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I don't see how in the world I could complain about anything - John Jackson

Author Topic: Notable Omissions  (Read 12489 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #45 on: September 25, 2008, 12:11:47 PM »
Hi all,
Peg Leg Howell is a very interesting musician with regard to this issue.  Like Papa Charlie Jackson and Rev. Gary Davis, the omissions in his recorded works of any of the commonly played tunings/positions are virtually non-existent, for he recorded at least one tune in each of the following keys and positions:
   * Spanish tuning--many tunes, the preponderance of his recorded repertoire;
   * Vestapol--likewise, many tunes, and all of his slide numbers;
   * E position, standard tuning--one tune, "New Prison Blues";
   * A position, standard tuning--one tune, "Fo' Day Blues";
   * G position, standard tuning--one tune, "Chittlin' Supper";
   * D position, standard tuning--one tune, "Away From Home";
   * C position, standard tuning--two tunes, "Banjo Blues" and "Turkey Buzzard Blues"
   * F position, standard tuning--two tunes, "Sadie Lee Blues" and "Turtle Dove Blues"
   * Peg Leg's 5Root35Root3 tuning--two tunes, "Low Down Rounder Blues" and "Fairy Blues"
It is difficult to make a case for B flat and E flat in standard tuning being notable omissions for a Country Blues guitarist.  And Peg Leg Howell must be given special credit for utilizing a tuning, whether he did it in C, GCEGCE, or B flat, FBflatDFBflatD, that no other Country Blues guitarist to my knowledge ever used.  He really was a wonderful and distinctive musician.
All best,
Johnm 
« Last Edit: September 29, 2008, 05:02:55 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #46 on: February 04, 2010, 07:39:52 PM »
Hi all,
The recent transcribing I was doing of the lyrics to Memphis Willie Borum's two solo Prestige albums from the '60s, "Introducing Memphis Willie B." and "Hard Working Man Blues" gave me an opportunity to see what positions/tunings he chose for his solo recorded repertoire.  The breakdown is as follows:
   * D position, standard tuning:  9 songs
   * C position, standard tuning:  2 songs(one with racked harmonica)
   * Vestapol tuning, non-slide:   2 songs
   * E position, standard tuning:  2 songs
   * G position, standard tuning:  9 songs(seven with racked harmonica)
Probably the biggest surprise here, in terms of notable omissions, is the complete absence of any songs played in either A position, standard tuning or in Spanish tuning.  Memphis had a pretty strong tradition of players who worked in those tunings, notably Furry Lewis and Jack Kelly in Spanish, and Robert Wilkins and some others in A position, standard tuning.  It's a little surprising how small a percentage of Willie B.'s tunes were played in C, but in the main he did not appear to gravitate towards the type of raggy or pre-blues material that is most often played in C.  The biggest surprise among the positions he did play in is the relatively heavy preponderance of tunes played in D position, standard tuning, a playing position altogether eschewed by such Country Blues greats as Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Luke Jordan.  In the extent to which he favored D position in standard tuning, Willie Borum occupies a position analogous to Gabriel Brown's pronounced preference for dropped-D tuning, very much swimming against the musical tide of their fellow players.
All best,
Johnm
 

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #47 on: July 10, 2010, 04:01:43 PM »
Hi all,
After going through Libba Cotten's three Folkways albums and figuring out her tunings/playing positions used there, the breakdown is as follows (with pitch at which the guitar was tuned not taken into consideration):
   * C position, standard tuning--30 titles
   * Spanish tuning--11 titles
   * Vestapol tuning--2 titles
   * G position, standard tuning--3 titles
   * A minor, standard tuning--1 title
   * F position, standard tuning--1 title
   * A position, standard tuning--1 title

If you look at these totals,a couple of things stand out:
   * The overwhelming predominance of tunes in C position in standard tuning as a percentage of Libba Cotten's repertoire.  Even players who recorded quite a lot in C in standard tuning, like Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller didn't record nearly as high a percentage of their repertoire in C.
   * The unusually high percentage of tunes played in Spanish for a player from the Carolinas.  You can go a very long time without finding any recorded non-slide performances in Spanish from players in that part of the world.
   * How close Libba came to voids in three other playing positions, A minor, F and A in standard tuning.  In each of these positions she recorded only one number.  In a way, her A tune, "Street Blues", might more aptly be described as being played in A, standard tuning in the F position, for she plays it using the closed F shape up at the fifth fret, not the partially barred A chord at the base of the neck.  It is perhaps an indication of how far Libba Cotten stood outside of the common musical traditions where she was raised, that A, a mainstay for many of the East Coast/Piedmont players, is all but absent from her repertoire.  Another factor that may have had an effect on this is that Libba Cotten had already joined the church and given up playing by the time Blind Boy Fuller came along.  She may possibly never have heard his records.
  * The most commonly encountered playing positions that are notable omissions from Libba Cotten's recorded repertoire are E in standard tuning and D in standard tuning.  As a notable omission, D in standard tuning is not altogether a surprise, for Charlie Patton, Lemon Jefferson, and Luke Jordan, among others, I'm sure, never recorded a piece played out of D in standard tuning.  To not play in E in standard tuning is truly a notable omission, though.  If you exclude players who played in only one tuning/position (like Roosevelt Graves in Spanish) and players who recorded so few titles that it can't be said with any degree of surety whether or not they played in other positions (like Garfield Akers), I've never previously encountered a player who did not play at least one tune in E in standard tuning.  The absence of E tunes from Libba Cotten's recorded repertoire may be an indication of the remove at which she was from blues playing and recorded blues.  What makes it all the more baffling, though, is that E, was and has been for many players, like Lemon Jefferson the playing position of choice for religious material.  At this stage, there is no way of knowing why Libba Cotten so thoroughly avoided E position, particularly when a reasonably high percentage of her C tunes go to E at some point. 

