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If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail - Anon., A skilled Weenie, suffering through yet another 12 bar blues

Author Topic: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing  (Read 15396 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #45 on: April 26, 2007, 10:34:32 PM »
Thanks very much for your message, MTJ3.  I was particularly hoping to hear from you on this question because of your knowledge of Leroy Carr's repertoire--my own is pretty sketchy.  I will see if I can get the Bill Gaither cut on the Juke.  The melody is particularly distinctive and pretty, and I have the feeling that it pre-exists Gaither's lyrics and is the driving force behind the phrasing scheme.  "Run-on" phrasing is pretty much how I would think of it, too.  When I first listened to the track, and Bill Gaither kept going after I expected him to stop, I felt sort of like, "What's going on here?".  I know Big Maceo's material less than I know Carr's and so will be interested to hear what you turn up.
Incidentally, the pianist on many of Gaither's tracks, Honey Hill, was an absolute ace, really kind of a perfect musician in taste, conception and execution.  He's one of these guys like the present-day Jazz pianist Hank Jones or the late Wynton Kelly who sounds like he never played a wrong note in his life--and it's not from playing it safe.  How do you do that?
all best,
Johnm

Offline MTJ3

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #46 on: May 12, 2007, 03:07:24 PM »
Johnm,  Since your post on Gaither, I have been away from home and, thus, unable to respond adequately re Carr.  Here are my thoughts in greater detail.

1.   Some time ago, in response to a request, I posted the lyrics for "When The Sun Goes Down" and made a perfunctory comment on what I considered to be the genius of the phrasing.  I had originally intended to revisit that, but it slipped my mind until you refreshed my recollection.  In the Blackwell-Carr collected works, it is the only run-on AAB 12 bar blues (if you will allow it as an AAB form notwithstanding (a) the phrase repetition in B--"when the sun goes down"--that elongates the phrasing through the 11th and part of the 12th bars, and (b) the slight harmonic divergence from the "pure" 12 bar form).  In fact, except for the 7th and 12 bars, it is almost a "pure" run-on, considering the way Carr phrases the beginning of the B line in the 8th bar.  With apologies, as I don't seem to be able to sync what I have keyed in and what is shown in the preview pane with the final as far as the measure breaks go, here is my breakdown of the song:

          /           I       /     V7 /       I                                    /
In the evening, in the evening, mama, when the sun goes down
I7       /   IV    /    IV                                   /        I-V7     /        I   
In the evening, baby, when the sun goes down
                 /  V7
Well, ain't it lonesome, ain't it lonesome, babe,
/ V7
When your lover's not around
/     I-V7              /  I
When the sun goes down.

/    I                    /  V7      /      I                         /  I7
Last night I layed a sleeping, I was thinking to myself
       /      IV                     /   IV                          /    I-V7 /   I
Last night I layed a sleeping, I was thinking to myself
                            /  V7
Well, wondering and thinking why the one that you love
/                        V7                  /   
Will mistreat you for someone else
             I-V7        /  I
When the sun goes down.

/              I          / V7   /   I                              /  I7
The sun rises in the east, and it sets up in the west.
      /    IV                              /  IV                         / I-V7   /   I
The sun rises in the east, mama, and it sets in the west.
             /     V7
Well, it's hard to tell, hard to tell
/      V7                                  /
Which one will treat you the best
      I-V7                       /     I       
When the sun goes down.

[Scat verse]

/      I                                /V9(!)/   I                        /  I7
Goodbye old sweethearts and pals, yes, I 'm going away,
      /  IV                                     /  IV                    /  I-V7/  I
But I may be back to see you again, some old rainy day.
           /              V7                                     
Well, in the evening, in the evening, babe,
/  V7
When the sun goes down.
/  I-V7       /  I
When the sun goes down.


N.B.  In the second and third verses, which follow this form, he does not repeat any phrases in the first line.  In the scat verse, he reverts to a "pure" AAB 12 bar form, and in the final verse, it is an A1A2B form (where the second A doesn't repeat the first, which one often finds, in shorter phrases, in blues forms having a refrain--see below).

