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So I picked up the mandolin, I started to play. He was sittin' there on the edge of the bed. He said 'You know, that sounds really good'. I said, 'Well Yank, all I'm doin' is just imitating you note for note'. And he said, 'That's what I'm telling you. It sounds really good!' - Yank Rachell, remembered by Steve James, Port Townsend 97

Author Topic: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It  (Read 21013 times)

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Offline Slack

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2005, 09:19:16 PM »
This is a great topic John, at least I need all the vocal help I can get.  I have a particular;y tough problem 'delta' blues - Depot Blues, Bye Bye Blues - becasue the guitar part is so different from what you sing - hard to find the bread crumb trail along the way.

You've also introduced some new terms to me - I'd never heard the term "chorus blues" for example -- very cool!

cheers,
slack

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2005, 09:54:49 AM »
Hi all,
Good to hear from you, Orville.  I know what you mean about it being important to give people credit for doing what they did intentionally.  Attributing everything to "instinct" or "talent" doesn't give the musicians nearly enough credit for coming up with what they did.  They thought about it for sure.  TomW, I can sympathize with trying to match Lemon's fluidity of phrasing.  A particularly tough one of his for me is "Bad Luck Blues".  I find it terribly difficult to sing and play at the same time, and the ease with which Lemon was able to fool around with his phrasing on that song, stretch and contract it, really puts my own difficulty in perspective.  He was fantastic!  And John D., I think it can be expecially tough to sing songs in which the guitar part and vocal are pitch-independent from each other--it can be tough just to find the pitch the vocal starts on.  The only thing I can think of doing in such an instance is to sing along with the record so much that your orientation to the pitch at which the vocal enters becomes thoroughly engrained in you, to where it is no longer an issue of searching for that note or phrase.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #17 on: January 22, 2005, 12:17:43 AM »
Hi all,
I was thinking and came up with a couple of tunes that are short in different ways than any of the songs we have discussed thus far.  The first is Tommy Johnson's "Lonesome Home Blues".  Here is his performance:



It works as follows, assuming four beats per measure unless otherwise indicated:

  Wanna live easy  pack your clothes with mine     Well
|       I              |           I                      | I        |
  Wanna live easy  pack your clothes with mine 
|      IV             |          IV                     |    I    |   I   |
  Wanna live easy  pack your clothes with mine
|       V7           |          IV                     |    I    |   I    |

In this instance, Tommy Johnson jettisons the second fill bar at the end of the first 4-bar phrase.  Moreover, unlike any of the other tunes we have looked at so far, he does not handle his vocal pick-ups to the second four-bar phrase as add-ons to the four-beat measure, but instead uses the last two beats of the four beat measure to provide the space for the vocal pick-ups.  So it is that you end up with an 11-bar, metrically consistent blues.  Tommy Johnson adheres to this phrasing scheme throughout the tune.

Another instance of short phrasing different from any that we have looked at thus far can be found in "Freddie", a "ballad/refrain" blues performed by Mance Lipscomb on his first Arhoolie recording.  Mance does it so:




Now, Freddie's woman done something, she had never done before, she was i-
      |          I                   |     I                     |      I          |    I            |            -n the bed  with a-nother man, made Freddie's pallet on the floor, he got
|         I                 |             I           |       I-four beats  + two beats|
mad,  he got bad,  Oh with his gun  in his hand.
|    I           |       I              |      I         |     I       |
In "Freddie", the second fill measure in the second four-bar phrase was jettisoned and the pick-up notes for the refrain are treated as add-ons to the third bar of the second two-bar phrase.  If you have not heard "Freddie", you may want to seek it out.  Narrative country blues are rare enough, but when you combine that narration with a droney one-chord accompaniment you have the potential for something really unusual. 
All best,
Johnm 
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 08:39:31 AM by Johnm »

Offline Buzz

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2005, 07:27:41 PM »
Interesting thread,  folks.
Gotta dig up the files of JohnM's lesson on Freddie and play it again. I recall the trance-like droning of the chord, and the intense feelings that come through the lyrics. Great tune.

I agree with you John: sometimes I just have to listen to a tune on continuous replay, playing it over and over , until the pick-up notes, and the vocal come in just at  the time that sounds "right", which to me is as the player is doing it in that recording, since that is the sound that hypnotized me in the first place.. That's what sounds best to me, so I try to emulate it in those instances. Still haven't got  AYHs "Sally, Queen of the Pines", but I will by the end of the decade!
This is an example of how I sometimes focus on 1 tune, it seems to own me for a while, until I am within the ethos of it and until I master it, then I can move on to another one that has snagged me, and play it, and go back to the last one too.

