collapse

* Member Info

 
 
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

* Like Us on Facebook

The Bible's right, somebody's wrong. Ah mean, you are wrong - Sister O.M. Terrell, The Bible's Right

Author Topic: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues  (Read 6459 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi all,
I have heard it said that the role of the guitar or piano in the blues is to accompany the voice, and while there is an element of truth in that, it has always struck me as an over-simplification.  If the role of the instruments accompanying the voice in blues is simply to provide an accompaniment, what explanation is there for the instrumental virtuosity achieved by so many players in the style?  The virtuosity is certainly not needed to accompany the voice--that can be accomplished perfectly adequately in a much plainer fashion.  No, the instrumental role in blues playing and accompaniment is more complex: to serve as another voice, holding up one end of a call-and-response and reacting to what is being sung, in addition to providing the harmonic and rhythmic support normally accorded by an accompaniment.

Once you begin to think of the musical instrument as another voice, the sense of so many of the conventions pertaining to how blues are structured and played fall into place.  The AAB lyric structure so often found in 12-bar blues builds space for three vocal statements, each of which is answered by an instrumental response.  Recognizing the extent to which the response role of the instrument is honored and valued structurally also goes to explain metric irregularities that are so often encountered in the country blues.  The music abounds with songs in which a signature instrumental response lick is always played through to it's completion before the vocal pick-up beats are sung introducing the next phrase.  It all makes sense:  If the response lick is four beats long  and the vocal phrase requires a 2-beat pick-up, to maintain four beat measures throughout the course of a rendition would require entry of the vocal half-way through the response lick, thus interrupting the wordless voice.  And whether you are talking about Ed Bell playing "Mean Conductor Blues", Rube Lacy playing "Hamhound Crave" or Frankie Lee Sims playing "Lucy Mae", or a host of other Country Blues greats, these players will not interrupt a signature lick to sing--that would be tantamount to interrupting a speaker in mid-sentence.  In this way, the role of the wordless voice is accorded full respect.
Particularly adroit instrumentalists have had a lot of fun and derived some real entertainment value from their ability to speak through their instruments.  Think of Charley Patton's amazing version of "Spoonful Blues" in which he maintains a three-way conversation  with his singing, spoken asides, and the wordless voice supplying instrumental responses and finishing many of his lines for him.  Or think of Rev. Davis's admonishment to his guitar, "Talk to me!"  Other players utilize this technique in more mysterious and subtle ways.  Herman E. Johnson was a master of this, so often using his slide to finish lines, as did Blind Willie Johnson.
Another feature often encountered in the Country Blues that makes so much sense if you think of the accompanying instrument as a wordless voice is the "thriving on a riff" phenomenon, where a player steps outside of the form momentarily, and accords the instrument an unusual open-ended amount of time to explore an idea or perseverate on a lick.  It amounts to giving the instrument it's due--seeing what it has to say, letting it speak its peace.  There's plenty of time to come in singing after it has delivered its message, we're not operating on a timetable.
One of the exciting things about thinking of the accompanying instrument as another voice is that it provides an avenue for phrasing things more in the moment, and not being governed by formal conventions having to do with x number of bars of four beats each, etc. Instead, if you build the reflexes for it, you can remain open to the idea of the instrumental response going longer if and when you feel like it has more to say.  Some players are fortunate enough to have felt this and been comfortable with such an approach throughout their playing careers.  So, when you think about the famous Lightnin' Hopkins quote, "Lightnin' change when Lightnin' want to change.", he wasn't just blowing smoke, or being cute, he was remaining open to possibilities other than those prescribed by the forms as they are most often played.
All best,
Johnm
  
« Last Edit: May 31, 2010, 03:39:12 PM by Johnm »

Offline eric

  • Member
  • Posts: 595
John,

There you go with another thought provoking post.

One of the first delta tunes I learned was M & O Blues by Willie Brown.  I was so focused on the guitar part, it didn't dawn on me until I had it somewhat mastered and tried to sing it that it was really two completely different tunes that complemented each other perfectly creating a third piece.  The timing between Willie's guitar and singing is perfect, and I still think the guy who made that piece of a music was genius.
--
Eric

Offline lindy

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 1082
  • I'm a llama!

