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Author Topic: Notable Omissions  (Read 12047 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Notable Omissions
« on: December 06, 2007, 10:05:28 AM »
Hi all,
For some time, I've been thinking about tunings/positions that various of the great Country Blues players did NOT record any numbers in.  What sparked the thought, I think, was when frankie noted in his listing of keys/positions for Blind Lemon's recordings that Lemon never recorded a piece played out of D position in standard tuning.  This is intriguing, for a player of Lemon's skills and sophistication obviously had the knowledge necessary to play a song in D, standard tuning; after all, any number of his songs contain the chords, D, G and A, needed to play a conventional 12-bar blues in D, standard tuning.
This got me thinking as to whether there were notable omissions in the keys/tunings played in by other Country Blues musicians.  From logic's standpoint, for the omission of a tuning or position to be notable, the player in question must have recorded enough material in different tunings/positions to have demonstrated the ability to play in several tunings or positions.  Thus, to say that it is notable that Rubin Lacy never recorded in C in standard tuning or that it is surprising Garfield Akers never recorded in E in standard tuning is a bit of a stretch, since Rubin Lacy only recorded 2 songs, both in E position, standard tuning and Akers only recorded four sides, all in A position, standard tuning.  It stands to reason that players who recorded such a small number of sides, all in one key, would have significant gaps in the tunings/positions in which they were recorded.
If we say arbitrarily that for the omission of a tuning/position from a player's recorded works to be notable, the player must have recorded in at least four different tunings/positions, the findings become more interesting and telling, for they show gaps in the playing of fundamentally versatile players.  If we look at Charlie Patton, and his tunings/positions recorded in, with examples for each tuning/position, we find the following:
   * Spanish tuning--"Screamin' and Hollerin' The Blues", many, many more
   * Vestapol tuning--"Spoonful Blues", the only one
   * C, standard tuning--"Down The Dirt Road Blues", and several more
   * F, standard tuning--"Hang It On The Wall", one other different version
   * E, standard tuning--"Pony Blues", many, many more
   * A, standard tuning--"Devil Sent The Rain", the only one
Notable omissions?  Charlie Patton never recorded a single number played in either D position or G position in standard tuning.  As with Lemon, the knowledge to record in these positions was there.  Did he reject the positions on the basis of not being singing-friendly?  It's hard to believe that is the reason, based on how much the keys vary on his recordings. 

Of course, we will never know the answer as to why Charlie and Lemon avoided the playing positions they avoided, but being aware of such notable omissions can make lines of influence between players clearer.  A Mississippi musician from around the same area as Charlie and a contemporary of his who recorded a fair amount relative to the size of his recorded repertoire in both A standard tuning and G standard tuning, was Ishmon Bracey, with several songs played in those positions.  By the time we get to a Mississippi player of the next generation from the same area, Tommy McClennan, we find that a heavy portion of his repertoire was played in G and D in standard tuning.  A strong Patton influence at work here?  It sure doesn't look like it!

If anyone would care to keep this particular ball rolling or finds this interesting (I'm not sure that anyone else will) if you'd like to format the information on any musician you select as I did Patton's, with a listing of the tunings/positions the player recorded in and examples of songs for each tuning/position, we might get at information that I don't believe has ever been compiled before, as well as instances in which, possibly, recordings brought playing in a different tuning/position into areas where that tuning/position had never been employed in the past.  We may be able to identify musical innovators, too.
All best,
Johnm
   
« Last Edit: December 06, 2007, 10:08:51 AM by Johnm »

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2007, 10:50:14 AM »
Interesting:

Well, how about Blind Blake. Certainly a wide recorded repertoire.

C position: tons! "Early Morning Blues", "Diddie Wa Diddie" etc.
D position: only two that I can think of, "Chump Man Blues" and "Bad Feeling Blues".
E position: Only one that I can think of, his last recorded tune "Depression has Gone From Me", an obvious "Sittin' On Top of the World" cover.
F position:"Search Warrant Blues", "Notoriety Woman", others
G position: "Come on Boys, Lets Do That...", Lots of others
A position:  "One Time Blues", "Terrible Murder Blues"
Vestapol:  only two I can think of, "Police Dog Blues", "Down the Country Blues"
Spanish: none?

Could it be that, because Blake favored raggy blues that the shied away from the "harder" blues keys (E, Spanish for example) because it is harder in those positions to play the raggy chords.