In an unpublished interview, Scrapper said something to the effect that others could fit 5 words into a line, but Leroy could fit 7; I think that what we see in this song must have been what he was referring to. 

In my prior post on this topic, I asked if anyone knew of a 12 bar blues with the V chord in the second bar as in Big Maceo's "Kid Man Blues."  I have answered my own question.  But Carr's piece doesn't give you the same head fake that Big Maceo's does.

2.   The first verse of "Hard Times Done Drove Me To Drink" is in a run-on form, but there is what I think you call a "stutter" (a phrase repetition) in the first A, which is what usually enables the singer to elongate the first A to "swallow" bars 3 and 4.  (Consider, say, the example of Snooks Eaglin's "Mean Old Frisco," which I attempt to quote from memory and which, therefore, is probably not spot on: "Well, that mean old, mean old Frisco and that dirty Santa Fe/Well, that mean old Frisco and that dirty Santa Fe."  The underlined words are, obviously, the "stutter" or phrase repetition.)  You also find that phrase repetition used to create a run-on 12 bar blues in Carr's "Church House Blues" and Blackwell's "Motherless Boy Blues," which are in the same tune family with each other. 

3.   Apart from the foregoing, perhaps the closest Carr did to a run-on AAB 12 bar blues is his version of "Black Gal," which probably falls outside that form because of the rubato semi-falsetto passages; this may be the only 12 bar blues form (loosely speaking) he recorded where he was consistently and seriously fuera de compas

4.   Of course, there are a number of other non-AAB blues that they recorded that are of the run-on variety.  Most interesting to me in that regard are "Papa's Got Your Water On" and "You Can't Run My Business;" they have an a1a2BB form (wherein a1 and a2 have the same rhyme and occupy the first 4 bars of the song); I think you have been calling that, or something like it, a "chorus form."   

5.   "Hold Them Puppies" (in the "Corrina" tune family) doesn't exactly fit the AAB run-on pattern, but it does feature elongated verses without phrase repetition, which gives something of the effect of being a run-on pattern.
 
BTW, Johnm, a really stimulating topic as usual.  Exceptionally stimluating.  And Hill was an absolutely terrific pianist.  I have often thought that there was a bit of an inverse instrumental relationship between Blackwell-Carr, on the one hand, and Gaither-Hill, on the other, and that even if you're not wild about Gaither (but anyone interested in pre-War blues should, IMHO, be familiar with him considering how much he recorded and, therefore, how much the record companies must have perceived the blues listening public to have appreciated his work), you can listen to Gaither's early work for Hill.  In any case, more on Gaither-Hill anon.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2007, 07:50:35 PM by MTJ3 »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #47 on: May 12, 2007, 10:59:17 PM »
Thanks very much for your post, MTJ3, there's an awful lot there to chew on.  A couple of thoughts occurred to me as I read it, or have been running around in my head since I last posted about Bill Gaither.
   * I was thinking this past week, after posting about the Bill Gaither song, "Bad Luck Child", that another song that employed run-on phrasing, at least in the initial singing of it's "A" lines, is Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain".  What's interesting is that in the repetition of the "A" line, Johnson phrases conventionally, and the very same words end up concluding on the downbeat of the third measure of the second four-bar phrase, rather than the downbeat of the fourth measure, as they do in the first four-bar phrase.  Then there is Johnson's unusual little final refrain, "All my love's in vain", which is sung over the turn-around in the eleventh bar of the form.  Taken as a whole, a very unusual version of the 12-bar form, I thought.  As soon as I began to read your post, I realized that "Love In Vain" almost exactly follows the phrasing scheme (and melody) of "When The Sun Goes Down", even to the extent of a refrain ("when the sun goes down") sung over the turn-around in the eleventh bar.  I have long been aware of Robert Johnson's indebtedness to Scrapper Blackwell for his approach to accompanying himself in A position in standard tuning, but I never fully realized that Johnson owed an equal debt to Leroy Carr's sense of phrasing and vocal styling.
   * I suspect that much of Leroy Carr's ability to sing 7 words in a line versus everyone else's 5 words per line, as per Scrapper's comment, was due to Leroy's exceptionally relaxed and conversational phrasing.  We tend not to think of Leroy as being an intense groover in his singing, but if you look at how his lines scanned relative to the underlying pulse and form breaks, his phrasing was of extreme subtlety, especially on the compressed 8-bar form, as in "How Long".  The way he could sound perfectly natural phrasing across bar lines and the underlying chord changes was absolutely masterful.
    * In listening to the Bill Gaither material where he was backed by Honey Hill, I found myself thinking that in the stage of blues evolution that immediately followed that recording era, the introduction of the electric guitar was actually a necessary corrective in keeping the music from becoming utterly piano dominated.  The pianists had become so skillful and were operating from such an innate advantage vis a vis the acoustic guitar, in terms of being able to play louder, generate more bass, play more florid runs, and handle more complex harmonies, so that even very skillful guitarists specializing in playing with pianists, like Scrapper and Bill Broonzy found themselves being painted into an exceptionally small corner in terms of what they could do on their instruments and still be musically effective or simply audible.  The electric guitar addressed the foremost shortcoming of the acoustic guitar when playing with a piano, rapid decay time, and gave the guitar some sustain (particularly when played with a slide), and allowed guitarists a chance to sing on the instrument again.  What a luxury to be able to turn up an amp rather than just dig in and play harder, too!  I don't think it is any coincidence that with few exceptions, the best Country Blues piano/guitar duets happened when the guitarist in the duo was a stronger and more extroverted player than the pianist.
All best,
Johnm     
« Last Edit: January 19, 2012, 06:20:01 AM by Johnm »