I'm listening to Ramblin' Thomas as I read your post, so it's very easy to throw him up as an example.

In some of his tunes (So Lonesome, Hard To Rule Woman Blues) the way the guitar acts as another voice is clear--he never (or barely) touches the strings behind his singing, and responds to every sung line with everything from a simple bare-fingered slide up a couple of frets followed by a bend, to licks that evoke Lemon Jefferson. Beyond call-and-response.

When I first heard two Ramblin' tunes a couple of decades ago I thought, "I think I'll cop that neat rick, hide my guitar shortcomings by only playing when I'm absolutely not singing." Dumb, but that's what I thought he was doing at the time, I was just starting to discover who all these guys were and what they were doing. Then I heard Sawmill Moan and No More Baby--wow, all that spiffy stuff behind and between the vocals, in some cases your most basic call-and-response stuff, in other cases way beyond. If I understand your post correctly, they're examples of the sung and wordless voice in balance.

Lindy

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi Eric and Lindy,
Thanks for your posts.  Yes, the examples you cite from "M & O Blues" and the Ramblin' Thomas songs all speak to the use of the accompanying instrument as another voice, to varying degrees. The more I think about this, the more I see how varied the use of instrumental accompaniment has been.
  
In relatively rare instances, as in Teddy Darby's "Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues", you have the guitar singing in unison with the voice, and repeating one interior line at the end of the first phrase, like a congregation's response, "Yes, brother, yes".  One of the most striking accompaniment devices is the ostinato, a little repeating cell that keeps going behind the vocal but is musically independent of the vocal's melody--examples would be what Lemon played behind the I chord on "Bad Luck Blues", or Ed Bell's playing behind the first two lines of "Mean Conductor Blues".  The ostinato has a Swiss watch sort of feel to it, like a kind of clockwork moving behind the vocal, or a murmuring undertone.  What Willie Brown plays on "M & O Blues" is almost like an ostinato, except for it's closeness to the sung melody--it's almost like a competing or alternate version of the melody.  An accompaniment that is notable for its ambitious concept is Roosevelt Graves' playing on "Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Standing On Jesus".  Graves plays a highly rhythmic harmonized version of the song's melody with connecting bass runs, all the while singing and reacting to his brother Leroy's terrific vocal counter-punching and funky tambourine work.  The result is ecstatic.

Occasionally, players are encountered who use the guitar almost exclusively for time-keeping and providing the chordal backdrop.  A player who seems notable in this regard is Sleepy John Estes, who is rare in having relegated his guitar to a pretty strictly defined accompaniment role.  So it is, that most often on Sleepy John Estes' recordings, another instrument, whether Hammie Nixon's harmonica, Yank Rachell's mandolin, or Charlie Pickett's or Son Bonds' guitar ends up filling the role of the wordless voice, and providing the responses to Sleepy John's vocal calls.

Do any other accompaniment strategies or use of an accompanying voice come to mind?  I'd certainly be interested to hear other examples, because I think the interaction of voice and instruments is one of the most fascinating aspects of this music.
All best,
Johnm  
« Last Edit: May 31, 2010, 05:54:46 PM by Johnm »

Offline blueshome

  • Member
  • Posts: 1372
  • Step on it!
    • Blueshome
"Do any other accompaniment strategies or use of an accompanying voice come to mind?"

King Solomon Hill's slide pieces come to mind here, especially the way to bass is interjected. I think it's this that makes his music so tricky to get to grips with when trying to perform it.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2010, 10:47:09 AM by blueshome »

Offline onewent

  • Member
  • Posts: 382
  • Mr. So and So
    • vintagebluesguitars.com
John, thanks for that thoughtful overview..it's sort of an 'a-ha' moment in the sense that, no matter how 'tricky' or 'complicated' the guitar part, I still looked on it as 'accompaniment' to the sung words..even learning Lemon's Black Horse and Bad Luck I was essentially aware ..probably subconsciously.. that the guitar played during the verses was more than a 'time keeper' for the singer, even though it took a lot to sing along with Lemon's accompaniment.  And I often wondered, too, why the old players made the guitar part to accompany vocal so 'difficult', when a simple strum or picking pattern would have sufficed.  After digesting your overview, I see many songs in this genre follow the same format, and that there's even a name..ostinato.. for it.  It would be difficult to defend the notion that the guitar, in this music at least, simply serves the vocals.  Tom

Offline Stuart

  • Member
  • Posts: 2677
  • "The Voice of Almiqui"
...I have heard it said that the role of the guitar or piano in the blues to accompany the voice, and while there is an element of truth in that, it has always struck me as an over-simplification... 

