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Books, which we mistake for consolation, only add depth to our sorrow

Orhan Pamuk

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Wednesday, October 15th, 2003

I've been listening to a CD over and over again for the past few days; it is "Dark was the Night" by Blind Willie Johnson. Every time I listen to it I like it a little better -- and I did not dislike it to begin with! If anything could persuade me to believe, it would be good gospel music like this.

Last week I bought a portable CD player, which I had been meaning to do for a while now. My thinking is that I will listen to music on the train to and from work and that, with repetition, I will come to a deeper understanding of the songs. This is certainly happening with Johnson -- I had thought his songs were quite simple, with few lyrics and not much happening on guitar, and that his main attribute was his awesome voice; but in reality there is quite a bit of musical complexity under the surface, and the lyrics have some pretty insightful bits that you don't catch until the third or fourth repetition.

Jim came over last night and we played blues for a couple of hours. He is really into Leo Kottke and is showing me some neat stuff. We played a really long set of songs in D (I was using dropped-D tuning and he was using open-D), jamming from one into the next; I discovered that it is hugely confusing to jam from "C.C. Rider" into "Stagger Lee" (and probably vice versa) because the songs are quite similar in certain ways -- in mid-verse I will forget which one I am playing and slip into the other one.

posted morning of October 15th, 2003: Respond
➳ More posts about Music

Monday, June 13th, 2005

🦋 Wow, look at this!

I was googling around today and thought I would look for the sentence "I got a girl long and tall, sweet as she could be", which I believe is the first line of a Big Bill Broonzy song I was listening to last night and enjoying. No results... but!!! "long and tall" + "sweet as she could be" brings up only one result, and it is Michael Taft's Pre-War Blues Lyrics Concordance!!! This is huge! I haven't even begun looking at it yet but I'm completely psyched that such a thing should exist and be online.

Update: And here is a link to the front page of the concordance.

posted morning of June 13th, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about Guitar

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

🦋 Shared Experience

Ok, 2 answers for my shared experience question:

  • I would like everyone to know the music of Mississippi John Hurt. It's a little silly but I get hassled by the fact that whenever the Blues comes up in conversation, people think about electric music recorded in the 70s and later, or possibly about electric music recorded in the 50s. Plus I want everyone to know this music because it's so good.
  • I would like everyone to know American Splendor by Harvey Pekar, and the graphic art of R. Crumb. I think productive conversations would be possible if I could just refer to Crumb's vision of sexual inadequacy and everybody knew what I was talking about without any explication. This also goes for Pekar's work ethic.

I want to tag Roy Edroso and Dave Feldman.

posted evening of August 17th, 2006: Respond
➳ More posts about R. Crumb

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

🦋 New Gary Davis material!

Excellent news: Allan Evans of Arbiter Records has just released a new disc of old blues: Lifting the Veil: the First Bluesmen (1926 - 1956). It features newly remastered tracks from Davis, Leadbelly, Broonzy and more; and in the liner notes is a previously unpublished 1951 interview of Davis by Alan Lomax's wife, Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold.

posted evening of December 15th, 2007: Respond

Saturday, August second, 2008

🦋 Blues in Scandinavia

The BBC documentaries about Stax records which Chris mentioned yesterday are not available to US web surfers; but you can watch the the Stax '67 tour of Norway on YouTube, albeit broken up into ten-minute chunks and subject to slow downloading. Use the playlist to watch all 6 in order.

posted afternoon of August second, 2008: Respond

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

🦋 Wigs and rats'll get you killed

So I'm pretty mystified by this Lightnin' Hopkins lyric. Leaving aside the obsession with women who wear wigs, what's up with the rats? Am I hearing this wrong?

(I am definitely hearing at least some of it wrong -- "ain't her own line", "all over mine", "I went to swing out" are all approximations.)

Update: I found a more authoritative version of the lyrics at the African-American Registry. "Rats" is correct. (The verse starting "I woke up this morning" is not present in the recording I've been listening to, from Hello Central.)

