collapse

* Member Info

 
 
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

* Like Us on Facebook

After years of studying folklore, I've decided that it doesn't exist - John Fahey

Author Topic: Notable Omissions  (Read 12435 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #30 on: January 08, 2008, 05:58:24 PM »
Hi all,
Gabriel Brown was an interesting East Coast singer/guitarist of an in-between generation, born in Orlando, Florida in 1910.  He was recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1935, with 10 performances, on some of which he was joined by a friend, Rochelle French.  His commercial recording career was confined to the '40s and 50s.  The great majority of his recordings have been re-issued on the JSP set, "Shake That Thing", which also includes the complete recorded works of Dan Pickett and Ralph Willis.

Brown was an excellent and versatile guitarist.  Indeed, according to the notes to the "Shake That Thing" set, Alan Lomax considered Brown the best guitarist he ever heard.  Considering who some of the other guitarists Lomax heard were (Leadbelly, Smith Casey), that is high praise indeed.

The tunings/positions for Gabriel Brown's recorded works re-issued on "Shake That Thing" break down as follows:
   Vestapol tuning, slide:  8 songs
   Vestapol tuning, non-slide:  1 song
   C position, standard tuning:  6 songs
   A position, standard tuning:  10 songs
   E position, standard tuning:  2 songs
   Dropped D tuning:  14 songs

Based on this sampling, at least, Gabriel shows notable omissions in the commonly played G position in standard tuning and in Spanish tuning.  The predeliction of the '20s generation of Atlanta players for Spanish tuning is beginning to look more and more like an anomaly viewed in the context of the East Coast blues in the larger sense.  Apart from those Atlanta players, the only East Coast player I have heard play a lot in Spanish tuning was Elizabeth Cotten.  Brown's avoidance of G position in standard tuning is every bit as mystifying as is Charlie Patton's and Luke Jordan's avoidance of the same position.  Brown's affinity for A position in standard tuning is shared by many of his contemporaries, like Blind Boy Fuller and Buddy Moss, but his favored tuning of Dropped D was characteristically employed for only one or two tunes, if any, in the repertoire of most East Coast players of his period, and probably qualifies as Brown's most distinctive feature as a guitarist.  E in standard tuning comprises a notably small percentage of Brown's recorded works as it did for Blind Blake.  Blues guitarists choosing not to play in E standard always catch me by surprise.  For his commercial recordings, Brown tended to favor C in standard tuning for his his salacious material, like "It's Getting Soft" and "I Had My Hands On It".

Working from the discography of Brown helpfully provided by Bunker Hill and dj in the Gabriel Brown thread located elsewhere in the Main Forum here, the following titles are missing from the "Shake That Thing" set:  "I Don't Feel So Good", "Stop Jivin' Me", "Boogie Woogie Guitar", "Hold That Train", "Pleading", "I'll Be Seeing You One of These Days", "Wrap Me Up Tight", "I Want a Little Fun", "I Can't Last Long", "Suffer", and the un-issued "It Ain't Like That".

One other aspect of Gabriel Brown's guitar playing that bears mention is his tendency for playing an out-of-tune instrument.  I know there's a lot of talk about musicians hearing things differently, and sometimes it's true, a musician may consistently tune an instrument in a way that would generally be considered out of tune, as Joseph Spence tuned his G string noticeably sharp.  More often, though, I think arguments exonerating musicians for playing out of tune instruments amount to patronizing special pleading, and I think that is the case with Gabriel Brown.  There is nothing that he played that required his instrument to be out-of-tune to sound a specific way, nor is he consistently out of tune in a particular way.  He is just out of tune, quite often, just as often as J. T. Smith, and like Smith, he was an expert enough player that his lackadaisical attitude toward tuning is hard to figure in the context of his over-all musicality.  All this having been said, he was an excellent guitarist, really worth hearing, especially if you like Dropped D tuning, and an excellent singer.
All best,
Johnm   
 
   
« Last Edit: October 26, 2018, 04:03:47 PM by Johnm »

Offline banjochris

  • Member
  • Posts: 2088
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #31 on: January 09, 2008, 12:36:08 PM »
Adding to your aside about out-of-tune musicians, John, I'll never forget the first time I heard Sam Collins. It was the first track on the Yazoo, which is Devil in the Lion's Den, IIRC, and he plays those beautiful slide lines followed by his hideous out-of-tune barred IV chord and open strings. This might be a whole other topic, but surely some of the people running sessions in the '20s would have asked them to tune up. (Or maybe they did.)
Chris

Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #32 on: January 10, 2008, 12:42:12 PM »
Hi Chris,
You make a good point re Sam Collins.  The thing I always find baffling is how well he played in tune with the slide (excluding barres, as you said), when his open strings were not in tune.
Recorded out of tune performances do merit a thread in their own right, I think.  For folkloric recordings done by collectors or ethnomuscologists, I can see the point in non-involvement by the person doing the recording in the question of the player's tuning, because you are altering the player's process, which is one of the things you are trying to preserve.  For commercial recordings, though, where the recorded product is expected to be palatable for listeners in the Pop Music world of the day, it's hard to see why an engineer or a & r man didn't intervene on some recordings and say, "You aren't done tuning, are you?" 
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 07:21:13 PM by Johnm »

Offline frankie

  • Member
  • Posts: 2440
    • DoneGone.net
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #33 on: January 10, 2008, 03:56:56 PM »
For commercial recordings, though, where the recorded product is expected to be palatable for listeners in the Pop Music world of the day, it's hard to see why an engineer or a & r man didn't intervene on some recordings and say, "You aren't done tuning, are you?" 

Did you ever see the footage of Tom Ashley being interviewed by (I think) Ralph Rinzler?  RR asks Ashley about going to New York to record and about Frank Walker & asks Tom "How much did those men know about music?"  Ashley replies "Oh, not anything.  They couldn't tell you whether you was in tune or outta tune."

Offline banjochris

  • Member
  • Posts: 2088
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #34 on: January 10, 2008, 08:11:51 PM »
Did you ever see the footage of Tom Ashley being interviewed by (I think) Ralph Rinzler?  RR asks Ashley about going to New York to record and about Frank Walker & asks Tom "How much did those men know about music?"  Ashley replies "Oh, not anything.  They couldn't tell you whether you was in tune or outta tune."

I'm sure that was true for a lot of A&R men and producers, but, for instance, Sam Collins recorded for Gennett, which was owned by a piano company, so presumably they had some people around that knew music. Whether any of them were involved in the studio, who knows?
Chris

Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #35 on: January 12, 2008, 10:01:48 AM »
Hi all,
Two great early Country Blues musicians from the states of Louisiana and Texas, respectively, were Willard "Ramblin'" Thomas and Willie Reed.  Ramblin' Thomas's tuning/position breakdown for his recorded repertoire is as follows:
   * Vestapol, slide:  9 songs (not including multiple takes)
   * G position, standard tuning:  3 songs
   * A position, standard tuning:  3 songs
   * E position, standard tuning:  1 song (with an additional take)
   * G6 tuning, DGDGBE, key of D:  1 song
Ramblin' Thomas recorded no songs in Spanish or D or C position in standard tuning.  Based on his over-all sophistication and, in particular, his fluency in G position in standard tuning, it's hard to believe he did not play in C position in standard tuning at all.  The absence of Spanish and D position in standard tuning from his recorded repertoire are easier to reconcile.
Some thoughts on Ramblin' Thomas's music:
   * His three songs played in G position in standard tuning are among the most distinctive played in that position in all of the Country Blues.  Thomas clearly nabbed a couple of ideas from Blake, but his rhythmic feel is altogether different and his phrasing far more quirky and disjunct.  Moreover, Thomas is all over the neck of the guitar, playing bass runs up the neck that employ open interior strings, moves that only work in one place on the instrument.  All three of the songs, "Lock and Key Blues", "Sawmill Moan" and "Ramblin' Mind Blues", are amazing, but "Ramblin' Mind Blues" seems particularly striking even in the company of the others.
   * Just as Thomas's G position playing shows Blake's influence, so do his A position tunes show a strong Lemon Jefferson influence.  Once again, though, Thomas ventures into areas not explored by his model (at least on records), though it must be conceded that Lemon also played a mass of ideas in this position that Thomas didn't get to either.  Thomas's playing in A is superlative.
   * Thomas's two one-offs, "Hard Dallas" in E standard and "Jig Head" in G6 tuning are both tantalizingly strong, with "Jig Head Blues" standing as one of the greatest performances ever by someone working in Lonnie Johnson's signature style and tuning.  Thomas's brother, Jesse, also worked very strongly in Lonnie Johnson's style.
   * The Vestapol slide work comprises the largest portion of Ramblin' Thomas's recorded repertoire, and sounds like him, and noone else that I have heard, up to his last recording session, in Dallas in 1932.  At that session, he recorded two Vestapol slide tunes, "Ground Hog Blues" and "Shake it Gal", that mimic Tampa Red's playing and sound very closely, and sound quite different from Thomas's earlier slide material.  Perhaps these last two tunes represent an effort by Thomas to keep up with the times, but it is very rare for a musician as established as Thomas was at that point of his career (he was around thirty years old) to alter his style so drastically, or to be so explicitly imitative.

