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Author Topic: Robert Wilkins  (Read 5832 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Robert Wilkins
« on: September 14, 2004, 04:41:40 PM »
I've been working through the John Miller video of Robert Wilkins and having a great time doing it. (Thanks John!) In doing so, my appreciation for Wilkins has grown, I think in part because I'm listening to the music more carefully in order to play it, but also because in playing it I've noticed how unusual it is. Rare is the spot where you can say something to the effect of, oh yeah, he's doing that Tommy Johnson thing, or that Furry Lewis thing, or that Blind Lemon thing. The guitar parts are very individual, with unexpected bass lines, odd timing of riffs, not much repetition from song to song, and blend with the singing in a rather nuanced manner. The tunes I've been working on so far are Police Sergeant Blues, I'll Go With Her, Jailhouse Blues, and That's No Way to Get Along (where you might be able to say, oh yeah, like Furry Lewis). Most of his material is country blues songwriting of the highest order. I'm not sure why it took me so long to appreciate him on this higher level but I'm a certified Wilkins nutcase now.

I need to get more of his postwar material as well. I have a few tracks on the Biograph disc that includes Mississippi Fred McDowell and Furry Lewis, and Wilkins material on that seems to me to be the best of the bunch, gospel instead of blues but great interpretations of the tunes. The Blues Vault disc from Adelphi seems to be the only other postwar stuff available outside of one track on the Newport festival CD. Any others you know of?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2004, 05:28:57 PM »
Hi Andrew,
From the post-War period, I have an Origin Jazz Library LP, which was originally on Piedmont, and which I heard at least two years ago had been bought by Andy Cohen, who was planning to put it out on CD on his Riverlark label.  I have not yet heard of the CD coming out.  I believe I will record the CD to mini-disc for the Juke (I've been transferring other albums that have never made it to CD for the Juke, as well).  I particularly remember Rev. Wilkins's version of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" from the album--it is completely different from any other version I have heard.  I have never heard the Adelphi disc, I need to get that, and so don't know how much overlap there is between that and the album I have.

I think Robert Wilkins was one of the greatest of Blues composers, and as far as I'm concerned, if he had never done anything but any one of his tunes, from "I Do", to "Rolling Stone", to "Jailhouse", to "That's No Way To Get Along", he would still be one of the greatest ever.  I am going to work on "Nashville Stonewall" one of these days.  What a groove!
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Montgomery

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2004, 06:25:52 PM »
Wilkins was a master!  Not just a master player, but a brilliant singer and possibly the greatest blues lyricist (in my humble opinion, I'm sure many will disagree).  He's one of the most original players I can think of.  There is an LP that never made it to CD, and it's the best of his postwar material (that I know of).  The Blues Vault CD is good, but not great.  I hope the OJL album makes it to CD, but if not, I'll transfer it to my computer if Mr. Miller doesn't get around to doing it (not that I'm doubting that he would).  Why didn't people record more of him in the revival years?  Is there any video footage of him?  Why does this  man continue to be underrated to this day?  I love the way his singing trails off into falsetto at the end of most of the lines in Alabama Blues.  Also, he's constantly referring to people (the listener) as "friend."  It's nice

Offline Montgomery

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2004, 06:41:43 PM »
By the way, has anyone heard "Pistol Blues" by Unknown on Times Ain't Like They Used To Be, Vol. 5?  Not only is it a great recording, but it reminds me of Wilkins' "Rolling Stone" quite a bit, though it also sounds Ed Bell-ish.  Any theories?

Offline Slack

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2004, 08:45:25 PM »
Long live Wilkins! 

UB, I've got the Blues Vault CD also and agree with Montgomery - good but not great, actually there are two great cuts on it, the 'Wynwood Music' cuts ("Jesus Said If You Go" and "(Jesus Will Fix it) Alright") and I think those two cuts are worth the price of the CD - (we'll get our post-war section on the juke in the not too distant future).  His voice is in fine form.

I was very glad to see John Miller do the Wilkins video and cannot imagine anyone else who could have done it! (thanks John!) I need to get back to it - the singing can be tough (for me anyway) - I can sing "That's No Way to Get Along" but I cannot make "I do" sound decent! Wilkins is such a supuerb singer.

