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Author Topic: Alec Seward--"Creepin' Blues", Prestige Bluesville BVLP 1076  (Read 1023 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Alec Seward--"Creepin' Blues", Prestige Bluesville BVLP 1076
« on: August 17, 2012, 04:49:06 PM »
Alec Seward--"Creepin' Blues", Prestige Bluesville BVLP 1076.
PROGRAM:  Big Hip Mama; Evil Woman Blues; Goin' Down Slow, Sweet Woman; Some People Say; Creepin' Blues; I Made a Mistake in Life; Piney Woods; Late One Saturday Evening; Let a Good Thing Do.
Alec Seward--guitar and vocals, Larry Johnson--harmonica

I was very excited to have this rare Prestige Bluesville LP made available to me by Joe Wilkie very recently--thanks, Joe!  I have long been an admirer of the music of Alec Seward, a native of Newport News, VA, who made his way to New York City in the late '30s or early 40's and lived there the remainder of his life, recording most often as Guitar Slim, in the Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly duo with Louis Hayes (Jelly Belly).  This Prestige session dates from 1963, and was produced by Pete Welding.  It is one of the earlier appearances of Larry Johnson on record, and at that stage of his career, Larry was known mostly as a harmonica player, not as a guitar virtuoso.  Larry plays harp on all but two of the tracks ("Goin Down Slow" and "Piney Woods") and his playing is notable for his intense listening and responding in the instant to Alec Seward's way of phrasing his vocals.  The session is also exciting because Alec Seward is relatively under-represented as a solo guitarist in his discography.

The record is worth seeking out, first of all, for Alec Seward's singing, which was always top notch, with a wonderful world-weary quality, and a beautiful vocal tone with just enough stuff rattling around in his throat.  His lyrics are fine, and often original without being especially innovative; they speak in the language of the idiom, comfortably.

Instrumentally, the program divides evenly between songs in which Alec Seward accompanied himself out of E position in standard tuning ("Big Hip Mama", "Goin' Down Slow", "Sweet Woman", "Late One Saturday Evening" and "Let a Good Thing Do") and songs for which he employed his personalized tuning for playing in C position: EADGCE.  It's a treat, especially, to get such a heavy dose of his playing in the C tuning, for in the duos with Louis Hayes on which he used the tuning, there is always Hayes' guitar part to contend with and try to separate out from the sound of what Alec Seward was doing.  Here the listener has the luxury of hearing Alec Seward play in the tuning by himself.  It's a unique sound that he achieved in that tuning, and I would love to know how he arrived at the tuning, for it doesn't sound like anything else I've heard anyone else in the style play.  He gets a rich, open sound with it, and has a variety of moves and licks that he employs; he's by no means a one-trick pony there, and has a lot of ideas up his sleeve.  Like Robert Pete Williams, he sometimes acknowledges the IV and V chords simply by striking a low root of those chords.  He never plays a V chord in particular, and the closest he gets to it is a I chord with the V note in the bass.  Lest the focus on this aspect of Seward's music seem disproportionate, I'd just say that apart from his singing, his sound in this C tuning was the most personal and distinctive aspect of his sound, and thus well worth noting.

In the last few years it was in business, Fantasy Records, which owned the Prestige Bluesville catalog at that time, re-issued a good portion of the Bluesville catalog on CD, including all of Rev. Davis's recordings on that label, all of Pink Anderson's three albums, Smoky Babe's album, Pete Franklin's, as well as a host of releases by Lightnin' Hopkins and Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry.  Alec Seward's recording has the misfortune of being in the orphaned portion of the Bluesville catalog that never made it onto CD, along with LPs by Robert Curtis Smith, Wade Walton, and the two Shirley Griffith albums (one in duo with J. T. Adams).  Under the ownership of Concord Jazz, I'd say it's a relative certainty that these albums will never be issued on CD.  More's the pity--all of these musicians never received the acclaim they deserved outside of their immediate neighborhoods, and their music is well worth preserving.  I'll arrange to get "Creepin Blues" on the Juke so that you folks will be able to hear what Alec Seward and Larry Johnson did on it, and enjoy the music they made.

All best,

Offline Rivers

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Re: Alec Seward--"Creepin' Blues", Prestige Bluesville BVLP 1076
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2012, 06:25:19 PM »
Thanks John, great review and I look forward to hearing it.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Alec Seward--"Creepin' Blues", Prestige Bluesville BVLP 1076
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2012, 06:57:40 PM »
Another great Bluesville that I had the good luck to pick up in the sixties. I must admit to taking a while to warm up to Seward's laid back approach but have really dug it in recent years.
Like many of Prestige's records this one has very good sound. Good review John, great pick.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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