Juke is cool tonite, by the way...countdown. Good work , Slack and Richard.
Miller ;D
Do good, be nice, eat well, smile, treat the ladies well, and ignore all news reports--which  can't be believed anyway,

Buzz

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #19 on: January 27, 2005, 10:03:51 AM »
Hi all,
A couple of posts back I was talking about having a difficult time singing Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues", and so I decided to take a closer look at/listen to it.  What I found, I think, is that it is a one-of-a-kind tune, both with regard to form and phrase lengths.  Here is Lemon's performance:



The opening verse goes:

I wanta go home and I ain't got sufficient clothes doggone my bad luck soul
    |        I                  |          I              |      I                  |    I         |
 wanta go home and I aint got sufficient clothes  I mean sufficient
|       IV                    |        IV             |   I   |      I            |
-ient talkin' 'bout clothes, well I wa-
|         I                                   |
-anta go home, but I  ain't got sufficient clothes              I bet my-
|       V7                 |       V7                  |      I      |    I        |

A number of things stand out as you look at "Bad Luck Blues":
   * In the first four-bar phrase it looks like a "response" blues, like "Hey Lordy Mama" or "Big Road Blues", with its response "Doggone my bad luck soul" in the last two measures.
   * In the second phrase it looks like a repetition blues, like "Bullfrog Blues", with the "I mean sufficient, talkin' 'bout clothes" repetitions.  In the other repetition blues we looked at, though, the repetition occurred in the third and fourth bars of the first vocal phrase.  As with the other repetition blues, the lines enter on the + of the downbeat of the measure.  I can't right now think of any other repetition blues where the repetition falls other than in the first vocal phrase.
   * Lemon is long in the second phrase, but instead of being long at the end of the phrase, he is long in the middle of the phrase, with his one-bar pause on the word "clothes".  It puts a beautiful little lull in the middle of all the lyric and instrumental activity.  He could easily have rushed right into "I mean sufficient" and kept the form at 12 bars.  He didn't--genius.
   * The rhythmic tug of the vocal against the guitar part is extreme, and it is one of the things that makes the song tough to sing.  In the entire first verse, there is only one measure, the second measure of V, where the vocal enters on the downbeat of the measure.  Every other place in the verse, Lemon either sings across the bar line or enters on the + of the downbeat of the measure.
   * In subsequent verses, Lemon sometimes plays fills in the next to last measure of the form that are long, at 6 beats.  No need to be consistent if you know what you're doing.

I have always been crazy about this tune, but I don't think I ever before fully appreciated how special it is--a hybrid archetype that is long in a unique way.  I don't imagine all that matters so much though.  It just sounds so great.  I don't think Country Blues gets a lot better than this.
All best,
Johnm

 
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 08:41:11 AM by Johnm »

Offline lindy

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #20 on: February 01, 2005, 11:18:40 AM »
Wow, I got a lot of Weenie reading to catch up on.? But I particularly like this thread, because it makes me think of African influences on country blues.

By far the faculty member with the most intriguing sense of time that I ever heard at PTCBW was the kora player who came in 2000 or 2001, and for the life of me I can't remember his name at this moment.? But I remember listening to him pluck the kora strings with three fingers on each hand and sing amazingly intricate lyrics over his playing.? I couldn't understand the language, but I could tell that on some of his songs, there really were no rules as to when he would start a vocal phrase or how long that phrase had to be.? My understanding of griots is that their main job is preserving the genealogies of families and villages over several centuries, and if there's some type of regular meter that they follow when singing about who begat whom, it takes a while for a non-African to feel it or hear it.

I remember hearing a tape that some aspiring ethnomusicologist made back in the 70s.? He took a recording of a Louisiana State Penitentiary prisoner singing the 5-7 second phrase "The blues ain't nothing but a good woman feeling baaaaaad," in a descending series of notes that's typical of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and hundreds of blues singers since. He then put that recording next to a field recording of a Senegalese villager singing a 25 or 30 second phrase with the same descending scale.? According to the liner notes, the rough translation was "I planted some cassava but the rains didn't come, so I may not be able to afford a wife until next year, and that's why I'm singing this sad song today."

It seems that for traditional African performers, the length of the phrase that one sings is dictated by what one has to say, and the phrase doesn't have to end until the statement is complete.? They also have so much more freedom as to when they start a phrase, sometimes it's hard to say whether they're pushing the vocals, slowing them down, or just picking a point at random to start singing.? You can still hear that in some contemporary African guitarists from countries with a strong griot history.? The one American performer that I feel did the same thing in his songs was Robert Pete Williams, especially on "Free Again" "Church on Fire" and his storytelling songs such as "Hay Cutting Song".

