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Author Topic: The Wordless Voice--The Role of Instrumental Accompaniment in the Blues  (Read 6458 times)

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Offline Johnm

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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

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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

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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

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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 »

Offline Johnm

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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

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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

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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.

Offline Johnm

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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

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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.

Offline Johnm

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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

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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 »

Offline Johnm

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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

Offline Johnm

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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

Offline Johnm

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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

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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.

 


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