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First thing you got to remember, there ain't no money above the fifth fret - Larry Barnwell, a regional sales rep for the Martin Guitar Company and a good flatpicker, when asked by a potential customer, a fingerpicker, whether he should buy a 12- or 14-fret guitar

Author Topic: John Hurt's "Frankie"  (Read 2470 times)

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Offline doctorpep

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John Hurt's "Frankie"
« on: May 19, 2008, 07:09:35 PM »
Hello, everyone. Over on the Mudcat Forum, there was a discussion about Robert Johnson's records being sped-up. This discussion transitioned into one Blues fan's remembering meeting Mississippi John Hurt and asking him about the magnificent "Frankie", which was recorded in 1928 or 1929, and is considered one of the greatest guitar recordings in probably the history of Western music. The following is the post by the gentleman who met Hurt, and my response. I'd be curious to see what everyone thinks! I hope it's all right to post something that was found on another forum.

"Back to Mississippi John Hurt (this is for you, Hoot):

The song in question was "Frankie's Blues," one of only two MJH selections included in the landmark 6-LP set Anthoogy of American Folk Music.

From page 189, Dave Van Ronk's The Mayor of MacDougal Street:

"Spike Driver's Blues" was one of two songs by John that had been included on the Anthology. The other was this gorgeous piece of fingerpicking called "Frankie's Blues." It was a beautiful arrangement, and when those albums came out in the early 1950s, we all immediately set ourselves to learn that thing. It was incredibly fast, though, and after a week or two I dropped by the wayside. A few persisted, and my friend Barry Kornfeld, for one, disappeared into his chambers and emerged six weeks later, blinking like a mole, and he had it. Note for note, just as clean and fast as on the record.

When I first saw John at the Cafe Yana, there he was playing "Frankie's Blues." However, I noticed that it was a lot slower than on the record. Of course, he was a good deal older, but it also struck me that it sounded better at that tempo. I wanted to ask him about it, but I wanted to be as diplomatic as possible ~ I didn't want to just say, "So, Pops, can't cut it anymore, eh?" Very tentatively, I said, "You know that 'Frankie' thing you played..."

Apparently I was not the first person to have asked, because John intervended and saved me any further embarrassment. He just smiled and said, "Oh, you want to know why it's so much slower than on the record."

I said, "Yeah..."

He said, "Well, you know, that song was so long that they had to speed it up to get it all on one side of a 78."

All I could think of was Barry, sidelined with acute carpel tunnel syndrome."

My response:

"That really sucks! I thought that "Frankie" was one of the most amazing recordings ever, and now I find out that it was sped-up! Oh well! Well, I believe that Michael Bloomfield recorded a version of "Frankie" that sounded just like Hurt's old record, and that guys like Stefan Grossman and Ernie Hawkins are capable of playing the song at the same tempo of the record from 1928 or 1929. Man, that's kind of disappointing! Is there a chance that Hurt said that just so his then-current version of the song wouldn't appear to pale in comparison to the original? It was, after all, forty years after he'd recorded the piece when you saw him."
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2008, 07:18:28 PM »
So it is here in Samsara...all things illusory, GONNNNNGGGG!!!! >:D
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2008, 07:45:15 PM »
Well, since you can actually hear the original recording of Frankie speed up, this shouldn't be much of a surprise, though it's a result of defective equipment, not a trick to fit the thing on the 78. Nor is it disappointing to me. I've never thought of the song as an example of guitar acrobatics, just a great song. I actually prefer Hurt's more laid back versions, as I prefer many of of his rediscovery recordings.

Offline doctorpep

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2008, 10:04:58 PM »
Defective equipment, eh? Interesting. Nice mention of Buddhism! Upon your striking of the gong, I "achieved" enlightenment. I will now work for the benefit of all sentient beings. Sorry, too many Buddhism classes in college haha
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2008, 01:02:24 AM »
If the disc-cutting machine was being cranked by a human, there was, of course, room for human error.

Many years ago the British blues researcher Chris Smith came up with the interesting theory that a whole session recorded in Atlanta in 1930 was actually cut at 72 rpm and not 78.  He even provided interested listeners, including myself, with tapes of the songs recorded at that session in their original forms and at something approaching 78 rpm, or the "right" speed.

What immediately came to mind was the fact that you had heard various recordings by your  favourite bluesmen of that era where their voices undoubtedly sounded different, yet it was unmistakeably the right person.  It could simply have been a question of variations in recording speed.

I am also sure I have heard of cases where the disc was running out, so the cranker went a little faster at the end to avoid missing a bit.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline blueshome

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2008, 01:47:24 AM »
Parlour Picker,
I think you are referring to the Georgia Browns' session where the songs play back apparently a semitone sharp (Some Cold Rainy Day came out at Fsharp and I think there was a question of the availability of harmonicas in that key in 1930 Atlanta....).

Disc cutters were not hand cranked, but you are nearly right - they were either battery or mains powered out on location or powered by gravity through a system of weights in the main studios - this continued at EMI until the 60's. I don't think these things were that inaccurate as strobe effects were well known for speed adjustment and most records seem to be OK. We shouldn't underestimate the expertise of the old engineers.

Offline banjochris

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2008, 06:59:25 PM »
And in the case of "Frankie," I believe all the other sides from that session (except the flip, "Nobody's Dirty Business") were rejected because of mechanical problems. Perhaps the fluctuating speed was that problem and it wasn't as pronounced on those two sides.
Chris

Offline uncle bud

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2008, 07:12:18 AM »
And in the case of "Frankie," I believe all the other sides from that session (except the flip, "Nobody's Dirty Business") were rejected because of mechanical problems. Perhaps the fluctuating speed was that problem and it wasn't as pronounced on those two sides.
Chris

Yes, I hadn't really noticed how the recording of Nobody's Dirty Business also speeds up until recently when I was flipping back and forth between the middle and beginning of the songs in iTunes and noticed the difference in pitch.

Doctorpep, just a reminder of the speed-corrected version of Frankie which can be sampled here:
http://www.pristineclassical.com/LargeWorks/Jazz/PABL004.php

The Van Ronk story makes for a nice story from a great teller of stories.

Offline doctorpep

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Re: John Hurt's "Frankie"
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2008, 01:37:42 PM »
So, the version on the Pristine website is at actual speed? It still sounds incredibly fast, not to mention great!
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

 


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