Between the time that African slaves were brought to North America and Charley Patton, that kind of phrasing got reduced to 12 bars (or other blues formats).? I wonder how that happened.? I know that the limitations of a 3-minute recording cylinder had a lot to do with standardizing the form, but there had to be a lot of changes that happened before recordings became commonplace.

Fun stuff to speculate about.? All I know is that in New Orleans, I'm lucky to have a local radio station that 3 or 4 times a day plays recordings by Louis Armstrong.? When you talk about vocal phrasing, he remains the man.

Lindy
« Last Edit: April 18, 2005, 06:01:16 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #21 on: February 03, 2005, 11:17:10 AM »
Thanks for the thoughts, Lindy, it's always good to hear from you.  A tune that I have been thinking about lately that I realized is a natural for this thread is "Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues", by the St. Louis musician Teddy Darby.  It is a beautiful sort of pre-Blues piece that some of you learned in my classes at Port Townsend and the EBA Blues Week last summer.  Here it is:



Its form and phrasing scheme are unique in my experience.  A characteristic verse goes:

  I helped you, baby, when your kinfolks turned you down   Now you're
|  I-four beats                       | I-five beats                 |I-five beats|         
loving someone else, babe, and you done left this town, Lawdy, Lawdy Lawdy
|  I-four beats                       |  I-four beats    | I-four beats + 2 beats             
A couple of points stand out about "Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues"
 * It is a one-chorder, played in cross note tuning, I believe (EBEGBE a fret high), and Teddy Darby drones on the fifth string with his bass throughout the song, delivering a solid monotonic bass most of the time and intermittent accents elsewhere.
 * It is a kind of refrain blues of its own type, because the line "Lawdy, Lawdy, Lawdy" concludes every verse.
 * Integration of the guitar and vocal on this song is especially close.  In the second five-beat measure in the first vocal phrase, the guitar echoes exactly what the vocal does in the preceding five-beat measure.
 * The two-beat add-on in the closing measure of the form is put in to accommodate not vocal, but instrumental pick-up notes leading into the next verse.
 * Teddy Darby maintains the phrasing scheme outlined here with consistency from the beginning to the end of his rendition.  Partially as a result of that, perhaps, you don't come away from the song with the impression that anything particularly unusual is going on.  The phrasing sounds perfectly natural, as though you had been hearing it all your life.It wasn't until I went to learn and teach the song that I became aware of how unusually it is put together.
A friend of mine in England, John Anderson, pointed out last Summer when we were working on this song that it has basically the same melody as "Rolling and Tumbling".  He's right, and I don't think that would have occurred to me in a million years!  If you haven't heard this tune, you may want to check it out on the Juke.  It's a real beauty.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 08:43:02 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #22 on: September 17, 2005, 12:43:16 PM »
Hi all,
A song that falls into this category is Tommy Johnson's beautiful "Slidin' Delta".  It can be found on Document or the JSP set "Legends of the Country Blues", which has the complete pre-rediscovery recordings of Skip James, Son House, and Bukka White, along with all of Tommy Johnson's and Ishmon Bracey's titles.  Tommy played "Slidin' Delta" out of E, standard tuning, and apart from the recording being whupped, you can hear what he's doing really well.  His part is beautifully conceived, and has the wonderful measured quality of his playing on "Lonesome Home Blues", recorded at the same session.  Here is "Slidin' Delta":



His phrasing works out as follows; measures are four beats unless otherwise indicated.

Babe, when I leave I ain't comin' here no more
               |         I          |         I         |    I   |   I    |
  When I leave here, comin' here no more       Lord, I'm go-
|         IV             |        IV            |  I-4 + two beats |
-oin' away to worry you off my mind                  Cryin' Lo-
|      V7          |        V7          |    I   | I-4+ two beats |

