Monday, October 31, 2011

Any Womans Blues #15 – Joanna Connor

A happy Monday morning to you!  If it’s not morning where you are, at least you know it is here in sunny Portland.  It’s time for another edition of the Monday Morning Blues, & as our monthly Any Woman’s Blues Feature for October we’re showcasing the work of an extraordinary guitarist & singer.

First it must be said: Joanna Connor is nowhere near as well known as she should be based on the talent she brings to her playing.  In fact, in terms of electric blues & blues rock, I would completely agree with the statement on her website that she presents “the complete electric guitar package,” who “covers the range of modern blues, slide guitar and blues rock.”  The old-timers used to compliment blues guitar players by saying they could “make the guitar talk”—that absolutely applies to Connor’s playing.  To top it off, she also is a vocalist of extraordinary range & feeling.

Joanna Connor began playing guitar when she was seven, & began playing in bands in the Worcester, Massachusetts area while in her teens.  She moved to Chicago in the mid 80s while in her early 20s, & was soon sitting in with the likes of Buddy Guy, James Cotton & Junior Wells.  In the later 80s she assembled her own band & recorded Believe It! for the renowned blues label, Blind Pig.  She has released at least eight albums since, with the most recent being Live & Raw #1 & 2 (I believe the dates on these are 2008.)

Although I chose two cover tunes for the videos, Joanna Connor also is talented composer in her own right, & her repertoire contains a number of original songs.  Still, she brings her formidable talent & chops to blues standards as well, & has recorded noteworthy covers of songs ranging from Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues” to the old Percy Sledge number “The Dark End of the Street.”  Connor certainly is able to synthesize a number of styles, from the rawest Delta sounds to smooth R&B & make them her own. 

Joanna Connor has collaborated with a number of noteworthy artists; in addition to the blues greats I mentioned earlier, she also toured with tenor saxaphone great A.C. Reed & has appeared on albums by Deborah Coleman (last month’s Any Woman’s Blues feature artist!) & Luther Allison.  The Joanna Connor Band tours & can also be heard as the house band at Kingston Mines in Chicago—in fact, if you’re in the Windy City this weekend, you can catch them at Kingston Mines Thursday thru Saturday!

When Cashbox Magazine reviewed Believe It, the reviewer noted Connor’s “razor-sharp tone.”  She achieves that on her Gibson Les Paul.  Her versions of “Statesboro Blues” & “People Get Ready” are simply outstanding—there’s a bit of distortion on the recording to “People Get Ready,” but I liked the guitar solo so much I had to include it. 

Great music, people—enjoy!




Sunday, October 30, 2011

Photo of the Week* 10/30/11

Seasonal Yard Art at Little Baja
E. Burnside St, Portland, Oregon
Monday 10/17/11

* As you can see, this isn't a photo from "this week," but I had a slow week camera-wise, & this seemed appropriate for Halloween Eve.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Magwaza & Other Saturday Thoughts

A belated happy Saturday to you all.  A meditative post this afternoon—probably short, tho with a long song appended!

The sun is shining in Portland after a gray morning & a rainy night.  As for me, I’m experiencing the odd tiredness that often sets in on me this time of year: a sometimes uncomfortable mixture of wishing to hibernate combined with restlessness about the short days & the onset of the cold.  

In addition it’s a weekend for ghosts, & I’ve reached the age & point in my life’s circumstances where I experience such things only too literally, tho not in the paranormal sense of the word.  The ghosts I know come from a note of music; a sentence in a book; a “certain slant of light;” the odor of dinner on the stove.

Here’s a ghost, & I don’t know what to make of it.  One time in San Francisco back in the 90s I found myself in the Mission District for the Día de los Muertes parade.  In a back alley, there were several costumed musicians wearing various death masks playing & singing “Magwaza,” a traditional South African tune that was covered gloriously by the great Johnny Dyani & his band on his album Witchdoctor’s Son.  Witnessing that scene has always stayed with me—as if I’d stumbled briefly thru some veil like a character in one of the psychedelic 1960s thrillers.

Perhaps something in this season that speaks to the loneliness at our shoulders.  Or is thaqt just my own obsession?  One time I was asked how my early poems differed from the ones I wrote over the past few years.  I said the early stuff was all about sex; the later stuff all about loneliness.  Is this true?  Sometimes I wonder that we even separate the two….

