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I'm worried they won't understand my brogue - Bill Williams, expressing concern to John Miller and Nick Perls with regard to performing for audiences at the 1974 Smithsonian Folklife Festival:

Author Topic: Notable Omissions  (Read 12422 times)

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Offline frankie

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #15 on: December 08, 2007, 07:01:04 PM »
   * 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.

Off the top of my head:

Cross And Evil Woman Blues
The Sun Is Going Down
Slippin' 'til My Gal Comes In Partner
Going To Chattanooga
A few different, unnamed blues in E

   * 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.

Again, off the top of my head:

O Lord Search My Heart
Crucifixion
Baby, Let Me Lay It On You

All three of these get a lot of mileage out of a first position G7: 3-2-3-0-3-1

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.

I think Right Now could be described this way, except that he never seems to use a D major chord - rather a D7 in first position: 2-0-0-2-1-2.

In general, I think it's very natural for him to find C shapes up the neck and to riff using them.  It's exciting, but it's not quite the same kind of expression you find with someone like Robert Wilkins, who will mine a particular key in 1st position and pull something really expressive and unique out of it.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #16 on: December 08, 2007, 07:59:29 PM »
Is another Rev. Gary Davis G first position tune "There's a Destruction in This Land"? Like Frank, this is off the top of my head, and I could be wrong.

I was pleased with myself for coming up with "Right Now" for D (D7) position, but Frank beat me to it. :P I adore this D7 riff he does, BTW.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2007, 08:03:08 PM by andrew »

Offline frankie

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #17 on: December 08, 2007, 09:40:00 PM »
Is another Rev. Gary Davis G first position tune "There's a Destruction in This Land"?

That one's in D...  and one where the "home" position is more like a C moved up two frets rather than a 1st position D chord (iirc! - I'd have to go listen to be sure...  maybe tomorrow). 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #18 on: December 09, 2007, 07:29:58 AM »
Is another Rev. Gary Davis G first position tune "There's a Destruction in This Land"?

That one's in D...  and one where the "home" position is more like a C moved up two frets rather than a 1st position D chord (iirc! - I'd have to go listen to be sure...  maybe tomorrow). 

Right. Sorry, I think the song I was trying to recall as being in first position G was actually "Lo, I'll Be with You Always".

Offline frankie

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #19 on: December 09, 2007, 07:36:39 AM »
"Lo, I'll Be with You Always"

That's a good one.

Is RGD's "She's Funny That Way" a first position "G" tune?

Yes it is, although the other songs mentioned might be slightly better examples of what John was thinking about, imho.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #20 on: December 09, 2007, 03:25:38 PM »
Hi all,
Thanks very much, Frank, Andrew and Spike Driver, for the information on Rev. Davis.  That is great stuff to know, and the pooling of information really seems to be working here.
Taking a look at the recorded works of Leecan & Cooksey yields some interesting notable omissions.  The position breakdown of their repertoire is as follows:
   * G, standard tuning--"Black Cat Blues" and 8 other tunes
   * C, standard tuning--"Dirty Guitar Blues" and 16 other tunes
   * B flat, standard tuning--"Talk 'Bout Somethin' That's Gwine To Happen" and two other takes
   * D, standard tuning--"Whiskey and Gin Blues", two takes
   * D minor/F--"Big Four"
   * A minor/C--"I Wants A Real Man" and two other takes
   * E minor/G--"Macon Georgia Cut Out"
   * F/B flat--"South Street Stomp"
   * F/C/G/B flat--When My Want Run Out, two other takes in F
A couple of things stand out about Leecan and Cooksey's repertoire and their notable omissions:
   * Robert Leecan did not record a single tune in Spanish or Vestapol, carrying forward the trend remarked upon in Papa Charlie Jackson for sophisticated Jazzers to avoid the open tunings commonly employed by Country Blues players
   * Robert Leecan was undaunted by flat keys, with several tunes recorded in F and B flat, but he altogether avoided the far more commonly encountered blues positions of E and A in standard tuning, and recorded only one tune in D position.
   * Based on Robert Leecan's instrumental expertise and sophistication, it probably does not make sense to set too much store on the common positions that he didn't record in, since he was also part of a duo, and some of the key choices may have been dictated by the harmonica and singing key preferences of Bobby Cooksey.  When you hear Leecan's playing in the positions he did record in, it is hard to believe he was avoiding other common positions because he didn't know how to play in them.
All best,
Johnm
   
« Last Edit: December 09, 2007, 07:36:50 PM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #21 on: December 09, 2007, 04:02:15 PM »
This is a great thread. Wish I had the chops to contribute more (somebody beat me to my BBF keys-G-) but you guys are doin' great.