Cheers,
slack


Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2004, 10:22:08 PM »
Wow, it's great to see all the enthusiasm for Robert Wilkins out there!  "Nuanced" is a great word to describe the interaction of his accompaniments and vocals.  It is one thing that can make his songs hard to sing and play simultaneously.  I know what you mean about "I Do", John D.  The one thing that I think might help with the singing is to practice singing along with him on the record while not playing.  If you get the melody and phrasing thoroughly internalized, I think it will be easier to do when you add the guitar back in.  The subtlety of that guitar part never ceases to amaze me, though, the syncopation, rhythmic counter-punching, et al.  His raggy numbers may be a bit easier to sing than his bluesy ones--the singing tends to be right on top of the guitar more in the raggy numbers like "Alabama Blues" and "Police Sergeant".   I agree with you about the caliber of his lyrics, too, Aaron, I don't know who had better ones.  I also believe that it's quite unusual for a person who recorded as many tunes as he did to have virtually no self-plagiarization, or covers of his own songs.  He really was sensational, and a tremendous singer, as you all point out.  We're lucky to have heard him.
all best,
Johnm 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2004, 06:58:57 AM »
Is there any video footage of him?

Aaron,

Adelphi has a short (poor) clip of him playing In the Army of the Lord with a backing band. On their website here. The general link for ARI films is in the Links section. I wonder if they have more. It seems a shame that film transferring costs are keeping some rare footage in a vault somewhere for no one to see.


Offline frankie

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2004, 11:58:33 AM »
I Do

That's the RW song I've always most wanted to sing - what an amazingly subtle feast of touch and tone.? Everything about it is a lesson in and of itself.? Even after having heard it perhaps ten thousand times, it still stops me in my tracks.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 06:26:37 PM by Johnm »

Offline outfidel

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2005, 11:43:04 AM »
MISSISSIPPI FRED MCDOWELL,FURRY LEWIS, ROBERT WILKINS
When I Lay My Burden Down


Biograph BCD 130
19 tracks, 61 mins, highly recommended

The primary reason to get this CD is for the four truly sublime sides by Rev. Robert Wilkins - a truly superb singer and guitarist whose post war recordings are sparse indeed. Wilkins recorded some magnificent country blues in the 20s and 30s - he subsequently found religion and all his later recordings are of gospel songs. He recorded one magnificent LP for Piedmont in 1964 which has, so far, eluded CD reissue and these beautiful sides are from that same session - Old Time Religion/ I Wish I Was In Heaven/ Rock Of Ages and When I Lay My Burden Down - lovely singing and guitar. For more of his material check out Genes 9602 ("Remember Me" - $15.98) which features previously unissued recordings from 1969 & '71. There are nine sides by MIssissippi Fred McDowell from 1969 which find Fred in fine form though the sound quality is not very good and since there are better sounding recordings of all his songs they are not especially compelling though the newcomer to Fred will not be disappointed. There are six tracks by Furry Lewis who is also in fine form and though most of his songs he recorded elsewhere he always performed them differently and his introductions are delight unto themselves. All three singers perform the song When I Lay My Burden Down though, as liner note writer, Peter Aschoff points out, Wilkins actually sings "Since I Laid My Burden Down" pointing out that he'd already experienced salvation and his blues singing days were behind him. (FS)

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Offline eagle rockin daddy

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2005, 01:20:31 PM »
Hey Outfidel,

A few years ago, I was visiting Andy Cohen and his lovely wife Larkin Bryant in Memphis.  Larkin is a huge Rev. Wilkins fan and played me her copy of the Piedmont album.  If memory serves, Larkin had just or was about to get the rights to that recording, and hoped to re-release it.  You can check out their web-site:  www.riverlarkmusic.com    there is hope!

Mike

Offline outfidel

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2005, 10:10:45 AM »
Mike - Thanks for the link to Andy Cohen's site. I hadn't been to the web site in quite a while, and forget how much great music he's put out. That would be great if he & Larkin issued the Robert Wilkins post-war material on CD!
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2006, 09:51:34 PM »
Hi all,
One of the really striking performances of Robert Wilkins in his post-rediscovery period was his version of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee", recorded for his Piedmont album and later re-released on Origin Jazz Library.  In its most commonly known version, "just a Closer Walk With Thee" is a mainstay of New Orleans funerals, with a very sweet and joyous Gospel melody, and the following progression, more or less, assuming the key of G.  In the second bar, G gets two beats, and G/B and Bflatdim7 each get one beat.

    |    G    |  G    / G/B/Bflatdim7|   Am7      |       D7        |

    |    D7  |          D7               |       G       |        G         |

    |   G7   |          G7#5           |       C       |       C#dim7  |

    |   G    |             D7            |  G    /C/Cm |      G/D7      |

Robert Wilkins' version of the song is considerably darker, and in the third bar he hits a real shocker.  Here is his chord progression for "Just A Closer Walk With Thee".