Thoughts as the music streams & the sunlight appears at the window—the sunlight itself seems a bit reluctant today—a bit reserved.

I’m going to venture out into that sunlight tho & find something on Portland’s streets this afternoon.  What?  A photograph, a meal, a book, a memory, a glimpse into another day….

Hope you each find something meaningful today.


Friday, October 28, 2011

“Row, Row, Row”

Happy Banjo Friday, folks!  We’re running a bit behind schedule, but we’ve got an interesting instrument to talk about & listen to, so climb on board!

Lately I’ve been writing about various banjo hybrids: the banjo-ukulele, the banjo-guitar & the banjo-mandolin.  It’s a testimony to the banjo’s unique sound that its “banjoness” has been incorporated into so many other instruments—& in fact there are even more that I’m not going to discuss like the Dojo (a 5-string banjo neck on a resonator guitar body) & the banjola (a 5-string banjo neck on a mandola body.)  But before moving on to other banjo topics, I did want to write about a fascinating hybrid: the bass banjo!

As I understand it, S.S. Stewart first introduced an instrument that was referred to as both a cello banjo & a bass banjo in 1889; this was a 5-string instrument & would be more comparable to the current cello banjos manufactured by Gold Tone than to an actual bass instrument.  Cello banjos were also manufactured in both four & five string forms by A.C. Fairbanks & Gibson in the early 20th century.

However, the first true bass banjo made its way onto the scene in 1930 as an instrument manufactured by Gibson.  It was tuned EADG, the same as an upright bass or a bass guitar, & was played upright on a stand that substituted for the spike found on an upright bass.  The Gibson bass banjo was discontinued in 1933.

These days the bass banjo is again available, & as is the case with so many banjo hybrids (not to mention some fine conventional banjos), the Gold Tone Company is one of the leading manufacturers of such instruments.  But I want to introduce you today to a very special form of the bass banjo: the Heftone!
I’ve been a fan of the musical duo of Brian Hefferen & Lynn Hershberger, that is, the Fabulous Heftones, for some time.  The Fabulous Heftones bring an ebullient musicality to their repertoire of early 20th century Tin Pan Alley tunes, & the joy & good spirit they project in their music is positively infectious!  Both Brian Hefferen & Lynn Hershberger sing, & sing well, with lovely harmonies—& Brian’s rambunctious scatting!  Brian Hefferen plays a mean ukulele, while Lynn Hershberger plays the wonderful bass banjo called a Heftone.  This was designed by Lawrence Hefferen, who has made the instruments in both fretless & fretted models, & with both a bass viol style neck & a bass guitar style neck.  Lynn Hershberger plays the deluxe Heftone—fretless, with the bass viol style neck.  One of the amazing features of this instrument is the 22” frame drum body!  That’s a lot of banjo, folks!

The Fabulous Heftones have two cds, both of which I recommend highly—these are In the Garden & Moon June Spoon; their cds are available thru Elderly Instruments.  In addition, Brian Hefferen has five cds (also all available thru Elderly) that feature his ukulele & banjo playing.

This video clip features them singing an old tune called “Row, Row, Row.”  The clip not only showcases their overall sound, but it gives you both a good look at & listen to the Heftone bass.  Enjoy—I know you will!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

“Distant Fingers”

A happy Thursday to you, friends!  I hope you are having a lovely day.

Not too much to report from my corner of the world since I last checked in.  However, I have found a new source of subsidized housing information, so over the next several days I’ll be identifying more possible rentals, visiting neighborhoods with which I’m not yet familiar & filling out more applications.   No one said this would be easy, but as long as there are tangible steps to be taken the waiting game moves more quickly.

I’m anticipating another influx of belongings from Idaho at the end of the weekend: my electric guitar, my plectrum banjo, my Fluke brand tenor scale uke & my mandolin, as well various & sundry other items.  My Peavey amp will probably be arriving as well, tho I expect I’ll sell this.  Although I’d hoped to replace this with a Fender Pro Junior amp, that’s not in the budget; but I do have my eye on a small Fender tube amp that would probably fit my current circumstances much better than the large Peavey.

