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Those who bite, shall be bitten - Kid Prince Moore, Bite Back Blues

Author Topic: Charlie Patton lap-style?  (Read 3143 times)

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Offline Stumblin

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Charlie Patton lap-style?
« on: September 24, 2010, 01:03:43 PM »
Over in the Charlie Patton and the capo thread, I read another suggestion that Charlie Patton was a lap-style player.
There doesn't appear to be a dedicated thread for this discussion, so I thought I'd start one.
Here goes:
I'm pretty sure he played almost all his slide tunes lap-style, so that wouldn't be a problem.
Is there any way of confirming this?
You can all point & laugh at me if necessary/appropriate/other, but I seem to remember that Mr. Grossman's tab for Banty Rooster Blues is for the upright playing position.
I've been playing When Your Way Gets Dark (A Spanish, capoed to B) for a substantial part of the afternoon, using both methods. It took a little practice, but I managed to get the slide up to the soundhole okay fairly consistently. So I could see a superior guitarist, such as Patton, coping well with such material in an upright playing position. It's much easier lap-style and some of the descending bass figures also work quite well in that position. So I guess my own personal internal jury is out on that one.
There is also the photograph, which shows a playing position which is neither fish nor fowl.
I can accept that not everyone has the same regard for Grossman's tabs as I have, but he's taught me a lot over the years and I like playing Banty Rooster Blues in an upright position.
Maybe someone could ask Michael Franks to ask Honeyboy if he remembers Patton playing lap-style.
Aaanyhoo...
Feel free to chip in, I'm keen to see what everyone thinks.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2010, 01:05:07 PM by Stumblin »

Offline Richard

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2010, 01:56:21 PM »
Yes, as I understand it he did play lap as did Leadbelly if my memory is correct.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2010, 03:18:38 PM »
Hi Stumblin' - I don't know that there is any definitive answer. I think it is certainly possible to play the material both ways, some of it quite accurately, though definitely easier to play lap style for some of the songs like Magnolia Blues/When Your Way Gets Dark. And then Paul Geremia walks up and does a fantastic version playing upright. But he's Paul. And Patton's tone on those extree-ordinary high notes suggests more lap style to me. Also the amount of ringing from the strings in general on his slide songs, the lack of damping, suggests lap playing to me as well.

My personal opinion is Patton played lap style without any special guitar or string raising/nut extenders. Just dumped the guitar in his lap and had at it with a knife or something.

Doing this would certainly not be unheard of. Richard's example of Leadbelly, where we do have proof, is a case in point.

Stefan's own teaching materials are excellent, IMO, they just don't necessarily present the material as originally played (and Stefan has said as much I believe). They are more true to the original spirit than note-for-note.

I also think if you like playing Banty Rooster upright, you should damn well do it.  :P  Plus there aren't any of those harder-to-reach high notes in there.

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2010, 04:22:32 PM »
Well, I just listened again to When Your Way Gets Dark and it does sound quite a lot lap-style er.. y.
I wonder if it's possible that Mr. Patton might have slipped a narrow gauge carpentry nail between the capo and the fret. This would raise the action sufficiently for playability and might have affected the tuning in terms of actual pitch accuracy (Calt & Wardlow seem to be hearing it as C; maybe it's somewhere inbetween). Because the nail would be a little bit behind the fret, so it might not be bang on pitcht.
Today was my first attempt at replicating When Your Way Gets Dark, and it's given me a lot to think about.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2010, 12:25:16 AM by Stumblin »

Offline oddenda

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2010, 06:32:36 PM »
Doesn't the full photo show him playing that way?

pbl

Offline Slack

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2010, 06:33:49 PM »
Stumblin, although he did not say specifically - I thought Alvin Hart's approach was similar to yours (and UB's).  Alvin would slip a bone nut (Stella guitar) that he had made himself under the first fret and play these high Patton tunes lap style. It sounded right to me.  

Offline banjochris

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2010, 11:54:45 PM »
Doesn't the full photo show him playing that way?

pbl

Sort of, but he's just doing a weird pose, not really playing.

I agree with Uncle Bud -- I doubt he did anything to the guitar, just put it on his lap. You can hear a lot of fret-knocking during his slide pieces, so the action probably isn't too high.

I believe in the Calt/Wardlow book Booker Miller is quoted as saying that Patton could play with a bar but liked the bottleneck-style best. Despite this, I personally feel (and I have no "evidence" to back this up) that he always played slide lap-style, given the total absence of fretted notes in his slide playing, with the possible exception of the bass lick in Magnolia/When Your Way; however, it's not particularly hard to play that lick lap-style either.

Just an aside - both Booker White and Frank Hutchison played slide both upright and lap-style.
Chris

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2010, 04:06:33 AM »
As a kind of "imponderable side issue" to ponder over:
If, as we are often given to understand, Charlie Patton was so influential, how come there aren't a whole lot more lap-style players from the Mississippi Hills & Delta regions?
I mean, I can think of scores of upright bottleneck players, many of whom had first hand exposure to Patton. I can't think of a single lap-style Mississipian of note. Can you?
Does the perceived (from my perspective) absence of lap-style players, in a time and place in which Charlie Patton figured highly in the musical spheres, tend to indicate that his lap-style playing formed only a relatively small part of his live performing repertoire?