It's another one of those blanket statements that falls apart upon closer examination. The guitar, piano and other instruments produce sounds that the human voice cannot. But then there's the Mills Brothers...

Offline frankie

  • Member
  • Posts: 2440
    • DoneGone.net
...I have heard it said that the role of the guitar or piano in the blues to accompany the voice, and while there is an element of truth in that, it has always struck me as an over-simplification... 

Fair enough...

It's another one of those blanket statements that falls apart upon closer examination. The guitar, piano and other instruments produce sounds that the human voice cannot. But then there's the Mills Brothers...

Saying that the "role of the guitar or piano in the blues to accompany the voice" is (as someone who has said it) certainly an oversimplification.  It is, in my mind, shorthand for the notion that the blues is very strongly vocal-driven.  There are certainly multitudes of examples of wonderful and unique guitar or piano accompaniments in blues - and though a singer may still give his instrument a voice of its own, it's the singer's own voice that drives the tune and, in most if not all cases, is the defining element of the song.

Just to be clear, I would never refer to blues accompaniment, even something as ostensibly "basic" as time-keeping, as "just" accompaniment - it has to be lively, and to live alongside the vocal as well as support it.  Blues accompaniment done well is a very nuanced activity - it always seems easier than it really is.

Offline dj

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 2638
  • Howdy!
Quote
I would never refer to blues accompaniment, even something as ostensibly "basic" as time-keeping, as "just" accompaniment - it has to be lively, and to live alongside the vocal as well as support it.

I always think of a good accompaniment as adding melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic interest, in varying combinations, to the song. 

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi Phil,
Your example of King Solomon Hill as fitting what we're talking about is a good one.  I hear what he does with the bass runs as being a different voice than his treble playing with the slide, so with the singing, three strands of linear movement.  I remember reading somewhere (probably Wardlow) that he used a piece of cowbone for his slide.  I've never heard of anyone else doing that.  Do you think he used that slide to fret the bass runs or did he do it with conventional fretting?  I remember the fretted notes in the runs having a sort of "knocky" sound which makes me think he may have been using the slide to hammer the notes.  Certainly not a common technique, if that was indeed the case.
All best,
Johnm

Offline blueshome

  • Member
  • Posts: 1372
  • Step on it!
    • Blueshome
Re KSH. 
 When I try to play his pieces I find myself using both fingers and slide on the bass according to how it lies with the rest of the guitar part, usually on the inside strings. Sometimes its easier with the fingers, sometimes with the slide. There are certainly some 3rd fret slurs on the bottom string, which seem to be common in his playing, which I think are bends.
The major problem is not how to play the notes but when!!!!! It's like 5 ball juggling, one slip and it's all on the floor.

Offline jpeters609

  • Member
  • Posts: 237
I remember reading somewhere (probably Wardlow) that he used a piece of cowbone for his slide.  I've never heard of anyone else doing that. 


In his spoken asides during one of his recordings (I believe it was "Live at the Mayfair" or perhaps "I Do Not Play No Rock & Roll"), Fred McDowell stated that as a youngster he first played slide with a cow bone. Unfortunately, he never recorded with one!
Jeff

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi all,
I know what you mean about King Solomon Hill's timing, Phil.  That may be a good subject for a Licks and Lessons thread.  I will give him some serious study.  Thanks for the information on Fred McDowell also using a cow bone, Jeff,  I never heard that before.