I was thinking about what you were saying about not playing in an "Open G" position, Johnm, and I thought you might categorize that as playing in a closed position, as I've heard Suzy and others talk about fiddle keys. The idea might be that pretty much all closed position keys fall into several types (I guess along the lines of CAGED?) but that essentially it represents a certain step by a guitarist that makes them all similar (except for the occasional open string bonuses). Would be handy if someone were going to chart this material somehow, eh?

Banjochris, I appreciated your look at Scrapper. I was thinking in that direction. I was wondering if you did a breakdown of what he did pre-war and then after his rediscovery. Might be interesting. I guess that would go for many rediscovered artists. I also wondered what position Little Boy Blue was in?

All for now.
John C.


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Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #22 on: December 09, 2007, 07:53:22 PM »
Hi John C.,
Your point re "open" versus "closed" G position in standard tuning is very well taken.  There is very little difference between playing in a "closed" G position in standard tuning, which you might otherwise think of as G played out of an F position, and playing in B flat out of the F position, as did Walter Vinson so often on the Mississippi Sheiks recordings.  The primary difference , as you noted, is how the open strings interact with the key and how useful they end up being for playing connecting runs and the like. 
Once a player develops the ability to play with closed chordal positions, there is little to choose from between playing a song in E flat out of the closed C shape or playing it out of F.  This is a skill that is a relative commonplace among Jazz guitarists but all but unheard of among Country Blues guitarists.  The list of Country Blues players who played what they wanted to hear whether or not it fit naturally or idiomatically in the tuning/position they were working in is pretty darn short; Rev. Davis, certainly, also Bo Carter and Lemon.  This is not to say that what these musicians chose to play was not dictated by the tuning or position that they were working out of to some degree, but rather that what they chose to play was not completely dictated by the tuning/position, as it was for most players, including very skillful ones.  Certainly the most common approach taken by Country Blues guitarists was and continues to be, "Take what the tuning/position gives you."
All best,
Johnm   

Offline banjochris

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #23 on: December 09, 2007, 08:00:34 PM »
I also wondered what position Little Boy Blue was in?

It's in E.
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #24 on: December 11, 2007, 03:12:42 PM »
Hi all,
Ishmon Bracey recorded far too few tunes to suit me, but they covered a good bit of ground, in terms of the tunings/positions in which he played.  The breakdown is as follows:
   * A, standard tuning--"Four Day Blues", "Trouble Hearted Blues"
   * E, standard tuning--"Saturday Blues", "Woman, Woman Blues"
   * G, standard tuning--"Pay Me No Mind", "Leavin' Town Blues", "Brown Mama Blues", "Left Alone Blues"
   * C, standard tuning--"Jake Liquor Blues", "Bust Up Blues"
   * B flat, standard tuning--"Family Stirving"
   * Spanish tuning--"Suitcase Full Of Blues"
Based on this admittedly small sample of tunes, we wind up with no tunes recorded in D or F in standard tuning, or in Vestapol.  "Suitcase Full of Blues" occupies a position in Bracey's repertoire analagous to that occupied by "Police Dog Blues" in Blake's repertoire:  amazingly adroit considering what a tiny percentage the tuning it is played in is represented in the recorded works.  The absence of any songs in Vestapol in Bracey's early repertoire doesn't seem surprising when you take into account the fact that Tommy Johnson similarly recorded no tunes in Vestapol, and Patton had only one tune in Vestapol.  Based on nothing more substantial than the fact that Tommy McClennan's playing in G standard sounds to have been influenced by Bracey's playing in the same position, Bracey may be a possibility as an influence on McClennan's playing in D standard as well, despite having no early recordings in that position.  It would be interesting to know the tunings/positions of the religious numbers that Gayle Dean Wardlow recorded Bracey playing in the '60s, to find out if there had been any shifts in his preferred playing positions in the intervening years.  Bracey's playing in B flat on "Family Stirving" is striking, for it is the only playing in that position by a Country Blues player that I can think of apart from Papa Charlie Jackson and the Mississippi Sheiks' guitarists.  I reckon Kid Ernest appreciated Bracey's willingness to play in B flat, for that allowed him (Ernest) to play the clarinet in C.  Based on the amount of variety in Bracey's very small recorded repertoire, I think you could make a case for him being one of the most severely under-recorded Country Blues musicians.
All best,
Johnm 
« Last Edit: December 12, 2007, 10:14:06 AM by Johnm »

Offline Cleoma

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #25 on: December 11, 2007, 06:03:41 PM »
I've thought quite a lot about how so many of the "Golden Era" black blues fiddlers played out of closed positions in standard tunings, playing all over the neck. The Chatmons, Clifford Hayes, Howard Armstrong, and Eddie Anthony all did this.  Meanwhile their fiddling hillbilly brethren were using all kinds of alternate tunings and rarely ventured out of first position.

