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My mama told me, my papa too, don't let no woman be the death of you, 'cause she didn't allow me to stay out all night long - Charley Jordan, Hunkie Tunkie Blues

Author Topic: "Guitar Shorty--Alone In His Field"--Trix 3306  (Read 2431 times)

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Offline Johnm

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"Guitar Shorty--Alone In His Field"--Trix 3306
« on: July 14, 2009, 04:02:11 PM »
"Guitar Shorty--Alone In His Field"--Trix 3306  
PROGRAM:  Easter Blues; Boogie, Now; Don't Cry, Baby; Like A Damn Fool; Jessie Jones; Whistling Blues; Near The Cross; Pull Your Dress Down; Working Hard; Now Tell Me, Baby; Shorty's Talking Boogie

This release on Peter B. Lowry's Trix label featured the music of the Carolina bluesman and all-around character John Henry "Guitar Shorty" Fortescue.  Shorty was an absolute musical dynamo, and his music expresses as strongly as that of any Country Blues player I've heard the feeling of constantly being in the here and now, being made up on the spot.  Guitar Shorty's music illustrates particularly well the peril of confusing meter with time, when talking of a blues player's sense of rhythm and phrasing.  Metrically, Shorty's playing was quite irregular, but he was, at the same time, a supreme groover with a powerful rhythmic engine and an irresistible forward impetus in his time-keeping.  Shorty changed everything that he worked with; thus, his versions of commonly encountered blues forms are adapted on the fly as his inspiration dictated in the moment.
A major portion of what made Shorty's instrumental sound special was the tuning that he played all his music in:  EAEGBE.  This tuning is almost like cross-note except that the fifth string is tuned to a IV note (A) rather than a V note (B).  The tuning ends up being the same as E in standard position for the first three strings, and for the fifth and sixth strings, but sets up things with the fourth string so that you have an unfretted octave for alternation between the sixth and fourth strings.  Shorty used the tuning both for conventionally fretted playing and his expert slide playing.  His ability to groove was varied enough that he doesn't end up sounding monotonous despite always working in the same tuning.
As distinctive as his playing was, Shorty's approach to lyrics and singing was more distinctive yet.  Like Henry Townsend, he seems to have been a master at improvising blues lyrics, though Shorty on occasion took things a lot farther than that.  On several of the tracks on the album, most notably "Like a Damn Fool", and "Pull Your Dress Down", Shorty launches into improvised dramatic riffing in which he switches seamlessly between two or three different characters (including female characters) while he spritzes a story that I'm thoroughly convinced he had no more insight with regard to the outcome, until he arrived there, than does the listener hearing it for the first time.  "Pull Your Dress Down" in particular brings to mind some of the comic improvisations of people like Richard Pryor or Robin Williams, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if this improvisational story-telling of Shorty's was the most prized aspect of what he did by the people who knew him the best.  These pieces make me glad for the LP era, for they could never have fit on a 78.
The program opens with "Easter Blues", in which Shorty has little to say, and says it at great length.  It turns out he is resenting the prospect of having to work on Easter Monday, when he anticipates being hung over.  "Boogie, Now" is a terrific dance number, just grooving like crazy and with Shorty's scat singing, some of the best since Popeye the Sailor.  "Don't Cry, Baby" is a more moody, darker number with the unforgettable line:
   Baby, don't you never, never treat me like a friend.
"Like a Damn Fool" is one of Shorty's story numbers, in this instance about encounters with ugly bears and other things.  "Jesse Jones" is sensational, about a "bad little man".  I've been advised that Jesse Jones is a sausage brand--did Shorty get this mixed up with Jesse James?  We'll never know.  "Whistling Blues" is an 8-bar "Worried Mind Blues" cover, featuring Shorty's spectacular whistling.  "Near The Cross" starts as more-or-less conventional hymn but quickly moves into more characteristic Shorty progressive digressive story-telling territory.  "Pull Your Dress Down" is the highlight of the story songs, featuring a female visitor with an excessively short dress and a persistent F.B.I. agent.  "Working Hard" is my other favorite track, besides "Jesse Jones".  Shorty's offended sense of justice in not being paid timely for his agricultural laboring comes through loud and clear.  "Now Tell Me, Baby" features Shorty singing in a woman's voice and answering the woman in his own voice.  The program concludes with "Shorty's Talking Boogie".
Shorty's over-all sound reminds me of an East coast version of his near-contemporary, Smoky Babe, though Shorty's lyric flights of fancy are far wilder than anything Smoky Babe did in that department.  Both players were master groovers though, and fly in the face of the notion that there are no new things to be said, or new ways of saying things in the Country Blues.  If you want to say something new, though, it must be conceded that having an imagination like Guitar Shorty's and being LOOSE really helps.  Highly recommended.
All best,
Johnm          
« Last Edit: July 14, 2009, 06:20:43 PM by Johnm »

Offline oddenda

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Re: "Guitar Shorty--Alone In His Field"--Trix 3306
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2009, 07:18:08 PM »
John -

          Needless to say, I have stashed away more Shorty material, hopefully SOMEday will see the light of day. The pieces include one talking blues that resulted in asking Shorty, "Do the dirtiest song you can think of!" He did. It includes the line, "That p***y big enough to drive a Greyhound bus through!" You capture the essence of Mr. Fortescue quite nicely... thanks for that.

Peter B.

Offline Johnm

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Re: "Guitar Shorty--Alone In His Field"--Trix 3306
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2009, 07:31:02 PM »
I'm glad you felt like the review captured something of Shorty's essence, Peter B., and thanks for making his music available.  One thing I neglected to say in the review that I meant to say is that I believe musicians who are funny like Guitar Shorty or Furry Lewis are almost always under-valued for their musical qualities.  Make no mistake about it--Guitar Shorty could play, as could Furry!  I think sometimes that people who have the notion that Blues is a sad kind of music de-value the music of players who are cut-ups. 
All best,
Johnm

Offline oddenda

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Re: "Guitar Shorty--Alone In His Field"--Trix 3306
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2009, 06:35:54 AM »
John -

          Right you are. Blues is NOT for sitting on one's porch bemoaning one's fate, but is meant for the rural Saturday Night Function... dancing is not an option, but a necessity! And Shorty really could play...I'm glad that you noticed. He was a musical animal par excellence, an important and ORIGINAL talent who was not always appreciated within his "natural" community. Uniqueness is not always rewarded in its time is all I can say regarding Mr. Fortescue/Fortiscue. I learned from seeing him in action that poverty ain't pretty or romantic... it's unconscionable. The blues life, indeed: Not to be admired.

Peter B.

 


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