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I don't like no confusion - Mississippi John Hurt

Author Topic: Frank Hutchison  (Read 1803 times)

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Offline Kokomo O

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Frank Hutchison
« on: July 08, 2009, 07:23:31 PM »
I've been rooting around in the Old, Weird America web site, and one thing that caught my attention was the entry on Frank Hutchison, at http://oldweirdamerica.wordpress.com/category/19-stackalee-by-frank-hutchison/. The thing that's fascinating to me about Hutchison is that many of his tunes have a feel to them that, if they were no vocals, you would think that the guitar player was black, and probably from Mississippi or Memphis on some tunes but from the East Coast on others. Examples include Train that Carried the Girl Behind, Worried Blues and Cannonball Blues for a Delta or Memphis feel (all played with a slide, sounds upright to me), and West Virginia Blues for an East Coast feel. Other tunes, like Lightning Express, Wild Hogs in the Red Brush (great title) and The Burglar Man, sound distinctly white country, without a hint of a country blues or ragtime element. Still others, like the wonderful Logan County Blues, are less tied to a particular regional style.

What's strange about this is that this guy is from West Virginia, a state with very few blacks, probably then as now. He recorded from 1926 to 1929, before we think of people picking up tunes, techniques and styles from records. The present West Virginia African-American population is about 1%, and I can't imagine it was much greater in 1926. So the question I'm wondering about is where this incredibly varied style originated.

The Wikipedia entry on Hutchison says he was a medicine show performer in the '20s, so maybe that's at least part of it. But to me he has the feel of the black styles so down that it doesn't seem right that he developed it that late in life.

If you look at the map, it appears that Logan County, WV isn't all that far from the area around the VA/NC border where Doc Watson and Wayne Henderson are from. They can certainly both play a convincing East Coast ragtime or blues, although I haven't heard them do the Delta thing. But to say Logan County isn't all that far isn't really correct--Google Maps says it's almost a four hour drive today from Logan, WV to Rugby, VA, and in 1920 that had to be eight or ten hours. I don't think proximity to Doc Watson's home country is the answer.

I note that the Old Blue Bus site claims Hutchison learned to play from a couple of black coal miners. Maybe. It also says he was a big influence on Doc. Also maybe, but I don't hear it.

Any thoughts?

Offline David Kaatz

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Re: Frank Hutchison
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2009, 11:41:33 AM »
I agree Cannonball Blues sounds very 'black' in the guitar playing.  But KC Blues to me sounds white.  Those are the only two I have handy to listen to at work.

Dave

Offline Richard

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Re: Frank Hutchison
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2009, 01:43:18 PM »
He played lap style and I think he sounds white although some the tunes maybe be black - if you see what I mean  ::)

The Document CD has a bit about him including he was helped on his musical way by a black musician Bill Hunt and then by another musician called Henry Vaughn.

(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline banjochris

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Re: Frank Hutchison
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2009, 06:51:44 PM »
I'm pretty sure that he played both lap style and regular upright style for bottleneck pieces. "Cannon Ball" and "Worried Blues" are lap style, but "Train that Carried...," "Logan County," "KC Blues" and "Last Scene of the Titanic" are all upright. He combines the slide with conventional fretting on all of these last tunes.

As far as a white or black style, I think he sounds a lot more comfortable on tunes that would be more likely to have a black origin, like "Stackalee" and his blues numbers, than he does on old-time standards like "Lightning Express" or "Boston Burglar". Whatever style he plays in, his sense of timing is uniquely his own.

His fellow West Virginian Duck Justice to me sounds equally comfortable playing old-time or blues material, but at the same time he has a less idiosyncratic sense of timing.

Hutchison and Justice are rare examples of performers from the '20s who weren't completely pigeon-holed by their record companies into recording only one genre or another (Uncle Dave Macon and Charlie Patton would be two others). It seems like Okeh tried with Hutchison with the harmonica fiddle tunes at his first session but the sales of "Train" probably prevented them from continuing to try.

I would suspect there were a lot more performers (white and black) who could play "white" and "black" material. And as far as Logan County having a small black population, it only needs one of that small population to be an influential musician for their to be a large effect -- look at Arnold Schultz in Bill Monroe's area of Kentucky influencing Monroe, Mose Rager and Ike Everly and (indirectly) Merle Travis.
Chris

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Frank Hutchison
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2009, 09:04:58 PM »
Yeah, I understand what you're saying about Arnold Schultz. But Hutchison is still curious to me. And I can appreciate that while I may hear him as sounding more like the contemporary black players, Richard hears him as sounding more like the contemporary white players. However, I think I'm not alone in hearing his blues material as having a "black" feel to it. The thing that's so odd to me is that I think that feel has to come from a certain immersion, which you wouldn't expect would come from the influence of one player, even a critical teacher in his development. I just can't imagine where that immersion would have come from in the circumstances of West Virginia in the teens and 20s.

I'll check out Dick Justice--only have one cut right now, which is clearly a white country tune, a waltz.

Online Johnm

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Re: Frank Hutchison
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2009, 10:27:02 PM »
Hi Kokomo O,
I wonder what it is about Frank Hutchison's playing that sounds like Mississippi playing to you--is it simply that he plays with a slide sometimes?  His time doesn't sound like Mississippi time to me at all, it seems notably more quirky and bumpy than that of such Mississippi contemporaries of his as Charlie Patton and Son House.  He sounds like a mountain guy very influenced by black music while still functioning comfortably in the Old-Time tradition to me.  A lot of the white mountain players were very influenced by black musicians they heard or met.  It was certainly the case with Frank Hutchison and Dick Justice, both previously mentioned, but also Dock Boggs, Hobart Smith, Larry Hensley and Roscoe Holcomb.
All best,
Johnm  
« Last Edit: August 18, 2009, 10:11:59 AM by Johnm »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Frank Hutchison
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2009, 01:27:01 AM »
I'm glad John mentioned Dock Boggs, since he was interviewed after his rediscovery, and he talks about deciding to pick the banjo -- rather than play in, as he called it, the "knock-down" style -- after seeing and hearing one black banjo player who played in that style.
Chris

Offline Hwy80

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Re: Frank Hutchison
« Reply #7 on: August 23, 2017, 01:03:21 PM »
A new JSP 4CD set I bought recently and been enjoying is Worried Blues -



99 tracks spread over 4 CDs - more than Hutchison recorded himself, so the collection also includes tracks by Kelly Harrell, the Tenneva Ramblers (Jimmie Rodgers's band around the time of the '27 Bristol sessions), and Blue Ridge Highballers.

But the Frank Hutchison songs are the highlight.  Allmusic writes this in their review of this box,

Quote
"Hutchison, in particular, was an arresting talent, with a striking and consistent slide guitar style and a rough but charmingly everyman vocal style that gives the songs he recorded for OKeh Records like "Worried Blues," "Train That Carried the Girl From Town," "The Miner's Blues," "The Last Scene of the Titanic," and the impressive guitar instrumental "Logan County Blues," an individualistic twist almost unique in Appalachian music. Much like banjoist Dock Boggs, he incorporated a high degree of black blues into his repertoire."

Good stuff.

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