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I got the blues for my baby, and my baby got the blues for me 'cause she went and caught that Big Four, she beat it back to Tennessee - Charley Jordan, Big Four Blues

Author Topic: Fuller's Footdilla?  (Read 2623 times)

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Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Fuller's Footdilla?
« on: October 26, 2009, 04:10:13 PM »
I previously posted this on rec.music.country.old-time, and someone suggested I try here:

I was watching a web video of Jesse Fuller from 1968, and noticed he
was playing a better looking Footdilla  than the one he had in the
mid-1960s, so he must have built at least two of them. Does anyone
know what happened to either? It would be great if someone were still
playing them,  but I suppose that's too much to ask. Maybe they're in
a museum somewhere?

Lyle

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2009, 08:26:26 AM »
Welcome to WeenieCampbell, Lyle. I don't have an answer for you, and am curious to learn the fate of the fotdella myself. I recall reading that they were prone to going out of tune and breaking down, so perhaps he had to keep rebuilding. Anyway, I did find something I hadn't heard about the fotdella before from Ted Estersohn:

http://www.wavechair.com/lonecat.Html
Quote
Cruising the internet I have found some good and some bad information regarding Jesse "The Lone Cat" Fuller from Oakland, California and Atlanta, Georgia; and his unique bass instrument, the fotdella.

Some folks say it's a corruption of "foot diddler" coined by his wife. OK, whatever a foot diddler is. Then someone else goes on to consider that that diddler thing is the only correct version and anything else must be a mockery of J"TLC"F's accent, tantamount to black-face comedy.
This prompts me to respond.

From 1969 to 1971, I worked the Smithsonian folk festival as a stage manager and I can report J"TLC"F's own comments. In the wording, let"s allow for memory of a day 35 years upstream, but I'll vouch for the details.

"This here"s a fahdella, That's F-O-T-D-E-L-L-A, fahdella. What it is, is I had a grandson that was real sick when he was 8 years old, and I made him a coffin. Then he didn't die and I made a fotdella out of it."

I hope that clears everything up.

Setting J"TLC"F up on stage was a trip and a half. He's on a stool with an electric 12-string running back to his amp. Since this is clearly not enough bass, with his bestockinged right big toe he doubles the roots of the chords on the fotdella, a sort of upright box with bass strings and a piano-style hammer action. With his left foot he plays a high-hat. Then, on his harmonica rack there's a kazoo, a harmonica, and a mic that's hooked up to his amp. When he's ready, we have to set 3 stage mics before I hit the announce mic and say, "And now, here's blues great, Jesse Fuller."

At which point he pipes up and says, "No, no, no! That's Jesse "The Lone Cat" Fuller from Oakland, California and Atlanta, Georgia." So what can I say but, "um,...er,...uh,... Ladies and gentlemen, the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife is proud to present, Jesse "The Lone Cat" Fuller from Oakland, California and Atlanta, Georgia."

So you see, I've learned my lesson.

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2009, 09:17:25 AM »
Thanks for the memory of Jesse. When we brought him to Minneapolis in 1965, he was in misery -- he had a stomach ulcer, I think, and he was obviously in pain. But that didn't keep him from putting on a fabulous show.

There's a photo at http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/BrnSnift/FullerLibba.html that shows an interesting cultural difference. If 3 Minnesotans had been on that couch, one would have been on each end and the third in the exact center. If Jesse was going to talk to you, he had to be close. As you can see by the picture, I couldn't quite figure out what to do with my hands.

I wasn't involved with either the pre-concert sound check or introducing him, so I didn't have the experiences described, but probably someone did. For some of the other concerts in the three-year series, I was involved in those tasks, and I greatly missed the experience of being in the audience and just enjoying it.

Lyle


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2009, 11:54:55 AM »
Great photo. I had a look through the many others. What I would have given to hang out at your house in the mid-60s. Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley, Rev. Gary Davis, and on and on. Bill Monroe playing blues with Mance Lipscomb in the living room.

Hope you don't mind me sharing the link with others:

http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/BrnSnift/PhotoAlbum.html

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2009, 01:14:20 PM »
Hi Lyle - I did a little further digging and found this from Andy Cohen.