    |    G    |      G    |    F     |    F    |

    |    D    |     D     |    G    |     G   |

    |    C    |      C    |     C    |    C    |

    |    G    |      G    |     G    |    G   |

The starkness of Wilkins' chordal choices is accentuated by the simplicity of his boom-chang accompaniment.  It is a pretty harsh sound to end the form with four bars of the I chord, without a single V7 chord to sweeten things a little.  His melody has unusual intervals, too.  He resolves into the G chord in the third bar of the second four bar phrase by moving quickly, in consecutive eighth notes from C down to G; try it out, it's an odd resolution. 
It would be interesting to know if this version of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" had any kind of currency in African-American churches apart from Wilkins's version, or whether the treatment was as distinctively his own as it seems.  He always had different ways of doing things from other musicians.  This performance is on the Juke if you are interested to hear it.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2006, 12:49:39 PM »
Here's a little background on how the Piedmont recording came about supplied to Blues Unlimited by Richard K Spottswood and published in BU 13, July 1964 (p.5):

The process of locating Rev. Wilkins was so simple that one might wonder why it hadn't been done before. Early in 1964 Bill Givens of the Origin Jazz Library mentioned that it was rumoured that Wilkins was living in Memphis and corresponding with a British collector. Since Dick Spottswood was too ill to travel at the time, his wife Louisa stopped at the telephone company to check the Memphis listings. She found an address, a letter was sent, and it was quickly answered. Arrangements were made for Rev. Wilkins to come to Washington to make recordings for Piedmont Records; this was done on the 13th and 16th of February 1964. Wilkins told Spottswood that actually he had never corresponded with any collector, though he was aware that a number of the old Memphis bluesmen had been recorded again. How strange that one of the best of them had been overlooked! And were it not for Bill Givens' "false" tip he would not have been found at all. For this valuable bit of misinformation folk music collectors will be eternally in Mr. Givens' debt. Wilkins can be heard singing two numbers on an Origin album?OJL5, "The Mississippi Blues"; and the new recordings will appear on PIEDMONT LP 13162, available in July this year from Piedmont at 2023, N. Woodstock Street, Arlington, Virginia 22207.

The songs on this new album are a mixture of traditional and original sacred music. His arrangements of the familiar "Do Lord Remember Me" and "Just a closer walk with Thee" are unique in folk-music. Of the two beautiful guitar solos, "Thank you Jesus" is Wilkins'; "I'm gong back to my Heavenly King" is a borrowing from the old song "Jim Canaan", The exquisite "Prodigal Son" is a reworking of an early recording, "That's no way to get along" (see OJ L5 for comparison) is one of the most stirring folk hymns ever recorded, Rev. Wilkins has already been hailed as one of the most important performers in folk music today. Piedmont are proud to present his first new release.

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2006, 02:07:52 AM »
Just one question for Bunker Hill - are you always covered in dust from crawling around your attic looking for old copies of BU, etc??  Whatever the case we're all grateful for the fascinating stuff you turn up. 

I've got loads of old blues mags, but no indexing system, so it would take me months to find something I'd forgotten I'd read 20 or 30 years ago (as a babe in arms, of course!).
"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 Bunker Hill

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2006, 11:50:35 AM »
Just one question for Bunker Hill - are you always covered in dust from crawling around your attic looking for old copies of BU, etc??  Whatever the case we're all grateful for the fascinating stuff you turn up. 
I've got loads of old blues mags, but no indexing system, so it would take me months to find something I'd forgotten I'd read 20 or 30 years ago (as a babe in arms, of course!).
Don't know about you, but when I was a blues neophyte (c1962-1979) I devoured every magazine, book and sleevenote, reading them not just once but many times. Today my mind's eye can conjure images of these ancient pieces, as in the case of the Wilkins. I wish the same could be said of anything I've read in the past couple of decades, but, thankfully for that, I can refer to Robert Ford's mammoth 1999 blues bibliography for guidance.