Offline blueshome

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #48 on: May 16, 2007, 10:51:32 AM »
Looking at songs with repeated "tags", one which comes to mind is Bukka White's Sleepy Man Blues which uses the melody of Leroy Carr's In the Evening.

Another, but repeating phrases mostly from the th "A" lines of the 12 bar is Willie McTell's Drive Away Blues.

Offline MTJ3

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #49 on: May 26, 2007, 09:06:30 AM »
   * I was thinking this past week, after posting about the Bill Gaither song, "Bad Luck Child", that another song that employed run-on phrasing, at least in the initial singing of it's "A" lines, is Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain".  What's interesting is that in the repetition of the "A" line, Johnson phrases conventionally, and the very same words end up concluding on the downbeat of the third measure of the second four-bar phrase, rather than the downbeat of the fourth measure, as they do in the first four-bar phrase.  Then there is Johnson's unusual little final refrain, "All my love's in vain", which is sung over the turn-around in the eleventh bar of the form.  Taken as a whole, a very unusual version of the 12-bar form, I thought.  As soon as I began to read your post, I realized that "Love In Vain" almost exactly follows the phrasing scheme (and melody) of "When The Sun Goes Down", even to the extent of a refrain ("when the sun goes down") sung over the turn-around in the eleventh bar.  I have long been aware of Robert Johnson's indebtedness to Scrapper Blackwell for his approach to accompanying himself in A position in standard tuning, but I never fully realized that Johnson owed an equal debt to Leroy Carr's sense of phrasing and vocal styling.
  .......In listening to the Bill Gaither material where he was backed by Honey Hill, I found myself thinking that in the stage of blues evolution that immediately followed that recording era, the introduction of the electric guitar was actually a necessary corrective in keeping the music from becoming utterly piano dominated.  The pianists had become so skillful and were operating from such an innate advantage vis a vis the acoustic guitar, in terms of being able to play louder, generate more bass, play more florid runs, and handle more complex harmonies, that even very skillful guitarists specializing in playing with pianists, like Scrapper and Bill Broonzy found themselves being painted into an exceptionally small corner in terms of what they could do on their instruments and still be musically effective or simply audible.  The electric guitar addressed the foremost shortcoming of the acoustic guitar when playing with a piano, rapid decay time, and gave the guitar some sustain (particularly when played with a slide), and allowed guitarists a chance to sing on the instrument again.  What a luxury to be able to turn up an amp rather than just dig in and play harder, too!  I don't think it is any coincidence that with few exceptions, the best Country Blues piano/guitar duets happened when the guitarist in the duo was a stronger and more extroverted player than the pianist.

