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Charlie hated work like God hates sin. He just natural-born hated it. It didn't look right to him - Charlie Patton, remembered by Son House

Author Topic: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?  (Read 9652 times)

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Offline Rivers

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #30 on: April 24, 2008, 08:16:04 PM »
I tried to grow up singing but they threw me out of the school choir when it became apparent I was not particularly gifted in that respect, to put it mildly.  ;)

It took me ages to realize my musical talents are elsewhere, and thankfully fairly multifaceted. Recently I discovered, probably confirmed to myself, that I have some talent for arranging. It only took 40 years of listening to everything under the sun. This is good for me, I just know I'd be insufferably egotistical if I was a great singer. It forces me to work with other musicians who can deliver the goods and when everybody digs my sensibilities that is the best buzz.

If I believed in karma I would say it's the universe working as it should.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2008, 08:17:31 PM by Rivers »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #31 on: April 25, 2008, 07:44:23 AM »
Choral training (of the Western European kind, not the African-American church kind), as great as it may be, will only take you so far. I've heard many trained singers who are terrible pop or jazz or blues singers. The approach is different, the phrasing different, the emphasis on vocal clarity and diction different. (OMuck's bel canto joke fits well here.) 

Let's not forget as well that there are any number of blues artists whose singing is not of the big, hit-the-back-of-the-hall variety but is immensely enjoyable because it has character, phrasing, texture etc. John Hurt, Leroy Carr, Bo Carter, Noah Lewis, Clifford Gibson, Ramblin' Thomas, John Jackson, Luke Jordan, you name 'em. While I agree with recommendations to listen to the great singers like Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey, not everyone is going to have a big voice. Listening to what lesser pipes did is beneficial too, because they're doing things right in their own way.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #32 on: April 25, 2008, 10:32:31 AM »
Did I say voice? Oh I meant to say hit the back of the hall with a gob! Wasn't this a thread about hocking?

Good points Andrew, but I've found the ability to project well is scalable. It gives one more control at whatever volume you choose. If you're performing what we call Blues you're talking about producing a whole shitload of quite different sounds. Ma Rainey just had to sound like Ma Rainey not Blind Lemon Jefferson, Arthur Crudup and Ma Rainey. I'm not speaking here of vocal impersonation (or am I?) but the songs of all these people do require a certain chameleon like flexibility, ne'st cafe? 

Of course my experience pertains to the time in my life before I started experiencing rapid fire re-puberty attacks, which kept hacking away at my vocal chords, depositing patches of hair in unlikely places, removing it from others and inducing frequent fits of priapic insanity.

While I couched the Bel Canto joke in racial terms it probably has more to do with geographical location and ones family culture. Back in the days when I frequented open mics (then called hoots) there were a few African American performers whom I suspect came from the musical theatre world, using "trained" voices while attempting to sing Blues. They had the cognoscenti rolling in the aisles, but the uninitiated often thought they were just dandy. I don't know what any of this means.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
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Offline Richard

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #33 on: April 26, 2008, 08:08:10 AM »
Mr O'M
Quote
Of course my experience pertains to the time in my life before I started experiencing rapid fire re-puberty attacks, which kept hacking away at my vocal chords, depositing patches of hair in unlikely places, removing it from others and inducing frequent fits of priapic insanity.

Ha ha a wonderful description of it and almost, if I may say so, quite surreal in an English humoUr type of way :)
« Last Edit: April 26, 2008, 08:09:59 AM by Richard »
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #34 on: April 26, 2008, 08:43:25 AM »
Quote
if I may say so, quite surreal in an English humoUr type of way

The Pythons were the one of the only things that helped me stay sane (?!@!?) in disco era New York City.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Richard

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #35 on: April 27, 2008, 11:51:12 AM »
An interesting thought to see you in disco, even more interesting to see me in one  >:(
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #36 on: April 27, 2008, 04:11:20 PM »
I was never in one. Its just that it infected the music and culture of my contemporaries. Python was like a refuge of sanity.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Doc White

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #37 on: April 27, 2008, 11:49:21 PM »
There are quite a few good blues singers around. Paul Rishell has been mentioned and (at the risk of opening a wound rather than a can of worms) so is CW Stoneking. By the way he is halfway through a US tour.
I like Roy Book Binder's vocals even though he's not a great singer. Tim Williams is also pretty good. Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Taj Mahal are great but the bloke who seems to me to sound closer than anyone else is Tom Waits.
Chris

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #38 on: April 28, 2008, 04:50:57 AM »
Everyones entitled to their opinion of course, but Waits has never sounded like anything other than an actor doing a part when singing, to my ears. It never seems to be an integral part of the music, instead it feels like a stylistic imposition ON the music. KWIM? (Know what I Mean?) There are plenty of good singers around though including some of the ones you mention.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline CF