I deleted a post here that responded to some of the issues Frankie raised because it got into some personal responses to playing the music that were off point.  But I would say that I absolutely agree with Frankie that the vocal is the most important thing happening in blues, it's the aspect of the music most tied to the person making it, even given some players' individual sounds on their instruments.  And even when an accompaniment is engaged in a response role, or a complicated ostinato or other accompaniment device, while the vocal is happening, the first order of business is supporting and bringing out the vocal.  

Different players had and have differing degrees of comfort with activity behind their singing.  Bo Carter, one of the most harmonically advanced players in the style, favored a quiet left hand behind his singing--he almost always just holds the appropriate chord or chords and runs his right hand (though his timing is quite varied and tricky).  Lemon Jefferson played it both ways, extremely active, as in "Bad Luck Blues" or "Crawling Baby Blues" or relatively still behind his singing, with response lines linking the vocal phrases, as in "Blacksnake Moan" and the whole family of C blues that it typifies.  Suffice it so say that generalizing about accompaniment approach, ways of keeping time, and the rest on a style-wide basis just gets you in trouble. Whatever the approach may be, it is crucially important to be able to play time well, both for the music's sake and for professional reasons--it can make the difference between working and not working, and not just in the blues.  Musicians respect the ability to play time well and tend to be dubious of players who only are interested in soloing.
All best,
Johnm  
« Last Edit: June 03, 2010, 01:19:09 PM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi all,
I realized that George Carter's "Rising River Blues" is a great candidate for the wordless voice accompaniment, to the extent that, like B.B. King, Carter does not sing and play simultaneously until he gets to the tagline of each verse.  His 12-string guitar is certainly working in a response role in the first two lines of each verse.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Michael Cardenas

  • Member
  • Posts: 79
  • traditional Blues singer & slide guitarist
    • Myspace
It is, in my mind, shorthand for the notion that the blues is very strongly vocal-driven...  'in most if not all cases, is the defining element of the song.
Could be said a critical melody needs no accompaniment or at best holds its own, same goes for opera as it is in Blues. I've wondered if Son House was hinting at that truth late in his career, in fact how dearly does someone love Charlie Patton if they aren't inclined to so much as hum his vocals in favor of emulating guitar technique? When I listen to Willie Brown's M & O Blues I feel goofy trying to cop his licks because one has to truly sing like Brown to understand the motivation for the guitar and frankly the vocal is too good.
LISTEN TO BLUES MUSIC

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #15 on: January 05, 2011, 09:55:18 PM »
Hi all,
I realized in the course of all the listening I've been doing recently to the songs of Booker White that his song "Jitterbug Swing" is a perfect example of the Wordless Voice concept.  All of Booker's singing happens over the IV chord, and every time he resolves to the I chord the guitar, the wordless voice, takes over.  It's a beautiful instance of call-and-response between a sung voice and an instrument singing.
All best,
Johnm

Offline blueshome

  • Member
  • Posts: 1372
  • Step on it!
    • Blueshome
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #16 on: January 06, 2011, 01:12:07 AM »
John
Isn't the use of the IV chord behind the singing also a tactic used by Fred McDowell?

Offline Norfolk Slim

  • Member
  • Posts: 983
    • Moonshine - Available at Bandcamp now...
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #17 on: January 06, 2011, 02:34:53 AM »
Indeed- A Few Short Lines being a classic example, and similar in structure to Jitterbug now I come to think about it.

Offline LB

  • Member
  • Posts: 259
  • Ga
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #18 on: January 06, 2011, 09:56:31 AM »
John,

A question came to me recently on the irregularities in Memphis Minnie's Chauffeur Blues. But different than changing later to let the guitar finish speaking she actually chops some measures short and transitions through the change early. And some other slight quirks I assume are naturally in there. I wonder if you could comment on how much of the stuff you describe above might apply to a situation like her tune.

I thought I had this stuff all figured out but you lay more road in front of me with your interesting observations. Everything you said seems to make sense and I often try to share licks with friends like verbal phrases, language. And I believe the guitar is truly another voice.

