing an 'A' chord with a I/V/I/I/IV/IV/I/VI#/II/V/I progression or A/E/A/A/D/D/A/F#/B/E/A/A [See Frankie response below that song is played in 'D' position & video demonstration]. The licks are centered on the bass strings & are pretty tricky & as I said earlier this is definitely an older style of guitar playing that has not caught on with revivalists so much. I am not very knowledgable about post-war country blues playing but I can't think of anybody who rejuvinated this approach to the guitar . . . the closest assimilations would be Leadbelly's style & even his feel & drive are different, certainly more 'bluesy' & less 'vaudeville' sounding than this, if that's the right description. As I said earlier this type of playing has a single-string banjo style to it. There are no breaks in the tune & 'Milas' seems caught off guard by the ending & kinda stumbles to a finish. Ma is great as usual.

  
« Last Edit: August 01, 2011, 01:11:47 PM by cheapfeet »
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Offline Chezztone

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2007, 06:12:26 PM »
Aw, sure, Ma Rainey is "for everybody" if anybody ever was! She is one of the all-time greats of American music. Among her many other talents (singing, performing, bandleading, songwriting etc.), she fronted one of the greatest, weirdest-but-best jug bands ever on some of her material. At least check that out, if you have any interest in jug bands, even if you think you are not a fan of this superb artist. Cheers, SC

Offline CF

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2007, 08:24:22 AM »
Hey Chezz, I of course agree with your assessment of Ma's music but there would be a lot of people, even Blues fans, who do not find her so impressive. Their loss I say.
The pairing of Ma Rainey with Blind Blake is a kind of prewar blues nerd's dream. Too bad Paramount had to be the company that recorded these momentus ocassions. In circa November 1926 Ma recorded 'Morning Hour Blues' with Jimmy Blythe on piano & Mr. Blake on guitar. Blake is basically inaudible on the entire track with only his characteristic bass popping out of the mix every so often. Blake is probably playing out of a G position, tuned down a half step in the key of F#.
Their next meeting in circa December 1926 was better miced with Blake's guitar more in the forefront. Ma & Blake are joined by a violinist, possibly Leroy Pickett who played & recorded with pianist-bandleader-arranger (& Canadian!) Tiny Parham. 'Little low Mama Blues' is in C standard with Blake playing in C position. There is a nice interplay between Blake's punchy & inventive rhythm & 'Pickett's' languid violin lines. 'Pickett' was no bluesman but his sentimental style works against Blake's solid rhythm & Ma's dirge

'I'm gonna build me a scaffold, papa to hang myself (2)
Can't get the man I love, don't want nobody else'

At one point Blake unisons 'Pickett's' long lines with a fast treble run played on the E & B strings, sounding much like a violin himself.
'Grievin' Hearted Blues' begins almost like a pop ballad, reminiscent of say 'Harbour Lights' & then turns into a kind of I/V/I/IV/II/V/I blues in the key of G# (Blake in G position capoed at first fret). Blake employs several of his tricks, double-time & syncopation between Ma's vocal lines, with 'Pickett' swimming anonymously but effectively in the background. Ma is uniformly great if a bit, well, uniform. She doesn't seem to be as inspired by this accompaniment as she seems to have been with the Pruitts . . . or perhaps it's the material. Those interested in hearing Blake accompany a vocalist should hear his great sides with Leola Wilson.     
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Offline Richard

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2007, 03:06:50 PM »
I have always liked Ma and the like, they must have had heap big powerful voices to do a tent show with no amplification.

I started looking her up in the jazzers bible ( Rust ) and was intrigued to see that on three tracks somebody plays musical saw   :P "Down inthe basement",  "Sissy Blues" or "Broken Soul Blues" ... I don't think I have them so it anybody does lets hear that saw!
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2007, 11:33:26 AM »
"Sissy Blues" is about her man leaving her for another man. The lyric I've transcribed below but would probably fall foul of the 21 century politically correct brigade but I think it's a hoot. As for the musical saw, it insinuates itself everywhere and gives me a pain in the ear but I'm usually in the minority in this matter  ;D :

I shimmied last night, the night before,
I'm going home tonight, I won't shimmy no more, ah

Chorus:
Hello, Central, it's 'bout to run me wild,
Can I get that number, or will I have to wait awhile?

I dreamed last night I was far from harm,
Woke up and found my man in a sissy's arms;

Chorus.

Some are young, some are old,
My man says sissies got good jelly roll;

Chorus.

My man's got a sissy, his name is Miss Kate,
He shook that thing like jelly on a plate;

Chorus.

Now all the people ask me why I'm all alone,
A sissy shook that thing and took my man from home;

Chorus.

The other titles with saw (sore?) accompaniment are more "run-of-the-mill".

Offline Richard

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #10 on: October 26, 2007, 01:52:56 PM »
BH  ... is an mp3 a bit advanced !!

Do you think it's meant to be another man? I know Sissy man was a term used, but all the lyrics seem to refer to a female...?
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2007, 11:57:56 PM »
BH  ... is an mp3 a bit advanced !!
He, he. It is in my case. 99.9% of all my blues is vinyl and I haven't the inclination to acquire said technology to create such. mp3s are not a problem with the limited number of CDs I own (1,000ish) but they are mainly gap filling the vinyl and rarely get played!  Antediluvian? Me? Nah! ;D

Offline dj

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #12 on: October 27, 2007, 05:58:25 AM »
Quote
Do you think it's meant to be another man? I know Sissy man was a term used, but all the lyrics seem to refer to a female...?

"My man's got a sissy, his name is Miss Kate,
He shook that thing like jelly on a plate"

Sounds like a transvestite to me.

Quote
...the limited number of CDs I own (1,000ish)...

Gee, and I thought my CD collection was pathetically small!   :P

Offline CF

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2007, 06:37:48 AM »
Richard I've been trying to upload 'Down In The Basement' which features the mystery sawist & is, I think, more interesting musically than the other 2 saw songs but for some reason it ain't working . . . taking too long or the file is too large & I've got it as small as I can . . . sorry
« Last Edit: October 27, 2007, 07:08:43 AM by cheapfeet »
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Offline Richard

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Re: Ma Rainey & the String Players
« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2007, 01:02:55 PM »
dj - Well the thought was there, thanks for the try, I've only got her on LP.

Sorry my fault about the (Tranny !) I misread the lyrics earlier, very unlike me  ::)

And BH all those CDs and LPs good for you :)  an old friend who collects jazz 78 has had to have the floors of his house reinforced  both up and downstairs to take the weight of the shellac .. what a way to go  :P   
(That's enough of that. Ed)

 


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