I can't think offhand of any country blues fiddle players who used alternative tunings.  The Cajuns and Creoles did, some -- Bebe Carriere definitely cross tuned sometimes.  But among black "Golden Era" country blues fiddlers, I can't think of any at the moment.

Why is this?  Some fiddlers (Clifford Hayes) played with horn players.  Piano players (like Harry Chatmon) sometimes played blues using just the black keys.   The Chatmons, Howard Armstrong, Clifford Hayes, and Eddie Anthony were all professional musicians, so they may have needed to be able to switch keys at the drop of a hat, to accommodate whatever singer or player they were backing up or jamming with.   This can still happen today as those of us who participated in the fiddle jam with Sunpie Barnes at PT Blues Week 2006 experienced when he wanted to play blues in A flat.

Cross-tuning makes the fiddle more resonant.  It's especially good when playing alone, gives a fuller sound.  For playing a long dance, it's a lot less work with the left hand and you don't have to be as careful with the right hand.  As Frankie pointed out, some hillbilly fiddlers (Emmet Lundy for one) considered re-tuning "cheating" and prided themselves on not doing it.  But it definitely gives a bigger sound to the fiddle.  It certainly sounds wonderful on material by John Salyer, Tommy Jarrell, Burt and Edn Hammons, Melvin Wine, the Crockett Family, etc.

Playing in closed position out of standard means that you don't have to tune as carefully; if you're basically in tune with yourself, but a little off from the rest of the band, you can just play anyway and fret the notes where they sound in tune.  More flexible that way.  Maybe it has a certain rasp or other qualities that help the fiddle to project?  But I would think a fiddle would be louder when open tuned. 

Then again -- you can bear down on the bow harder with a fretted note than with an open string -- if you want the open string to resonate, you need to have somewhat of a light touch.  Maybe these blues fiddlers were playing in bands, playing on the street, etc. -- and needed to just play really loud and hard all the time??

It's a mystery to me.  Anyone have any theories?


Offline frankie

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #26 on: December 11, 2007, 07:00:36 PM »
Re:  Blues fiddling - cross tuning does seem to be used very infrequently in blues fiddling...  I can only think of a few examples:

The (unnamed?  can't recall his name, anyway) fiddler on Joe Taggart's "Been Listening All The Day" and the song on the other side if the 78 ("A Mother's Love"?) tuned the first string down to D (playing out of G position).  Same fiddler plays on "Coal River Blues" - same tuning.

Andrew Baxter tuned his first string down for "Moore Gal" in the key of G - okay, okay - it's a fiddle tune!

Will Batts sounds like he tuned his first string down to D for "Bunker Hill Blues," playing in the key of D.

Will Batts again - tuned the fiddle down three half-steps when playing with Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band - C figures for the key of A, G figures for the key of E.

I'm not sure that tuning the whole fiddle up or down really constitutes pure cross tuning or scordatura, but it's interesting to note, anyway.

I'm not sure the preference was entirely for closed positions, as many black fiddlers mined first position pretty heavily, but seemed to prefer flat keys, often using open string drones to complement the sound.  Learning flat-keys does give the player largely "closed" and easily transposeable positions that they can use anywhere on the fingerboard.

Maybe playing in flat keys gives the player more fine-grained control over certain key tones:  In first-position B-flat, neither the tonic, third or fifth fall on open strings and must be fingered - that means vibrato can be applied or shades of pitch used to increase the expressiveness of the playing.  In the key of A, first position, the tonic and fifth are stranded on open strings, requiring a stretch with the pinky on an adjacent string to double those notes and provide some kind of expressive color...  maybe that just didn't seem like it was worth all the effort...  Blues or jazz fiddling doesn't appear to me to be as "bow-centric" as old-time fiddling proper, whether done by blacks or whites - at least, not in quite the same way.