A couple of points about Tommy Johnson's phrasing here:
   * As with Robert Wilkins's phrasing on "I Do Blues" and "Jailhouse Blues", Tommy Johnson's phrasing on "Slidin' Delta" is consistent and adheres to the treatment indicated above throughout the song.
  * The sound of Tommy's transition to the IV chord is really eerie, because he is going back and forth between the sixth string, fourth fret, G#, and the open fifth string, A.  Because he continues to hold down the G# note as he plays the phrase, it sustains against the open A string, resulting in a striking, hummy-sounding dissonance.
   * Tommy shortens the fill section behind the second vocal phrase to one measure, and does the vocal pick-ups for the third phrase as a two beat add-on of the type we have encountered previously.
   * Tommy does the fill at the conclusion of of the third vocal phrase for the normal 2-bar length, but does the vocal pick-ups for the next verse as add-ons to the final measure of the form.  The effect is particularly strong, because it has him singing across the form break from one verse to the next.
Probably because of the poor condition of the recording, "Slidin' Delta", seems never to enjoyed the acclaim of other Tommy Johnson titles like "Maggie Campbell Blues", "Big Road Blues", or "Cool Drink Of Water Blues", but musically, I think it compares favorably with any of them, and it is a special treat to hear Tommy play solo.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 08:45:30 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #23 on: October 02, 2005, 12:40:59 PM »
Hi all,
One tune that could fit appropriately in either this thread or the "Rag Blues and Circle of Fifths" thread is Bo Carter's "The Law Gonna Step On You".  It is an unusually pretty tune with a one-of-a-kind form and funny lyrics in which Bo counsels caution to a boot-legging girlfriend.  Bo plays it out of his favorite G tuning, DGDGBE, and it employs pretty much the same harmonic vocabulary as that of other tunes of his like "I Want You To Know" and "I Get The Blues", though its first change, to the III7 chord, B7 is unusual and a real knock-out.  Here is Bo's performance:



The song's form employs two 9-bar phrases.  Except when soloing, Bo sings over the first nine-bar phrase and uses the second one for an instrumental response.  It works out as follows.  Bars are of 4 beats unless otherwise indicated.
                                                                                            I done
told you, I told you, I told you too, to quit handling liquor and gambling too
|           I                |       III7        |     IV7                      |  IV7   I    |       
Look-a-here, baby, you're goin' too fast the law gonna step on you yasyasyas
|         I                       |       VI7           |     II7                | V7 | V7+2   |   
(Instrumental)
|      I        |      III7      |      IV7     |      IV7--I    |
|      I        |     VI7       |     II7--V7 |     I--IV7    | I--V7  |

A couple of points about "The Law Gonna Step On You"
   *  By all rights, this should be a 16-bar blues.  The way Bo makes his 9-bar phrases sound natural and fluid is really mysterious. 
   *  The conclusion of the first 9-bar phrase is actually not all that fluid.  Bo plays a very rhythmically disjunct run over the V7 chord that he concludes with a two-beat "breath-catcher" add-on.  I reckon the run could be copied with practice, but I suspect that to feel the timing the way Bo did behind it would be pretty elusive.
   *  The way Bo inserts the "yas-yas-yas" refrain at the end of the bumpy run is just funny.  I remember playing this tune on the banjo one year in a banjo workshop at Port Townsend with John Jackson, and it just cracked him up.  After that, I always wanted to play it for him when we had that workshop every year.
This is one of my very favorite tunes by Bo, and you don't hear it done a lot.  Despite an increase of interest in his music in recent years, he still has a wealth of material which, for the most part, has gone unmined.  Steve Cheseborough is doing a a lot to bring attention to Bo's music, and that's great.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 08:46:59 AM by Johnm »

Offline a2tom

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #24 on: October 02, 2005, 02:53:13 PM »
interesting you mentioning this tune.  It is one I have tried to copy and play.  Great tune.  The changes up the fretboard out of the DGDGBE tuning are a lot of fun.  And, you are dead on in my case - it is that run down to yas yas yas that was the sticker in really being able to play it convincingly - but at the same time its the feature of the song that is most ear-catching.  I'm sure I'll have a go at it again someday.

tom

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #25 on: October 24, 2005, 12:50:24 PM »
Hi all,
I was listening recently to Sleepy John Estes's "I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More", and realized that it qualified for this category.  When I first listened to it after not having heard it for several years, I was caught off-guard by the vocal entrances; they always seemed early.  It is a 13-bar blues in what would normally be a 16-bar form.  The closest model for it is "Mama Don't Allow", which is most often done as follows.  The singing in the first, second and fourth four-bar phrases occurs over the first two bars, and the second two bars are available for instrumental fills or responses.

|    I      | V7(or I)  |     I      |      I      |
|   I      |    I         |    V7    |     V7     |
|  I        |   I7       |    IV     |    IVmin  |
|    I      |   V7      |    I       |    I        |

Here is Sleepy John's recording of "I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More":



As recorded by Sleepy John, "I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More" works out as follows.  The third line of the verse is the only portion of the lyrics that changes from verse to verse