Other thoughts:

  • I need to get out & do some performing, & this probably means open mics for awhile.  Portland has no shortage of these!
  • Sometimes I think I’d like to be playing in a band again as well as performing as a soloist.
  • Poetry—still not writing—still having only the vaguest urges to do so.  But stay tuned to this space on Saturday for an upcoming Jack Hayes poetry-related announcement!
  • I’m thinking very much today of an online friend who’s been going thru some hard times, & hoping that some events in a far distant land will clear those up soon.
  • The gray & rainy season is starting.  As November & December are always difficult months for me I’m thinking of ways to keep my spirits up.  One thing to focus on: while this may not be true yet, by December the weather here should be a big improvement on what I’d be experiencing in Indian Valley.  Although they are rainy, Portland’s winters are relatively mild, while Indian Valley’s are quite harsh—cold & prone to inversions.

Otherwise: thinking about the past & the future & trying to connect with the emotions of the now—these are complex enough!  In that spirit, a song about longing that takes me back to a past time, & that also helps me to connect with these emotions: “Distant Fingers” by the Patti Smith Group.  Patti Smith has been an inspiration to me musically, poetically & otherwise since I first heard her perform “Gloria” on Saturday Night Live in the mid 1970s.  “Distant Fingers” is from her second album, Radio Ethiopia, & was co-written with Allen Lanier, also of Blue Oyster Cult fame.

Enjoy your Thursday & enjoy the music!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Life as a Girl"

[The righteous rant is an oft-neglected poetic genre in the contemporary poetry scene, but Barbie Angell positively owns it here!  Funny, sad & right-on throughout—enjoy!] 
Life as a Girl


Lately I’ve been breaking off all over the room,
so if you’re going to visit, you’ll want to bring a broom.
And I guess that I should let you know, I’m a little bit confused,
but I’m sure you won’t be bothered, most people seem amused.

See, sometimes I still see myself as this brilliant, sweet young girl,
until somebody mentions how I look upon the world.
Yeah, jaded is my color now, I must look great in green.
But I’m afraid I’m being bitter, and I’m scared I’m being mean.

So bring a good strong vacuum with when you want to come on by,
so you can suck up where I’ve broken off while I drink and smoke and cry.
Yeah, it’s fun for everybody, a smashing good old time.
Did I mention that I smash things while I scream and yell and whine?

I can tell just what you’re thinking.  How did I end up like this?
And really, more importantly, are you, yourself at risk?
Well I know just how it started.  I can pinpoint that sad day
when a stranger sauntered up to me and I didn’t know what to say.

So I started to get worried, and I pondered and I thought.
I used to know just who I was, but I guess I just forgot.
So I looked for help from others, you know, girls about my age,
I guess I wanted references.  Some sort of “woman” gauge.

And I watched all of their TV shows and I read all of their books,
and I started to get worried about the way I really looked.
From that point on I lost it.  And I tried so fucking hard,
but I’m too poor to be a woman, for new clothes and a perky car.

That’s when I succumbed to all the Pretty People lies,
like I’ll never be truly confident unless I have thinner thighs.
And I questioned what my value was without the perfect dress,
and would I ever get that far with these preteen, tiny breasts?

And who do I go asking then?  And why would they ever care?
‘Cause my bible’s name was Cosmo and no one heard my prayers.
I soon tired of the life I led, and the low-cal, fat-free food.
I was sick of my appearance and my weary-broken mood.

I couldn’t listen anymore about why my wardrobe’s wrong,
or that some fantastic makeup will make me beautiful and strong.
Now I’m boycotting the companies who can’t do ads without nude chicks,
do they think that I won’t buy their shoes unless I see a little tit?

I don’t want another sleazy ad by Hardee’s and Diet Coke.
All I’m offered is body work when it’s my engine that is broke.
Why does society do this to their women and their girls?
And what do you do as a rag doll when you live in a Barbie doll world?

Barbie Dockstader Angell
© 2009-present

Monday, October 24, 2011

National Blues: Duolians & Triolians

1931 Duolian
1930s Triolian
The Monday Morning Blues is here—& to say we’re going to talk about & hear some beautiful guitars today is an understatement!