Update: Aha! Just figured it out! Thanks, unknown browser who came to this site by searching for "are wigs made of rat hair?" -- This is obviously what Hopkins meant by "rats": "wigs (putatively) made from rat hair."

Update III: Another idea comes by way of Martha M. -- "rats" are the structures used to support outlandish early-20th-C hairdos. The OED says,

5. Something resembling a rat in shape.
a. U.S. A hair-pad with tapering ends.
1869 Mrs. Whitney We Girls v. (1874) 98 She can't buy coils and braids and two-dollar rats.
1888 Century Mag. 769 The crescent shaped pillows on which it [hair] was put up, the startling names of which were 'rats' and 'mice'.

posted afternoon of September 9th, 2008: 2 responses
➳ More posts about Songs

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

🦋 12 bars

Here is the structure of blues as I hear it:

| 2 bars melody, I I or I IV | | X bars fill |
| 2 bars melody, IV IV | | X bars fill |
| 2 bars melody, V I | | X - 1 bars fill, 1 bar turnaround |
I usually expect X = 2, a 12-bar pattern. (The fill is usually all I chord, turnaround is V.) I can picture a slow 15-bar blues with X = 3 -- I may have played this on occasion, not sure. I was really surprised when listening to Mountain Blues & Ballads, to hear Gene Autry's "Black Bottom Blues" -- something just seemed wrong about it and I couldn't figure out what. Come to realize, it's a 9-bar blues -- X is 1! I didn't even know that was possible! A-and later in the same collection, a fiddle blues called "Tipple Blues" (not sure just now, who the artist is -- this is essentially the same melody as "Deep Elem Blues") which unless I'm mistaken, is 10 bars -- X is 2 on the first line, 1 subsequently. So cool, the form is a lot more versatile than I had realized.

(And funny, the thing is I'm pretty sure if I covered "Black Bottom Blues", I would play 2 bars of fill -- that's etched deeply on my brane as the correct amount.)

posted morning of January 29th, 2009: 2 responses
➳ More posts about Mountain Blues & Ballads

Monday, September 28th, 2009

🦋 How come you do me like you do, do, do?

I've gotten interested in this particular 16-bar melody line that I've been hearing in a lot of old blues and jazz tunes -- it is the melody that always makes me think "They're Red Hot!" when I hear it, because Robert Johnson's song is the first one I ever heard with this structure:

I was listening to Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra playing "How Come You Do Me Like You Do?" last week and realized it's essentially the same melody -- since then I've worked out that several other songs on the records that I'm listening to regularly are built from the same elements -- here is a brief playlist of a couple others, including Tommie Bradley's hilarious "Adam and Eve" and a version by "Bogus" Ben Covington.

(And, wow! A 2000th post ought not go unnoticed.)

posted morning of September 28th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Mix tapes

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

🦋 Chimpin' the Blues

A few years old, but new for me: in September 2004, R. Crumb and Jerry Zolten produced a one-hour show on Penn State's wpsu-fm, spinning and chattering and nit-picking Crumb's collection of old blues and gospel records. Lots of great music and talk.

I haven't been able to find the mp3 of the show online anywhere but -- I'm not sure what the nature of that site is, they make you sign up for a free account if you want to listen, it seems benign enough though...

Track listing below the fold.

posted evening of June 16th, 2010: 2 responses
➳ More posts about Readings

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

🦋 Blizzard Blues

There is a winter storm warning! 10-15" of snow predicted for this afternoon and tonight and tomorrow... I will be indoors keeping warm. Here is some music to keep warm by.

It is blues guitarist Eleanor Ellis' documentary of a Piedmont Blues house party -- at John Jackson's house in Fairfax Station, northern Virginia. Featuring Jackson and his son James, John Cephas and Phil Wiggins, Archie Edwards, Cora Jackson, Flora Molton and Larry Wise, John Dee Holeman, and Quentin "Fris" Holloway. Lots of talk about the music and the traditions. Thanks to Chris (of the have_moicy mailing list) for the link.

posted morning of December 26th, 2010: Respond

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