Come on down,  I ain't gonna be worried no more
|        I               |                  I               |   I     |
Come on down, I ain't gonna be worried no more  You know I
|        I            |                 I                   |       V7        |
worried last night and all night before, you know by that I won't be worried no                      more
|        I                       |        I/flatVII    |          IV                   |    IV-I |
Come on down, I ain't gonna be worried no more
|        I            |            V7                    |   I      |

As you listen to the performance it becomes apparent that what Sleepy John Estes did in this song was to halve the instrumental responses at the end of the first, second, and fourth lines.  This has the effect of making the vocal entrances for the first, second and third lines sound early.  The entrance for the fourth line sounds as it normally does for songs with this phrasing scheme, since the third line of the form was not shortened.   
This is a great, really fun song that I would recommend to anyone looking for some interesting, under-performed raggy material.  It is unusual in that it features both Hammie Nixon on harmonica and a very active kazoo player (it's not John Estes--I don't know who it is).  They absolutely get in each other's way in a fashion that is hilarious and a kick, a lot like a great Trad Jazz band on the last chorus.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 08:48:48 AM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #26 on: October 24, 2005, 12:59:41 PM »
John, I agree, it's a neat effect shortening the lines as you say. Great tune. The Document notes list Charlie Pickett or possibly Son Bonds as a second guitar player, and Lee Brown as the kazoo maniac.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #27 on: October 24, 2005, 03:26:04 PM »
Hi all,
Yet another tune that fits this category is Sleepy John Estes's "Whatcha Doin'?".  It is essentially an up-tempo cover of "Sittin' On Top Of The World", and features, along with Sleepy John on guitar, Yank Rachell on mandolin and Jab Jones on piano.  Like most of the tunes recorded with this line-up, it moves at a slow 4-beat-per-bar pace, but is enlivened by Jab Jones's predilection for keeping time with a stomping 8-to-the-bar pounding and Yank's very active and slithery mandolin fills.  Here is "Whatcha Doin'":



The form works out as follows.  Measures are four beats unless otherwise indicated, and the vocal pick-ups precede the downbeat of the form.
                                                                                                            Now depot
agent, don't tell me no lie, did my baby stop here, did she keep on by, got to give in
|                I            |            I        |             IV                   |       I              |
kind,        just what,     what you do       Now I hate to
|    V7              |     V7              |    I+2 beats          |

Songs of this type are most often done with a two-bar instrumental response period at the end of the form.  As you can see and hear, in this instance, Sleepy John and ensemble shortened the instrumental response at the end of the form by one bar and treated the pick-up beats for the beginning of the next verse as an add-on to the final measure of the form as we have seen many other country blues artists do in this thread.  So much for the notion that formal conventions need to be strictly adhered to in ensemble settings!  Truthfully, I think you can do anything in an ensemble if the players are used to each other and feel rhythms the same way.  I think the chorus, "got to give in kind, just what, what you do" means, essentially, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Once again, I think this tune is a great candidate to be played.  I really like these John Estes covers of common blues forms, they are very distinctive and personal while still having enough familiarity to register.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 08:50:12 AM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #28 on: October 24, 2005, 05:35:55 PM »
John - Sleepy John Estes' "Street Car Blues" is another one with his distinctive oddball phrasing, it seems to me. I'm not able to break it down yet the way you have with the others, but it seems to be a 12 bar form with lots of extensions. It hurts my brain to count it. It's a very cool effect, and for an ensemble to play this must mean as you suggest they are damn comfortable with each other. Part of the great appeal in Sleepy John material is that tension created by the unusual phrasing. He's very cool when he's more regular as well, as in "Floating Bridge" or "Lawyer Clark" (what killer tunes).

"Special Agent" is mostly regular but he's short on the third final phrase most of the time, and it's wonderful. I love the guitar playing in this tune. Can't remember if it's Son Bonds  (my Documents are upstairs), but it's just such a cool guitar part. Anyway, his phrasing is just brilliant almost all the time. For those who don't have his recordings (he hasn't been discussed much on Weenie) do yourself a favor and get them. There is so much great stuff and he is a fantastic singer. He is one of the first country blues players I was listening to and I come back to him again and again.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2005, 12:19:33 PM by uncle bud »

Offline a2tom

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Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
« Reply #29 on: October 24, 2005, 05:47:34 PM »
Uncle Bud just beat me (gotta get up pretty early...) to saying that Estes Special Agent is one of my absolute favs.  On my long list of songs to learn.  I think he was a helluva singer, and the stompin' guitar part in there is just propelling.  I don't know why Estes doesn't get talked about more 'round these parts.  Good to have John M keeping us honest...


tom

 


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