1.  Of course, we can't demonstrate (or at least I don't think that I can) that Johnson's playing in A was derived from Blackwell's, but I don't think anyone could convince me otherwise.  A few years back, I had a brief moment of feeling that I had been an exemplary parent when my then already adult daughter, who never exhibited any particular interest in blues, called me and, without greeting, announced indignantly that Robert Johnson had ripped off Leroy Carr.  She had heard "Love in Vain" and immediately recognized it as being derivative of "In the Evening."  Of course, one of the challenges in this sort of thing is finding something that is not somehow derivative, and one must also recognize that Johnson didn't exactly get rich and famous from it.

By way of comparison, here is what Johnson did in terms of phrasing in that form (Take 2 with the "moaning" verse omitted):

           /              I              /     I7   /  I7
And I followed her to the station with my suitcase in my hand.
/I7      /  IV                                   /  IV                                    /I7-V7/ I 
And I followed her to the station with a suitcase in my hand.
               /  II7                                   / V7
Well, it's hard to tell, it's hard to tell when all your love's in vain.
/ I                                / (I)-V7
All your love's in vain.

       /              I                  /   I7      /   I7                                     /  I7
The train pulled up to the station, and I looked her in the eye.
                /                   IV                       /               IV                        / I7-V7/  I
When the train rolled up to the station, and I looked her in the eye.
                  /               II7                             /  V7
Well, I felt lonesome, I was so lonesome, and I could not help but cry.
/     I                            /  (I)-V7
All my love's in vain.

                /       I               /   I7      /    I7                               /  I7
When the train it left the station with two lights on behind.
                /           IV                     /     IV                               /  I7-V7/  I     
When the train it left the station with two lights on behind.
               /            II7                        /    V7
Well, the blue light was my blues, and the red light was my mind.
/  I                             /  (I)-V7
All my love's in vain.


Of course, it's a beautiful performance on several levels, but it lacks Carr's "free" phrasing, which I think makes his performance so remarkable. 

There are a few other Carr touches in Johnson's work that would be interesting to itemize at some point.

2.  As to the inverse accompaniment relationship, that's a very good observation.  I can't tell whether it was poorly recorded or whether this supports your point, but Blackwell's performance on "Texas Stomp" is definitely overshadowed by the piano playing of Dot Rice (about whom he said, "She was really something," and she was).  Could his playing stand up?  Was it a question of tempo?  Based on his playing on "Non-Skid Tread," I think the answers to those questions are probably "I think so" and "no," respectively.


Offline blueshome

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #50 on: May 28, 2007, 11:43:26 AM »
The talk of Leroy Carr et al led me to his Christmas Day Blues which has a standard 12 bar AAB form with the addition of a beautifully phrased little chorus after each verse:

"Jail on Christmas day again: ain't that a pain,
           Oh baby,baby baby, ain't that a pain"

I'm not aware of any other blues with this type of chorus.

Offline dj

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #51 on: August 05, 2007, 01:01:01 PM »
It struck me yesterday that the melody and general phrasing scheme of Bill Gaither's "Bad Luck Child" are adapted from Leroy Carr's version of "Black Gal (What Makes Your Head So Hard?)".  MTJ3 mentioned Carr's version of the song without, I think, making the explicit connection.  Pullum's original lengthened the first line of each verse by repeating the phrase "Black gal": i.e. "Black gal, black gal, what makes your head so hard?" , and lengthened the second line of the verse by lengthening the phrase: "Bla-a-ack gal, what makes your head so hard?".  Carr's version uses the repetition of "Black gal" to lengthen both of the first two lines.  Gaither took Carr's melodic material, fitted it with new words, and lengthened the lines by inserting a new phrase, rather than repeating one.  Carr had used this technique several times, but only to lengthen the first line in a verse, never the first two, with one recorded exception.  That exception was "Church House Blues", which uses a different melody than does "Bad Luck Child", but uses the same lyric template - inserting a second phrase to lengthen each of the first two lines of a phrase.  It's interesting that "Church House Blues" was never issued by Vocalion.    One wonders if Gaither's "Bad Luck Child" was influenced by several Leroy Carr records or by something Gaither heard Carr do in performance.                   