Alex

Note: edited to reflect Andrew's comments below
« Last Edit: December 07, 2007, 09:29:45 AM by GhostRider »

Offline CF

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2007, 11:06:56 AM »
D position songs have been on my mind as of late as i've realized that I play virtually none. When I first began teaching myself guitar I played several songs in D position. This was before I learned about alt. tunings & capoing. A lot of songs I would have played in D before I just capo up two & play out of a C chord or etc. I do play several Skip James songs in a D position ('Cypress Grove', 'Hard Time Killing Floor') because I do them in standard tuning which I understand Skip did not . . . I find this thread interesting if only to see how many or little prewar blues were played out of a D chord. 
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline CF

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2007, 12:01:50 PM »
Blind Boy Fuller seems to have played out of most chords:

C position: 'Baby, I Don't Have to Worry', 'Baby, You Gotta Change Your Mind' & lots more
A position: 'Rattlesnakin' Daddy', 'Weeping Willow', 'Cat Man' & lots more
E position: 'Ain't It A Cryin' Shame', 'Bus Rider Blues', & lots more . . .
G position: 'Mama Let Me Lay It On You', 'Shaggy Like A Bear' & many others . . .
Vestapol at different keys: 'Homesick & Lonesome', 'I'm A Stranger Here' & 'Little Woman You're So Sweet' etc . . .
& even my elusive D position: 'Working Man Blues', 'Painful Hearted Man' etc.
I can't think of any in F position tunes tho' which I guess is not uncommon.
* Did Rev. Gary play much out of a D position?
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2007, 12:40:28 PM »
Well, how about Blind Blake. Certainly a wide recorded repertoire.

C position: tons! "Early Morning Blues", "Diddie Wa Diddie" etc.
D position: only two that I ,  can think of, "Chump Man Blues" and "Bad Feeling Blues".
E position: Only one that I can think of, his last recorded tune "Depression has Gone From Me", an obvious :Sittin' On Top of the World" cover.

- C position: Yes, Blake is certainly dominated by tunes in C and G position. I've actually started a Blake keys/position file which I could post in a separate thread for help with completion.
- D position: Chump Man and Bad Feeling Blues are in dropped D, no? If we can nitpick.  ;D Still qualifies as D position in my book, of course. You can add "Back Biting Bee Blues" as another dropped D sideman session for Blake. I'm not a huge fan of the records with Blake as accompanist, mainly because I'm not crazy about the women singers he accompanies. But Back Biting Blues with Leola Wilson is a really good one IMO.
- E position: I think Cherry Hill Blues is in E position. Granted, it's again only accompaniment by Blake as sideman, with vocal by Irene Scruggs.

Quote
G position: "Come on Boys, Lets Do That...", I'm sure lots of others
A position: "Wabash Rag", "One Time Blues"

Wabash Rag is in C position.

Another one I think is in A position is "Terrible Murder Blues", accompaniment by Blake to vocal by Bertha Henderson. And I'm wondering if "Keep It Home" is in A position. A position seems less surefooted territory for Blake. His accompaniments are, relatively speaking, kept fairly simple.

edited to add: Blake also played several songs in F - Search Warrant Blues, Notoriety Woman, Doing a Stretch, and Fighting theJug.

So yes, Spanish is the omission here. This is a little surprising.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2007, 12:51:49 PM by andrew »

Offline frankie

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2007, 06:23:23 PM »
This got me thinking as to whether there were notable omissions in the keys/tunings played in by other Country Blues musicians.

I have to put some context around my favorite "notable omission."  In most old-time music, the key of A figures really prominently.  Old-time fiddlers can probably spend days in A and not repeat a tune.  Its interesting to me that in what I've heard of the music of the Mississippi Sheiks  and the other satellite groups, there isn't a single tune that the fiddle plays out of A position.  It's not that there usn't enough of a sample size - there are four volumes on Document just devoted to the Sheiks, then probably another CD's worth of material scattered among other performers...  not a single one in A.  G is their most often used key, followed by B-flat, then E-flat, then D (!), C, F, one song in E...  tunes that modulate from F to B-flat to E-flat...  from a guitar perspective, there's a couple that could possibly be in G6 tuning, but nothing apparently in spanish tuning.  On the fiddle, though, there's nothing in A, and the E-flat tunes outnumber the D tunes.  Now that's weird.

Offline frankie

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2007, 07:24:48 PM »
Blind Boy Fuller seems to have played out of most chords:

I can't think of any in F position tunes tho' which I guess is not uncommon.

Nothing in F from Blind Boy Fuller, and nothing in spanish.

* Did Rev. Gary play much out of a D position?