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #39 on: April 28, 2008, 06:13:35 AM »
All of the above points are good & of course everyone has their own opinion & taste.
I would like to stress the point that O'Muck just made about Waits who, I agree, sounds to me like he's been doing a life-long impression of a blues singer or what-have-you. I think Waits is a great artist: performer & songwriter. I would almost consider him a modern-day minstrel in his approach to Americana sounds. Also CW Stoneking, who I also think is a very talented musician with an uncanny ability to mimic the oldtime blues & folk sound. I would put him in the modern minstrel category as well. [*edited to add . . . I personally think the minstrel tradition is very compelling altho' it has deserved negative historical/racial connotations. Much of the music is very powerful & entertaining. I, for one, absolutely love Al Jolson's music]. In fact I find there are a lot of people in their 20s-30s nowadays with a passion for prewar music who are doing some really incredible impressions of the old vocal & instrumental sounds. One of my favourite things to do when I'm drinking & jamming with my buds is to try to sing as much like Charlie Patton as possible. It usually gets a pretty good chuckle from them. I've noticed that the younger crowd finds the oldtime act much more compelling than the personal take on the country blues. So if I wore a bowler & an old suit & had more of an act I would probably get more work, to be honest. But when I lament the state of contemporary country blues singing I don't really think of these type of artists. I like what these cats lay down & I admire their talent but I think it's a different thing than someone singing directly about their life & ideas & still retaining a 21st century personality & presentation with a strong but not so pervasive prewar component. Does that make sense?
« Last Edit: April 30, 2008, 09:57:10 AM by cheapfeet »
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tommersl

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #40 on: April 28, 2008, 11:17:28 AM »
I've been watching a lot of country blues stuff on youtube lately.
Too bad when people ask about note-for-note accuracy when performing this music they never mean the vocal.
I see unending praise for musicians who play a mean guitar but who's singing is so poor it makes the guitar part void, for me. & I don't mean kinda bad singing, I mean nigh atrocious, as if they're not even listening to the song or . . .
If Son House, Skip James, Leadbelly . . . even Blind Blake who's vocals are often criticized, sang as poorly as some of todays' players we probably would be talking A LOT less about them.
When is there going to be a country blues VOCAL revival?
This is a major, major problem with the country blues situation today as I see it.
Sorry for hijacking your thread reuellis but I spent a long night shaking my head at a hundred videos of amazing guitar players & probably not a single great singer.


There are good Country Blues singers, check out Wesley Jefferson. http://www.livebluesworld.com/profile/WesleyJefferson

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #41 on: April 28, 2008, 01:34:53 PM »
Leon Redbone was the first of this breed I do believe. People went absolutely ape shit for his whole routine and persona. He's a terrific guitar player but I find the persona thing a bit hard to take after a song or two. I even had occasion to tell him so one drunken evening. Nevertheless when he came on the scene, it was hard going for  other revivalists trying to get work, all the clubs wanted Leon! CW Stoneking is an awesome mimic but one song is plenty for me, thanks.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Online Johnm

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #42 on: April 28, 2008, 02:21:47 PM »
Hi all,
One present-day singer I have not heard in years, but who I thought sounded great when I heard him years ago, both as a singer and player, is John Mooney.  He was really a terrific singer when I heard him in the late '70s, very strong, natural and relaxed sounding and a fine player.  A stand-out singer, though, I thought at the time, and I have no reason to think he isn't still a fine singer.
I think there are actually a lot of good singers around, and I tend to like the ones who don't sound too concerned with being idiomatically correct.  For some reason, I found vocal imitation a lot harder to take than instrumental imitation.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: April 28, 2008, 02:52:29 PM by Johnm »

Offline Doc White

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #43 on: April 28, 2008, 05:04:12 PM »
John Mooney is still around. Apparently he had a few personal demons to conquer but he came out with a CD called All I Want a few years back that is pretty good.
Re this mimic thing - how do you decide if it's the real thing or not? To take it completely out of the CB realm for a tick - is Diana Krall mimicing white jazz divas from the 50's or is she doing her thing in that style or Wayne Hancock mimicing Bob Wills or Bob Dylan doing a Woody Guthrie. Everybody draws on their musical forebears. Mimicing to me means you copy someone as opposed to adopting a style or a persona. Don't forget Waits and Stoneking and other working performers are in show business as was Emmet Miller, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. What attracted people to those performers initially was the show, then the record sales came. It's about getting work so you can continue to do your art. All those publicity shots of CB performers feature them wearing suits, not overalls and t-shirts, because that was part of the show business razzamatazz that was required to play live and sell records. By all reports Charlie Patton was a great showman which is why he worked a lot. Audiences want to be entertained and some performers can do it by getting up on stage and being themselves (Leo Kottke comes to mind) but a lot rely on developing some sort of stagecraft which may include developing a performance persona. To me this doesn't diminish their work but adds another dimension to the music.

Cheers,
Chris
 

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Blues Vocal Tradition or why don't we sing like they used to?
« Reply #44 on: April 28, 2008, 05:42:31 PM »
Good points very cogently presented Chris. Shit! Now I'll have to work harder to draw distinctions. We know from what happened to many of the Blues players who didn't "make" it in the first wave of the twenties-thirties, that the Blues had a life as a private and personal form, apart from any sort of public entertainment. There is I think a difference between serving a studious (and maybe ridiculous) apprenticeship as Bob Dylan did, and arriving at an entire replacement personality for whoever it is you actually are. The question then becomes, who's singing?
If its an artificial construct performing, what is there for us to connect with on a deep level?
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

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