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #52 on: August 08, 2007, 03:15:46 PM »
Thanks for unraveling some of these threads of influence, dj.  This is fascinating stuff, and illustrates how helpful it is to have a musician's entire recorded output when trying to locate/identify musical precursors.
All best,
Johnm

Offline MTJ3

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #53 on: August 08, 2007, 06:55:33 PM »
MTJ3 mentioned Carr's version of the song without, I think, making the explicit connection.                

dj,

Indeed, I made no explicit connection in my comment.  If one listens to Gaither even casually, and you have obviously listened quite intently, one hears that he is absolutely drenched in Carr's influence.

Also, you make a good point that, given the relative abundance of unissued sides, test pressings, etc. now available, it is imperative to know whether a cut was issued before concluding that the "recorded version" influenced someone else.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #54 on: October 22, 2007, 08:05:18 PM »
Hi all,
Mike Seeger does a song, "Riley and Spencer", on his new CD, "Early Southern Guitar Sounds", that I believe is a blues phrasing archetype that has not previously been noted here.  He came by the song from Fields Ward, a Galax, Virginia-based musician related to the great banjo player and fiddler, Wade Ward.  Riley and Spencer are (were?) two towns in West Virginia. I first heard this song performed by the great harmonica player and songwriter Mark Graham.
Mike Seeger plays the song out of A position in standard tuning, and the song is a 12-bar blues, but not of a type I've ever encountered before.  The form works out as follows:

   |    A    |    A    |    A    |    A    |

   |   E7    |   E7    |    A    |    A    |

   |   E7    |   E7    |    A    |    A    |

The song's lyrics mirror its chordal structure, following an ABB phrasing pattern, with the repetition of the B line most often slightly shortened .  It took me a bit to figure out that the form is like a conventional 12-bar form, but with the third 4-bar phrase played twice and substituted for the normal second 4-bar phrase that moves to the IV chord and back to I.  It's not a wild innovation, but it is certainly effective as used here.
In the notes to the CD, Mike Seeger says of the lyrics, "To me, it's the ultimate alcoholic's boast/lament."  I would just add that these are great lyrics and really capture a particular kind of hard-assed intransigence.  The last verse is really a beauty.

   Riley and Spencer burning down
   Lord, there ain't no liquor in town
   Ain't no more liquor in town

   What-a you gonna do to wet them lips
   When this whole darn world goes dry
   Whole darn world goes dry

   I've been all around, Lord, this whole wide world
   I've been down to Memphis, Tennessee
   Been down to Memphis, Tennessee

   I played cards, the king and the queen,
   Shot them dice with old Jesse James
   Dice with old Jesse James

   I can eat more chicken than any gal can fry
   Lord, I can tell more low-down lies
   Tell more low-down lies

   Tell more lies than the stars in the skies
   Honey baby, my time ain't long
   Honey baby, my time ain't long

   I could never love but one little gal
   Lord, I'm sorry I ever loved her
   Sorry I ever loved her

   She caused me to weep, she caused me to mourn
   Lord, she took my liquor from me
   Took my liquor from me
   
   Now I pawn my shoes for a bottle of booze
   Lord, I drink it, I'll lay down and die
   Drink it, I'll lay down and die

   You can stomp down them flowers all around my grave
   But they rise and bloom again
   Rise and bloom again

All best,
John

   

   