As regular readers know, each month we’ve looked at a different guitar that’s closely associated with the “blues sound.”  Now it would be difficult to say that one specific brand or model of guitar typifies “the blues”—there are simply too many different sounds & styles within that broad term to pin things down.  & besides, if we’re talking about the blues that’s been recorded after World War II, we’d almost certainly be discussing some famous electric guitars; when talking about pre-War blues, the acoustics of course ruled the scene.

Of course, one has to acknowledge right up front that in any list of great acoustic blues guitars, there’d be a few listed that might have an asterix next to their name because they are in fact amplified—by ingenious construction, rather than by electric charges & magnets: the resophonic guitars.  & while there have been competing brands, the archetypal blues resonator guitar is a National single-cone guitar, either a duolian model or the slightly more expensive triolian.  For the purposes of this post, I’m including both models simply because some well-known performers used them somewhat interchangeably, & one would need a very fine ear (& actually, even a careful eye in some cases) to tell them apart.  Here’s a quick description from the National site:


Duolian was a lower priced National w steel body, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard w no binding, stamped Duolian headstock, and the crystalline Duco paint finish.  It's seen in catalogs for $32.50.
The Triolian came in several flavors, and was more expensive than the Duolian at $45.  It had a steel body w maple neck, died maple fingerboard w binding, nickel plated engraved tuners, and a Triolian decal on the headstock. 


As you can see, the main difference is appointments & the wood used for the neck & fingerboard.  Also, given that new Nationals retail for anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 & up, what would that $32.50 early 1930s Duolian cost in today’s dollars?  Actually, $513.74, which is about the cost of a Recording King or a Regal now; $45 in 1932 would have equalled $711.34, which would bump that guitar up one level in today’s market to something like a Republic. 

The list of musicians who used these instruments is impressive to say the least (& this excludes those who used National Tricones or other models—this is just players of Duolians & Triolians!)


The brittle but loud sound of the single cone National is closely associated with blues from the Mississippi Delta region especially, & so for your listening pleasure I have video clips featuring two great Delta performers, Booker White playing “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” & Son House playing “Levee Camp Blues.”  Although both performers were past their primes when these recordings were made in the 1960s, they were still masterful musicians.

Enjoy—this is the blues, folks!







Both pics link back to their source

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Photo of the Week 10/23/11

Bicycle Fence with Recycling Bins
E Burnside Street, Portland, Oregon
Monday 10/17/11

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Platypuss in Boots Bids Us Fond Au Revoir

Happy Saturday, folks.  Well, actually a bit of a sad Saturday here. 

As you may know, I’ve been re-posting material from Eberle’s wonderful but dormant blog Platypuss-in-Boots on alternate Saturdays, & in the normal course of blog events, today we’d feature one of these posts.  But, as you also know if you’re a regular reader, Eberle & I have now gone our separate ways in life; I’m making a new life in Portland, Oregon, while she’s transforming her life back in Idaho.  & the fact is, posting the Platypuss-in-Boots material was just becoming too sad for me.  I discussed this with Eberle, & she understood where I was coming from & was in full support of me stopping the posts.  Needless to say, it is great to be able to have friendly talks about things with her, despite the fact that we’ve taken these separate paths.

Now in practical terms, don’t forget: these posts all exist on the interwebs already & will continue to do so: you can read all the material on the original Platypuss-in-Boots  blog that Eberle created at this very link.  It’s great stuff: funny, enchanting & wildly imaginative. 

I’m not sure what will be taking the place of these posts yet—but stayed tuned, because there are a lot more fun features to come in the days ahead!

Friday, October 21, 2011

“Baby Got the Rickets”

A happy, if slightly belated, Banjo Friday, friends!  We’re going to look at yet another hybrid banjo instrument this week, the banjo-mandolin.

These instruments probably date to around the turn of the 20th century &, like the tenor banjo, were probably developed as the late 19th century mandolin orchestra craze morphed into a similar craze for the banjo orchestra.  Simply put, just as the tenor banjo enabled mandola players to get the banjo sound without having to re-learn chord shapes & scale positions, so did the banjo-mandolin & the related banjolin allow mandolin players a convenient entrance into the banjo world.