"Some years ago I went to the musical instrument facility at the
Smithsonian to look at their Dolceola. While I was there, I got to look
around a little bit, and I saw Jesse's Fotdella sitting there big as life!
If you ever want to visit it, that's where it is. Just thought y'all'd like
to know."

If you don't know Andy already, he can be contacted through his website at http://www.andycohenmusic.net/

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2009, 01:28:59 PM »
Great! That's where it belongs. Thanks for finding out. And thanks for the earlier story about it being an unused casket. That certainly added power to it as a musical instrument.

Lyle

Offline jtbrown

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2009, 02:30:51 PM »
The liner notes to the "Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals, & Blues" album, from 1958, quote own Fuller's account of how he invented the fotdella.  At this point, he doesn't say anything about a sick grandchild ("I just got the idea lyin' in bed one night, just like I write songs"), and the instrument shown in the accompanying photo and in others I've seen doesn't really look like a coffin.  He describes how he built the instrument, using skills he had picked up while employed at a barrel factory, and he also explains the name: "My wife named it the fotdella because I played it with my foot, like 'foot diller'" (not "foot diddler," as Estersohn has it).

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2009, 03:35:25 PM »
Jesse was very much an entertainer, and I like the casket story because of its resonance -- music is generated because a child was saved. That raises the story to the level of folklore, which fits right in with traditional music and the old ballads. The "thought it up in bed one night" version is probably the truth, but truth is over-rated when it comes to defining art, in my opinion.

Thanks for sharing that information, though.

Lyle

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2009, 02:19:19 AM »
Great set of photos!  I still remember Jesse Fuller cropping up on British TV in the 1960s just as I was starting to take an interest in this kind of music.  I was fascinated by him. I think it was on an early evening news/magazine programme - probably "Nationwide" or something similar.
"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 Mr.OMuck

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2009, 05:19:39 AM »
Quote
ut truth is over-rated when it comes to defining art
;D

My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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

Offline daveharrisonemanband

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2009, 04:03:03 PM »
In the research for my book on One Man Bands, I've read and talked to quite a few people about the fotdella. An article in Blues Access from a few years back had one of Jesse's fotdellas (presumably his last one) at the Oakland Museum (but not on display, you have to call to see it!). Jesse Cahn (son of Rolf Cahn and Barbara Dane) knew Jesse as a child and talked about Jesse's first fotdella in the mid fifties being a lay-on-the-ground instrument, which was too large to be convenient so he figured out a way to convert it to what we see. He also insists that it is pronounced footdella, but of course Jesse sounds like fahdella, when he said it. I have two of my own that I play (as a one man band) in my show, made by a busking buddy, Glenn Orr. So far, they are the only others I know of. Robert "One Man" Johnson plays a small 12 note foot piano, which is similar but I'm pretty sure it's an amplified instrument (still researching this). If anyone has any more info on the subject or one man bands, I'd appreciate it! My email is slimchance@shaw.ca Thanks!

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2009, 08:43:34 PM »
I have an LP by Robert "One Man" Johnson from quite a few years ago. Unfortunately, it's developed some incurable skips. As I remember from the liner notes, he lived in Wisconsin somewhere, but I haven't heard anything about him before or since. What happened to him? His LP was very entertaining, and it would be a hoot to hear him in person.

Lyle

Offline daveharrisonemanband

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2009, 06:29:16 PM »
Hey Lyle, Robert one man Johnson is in China for the next few months. He teachs and performs over there. I'm in contact to do with the book. Love to get a copy of that LP, skips and all. Any chance? I'm still waiting on recordings from him too. What year is it from and the title? Is it strictly one man band (OMB) or are there overdubs or other musicians too?

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Fuller's Footdilla?
« Reply #13 on: November 05, 2009, 10:40:46 AM »
The Robert "One Man" Johnson LP is called "'54 Chevrolet Panel Truck Blues," Housedog Records HDM 15478, undated but sometime after 1978. Recorded by Dave Ray. There are no other musicians on the recording, and it proudly states it was recorded in the studio with no overdubs.

I played it through, and there's only one skip. I recall it as being mostly unplayable, but I dimly remember now that the condition was due to a severe warp, which has corrected itself by being jammed into a cabinet for a long time with a lot of other LPs.

I can digitize it & send you a CD, if you contact me with a mailing address. I'm at lylelofgren{at}visi{dot}com.

Lyle

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