Willie Reed recorded so few tunes that he barely qualifies for inclusion here, but like Ishmon Bracey and Luke Jordan, his recorded repertoire hints at a greater variety than was captured on disc.  His tuning/position breakdown is as follows:
   * A position, standard tuning:  "Dreaming Blues"
   * E position, standard tuning:  "Texas Blues"
   * G position, standard tuning:  "Goin' Back To My Baby"
   * C position, standard tuning:  "Leavin' Home", "Some Lowdown Groundhog Blues", and "All Worn Out and Dry Blues"
Missing from Willie Reed's recorded repertoire are any tunes in Spanish, Vestapol, or D position in standard tuning.  Given the time and place in which he recorded and his regional identification, it is not hard to believe that he did not play in Vestapol or Spanish at all, and D position in standard tuning is shaping up as the most common notable omission from Country Blues players' recorded repertoire in standard tuning, apart from the flat key positions.

A couple of thoughts with regard to Willie Reed's recordings:
   * "Dreaming Blues" and "Texas Blues" were both recorded at his first session, in Dallas in 1928, and are outstanding finger-picked blues, about as good it ever got in Texas.  I'm probably in the minority, but I prefer Willie Reed's playing on these songs to that of Little Hat Jones; I like his time and concept better.
   * By the next time Willie Reed returned to the studio, in 1929, he had switched to a flat-pick, for "Leavin' Home" and "Goin' Back To My Baby".  One wonders if this choice is an indication of some kind of fashion among Dallas players at that time, like Carl Davis and Gene Campbell, both of whom sound to be flat-picking on their recordings.
   * Reed's last solo sessions were in 1935, and the two tunes that resulted from the session, "Some Lowdown Groundhog Blues" and "All Worn Out And Dry Blues", share the same flat-picked accompaniment.
EDITED, 1/18, TO ADD:  I had forgotten earlier that Willie Reed was in the studio on August 29 and 30 in 1934, accompanying Texas Alexander along with Carl Davis.  Those sessions yielded 8 titles, one of which was played in C position, standard tuning, 2 of which were played in D position in standard tuning (with at least one of the guitars playing in dropped D), and the remaining five titles played out of A position in standard tuning.  The inclusion of the songs played out of D position in standard tuning reduces Willie Reed's notable omissions in commonly played tunings/positions to Spanish and Vestapol.   
With such a small recorded repertoire, it's hard to draw very many conclusions about Willie Reed's music apart from this:  he was woefully under-recorded(!), especially in his finger-picked pieces.
All best,
Johnm
   

   
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 10:04:17 PM by Johnm »

Offline MTJ3

  • Member
  • Posts: 164
  • Howdy!
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #36 on: January 19, 2008, 10:01:06 AM »
One wonders if this choice is an indication of some kind of fashion among Dallas players at that time, like Carl Davis and Gene Campbell, both of whom sound to be flat-picking on their recordings.

I don't know that identification of Gene Campbell as a Dallas player is dispositive, even though his first and third sessions were in Dallas (his 3 other sessions being in Chicago). In fact, I don't think we know anything about him at all.  If he was a Texas musician, with 24 recorded and issued sides to his credit, he was the most prolifically recorded Texas blues guitarist other than Blind Lemon Jefferson.  (Without going into the details, there are things about his style that may suggest a Texas provenance.)  He certainly played with a pick, but it is unclear to me whether he played with a thumb pick or a flat pick and fingers.

Campbell recorded only in the keys of C and G.


Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #37 on: January 19, 2008, 10:28:41 AM »
Hi MTJ3,
Thanks for pointing out the Gene Campbell is not known to have been a Texan, despite having done two of his recording sessions in Dallas.  Somehow I got the idea in my head that he was remembered in Dallas as a resident, but upon reviewing the notes to his Document CD, found this wasn't the case. 
One oddity of his recorded output is that the four songs he recorded in Dallas in November of 1930 are all played out of F in standard tuning, and no other songs in his recorded repertoire were played in F, but rather in C and G positions in standard tuning.  In F, he loved a scrunchy F6 voicing that is very Swingy sounding:  1-X-3-2-3-1, with a lot of emphasis on the second string, where the 6th is voiced.  He plays a pretty wooly-sounding moving voicing over the IV chord, Bflat.  He was a very nifty guitar player and sounds like he only played set pieces.  He is one of the least improvisatory-sounding guitarists in the style.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline MTJ3

  • Member
  • Posts: 164
  • Howdy!
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #38 on: January 19, 2008, 11:27:53 AM »
One oddity of his recorded output is that the four songs he recorded in Dallas in November of 1930 are all played out of F in standard tuning, and no other songs in his recorded repertoire were played in F, but rather in C and G positions in standard tuning.  In F, he loved a scrunchy F6 voicing that is very Swingy sounding:  1-X-3-2-3-1, with a lot of emphasis on the second string, where the 6th is voiced.  He plays a pretty wooly-sounding moving voicing over the IV chord, Bflat. 

Johnm,

I have gone back and forth on the key of those 4 cuts, and my statment about his key choices doesn't reflect that.  My initial reaction was that they were played in F; they are in, more or less, the absolute key of F.  If you are going to play that way, you ought to be playing in F, right? 

On further reflection, however, the guitar sounded to me like it was tuned low.  (In his first session, he tuned a full step low; leaving aside these 4 cuts, he appears to have used a capo or tuned high on all of his sides.)  Additionally, I felt that the repeated chromatic descent from I to V was more effectively executed out of the E shape and, therefore, in the key of G (with, if in the key of G, the E7 played out of the C shape). 

On the other hand, those cuts are totally unlike his other songs that we can clearly identify as being played in G, which sound a lot more like his songs played in C.  In fact, I wondered for a while whether it might not have been a different guitarist on those cuts. (But if it wasn't Campbell, who could it have been?  If they are not sui generis in this genre, they are certainly oddities, as you so aptly put it.  Based on those sides, I thought that he might have been a "band player," and 3 or 4 years ago when I had time for such, I spent a fair amount of it trying to track down a "band player" from that period with the same or even a similar name.) 

In any case, I haven't listened to Campbell for a while, so I think I should do that to try to hear some open strings and get convinced one way or the other.  But you're probably already on top of that.


Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #39 on: January 19, 2008, 11:50:19 AM »
Hi MTJ3,
Yes, I think you have it figured.  All of Gene Campbell's G tunes employ the so-called open G in standard tuning voicing of the I chord:  3-2-0-0-0-3.  These other four songs, "Don't Leave Me Blue Blues", "Doggone Mean Blues", Married Life Blues", and "Fair Weather Woman Blues", all have the closed F sound, in addition to which, in several of them, you can hear him walking a I7 chord down chromatically to the VI7 chord, all voiced out of a C7 shape with the fifth of the chord voiced on the sixth string, 8-X-7-8-6-X walking down to 5-X-4-5-3-X, fret by fret.  I do think it is the same guitarist as on the other songs, the touch has a similar crispness.  I agree, though, that he really sounds like a band guitarist.
Al best,
Johnm

Offline KC King

  • Member
  • Posts: 33
  • Honey, Let me bring my clothes back home!
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #40 on: April 04, 2008, 11:33:40 AM »
John m:

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. 


As a 3 month Guitar ultra-novice I'm ill equipped to derive the rest these tunes is there any chance you could give me a leg up on this? I'd love to include the information with the weeniepedia entry - esp. "Honey, Allow Me One More Chance".
As an aside I down loaded three of your lessons on Zip file - Ear Training - and can't seem to find the paypal link.

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.