If you’re familiar with the mandolin—even with how one looks—you know that the instrument has 8 strings, which are paired—in other words, essentially four pairs of two strings each.  Each pair is tuned in unison (i.e., to the exact same note), & the mandolin’s tuning is the same as the violin’s.  The strings, from lowest tone to highest are GGDDAAEE (of course, the violin only has four strings: GDAE.)  All of the instruments in the mandolin family are tuned “in fifths,” which means that the note of each string is five tones higher than the previous one—in other words, moving from the string closest to your nose toward the string closest to your toes, each string would be in a relation of do to sol (in the do-re-mi scheme) to the next one.

I assume your eyes aren’t crossed at this point after that last paragraph!  If they are, maybe you should start the video playing now to give yourself a chance to recover from the music-speak! 

As I understand, the instruments called banjolins typically only had four strings, not eight, but they still were tuned GDAE.  I believe this may have been done to decrease the tension on the instrument’s neck & drum—mandolins have extremely high string tension.  However, there are vintage banjo-mandolins that were built for the eight string set-up (check out this 1911 Fairbanks or this 1880s Cole on the Elderly Instruments site!), & mando-banjos that are currently manufactured typically are designed for eight strings [for instance, this very nice mando-banjo from Gold Tone, again on display at Elderly Instruments.)
 
The banjo-mandolin has been a relatively obscure instrument—unlike the banjo ukulele or the banjo-guitar, there haven’t been any particularly well-known proponents of the instrument.  One very gifted banjo-mandolin player was Vol Stevens, who recorded both in duet settings with a back-up guitarist & also as part of the Memphis Jug Band (the link gives a nice write-up of this seminal group, but as you can see from the photo & the video here, they have the description of the banjo-mandolin backwards.)  Today’s video features The Bluesicianers, namely Dirk (guitar) & Rene (banjo-mandolin) playing a cover of Vol Stevens’ song with the intriguing, if somewhat disturbing title, “Baby Got the Rickets.”  Stevens recorded the original in 1927 for Victor Records, with Will Weldon (AKA Casey Bill Weldon) on guitar.

I like the Bluesicianers’ style—enjoy!


 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Have Uke, Will Travel

Happy Thursday!  Just a quick(ish) post to catch you up on news from Portland.

In case you haven’t seen the news on other social media, I have my first student!  Interestingly, she’s not a guitar student, but rather a young woman who seems very intent on learning the ukulele.  

Now as you may know from previous posts (I don’t recall how much I’ve gone into this), my current living situation really isn’t a good set-up for teaching.  My room is a bedroom as well as a living space, so that obviously won’t work; the only common space that would work would inevitably encroach on one of my friends who does a lot of work from home.  So for the purposes of Portland Craigslist, I’m a guitar & uke teacher “to go!”   I travel to them.

Obviously, this presents challenges, but I think I can make it work.  I have limited my travel range to the inner southeast & northeast quadrants of Portland (tho my current student actually lives in Milwaukie—essentially indistinguishable from the Southeast, but still a bit of a haul.)  I had to turn a student down yesterday because he lived in a far southwestern suburb: Tri-Met, the local transit authority, estimated a 78 minute trip to a central location in that suburb (this is not door to door, mind you), so given a 40 minute lesson, it would be about a 4-hour round trip: not doable!  But I thanked him for his interest, wished him the best, & felt good that I’d received yet another response.

I’ve also been putting posters up around the Southeast, & this has been an interesting exercise.  On the positive side, it’s given me an opportunity to explore quite a bit more; on the less positive side, I can report to you that the physical bulletin board is on the verge of extinction, at least here in Portland.  Only a handful of supermarkets & coffee shops seem to display them anymore.  So, I’m headed to the Northeast area today with a handful (a small handful!) of remaining posters, & I’m calling this the last hurrah of poster distribution, as these outings tend to take quite a bit of time & I’m questioning the ultimate “bang for the buck” as it were.

For your listening pleasure, I’m including a song I wrote & performed on my Beltona resonator tenor uke back in 06.  Eberle & I were commissioned to write a soundtrack for a dramatic production of Carl Sandburg’s wonderful, wonderful Rootabaga Stories, & this song was for the character “Blixie Bimber."  If you’ve never read the Rootabaga Stories, I give them a high & heartfelt recommendation!

