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Saturday, January 17th, 2009

🦋 States' Rights

I've been listening a lot to Disc B of the Mountain Blues box set from JSP Records -- there is a ton of great music on this disc and in this set, including many fiddle tunes that I want to learn. Plus a song I'm finding particularly interesting, and different from most everything else on this set: Bread Line Blues (1931), by Slim Smith.

There doesn't seem to be any biographical information on Smith that I can find, either in the notes to the box set or on the Internets. His singing style reminds me a lot of Woody Guthrie; I'm pretty poor at recognizing accents, so I won't venture to guess where he's from -- most of the other artist on the set are from Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, the Carolinas.

The song is basically a plea to vote Democratic in 1932. I'm interested in finding out some of the subtext -- I don't know a whole lot about the history of the Great Depression beyond generalities. I understand that Hoover, a Republican, was blamed for the economic collapse, and clearly the song says "vote Democratic to get the economy back on course." But I'm very intrigued by the lines, "If we had states' rights,/ I'll leave it to you,/ We could all have fun/ And better home-brew." If I heard someone in say, 1960 or later, invoking "states' rights," I'd assume he was speaking in code about resentment over desegregation, and appealing to memories of Southern separatism -- this is a major part of the theme of Nixonland. But I don't believe desegregation was even on the radar in 1931. It sounds from the verse like the resentment is against prohibition, and maybe more generally against federal regulation of distillation. But presumably memories of Southern separatism would have been fresher in 1931 than they were in the '60s; so maybe that is coming through as well.

I'm also pretty interested by this verse: "It's the rich man's job/ To make some rules,/ To rid me of/ These Bread Line Blues." What is the ideology here? The first time I heard the song I started out thinking I was listening to a Socialist after the manner of Woody Guthrie, advocating for FDR and the New Deal; but this verse makes no sense in that context -- it sounds more to me like what I think of as Republicanism, and it surprises me to hear a Democrat saying it. But obviously party boundaries and ideologies are fluid. Oh and another neat thing: the Donkey and Elephant party mascots make their appearances. How old are these symbols? Aha! finally a question I can answer with Google: the animals date to 1874, to a political cartoon by Thomas Nast.

posted afternoon of January 17th, 2009: 3 responses
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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
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