Thanks
LB

« Last Edit: January 06, 2011, 09:57:48 AM by LittleBrother »

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #19 on: January 06, 2011, 10:27:55 AM »
Phil and Simon, Fred McDowell did like to sing over the IV and answer with the guitar, just as you said, working the call-and-response between his voice and the guitar.  One other effect of the way he did this, and some might consider it a musical benefit, is that alternating between the IV and the I chord in this way, he sets up a very simple and repetitive harmonic structure for his songs, such that each vocal phrase has a similar treatment, like:
    |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |    I    |
    |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |    I    |
    |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |    I    |
In practice, Fred may have not made the phrases equal in length because he liked to do the instrumental response at whatever length he was wanting to do it in the moment. One other effect of this approach?  No V chord, an effect similarly seen in Booker White's cross-note slide pieces, as well as a lot of the music of Sam Collins, Dr. Ross and Rev. Pearly Brown.

Little Brother, if you go to a thread called "Vocal Phrasing--The Long and the Short of It", at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=951.0, I think you'll find some of the issues you're talking about with Memphis Minnie's "Chauffeur Blues" addressed.  I know you teach a lot, and I've found that if I can figure out the sense of why phrases are short or long, they are a lot easier to feel and play, and also a heck of a lot easier to teach.
All best,
Johnm  
« Last Edit: January 06, 2011, 10:29:07 AM by Johnm »

Offline blueshome

  • Member
  • Posts: 1372
  • Step on it!
    • Blueshome
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #20 on: January 06, 2011, 11:36:12 AM »
I recollect a conversation I had with UK blues pianist Bob Hall, who met and played with Fred McDowell. He asked Fred about the name of the chord he played behind his singing and why he did it - the reply was something like "..well I just call it the chord I always play while I'm singing...".

Offline LB

  • Member
  • Posts: 259
  • Ga
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #21 on: January 07, 2011, 04:37:04 AM »
Little Brother, if you go to a thread called "Vocal Phrasing--The Long and the Short of It", at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=951.0, I think you'll find some of the issues you're talking about with Memphis Minnie's "Chauffeur Blues" addressed.  I know you teach a lot, and I've found that if I can figure out the sense of why phrases are short or long, they are a lot easier to feel and play, and also a heck of a lot easier to teach.
All best,
Johnm  

John the other thread is equally brilliant. Thanks for your help. You and this place are in a class by yourself. Much appreciated.

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #22 on: January 26, 2011, 12:04:40 PM »
Hi all,
I discovered another performance where the idea of the wordless voice comes very much into play:  John Hurt's version of "Cow Hooking Blues" from his first recording after being re-discovered, originally on the Piedmont label, and currently available on "Mississippi John Hurt-Avalon Blues 1963", Rounder CD 1081.  The rendition is 6'01'' long (thanks for the LP era), and throughout it, John Hurt uses his guitar to finish lines or to complete verses.  Here is a transcription of what he sang, with the guitar responses/line completions indicated by dashes.  This is a way of treating the delivery of a song that I believe to be pretty much absent among current practitioners in this style that I have heard.

   Woke up this morning, just 'bout the break of day
   Woke up this morning, -----------------------------
   Woke up this morning, just 'bout the break of day

   I hugged my pillow where my  baby used to lay
   I hugged my pillow -------------------------------
   I hugged my pillow where my baby used to lay

   She keeps me worried and -----------------------
   She keeps me worried ----------------------------
   ----------- me worried and bothered all the time

   She don't come back I b'lieve I'll lose my mind
   She don't come back I ---------------------------
   She don't come back I b'lieve I'll lose my mind

   Baby, baby, --------------------------------------
   Oh please, baby, try me one more time
   -----------------------------------------------

   She's my babe, man, I wished you'l let her alone
   That's my baby ------------------------------------
   That's my babe and I wished you'd let her alone

   Been for you, my babe would've stayed at home
   Hadn't've been for you, man, ---------------------
   Hadn't've been for you, my babe would've stayed at home

   Mmmmm ------------------------------------------
   Mmmm hmmm hmmm ---------------------------
   mmm mmmm mmmm mmmm mmm hmmmm

   Bring me some whiskey, drive these blues away
   Bring me some whiskey, --------------------------
   Got them low-down blues and had 'em all day

   Blues jumped a rabbit, run him a solid mile
   Blues jumped a rabbit, ----------------------
   The blues jumped a rabbit, run him a solid mile