In some ways, the information from the poll of recorded titles raises more questions than it answers, but it's always interesting to see how a player diverged from his/her contemporaries.
All best,
Johnm   

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #48 on: September 07, 2011, 04:18:36 PM »
Hi all,
Bo Weavil Jackson/Sam Butler is an interesting musician to examine in terms of notable omissions in the positions and tunings in which he recorded.  He recorded early, going into the studio for the first time in 1926, I believe, and next to nothing is known about him in the biographical sense, though on the basis of his playing style, I know some pundits have labeled him a Mississippi player.  I'm less confident of such a regional identification for Jackson/Butler because his playing is so different from anyone else that I don't see him falling into any obvious regional sound.  In any event, the playing positions/tunings for his recorded repertoire are as follows, including the pitch at which he played the different songs.  Where the pitch at which he recorded is flat of standard tuning, it is indicated with a minus sign (-), where sharp of standard tuning it will be indicated with a plus sign (+).

TITLE                     PLAYING POSITION/TUNING                  KEY
1)Pistol Blues                       E position, standard tuning                          F#+
2)Some Scream High Yellow   G position, standard tuning                         A flat+
3)You Can't Keep No Brown    Spanish tuning, slide                                  F#+
4)When The Saints Come       Vestapol, lap slide                                     G
   Marching Home  
5)I'm On My Way to the         C position, standard tuning                          C+
   Kingdom Land
6)Why Do You Moan?             C position, standard tuning                          C+
7)Devil and My Brown Blues    G position, standard tuning                          F#+
8)Poor Boy Blues                   Spanish tuning, slide                                  G
9)Jefferson County Blues        Vestapol tuning, slide                                  D+
10)Jefferson County Blues,       Vestapol tuning, slide                                  D+
    alt. take
11)You Can't Keep No Brown     C position, standard tuning                          C
12)Christians Fight On, Ain't Long  Vestapol, lap slide                                  G
13)Heaven Is My View              Vestapol, lap slide                                     G

A couple of observations with regards to Jackson's playing positions/tunings and repertoire:

   * Of the most commonly played in positions in standard tuning, Jackson/Butler showed notable omissions in A position and D position.  D position has proven to be a pretty common notable omission in standard tuning, and is one that Jackson shares with Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton, Luke Jordan and Libba Cotten, among others.  Not having recorded any songs in A position is less common, though Charlie Patton recorded only one such song, "Devil Sent The Rain".  Jackson recorded no songs in F position in standard tuning, but it would probably be a stretch to describe not having played in F as a notable omission;
   * Like Lemon Jefferson, Butler used C position in standard tuning for both secular numbers ("You Can't Keep No Brown" and "Why Do You Moan?") and religious numbers ("I'm On My Way to the Kingdom Land")
   * Jackson/Butler was a versatile slide player, working out of Spanish and Vestapol tunings and playing slide out of both the conventional playing position and lap-style.  He recorded only blues in the conventional position when playing slide in Spanish tuning.  In Vestapol, he did one slide blues played with the guitar in the conventional position, and the remainder of his slide tunes in Vestapol were sacred songs, played lap-style, in the key of the IV chord relative to the tuning (playing in the key of G in open D tuning).  Jackson's approach to playing slide on these sacred numbers is discussed in more detail here:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=7891.0.

Even if Jackson's slim recorded legacy accurately reflected the breadth of his playing style in its entirety, it is nonetheless a shame he did not record more titles, for his playing and singing were so distinctive and exciting, both with and without a slide, that it makes his fans long for a larger sampling of his work.
All best,
Johnm  
« Last Edit: September 08, 2011, 08:38:19 AM by Johnm »

Offline alyoung

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #49 on: September 08, 2011, 04:32:32 AM »

 And Peg Leg Howell must be given special credit for utilizing a tuning, whether he did it in C, GCEGCE, or B flat, FBflatDFBflatD, that no other Country Blues guitarist to my knowledge ever used.  He really was a wonderful and distinctive musician.
All best,
Johnm 

The unissued Sylvester Weaver instrumental eventually released as "Soft Steel Piston" is in C tuning .. or in a tuning using the same intervals (I never have checked to see if he's in concert).

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #50 on: September 08, 2011, 06:41:20 AM »
That's a good find, alyoung, and well heard.  Welcome to Weenie Campbell.
All best,
Johnm

Offline alyoung

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #51 on: September 08, 2011, 07:32:55 AM »
That's a good find, alyoung, and well heard.  Welcome to Weenie Campbell.
All best,
Johnm

Thank you kindly ... it's give and take, because until I read on Weenie about the Peg Leg Howell recordings in C, I thought Sylvester Weaver has the only C-tuning piece in blues recording. I recorded Weaver's piece myself years ago ... I thought the Soft Steel Piston name was a bit naff, so I called it Sylvester's C Piece. It's not that hard, but you have to be in C tuning.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #52 on: September 08, 2011, 09:18:10 AM »
If Weaver's tuned in regular guitar open C on that piece, though, it's CGCGCE -- at least that's the modern open C (and the logical guitar version of banjo open C like Uncle Dave Macon used), which makes Weaver and Howell both unique for country blues.
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Notable Omissions
« Reply #53 on: September 08, 2011, 09:47:08 AM »
After re-listening, you are right, Chris.  Weaver hits a low root on the I chord that is not available in the tuning Peg Leg Howell played in, so they were working in different tunings.
All best,
Johnm
EDITED TO ADD:  Thanks for joining in, Al and Chris.  It's nice to have some discussion.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2011, 01:37:33 PM by Johnm »

 


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