Some - You've Got To Move, There's A Destruction In This Land, Right Now - those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.  Ernie H. attributes Penitentiary Blues to Rev. Davis - said he was rendering a theme that he'd heard Lead Belly play.  That one's in D.  He played plenty in all the more typical keys:  A, C, G, D, E, F.  He could play in any key using closed chord positions and would make a game out of playing something like "Amazing Grace" in any key.  Nothing in spanish or vestapol, unless you count the tuning he used for Whistlin' Blues:

D A D F-sharp A B

I'm sure he could have played in either of those tunings had he chosen, but nothing was ever recorded.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2007, 10:51:27 PM »
Mance Lipscomb had precious few tunes in D, considering how often he tuned to drop D to play in A -- Tell Me Where Did You Stay Last Night, Louise and one version of You Rascal You are the only ones I can think of, and considering how many tunes he had, that's not many. He had more tunes in F (Gotta See Your Mama, Alabama Jubilee, Rag in F, Casey Jones and I'm sure I'm forgetting some).
Chris

Offline CF

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2007, 08:54:38 AM »
Tommy Johnson's recorded output is only 18 songs but he mixed it up chordally (I may be wrong on a couple of these, corrections welcome):

Cool Drink of Water: E (+1)
Big Road Blues: drop D (+1) (?)
Bye & Bye Blues: E (+2)
Maggie Campbell: Spanish at B (?)
Canned Heat: possible drop D
Lonesome Home Blues (1) tk. 1&2: A
Big Fat Mama: A
I Wonder To Myself: C (+1)
Slidin' Delta: E (+1)
Lonesome Home Blues (2): E
'Boogaloosa Women Blues': C
'Morning Prayer Blues': C
Black Mare Blues (1): E (+2) (?)
Black Mare Blues (2): E (+3) (?)
Ridin' Horse: spanish at Ab (?)
Alcohol & Jake Blues: possible drop D
I Want Somebody To Love: C

So no F or G position tunes . . . Should it go without saying that there are no B/B7 position tunes? I use to play Leadbelly's 'Roberta' out of a B7 position until I learned he tuned down to Bb & played out of an F position & I didn't find the B7 crazily awkward . . . are there any prewar blues in B position?
« Last Edit: December 13, 2007, 11:29:59 AM by cheapfeet »
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2007, 09:24:58 AM »
Howdy:

Funny Papa Smith recorded 22 sides:

A position: 13/22 (59.1%) Honey Blues, Howling Wolf Blues etc.
C position 3/22 (13.6%). County Jail Blues, Heart Bleeding Blues
D position 2/22 (9.1%). Before Long, Good Coffee Blues
E position 2/22 (9.1%). Fool's Blues, Hard Luck Man Blues
G position 1/22 (4.5%). Hoppin' Toad
Crossnote 1/22 (4.5%) Wiskeyhead Blues

No F position, Spanish or Vestapol

Sort of like Robert Johnson, FPS had a ton of sides with a +/- set arrangement in A position (10 of them) plus three others with different arrangements, plus a smattering of tunes in other positions.

Strange that his only piece in an open tuning is in Crossnote.

Alex

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2007, 03:21:57 PM »
Hi all,
Papa Charlie Jackson recorded in the following positions in standard tuning:
   * D--"Airy Man Blues" and many others
   * E--"Shave 'Em Dry" and many others
   * C--"Cat's Got the Measles" and many others
   * G--"I've Got What It Takes, But It Breaks My Heart To Give It Away" and others
   * A--"Salt Lake City Blues" and several others
   * F--"Corn Liquor Blues" and a few others
   * B flat--"Four Eleven Forty-Four" and a few others
   * E flat--"Ash Tray Blues", the only one
Notable omissions?  Vestapol and Spanish.  Perhaps Papa Charlie's recording only in standard tuning speaks to the extent to which he was a more sophisticated Jazzer and less of a country bluesman.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 07, 2007, 03:24:04 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2007, 03:50:19 PM »
Hi all,
Thanks to all who have been contributing thus far.  A couple of thoughts have occurred to me since the initial post here.
   *  It may be possible to work this process in reverse.  For example, I know recordings of Bill Broonzy playing in G, C, D, A and E in standard tuning, and one tune in Vestapol, "Joe Turner Blues".  Can anyone turn up a recording of Big Bill playing in Spanish tuning, dropped D, or F in standard tuning?  If you find such tracks, could you list them by title and the CD/LP where they can be found?  Thanks.
   *  Frank, your finding of no Mississippi Sheiks tunes played out of A position on the fiddle is shocking, both because they recorded so prolifically and because A is such an easy key for fiddlers.  I wonder if Lonnie Chatmon simply did not like the sound of a fiddle played in A?  I can think of no other logical explanation.  Or maybe Lonnie took the fact that he didn't play in the easiest fiddle key as a bona fide of his status as a superior musician.
   * Those of you who know Rev. Davis's discography better than I probably know the answer to this:  Did he ever record any songs in B flat position in standard tuning?  I wouldn't consider the omission of that position notable for anyone else in the genre other than Rev. Davis, but given his immense harmonic sophistication, I think I would consider it notable if he never recorded in B flat.
   * The issue of players being influenced by the musicians discussed here is clear-cut only in the instance of persons who heard these musicians only on their recordings, and never saw them in person.  We can not rule out the possibility that various of the players discussed here, did in fact play in tunings or positions that they were never recorded playing in, and that persons who saw them perform may have seen them play in one of the "notable omission" tunings/positions on a number of occasions.
   * Also an imponderable when it comes to gauging influences is the work of notable and highly regarded musicians who were never recorded.  The influence of such musicians would logically extend in a first-hand way only throughout the areas they frequented in their lives, but could possibly manifest much further afield in the event of a musician influenced by their playing recording something in their style and having it disseminated via record sales.
     