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2010, 07:16:44 AM »
Quote

Quote
As a kind of "imponderable side issue" to ponder over:
If, as we are often given to understand, Charlie Patton was so influential, how come there aren't a whole lot more lap-style players from the Mississippi Hills & Delta regions?
I mean, I can think of scores of upright bottleneck players, many of whom had first hand exposure to Patton. I can't think of a single lap-style Mississipian of note. Can you?
Does the perceived (from my perspective) absence of lap-style players, in a time and place in which Charlie Patton figured highly in the musical spheres, tend to indicate that his lap-style playing formed only a relatively small part of his live performing repertoire?

Nice thinking.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2010, 07:18:00 AM by Mr.OMuck »
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2010, 07:24:19 AM »
Hi Stumblin',
I believe Sam Collins was a lap-style player, and that Louisianan Ramblin' Thomas was a lap slide player early in his career, before he began emulating Tampa Red.  Also Oscar Woods and Black Ace were lap style players in Louisiana.  I'd have to re-listen carefully, but I think some of the religious slide players on the George Mitchell Collection played lap-style slide.  I think that most places where people played slide, including Mississippi, there have been a fair number of players who preferred lap-style for playing slide.
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2010, 08:15:47 AM »
If, as we are often given to understand, Charlie Patton was so influential, how come there aren't a whole lot more lap-style players from the Mississippi Hills & Delta regions?
I mean, I can think of scores of upright bottleneck players, many of whom had first hand exposure to Patton. I can't think of a single lap-style Mississipian of note. Can you?
Does the perceived (from my perspective) absence of lap-style players, in a time and place in which Charlie Patton figured highly in the musical spheres, tend to indicate that his lap-style playing formed only a relatively small part of his live performing repertoire?

But that is a big If. How influential was Patton among his contemporaries? Does the influence he may have had lie in some of the songs he played or in his playing style? I can't think of anyone who plays much like him. Tommy Johnson may have used what's been called the "Maggie" theme in Maggie Campbell, and Pony Blues and Bye Bye Blues are clearly coming from the same place, but whose material was it? Willie Brown played some similar material, but we have so few recorded songs from Brown that it's hard to guess how broad an influence Patton might have been on him, if any.

The other question I'd ask is who has been influenced by Patton's slide material regardless of playing position? Much, though not all, of that stuff is religious material. I can't think of any "covers" off the top of my head, though I imagine there's something out there.

Rather than blues players, one of the areas I would explore, given more time than I have at the moment, is the link between Patton's style of slide playing, and that of some of the so-called guitar "evangelists". Rev. Edward Clayborn recorded numerous records from 1926-29, and plays a style somewhat similar to Patton's: lots of open strings, emphasis on the melody notes, lack of fretted bass notes. It's not certain where he came from, as far I know, though one guess was Alabama. Blind Willie Davis came from South Mississippi and was known by HC Speir, recording in 1928-29. His playing again lacks fretted notes, has the repetitive bass, open string sound. And whoever Rev. I. B. Ware was ( :P), recording in Alabama 1928, again plays slide with lots of open strings, no fretted notes, melody on the top strings. I am sure there are more examples. But there seems to be a connection between religious material and this manner of guitar playing. I'd hazard a guess that rather than being influential in his slide playing, Patton was simply part of a broad spectrum of people playing religious music in this style.

As for Mississippians playing in their lap, there's Booker White, a confessed admirer of Patton's. Though I don't know that he was influenced by Patton in his playing much.

edited to add: I see Chris mentions White above -- missed that at first -- and makes a good point: there's nothing to stop someone from playing slide both ways.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2010, 08:27:44 AM by uncle bud »

Offline dj

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2010, 08:35:11 AM »
Quote
But there seems to be a connection between religious material and this manner of guitar playing.

Which continues to the present.  Witness Arhoolie's series of "Sacred Steel" Discs.

When talking about musicians who played lap style due to Patton's influence, it's important to remember that we know incredibly little about the repertoire of many of Patton's contemporaries.  Pretty much all we know is what some A & R man thought worthwhile to record.  So if Willie Brown or Tommy Johnson or someone else had a sacred lap repertoire, we'd never know it.
 

Offline Richard

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2010, 09:03:55 AM »
I should have added that knowledge of Patton's lap style comes from a discussion I had with Michael Messer on the subject. Also, that whilst it's easy enough to stuff a pencil or something under the strings at the nut to raise the action, if one is sufficiently adept at playing lap there is no need as an "average set up" on an acoustic guitar will easly suffice without bonking the frets. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't somehow invisage the guitars played by some of these greats being set up to the exacting stanards we demand today as it seems they could make music on any old thing, witout I also suspect having a particularly low action. 
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2010, 09:12:19 AM »
I didn't know Booker White played lap-style, all the footage of him that I've seen has been of his bottleneck playing. Thanks, I've learned something new, whilst indulging one of my favourite pastimes: discussing near-unanswerable questions about Charlie Patton with knowledgeable like minded individuals.
By the way, am I correct in thinking that Magnolia Blues was recorded immediately before When Your Way Gets Dark? I love these numbers, and have now spent the best part of two days practising the theme, some of the words and a couple of vocal nuances. Maybe I'll trot this one out next time I take a guitar to the pub.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Charlie Patton lap-style?
« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2010, 10:01:08 AM »
You're correct, Stumblin, Magnolia and When Your Way Gets Dark followed each other in the studio.

Bring your screwdriver to the pub and try this out on them  :D:


 


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