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Author Topic: Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, Arhoolie CD 460  (Read 2458 times)

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Online Johnm

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Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, Arhoolie CD 460
« on: June 23, 2004, 04:31:54 PM »
PROGRAM:? Ups And Downs Blues; Crooked Wife Blues; Snowing And Raining; No More Hard Time; She's Evil And Mean; Mike And Jerry; Don't Leave Me All By Myself; South Carolina Blues; Crying Won't Make Me Stay; Big Trouble Blues; Humming Bird Blues; Right And Wrong Woman; Southern Whistle Blues; Jail And Buddy Blues; Mean Girl Blues; Travelin' Boy's Blues; Railroad Blues; Yellow And Brown Woman; Bad Acting Woman; Christmas Time Blues; Cooking Big Woman; You're My Honey; Early Morning Blues; Isabel; Hard Luck Blues; Unhappy Home Blues; Working Man Blues; Why, Oh Why; Betty And Dupree?

I bought this Arhoolie release yesterday after thinking about buying it for the last couple of months.? It is a release made from acetates from 1944 of the East Coast guitar duo, Guitar Slim (Alec Seward) and Jelly Belly (Louis Hayes).? In the notes, Chris Strachwitz recounts how he bought the acetates in the early '60s from someone who had purchased a New York recording studio, lock, stock and barrel, and had found a bunch of masters in the studio, with these cuts among them.

I have been enjoying the CD a lot.? It flies in the face of many of my pre-conceptions about East Coast duets, e.g., they tend to be spiffy and "worked out", perhaps a bit careful-sounding.? Slim and Jelly Belly didn't have that sound at all--they sound loose, in a good way, and while perhaps working out in a general way who will take care of the bass and who will handle the treble fills, in practice they often put their guitar parts right on top of each other, something which ends up sounding pretty darn good, most of the time.? Add to this the fact that neither singer is inclined to phrase consistently in four beat measures, and you end up with a sense of how much ensemble playing benefits from people knowing each other really well, knowing pet ways of phrasing and the like.? I guess that special knowledge of someone's musical ways permits you to be loose.?

Their vocal styles contrast nicely with each other.? Alec Seward at this time of his career had one of my favorite voices in a Blues singer, a kind of deep, conversational sounding voice, with just a little raspiness, and a great world-weary quality.? Louis Hayes is more high-pitched and sings with more of a head tone and attitude.? He also sounds like he never met a phrase he didn't want to be about two beats longer.?
The way they engage each other in the songs is great and funny.? Typically, on the ones they both sing on, one will start out with a complaint about trouble and the other will offer--no sympathy!? I like this exchange at the beginning of "Big Trouble Blues".
?Slim:? "Boy I don't know why that cop's been chasing me.? I ain't did nothin'!"
?Jelly Belly:? "Don't make me laugh!? Play that guitar.? And keep your hands in your own pocket."

There are a ton of good songs here (29 cuts!), and a very small percentage of them employ lyrics commonly encountered in the pool of blues lyrics.? I get the sense that Jelly Belly made up a lot of his own lyrics.? A couple of my favorites are "Mike and Jim", about his two late mules and "Humming Bird Blues".? There is an interesting subtext to many of the lyrics of what it was like for two guys from the rural South to end up in New York City in those days.

I consider this CD a real find, a great one to learn from, either with regard to repertoire or in how to approach duet playing.? After hearing Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, I'm going to be less worried about stomping all over the next person I play with on a blues duet.
All best,
Johnm?
« Last Edit: April 06, 2005, 04:21:23 PM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

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Re: Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2004, 03:36:17 PM »
Hi all,
Some of you might be interested to know that Alec Seward did an album for Prestige Bluesville in the '60s called "Creepers Blues" that has not been re-issued, though there are a couple of cuts of him on the anthology "Country Roads, Country Days", available from www.fantasyjazz.com.  On "Creepers Blues", Mr Seward is joined by erstwhile PT teacher Larry Johnson on harmonica.  Michael Roach has a copy of this album and I have listened to it, but I don't retain a strong impression of it.  I think I prefer the sides with Louis Hayes.
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly
« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2004, 11:54:32 AM »
Hi John,

Remembering this post, I listened to the Fantasy compilation "Country Roads, Country Days" last night to check out the Seward cuts, which I could not recall. They're quite good, particularly his singing, which as you say has that nice low raspiness to it. The music tended a bit towards that postwar homogenized blues sound, though still quite "country". Very enjoyable two tracks, as were the tracks that precede them by KC Douglas (who I'm curious to hear more of), and some other good stuff including Jesse Fuller, Brooks Berry and Scrapper Blackwell, Doug Quattlebaum, Snooks Eaglin (speaking of great singing), and Henry Townsend (Cairo Blues with a bass - fun). I'll definitely look for that Arhoolie disc. Thanks for the tip.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2004, 11:57:32 AM by uncle bud »

Online Johnm

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Re: Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly
« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2004, 10:15:06 PM »
Thanks for your response on this topic, Andrew.  The C tune on the anthology you cited has haunted me, as have several of the tunes that Alec Seward plays with Louis Hayes on the CD I reviewed.  His C note on the B string sounds so ringy and uninflected that I have for some time suspected that he tuned his B string up to C when he was playing in the key of C.  I remember watching one of Stefan Grosman's videos of African guitarists and seeing a couple of them doing this.  I was quite surprised, because the advantage gained by doing this is minimal.  It is the kind of the thing that would be really difficult to ascertain definitively.  I will check out the technical ramifications.
All best,
Johnm   

Online Johnm

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Re: Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2004, 10:18:31 AM »
Oops, I realized I misspoke in the last message about the African guitarists.  Rather than tuning the B string up to C when playing in C, they tuned the E string (6th) up to F to play in C, which makes more sense.  In that tuning you don't have to wrap your thumb around the neck to get the low F root when you go to the IV chord, but instead can just strike the 6th string open.  I'm hard put to figure out an advantage to tuning the B string to C.
All best,
Johnm 

 


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