I always wanted a Tenor Uke with Bass Strings  ;D

        Thanks "KC"
KC (Chris) King

Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #41 on: April 05, 2008, 04:46:19 PM »
Hi KC King,
I like your idea of adding resources on Henry Thomas to the Weeniepedia, and it would be pretty easy to list tunings/positions for all of his tunes.  I'm away from my records now, but in a couple of days I will post that all here.  I will send you a personal message with the Paypal link information re the ear-training lessons.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #42 on: April 07, 2008, 11:34:19 PM »
Hi all,
As per KC King's request here are Henry Thomas's tunes grouped by the tunings/positions in which they were played.  The re-issue I have of his music does not include session information, so I'll not include that here, and I have not ascertained the pitch at which his various pieces were played.  In a general sense, they were always higher than the concert pitch of the positions in which they were played.  Here goes:
   * D position, standard tuning:  "John Henry", "The Fox and the Hounds " (bridge played in G position), "Red River Blues", "The Little Red Caboose", "Fishing Blues", "Old Country Stomp", "Charming Betsy", "Lovin' Babe", "Bull Doze Blues"
   * G position, standard tuning:  "Cottonfield Blues", "Woodhouse Blues", "Railroadin' Some", "Don't Leave Me Here", "Don't Ease Me In", "Texas Worried Blues"
   * C position, standard tuning:  "Arkansas", "Bob McKinney", "Honey, Won't You Allow Me One More Chance", "Run, Mollie, Run", "Jonah in the Wilderness", "When the Train Comes Along"
   * E position, standard tuning:  "Texas Easy Street"
   * Vestapol, slide:  "Shanty Blues"
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10932
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #43 on: May 05, 2008, 03:59:03 PM »
Hi all,
In listening to to the 46 titles recorded by the East Coast bluesman Ralph Willis in the period 1944--1953 that have been reissued on the JSP set, "Shake That Thing", I've come up with the following breakdown of positions/tunings for the songs Willis recorded.
   * 21 titles played in E position, standard tuning;
   * 19 titles played in A position, standard tuning (one of which is a duet in which the other guitar is being played in G position, standard tuning)
   * 5 titles played in G position, standard tuning (one of which is the afore-mentioned duet)
   * 2 titles played in C position, standard tuning.
We end up with, then, the following omissions of commonly played positions/tunings for Ralph Willis:
   * In standard tuning, no songs recorded in D position or F position;
   * No songs recorded in Spanish, Vestapol, or cross-note tuning.

Ralph Willis's positions of choice and notable omissions both suggest some entertaining conclusions.
   * Despite being of a later generation, (born in 1910) than the earliest generation of recorded Country Blues players, Willis, who in all probability grew up hearing recorded country blues, is less versatile in his choice of positions/tunings than many of the earlier players who grew up in the absence of recorded blues, people like Peg Leg Howell, Charley Patton, Henry Thomas and Lemon Jefferson.
   * Did commercial recording practices in Ralph Willis's era encourage or discourage variety in repertoire?  Based on the sampling here, one would have to conclude that the desire to have successful record sales duplicated via the recording of covers operated against variety in repertoire.  Ralph Willis recorded only two tunes in C position, standard tuning, but they are excellently played and don't show the kind of halting unfamiliarity that you get a feeling for listening Blind Blake play in E position, standard tuning on "Cherry Street" and "Depression Gone From Me Blues", where Blake really sounds out of his element.  One wonders how much other strong material Ralph Willis had in C, and wishes that he had lived long enough to record for someone like Chris Strachwitz, who would have encouraged variety in his playing.
   * Willis is an interesting figure, musically transitional in many ways.  One of his early titles played in A standard, "So Many Days", shows a strong Scrapper Blackwell/Robert Johnson influence.  Several of Willis's songs, "Goin' to Chattanooga", "Goin' to Virginia" and "I'm Gonna Rock" sound like precursors of Rockabilly.  Willis also has numbers like "Everyday I Weep and Moan", with relatively modern single-string soloing and others, like "Too Late to Scream and Shout", where he keeps time with a 4-to-the-bar strumming much like Freddie Green's in the Count Basie band.  Willis also shows some harmonic innovation:  on "I Got a Letter", played in A standard, he goes to an E augmented chord, 0-7-6-5-5-X, for his turn-around, a very "uptown" sound.

I really think Ralph Willis is terribly under-rated and his music warrants some serious listening.  He's a bit like Furry Lewis, not musically, but personally, in that his predeliction for humor in his delivery and subject matter can distract you from his musical excellence unless you are really paying attention.  I know that Post-War blues tend not to have the cachet of Pre-War blues for most present-day listeners, but I find that I prefer much of Ralph Willis's recorded repertoire to the popular Blues recorded in the '30s.
All best,
Johnm       
« Last Edit: May 06, 2008, 03:51:29 PM by Johnm »

Offline Slack

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • Posts: 8824
Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #44 on: May 05, 2008, 08:52:21 PM »
Johnm, thanks for the continued bias and pointer to Ralph Willis - I cannot believe you've been listening to him for about 4 months now!  I have to admit, that I bought the JSP set but have not really given him a fair listen (other than the few tracks you suggested earlier).  But will do so!

 


SimplePortal 2.3.7 © 2008-2020, SimplePortal