   Took the blues this morning, cried like a child
   Took the blues this morning, ------------------
   Took the blues this morning, cried like a child

   It's your time now, baby, be mine after awhile
   It's your time now -------------------------------
   It's your time now, babe, be mine after awhile

   One thing, man, your babe can't do
   There's one thing, man, ------------
   -------------------------------------------

   Can't be mine and somebody else's, too
   And you can't be mine -------------------
   ----------------------------------------------

All best,
Johnm


   

Offline uncle bud

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • Posts: 8314
  • Rank amateur
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #23 on: January 28, 2011, 08:12:42 AM »
Joe Turner is another John Hurt song where he uses this technique, and uses it differently from version to version. In the Last Sessions version, he's often letting the guitar take the end of the second line. In the somewhat different version on Avalon Blues 1963, sometimes its the entire third line of the verse.

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #24 on: January 28, 2011, 09:00:24 AM »
Yes, uncle bud, John Hurt was fond of letting the guitar finish the line in other songs, too, as you say.  I think my favorite for the way he used this technique was Herman E. Johnson. I remember his song, "She Had Been Drinking", and the way he employed this technique in it was masterful--he had you filling in lyrics and rhymes that he had never sung, not even once.  Herman E. Johnson utilized this technique all through his repertoire.  A thread on his lyrics can be found at: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=2365.0.
All best,
Johnm

Mister Steve

  • Guest
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #25 on: January 30, 2011, 05:35:02 AM »
Great thread.  

The actual singing voice and playing style of the Country Blues greats are very much a unity.  If this is not experienced, perceived early as possible in the listening and learning, wordless voice can then become (talking from my own miadventures) something else that gets tacked on.

Accompaniment, wordless voice, it starts with the singer and the song.  When you're making music, there's really no such thing as "a guitar part."
« Last Edit: January 31, 2011, 03:09:39 AM by stevej »

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #26 on: March 13, 2011, 01:18:05 PM »
Hi all,
I realized that another performance that falls right into this category is Ed Bell's "Mean Conductor Blues".  Each vocal phrase is answered by his signature lick, which is always played to its completion, however Ed Bell was feeling it in a given verse, before starting the next vocal phrase.  Most often, too, two extra beats will be tagged onto the end of the signature lick(s) to accommodate the vocal pick-ups for the next phrase. 
Recognizing this as a means of organizing phrasing allows for so much more flexibility and for having the analysis suit the practice than do such activities as beat-counting or counting the total number of beats and dividing by four to get the number of bars in the form.  If you do that, you quite often wind up with nonsense like obvious downbeats falling in the middle of a bar.
All best,
Johnm

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #27 on: March 16, 2012, 04:53:57 PM »
Hi all,
A couple of songs that I've realized recently exemplify the idea of the guitar supplying a wordless "response" to the voice's "call" are Jimmy Lee Williams' "Did You Ever See Peaches" and Memphis Willie B.'s version of "Brownsville Blues".  In both instances, the response phrase repeats, intact, after each vocal phrase.  Moreover, the signature lick is always played through to completion, 8 whole beats, after which two extra beats are added on to accommodate the vocal pick-ups to the next phrase.  What I've come to realize over time is that a lot of the concepts that have been discussed here or have threads devoted to them, like "the wordless voice", "repetition" and "vocal phrasing--the long and the short of it" end up converging and occupying a lot of the same space in the music.  It's as though the effects of these different ideas, as exemplified in the music, combine to create an atmosphere of freedom and clarity simultaneously.  It reminds me of a great quote from Ornette Coleman, who said once of his approach to playing music (paraphrased), "When I realized I could make mistakes, I knew I was on to something."
All best,
Johnm

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi all,
I had occasion recently to transcribe Lemon Jefferson's "Big Night Blues" (the earlier, shorter version with the fantastic opening bass run), and it was interesting to see how Lemon put together his accompaniment in his rendition.  As is the case in most 12-bar blues with AAB vocal phrasing, Lemon did his singing across the first two bars of each (theoretically) 4-bar phrase.  He immediately follows the end of each vocal line with an instrumental response, sometimes quite florid, and of variable lengths in what ends up being what might most sensibly be considered the third bar of each 4-bar phrase.  In the final bar of each 4-bar phrase he then "squares up", often hitting a bass note followed by three strums in the treble, all falling on the beat.  A visual representation of a typical 4-bar phrase might look like so:

  Vocal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  instrumental response . . . . . . . . . . .   squaring up
   |                           |                              |                                                         |                        |

Because of Lemon's facility and imagination, the way he changes his instrumental responses is tremendously exciting and varied.  He starts the song with a straight eighth note feel, and half-way through the second verse switches to an underlying triplet or "swung eighth" feel.  As with some of Henry Townsend's great riff-based accompaniments, Lemon shows how exciting a non-set piece approach can be in the hands of someone with the right kind of looseness and imagination.

As was noted in the previous post, a lot of these concepts like the wordless voice, thriving on a riff, and vocal phrasing: the long and the short of it begin to converge on each other more and more as you listen to and study the music.  If it has been a while since you've listened to "Big Night Blues", or if you've never listened to it, seek it out; it's good to be reminded every so often of just how spectacular Blind Lemon Jefferson was.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline uncle bud

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • Posts: 8314
  • Rank amateur
The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues
« Reply #29 on: May 08, 2013, 09:44:42 AM »
Someone has interesting taste, asking you to transcribe Big Night. I had
a go at this song awhile back. My problem with it was I needed to be inside the song more than I was getting by just figuring out riff no. 1, 2 or 3 etc. So I need to play it and other Lemon tunes in A many more times until it's nearly improvisational. I.e I was unable to play it as a set piece.

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
You make a good point, uncle bud.  To add to the difficulties of maintaining the feel of the piece, it is so singing-dependent, both in terms of making sense of the phrasing, and sense of the call-and-response aspect, too.  And since Lemon in this style of expression doesn't do anything like playing the melody under his singing, the portion of the accompaniment that sits under his sung lines is relatively uninformative, in terms of communicating what is being sung on top of it.
Learning the language and then being free with it is probably the way to go in a long term sense, but the particulars of what Lemon played are so delectable, I'm scared of losing them or overly simplifying them.
All best,
Johnm

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi all,
Just today I was hired to transcribe and do a lesson on a song that is such a perfect example of this concept:  J. B. Lenoir's "Born Dead".  Here it is:



All best,
Johnm

Offline Prof Scratchy

  • Member
  • Posts: 1637
  • Howdy!
What a stunning performance that is.

Offline MTJ3

  • Member
  • Posts: 164
  • Howdy!
This is not exactly on point, but what about role the "caesural riff" in this respect?  A classic example by what I mean would be Kokomo Arnold's riff in the "and" of the third beat and the fourth beat in the first and fifth bars of, e.g., "Milk Cow Blues," although he sometimes if not often sings over the riff.

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10914
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Hi MTJ3,
I wouldn't say that call-and-response is necessarily a matter of strictly taking turns.  In music in the church, the response lines often enter before the call line is fully completed, and you get an exactly analogous phenomenon in the way that the instrumental response may seemingly interrupt a sung call which has not yet concluded.  There is a lot of space for interior calls-and responses, too.  Just think of Leroy Carr singing "How Long, How Long Blues" and the fills that Scrapper Blackwell played in response to each little lyric byte.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 07, 2020, 10:25:16 AM by Johnm »

Offline Forgetful Jones

  • Member
  • Posts: 69
This was a fun thread to read. I think Barbecue Bob's "Goin' Up the Country" qualifies in a manner similar to some of the examples from the initial post (Ham Hound Crave & Mean Conductor). Barbecue Bob really thrives on the signature riff throughout the song.

I think it's interesting how he lets the guitar take over in the sections when he goes to the IV chord at around :40, 2:03 & 2:39. He also plays a short break around 1:18. I think this only reinforces the concept of the wordless voice within this song.


« Last Edit: June 07, 2020, 07:40:38 AM by Forgetful Jones »

 


anything
SimplePortal 2.3.7 © 2008-2020, SimplePortal