There's a lot to think about, but this is really fun.
All best,
Johnm
       

Offline frankie

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #12 on: December 07, 2007, 05:49:08 PM »
   * Those of you who know Rev. Davis's discography better than I probably know the answer to this:  Did he ever record any songs in B flat position in standard tuning?  I wouldn't consider the omission of that position notable for anyone else in the genre other than Rev. Davis, but given his immense harmonic sophistication, I think I would consider it notable if he never recorded in B flat.

I'm familiar with Rev. Davis's discography up to a point, but I can't think of anything that he recorded in the key of B-flat.  I remember Ernie H. telling me that Rev. Davis had a full guitar setting of "God Will Take Care Of You" in B-flat, but the only recording of that has him playing piano on it.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2007, 10:00:29 PM »
Couple of observations:
I think Lonnie Chatmon recording in flat keys could easily have been to demonstrate musical prowess, especially since fiddlers often retuned for A, and I've seen quotes from some old fiddlers disparaging that practice, Emmett Lundy coming to mind off the top of my head. (Of course, many highly accomplished fiddlers did and do retune to many tunings.) Also, didn't the Sheiks usually have (not on recordings, of course) Harry Chatmon playing piano with them? If so, that may help explain some of the key choices.

Also, I don't know of any Leadbelly songs in Vestapol. He plays in A, C, D, E, F, G and Spanish, but I can't recall any in Vestapol.

And Scrapper Blackwell recorded lots in A, D, and E. I have two recordings of him playing in Vestapol - "Lost John" and "John Henry" and one in G standard - "Frankie." Without going through all his recordings, I don't think he ever recorded in F or Spanish; I was going to add C standard to that, but just found a couple in C -- "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" and a guitar solo (and there may be others).

This is a fun topic, by the way.
Chris
« Last Edit: December 07, 2007, 10:03:06 PM by banjochris »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #14 on: December 08, 2007, 05:41:09 PM »
Hi all,
Thanks for the information on Scrapper and Leadbelly, Chris.  There is a ton of Scrapper I have not heard, especially if you include all his tracks with Leroy Carr.  Thanks also for the information on Rev. Davis recording in B flat, Frank.  I have a couple of more questions with regard to Rev. Davis's recorded works.
   * I know Rev. Davis did "Death Don't Have No Mercy" in E minor in standard tuning.  I'm currently away from my records/CDs.  Did he have any tunes recorded in E major out of E position in standard tuning?  Like Blind Blake I don't think of him being much of an "E" guy.
   * I know Rev. Davis did "Samson And Delilah" in G position in standard tuning, essentially working out of an F shape, as he did many of his other Gospel numbers.  Did he record any tunes in G in standard tuning that he played out of what I think of as the "open" G position in standard tuning, 
3-2-0-0-0-3?  I can't recall any, but I don't know his repertoire nearly as well as some of you do.  Similarly, are any of his D position, standard tuning performances recorded in the "open" D position in standard tuning, 2-0-0-2-3-2?  All the ones I can think of without digging out the recordings and listening are essentially in C shape moved up to frets.
Normally, I would think of this kind of micro-defining of tunings/positions as being unnecessary, but in Rev. Davis's case there are so few notable omissions that if some can be found in distinctions between two different ways of playing in the same position in standard tuning, I think it is worth noting, if only to bring to light some of the nuances of his personal preferences with regard to playing in a particular key.                                                                                                                                               
All best,
Johnm   
« Last Edit: December 08, 2007, 05:43:25 PM by Johnm »

 


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