   
« Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 02:57:53 PM by Johnm »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #55 on: October 22, 2007, 10:23:07 PM »
And "Riley and Spencer" is essentially the same song as Blind Boy Fuller's "Lost Lover Blues," although Fuller goes to the IV chord. On the Virginia Traditions: Non Blues Secular Black Music, there's also a nice version by Marvin Foddrell that he calls "Reno Factory."
Chris

Offline dj

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #56 on: February 22, 2008, 07:20:49 AM »
I recently picked up a copy of Volume 2 of Bill Gaither's complete recorded works to fill out my Gaither collection.  This disk contains "New Bad Luck Child", a remake of "Bad Luck Child".  It's interesting to compare the new version of the song with the original.  In both versions of the song, Gaither has lengthened the first two lines of every verse except the second verse, where the first two lines are of "normal" length.  This would seem to imply that the song had a set structure, and that set structure included shorter vocal lines in the second verse.  Was this Gaither's means of "showing off" - pointing out that he knew the standard vocal form and was consciously altering it, and drawing the listener's attention to that fact

The fact that Gaither made a "New" version would seem to imply that the original sold at least moderately well.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #57 on: February 22, 2008, 05:37:24 PM »
Thanks for posting re Bill Gaithers phrasing in the remake of "Bad Luck Child", dj.  It's kind of amazing that he employed the very same phrasing scheme as in the original, even to the point of diverging from the song's characteristic phrasing in the same verse.  It's hard to know what, if anything, to make of that.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #58 on: January 18, 2012, 08:48:05 PM »
Hi all,
I was listening to the Big Bill Broonzy/Georgia Tom song, "Eagle Ridin' Papa" today and realized it employs a phrasing archetype not previously discussed here, the 32-bar Pop Blues with refrain.  It's designated a Pop Blues by virtue of having a 32-bar AABA form employing four 8-bar phrases, the form most commonly used for Pop songs in the period roughly from 1910--1960.  The way that the lyrics phrase in the "A" phrases is much as they do in the first eight bars of a 12-bar chorus blues, with lyrics going right over the first four bars, the refrain falling in the fifth and sixth bars and the seventh and eight bars being an instrumental fill, like so:

   Listen everybody from here and far, If you want to know just who we are,
   |             I                  |  bVI           |             I                       |     VI            |
   Eagle ridin' papas,  from Tennessee
   |        II               |      V7         |           I                   |            V7                |

The second A phrases in exactly the same fashion, and differs from the first A only insofar as it goes to a I7 chord in it's last measure, in preparation for the bridge, which starts on the IV7 chord.  The bridge goes like so:

All night long,          We sing this song,     If you get this
   I7      |    IV7    |      IV7         |     I     |       I7           |
             song,         You can't go  wrong, and how
             |     IV7    |      IV7        |   II7         |    V7         |

The final A utilizes the same phrasing scheme as did the first two A parts. 

It seems most likely that the composition was Georgia Tom's (Thomas Dorsey's).  In the version of it on the old Yazoo LP, "The Young Big Bill Broonzy", Georgia Tom has the flatVI chord in the second bar of the A phrases all to himself, for neither Big Bill nor Frank Brasswell, on backing guitar, ever either play the chord or play to the chord change.  It's too bad, because it's such a nifty change, but the song and performance are great in any event.

I suspect that there are more of these 32-bar Pop Blues with refrains out there.  Bo Carter's "Let's Get Drunk Again" almost fills the bill, but Bo repeats the entire lyric in his A parts intact as he passes through the form, so it's not the same as "Eagle Ridin' Papa", which has constantly changing lyrics at the front end of each A part and the refrain at the tail end.  "Eagle Ridin' Papa" is a hell of a catchy tune, and it seems as though it's formal elegance and naturalness is something that other musicians would have noted and copied.  As far as that goes, knowing how the form is constructed should make it easier to write another song with the same approach.  Any takers?
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: January 18, 2012, 11:21:03 PM by Johnm »

Offline Pan

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Re: Blues Forms and Vocal Phrasing
« Reply #59 on: January 19, 2012, 02:50:47 AM »
Johnm's post made me look for a YouTube video. Here it is:



Catchy tune indeed!

Cheers

Pan

 


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