Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

May 5, 2011

Springtime Country Blues Explosion, Part Two

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paragardener @ 5:47 am

Back again to prepare you for the coming blue time. Truth be told, I’m putting links to blues songs together for my own selfish purpose, which is to assemble the recordings transcribed in the book “Anthology of Blues Guitar” by  Woody Mann, a white longhair who learned guitar from Rev. Gary Davis. It would be trés expensive to purchase all the albums contributing works to the anthology, plus it’s not terribly helpful to support dead artists. It’s more about honoring their legacy (my apologies to the odd survivor). So, I’ve put together links to free recordings of the songs as best I can find them, plus a few of my own favorites. It’s kind of a best-of, a cornucopia of country blues, a down-home rollick in the oppressive misery of it all.

Tommy Johnson

Sick! Johnson plays with thumb and forefinger picking independently, creating distinct bass and lead parts. The really fiendish part is some subtlety in the rhythm or flow, which knocks me off balance and may be a literally unique aspect of Johnson’s playing.

Bye Bye Blues:

Big Road Blues
Big Road Blues guitar lesson — I often find a free lesson on Youtube. Sometimes the supposed lesson is just a teaser, but this one transmits a lot of information:

Son House

“The Father of the Delta Blues.” House plays a heavy, slide guitar (bottleneck) style. Like most bottleneck players, House prefers an “open” tuning — one chord strummed across all 6 strings. For awhile, I did as House and left my guitar in open G all the time: “DGDGBd.”

County Farm Blues:

Death Letter Blues — This video is just about its own lesson. The camera zooms in on each of House’s hands, so you can see exactly what he’s doing:

Intro:
(Speed increases)

D|-----------3/5~-----|
B|---------0----------|
G|---0-2/3-0------0---| X3
D|---0-2/3-0------0---|
G|---0------------0---|
D|-3------------------|

Verse:

D|---8-8-8-8-8-5/8-|-----------------|-----3-------3---|---3-------3---0-|
B|-------------0---|-----0-0-0---0-0-|-------------3---|---3-------3---0-|
G|-0-------0---0---|---3-3-3-0---0-3-|-3b3b3b3b--3b3b--|---0-------0-3-0-|
D|-0-------0---0---|-----0-0-0---0-0-|-0-0---0---0-0---|-0---0---0---0-0-|
G|-0-------0---0---|-0---------------|-0-----------0---|-0---0---0---0-0-|
D|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|

Here’s some guitar tablature for Death Letter. I think of guitar tablature as the “human music box.” Each line represents a string, and you follow the lines along the page as if they’re the spinning rim of a music box cylinder. When your eye combs over a number on a line, you press a string (according to which line) against a fret (according to the number) and pick, pluck or strum as needed. Further symbols indicate { // } sliding, or { b } bending or what have you. Like much tablature on the Internets, this one is kind of fragmentary and pretty much demands a recording to follow along with (or, a totally ingrained memory of the song).

Sunday Morning Blues is a mutant descendant of Death Letter, played by me on guitar and Nate Markham on drums & production. It’s the only recording I have of me, so if this isn’t one of the finest blues, I include it here as one of the rarest!

Lead Belly

Lead Belly was a flexible, hardworking guy who played a variety of instruments and sang various kinds of songs – children’s songs, lefty folk songs, tough-guy blues (and he really had done hard time, in an honest-to-goodness singing chain gang). He mainly played a fingerpicked twelve-string guitar, tuned down about a fourth from standard (that’s fairly near half an octave, limboing under even Black Sabbath’s slack strings). The sound is deep and rich, and is sometimes compared to a piano.

Leadbelly’s C.C. Rider

Where Did You Sleep Last Night (The Pines)
The Pines guitar tab, based on the Nirvana cover.

Muddy Waters

I Be’s Troubled:

Rollin and Tumblin’ — compare to Robert Johnson’s Travelling Riverside Blues. Rollin’ and Tumblin’ is an ancient standard:

Reverend Gary Davis

I Am the Light of This World:

Make Believe Stunt:

Advice on practice:

R.L. Burnside

R.L. was a North Mississippi / Hill Country player until his fairly recent death. I like this style for its frankly mind-numbing hypnotic effect. Here he’s playing with sidekick Kenny Brown on slide guitar. Going Down South:

The Scissormen play to a Hill Country slide standard, and member Ted Drozdowski wrote up some pretty sound tips for playing this style.

There are legions of generic “bar blues” bands in circulation, more power to them since they keep people in live music, but the blues I really fetishize is deviantly individualistic. The way to learn to play is, sit down with an instrument and fool around until you can make music on it. You don’t even need to know how to tune a guitar, though you sacrifice some flexibility when you leave standard tuning behind. Later you can get with a few friends and work on meshing your styles.

At a protest vs. Gov. Snyder’s Emergency Financial Dictator law, I saw a lady playing Sousaphone, vamping a snippet of a fight song over and over, playing along with a hippie drum circle. Completely different music, completely the right attitude.

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