Bunker "Dusty" Hill

Offline tenderfoot84

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #15 on: June 23, 2006, 12:08:03 PM »
hi all,
i'm kind of bombarding the site just now like a kid in a candy store but i'd like to ask whether anyone else is having trouble getting "that's no way to get along" to sound like the same song wilkin's is playing. i can't get into it. the sound seems far too elusive. i feel ok playing i'll go with her (personal favourite), i do, jailhouse, rolling stone and police sergeant thanks to john's excellent video, and alabama blues and to a lesser extent new stockyard blues (i blame that on not having anyone to strum behind me or play spoons  :D)
but that's no way to get along is a whole different sackful of badgers...
Cheerybye,
David C

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2006, 08:49:41 AM »
Hi Tenderfoot - I've fooled around with That's No Way to Get Along on and off, and I know what you mean about the sound. That's a problem for me with Wilkins in general though. He's got a great sound that can be elusive. You don't mention what your problem with it is exactly. But one of the things that moved me closer to getting the song sounding right was to make sure I was brushing those strings on 2 and 4. The natural impulse, for me anyway, is to simply alternate the bass between the 6th and 4th strings, but really the 4th string strokes are brushes. They seem to have little pick-up strokes in front of them occasionally as well, giving that chucka-chucka-chucka groove that I associate more often with Furry Lewis. Minor details that makes quite a difference in the sound, IMO.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #17 on: August 22, 2008, 06:02:41 PM »
Hi all,
It has been noted here before how original Robert Wilkins was, both as a composer and lyricist.  I was reminded of this as I went to transcribe "Long Train Blues", one of his raggy numbers in C position, standard tuning, and found that it was a 15-bar blues, phrased in three five-bar phrases, consistent from beginning to end.  After the intro, the song never returns to the IV chord.  The verses are phrased like so:

   |    C    |    C    |    C    |  C  G  |  C  G  |

   |    C    |    C    |    C    |  C  G  |  C  G  |

   |    G7  |    G    |    C    |  C  G  |  C  G  |

I am sure I would never have noticed the song's unusual structure had I not been transcribing it, for it sounds perfectly natural in its phrasing, not stilted or high-concept sounding at all.  It's a great tune.
Apropos of Robert Wilkins musical singularity, I met his son, John, at Port Townsend, and introduced myself to him, telling him that I had done an instructional video on his father's guitar playing.  Rev. John Wilkins said, "My father had a very strange guitar style."
All best,
Johnm 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #18 on: August 23, 2008, 07:14:47 PM »
I didn't get as much of an opportunity to hear Rev. John Wilkins play as I'd hoped, though did catch him playing with Rick Franklin and others at the Public House pub on Saturday night. It seemed to me that he had incorporated some aspects of his father's guitar style. He also sat in on some sinner tunes  ;). He seemed to be having a great time whenever I saw him (leading a singalong of gospel material in 204, for instance). It was a little funny to see at the faculty introduction session in the Theatre how, when Jarron Paxton or someone (can't recall) played a Wilkins tune and introduced it by saying "No one really knows him much anymore" Rev. Wilkins wife shouted out "Here's his son!" I felt like people should have been cheering wildly but it got missed in the commotion, I think.

Offline Doc Brainerd

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #19 on: September 28, 2009, 10:02:17 AM »
This past weekend I set about learning RW's 'Prodigal Son' from Fred Sokolow's 'Roots of Country Blues' instructional booklet/cd. I also spent some time working with John Miller's DVD and tabs, and between the two, I'm making some modest progress. Since Sokolow's lesson is based on RW's Piedmont LP version of 'Prodigal Son' I've been on the lookout for the CD version of that LP. It looks from this thread that, as of yet, it still has never been released on CD. A few earlier posts suggested that the Piedmont LP was 'soon to be released' on CD, but if it has been I haven't found it on Amazon or through Riverlark Music's website. Anybody have an recent news on the subject?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #20 on: September 28, 2009, 10:41:42 AM »
A few earlier posts suggested that the Piedmont LP was 'soon to be released' on CD, but if it has been I haven't found it on Amazon or through Riverlark Music's website. Anybody have an recent news on the subject?
See towards end of this discussion http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=128&topic=4735.0;all at which Andy Cohen states that it's "all but done". However that was 5 months back. I suspect he's fed up of me asking so maybe somebody else would like to raise the subject with him.  ;)

Offline Doc Brainerd

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #21 on: September 28, 2009, 10:55:49 AM »
Thanks BH for directing me to that thread  :D - I dont know how I missed it! Looks like it's been much discussed. I guess I'll have to be patient like all the other wilkinophiles.  :'(

Offline jostber

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Re: Robert Wilkins
« Reply #22 on: October 01, 2009, 06:08:37 AM »
I won't be patient no more. I need it now! :)


 


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