Edited to add:  blues and jazz fiddling also isn't a solo style the way old-time is.  While there were definitely old-time fiddlers that resisted cross tuning or thought it was backwards, it does seem to lend itself to self accompaniment.  It's kind of interesting to compare old-time fiddle styles to CB harmonica styles in that sense - both exist within their traditions in solo and ensemble contexts...
« Last Edit: December 12, 2007, 06:19:29 AM by frankie »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #27 on: December 12, 2007, 05:41:58 PM »
Hi all,
Thanks, Suzy and frankie, for bringing the Country Blues fiddlers into play.  The differences between them and their hillbilly brethren are fascinating to note.  I feel like I hear a pretty consistent tonal difference, or sense of how a fiddle sounds best.
The tunings/positions that Henry Thomas recorded in work out as follows:
   * D position, standard tuning--"John Henry" and 8 other tunes, one of which, "The Fox And The Hounds", periodically modulates to a G position.
   * G position, standard tuning--"Cottonfield Blues" and 5 other songs
   * C position, standard tuning--"Arkansas" and 5 other songs
   * E position, standard tuning--"Texas Easy Street" only
   * Vestapol--"Shanty Blues" only
The two most notable tunings/positions not recorded in by Henry Thomas are Spanish tuning and A position in standard tuning.  Not recording in Spanish tuning holds true to a general predeliction of Texas guitarists of that era who were recorded, and so is not a particular surprise, but if we compare Henry Thomas and Lemon's notable omission positions in standard tuning, we find they invert each other:  Lemon recorded no songs played out of D position in standard tuning, and it was Henry Thomas's most commonly recorded position; conversely, Henry Thomas recorded no songs in A position in standard tuning, and Lemon recorded many songs in that tuning and particularly excelled there.  Are we seeing the result of some kind of generational difference in these position choices?  I think it is generally conceded that Henry Thomas was probably a generation older than Lemon, though I don't know if anyone actually knows this for a fact.  It may be, too, that Henry Thomas's preference for D position and Lemon's avoidance of it reflect some kind of bygone subregional stylistic characteristics (though both men traveled a great deal).  It could be, too, that D position lends itself more readily to Thomas's pre-Blues material than the Country Blues Lemon recorded.  This is all guess-work, but a fair point can be made that Lemon's preference for A position over D position was borne out by far more Texas guitarists of his and the next generation than was Henry Thomas's preference for D position over A position.

On a completely different point, has anybody ever considered the possibility that Henry Thomas played a miniature guitar?  I know there are smaller 6-string guitars in the Mexican tradition, and he did not record a single song at standard pitch in standard tuning, so he was either playing a smaller instrument or was fairly drastically capoed on all of his recordings.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 12, 2007, 08:07:29 PM by Johnm »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #28 on: December 12, 2007, 06:08:19 PM »
Re. Rev. Davis tunes out of a first position G with open strings, Runnin' To The Judgement is in this category. You can find it on Pure Religion & Bad Company, it's one of the Reverend's very bluesy gospel numbers. I find myself naturally falling into a Broonzy 'dead thumb' feel, great fun but not quite the way Gary played it. Check it out.

More Rev., Devil's Dream is in F
« Last Edit: December 12, 2007, 06:11:24 PM by Rivers »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #29 on: January 02, 2008, 12:01:52 PM »
Hi all,
I haven't posted here in a while but have continued to think a lot about this issue.  Lately, I have been listening a lot to Luke Jordan.  With only ten sides recorded to his credit (a tragedy, in my opinion), it is a bit of a stretch to speak of notable omissions for Luke Jordan with regard to commonly played tunings/positions, especially when his playing shows such a high degree or originality and sophistication in the keys he did record in, but since those ten sides are all we have to go on, so be it.  Here is how they break down:
   * In E position, standard tuning--four sides:  "Church Bells Blues", takes one and two, "My Gal's Done Quit Me" and "If You Call Me Mama"
   * In C position, standard tuning--four sides:  "Pick Poor Robin Clean", takes one and two, "Cocaine Blues and "Tom Brown Sits in his Prison Cell"
   * In F position, standard tuning--one side:  "Traveling Coon"
   * In A position, standard tuning--one side:  "Won't You Be Kind?"
Some thoughts re Luke Jordan's notable omissions and style:
   * Luke Jordan had no tunes recorded in either Spanish or Vestapol tuning.  Virginia Country Blues guitarists were not very often recorded in the period in which Jordan recorded, 1927-1929, but the Virginia guitarist who recorded the most titles apart from Luke Jordan in that period, William Moore, likewise recorded no titles in Vestapol or Spanish tuning.
   * It is interesting that of the commonly played positions in standard tuning, the two notable omissions for Luke Jordan, D position and G position, are exactly the same as those for Charlie Patton.  Considering that the two musicians developed without ever having seen or heard each other, this seems more a coincidence than a significant finding, and I think the omissions of G and D positions from the recorded repertoire of Charlie Patton are more telling than the same omissions from Luke Jordan's recorded repertoire, simply by virtue of Patton having recorded so many more titles.
   * Listening to a lot of Luke Jordan's accompaniments for his singing makes me think that a "boom-chuck" approach to vocal accompaniment is sorely under-rated.  Luke Jordan used such an approach, with spiffy connecting bass runs on most of his recordings, all but the ones in E position, and it sounds terrific.  Having such relatively simple accompaniments seemed to allow him to give more of his attention to his singing, and boy, did that pay off!  Luke Jordan is also one of the few Country Blues guitarists I have heard whose playing had the "Spanish tinge" that Jellyroll Morton spoke of New Orleans musicians possessing.  On both takes of "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Won't You Be Kind?", Jordan's solos break into a syncopated kind of double mambo that is notably absent from the playing of other people from his part of the world.  Who can say where Luke Jordan picked it up?
All best,
Johnm 
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 10:06:47 PM by Johnm »

 


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