Hope you enjoy the music & your Thursday!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Adams County Makes the News - Adams County Leader #42

Adams County Leader
Council, Adams County, Idaho
C. H. Wines, Lessee-Editor-Proprietor
Wm. Lemon, Owner

October 14, 1938
LEADER’S POLITICAL POSITION

Your editor and publisher of the Adams County Leader is taking time out long enough this week to try and make it clear as to his position and attitude toward publishing a newspaper in this county where there are patrons of different political party alignments and only the one newspaper in the county.  Plainly, and right off the bat, I think my duty to my patrons and the citizens of the county is to publish a strictly non-partisan newspaper.  I shall be frank to say that my personal political faith is democratic, but I am determined to keep the Leader out of politics in deference to the varied political faiths of my constituents.  The various county candidates are all my friends, and I regard each and every one of them as mighty fine citizens and, also, I feel that the voters of the county are entirely competent to judge as to the respective merits of the candidates without any advice or argument from me.  Therefore, I shall strive to let the candidates fight their own battles while I endeavor to give them a perfectly fair deal in the columns of the Leader.  I shall welcome signed articles on political subjects as long as they refrain from personalities and mud slinging.


April 1, 1938

The Mountaineers, Meadows Valley High School newspaper, Betty Bevans, editor.

Does a change of scenery once in a while make a person easier to live with?  The pessimist says "no" and the optimist says "yes."  As for my own personal opinion, I say yes.  When you see different faces and hear new ideas, you are awakening some dormant cells in your brain.  When enough of these cells are stimulated you feel vigorous again.  While you are allowing these cells to lie in a sleepy state, you are not interested and soon become bored with the world.  This is bound to upset those around you and make life even more difficult.

You think probably that you cannot afford a trip.  You really can't afford not to take a trip.  You may be spending more time at home making up for the trouble you are causing because of your befuddled frame of mind.  If a short visit out of town is taken, it will soon pay for itself by the things you learn while you are gone.  It may seem minute in importance at the present, but it will open up a new vein of thought of countless value.

Right now is an excellent time of the year to haul in your anchor, kiss your family goodbye, and set off down the road.  Your mind is full of the few important things that have happened during the winter, and you feel sluggish and old.  If you get away from it all for a while, you will find the summer a much brighter one than ever before.

January 14, 1938
The Mountaineers, Meadows Valley High School newspaper, Betty Bevans, editor.


While peacefully putting dog-ears on a weekly picture magazine, I chanced upon a group of pictures comprised of college students.  This large group was gathered about a small bonfire.  My interest was aroused by seeing: "Fire!"  I read the explanation under the picture.  The idea seemed to me that the college students were doing away with all of the silk and knickknacks which might have come from Japan.

To me this is a measure that seems to be carried to an extreme.  I think knickknacks may be burned, but why burn stockings and silk dresses and clothing?  I think the thing has gone far enough.  I, for one, being used to and proud of the silk things I possess would not, in any manner of the word, burn my things.  If we do burn all of our silk things that have any part of them from Japan, we would be back in the days of long woolen undies, homespun, of course—of horse-drawn carriages and plain old cotton things.  Of course, we have got rayon, but for all the silk that people buy for its beauty and durability, I would venture to say we would never have just the right imitation to take its place.

Perhaps we might be able to produce our own silk.  Maybe this would open new fields for our industries here.  Maybe this little incident may lead to destruction, or maybe it will open new gates.

January 21, 1938
BONNEVILLE POWER


The mails have been full the past week or two with stories and pamphlets and other propaganda about the great new power project on the Columbia River, the Bonneville project.  The administrator, L. D. Ross, has filled columns in the papers with the great expectations of cheap power, and the great benefit that will accrue to the people of the Pacific Northwest by the use of this power.  But in reading further, one must wonder what is to become of this power.  The administrator makes it known that they will sell to private companies where such private companies are already in the field.  Or if there are no private utilities there, the people may form a power district, or a co-operative, or municipalities may buy the power.

In observing the situation as it applies to this section of Idaho, it would appear to the layman that there is already about all the power that is needed.  True, there are many, many farms in isolated districts that have no electricity unless by individually owned power plants.  But in the better-populated districts and every town of any size, there is some provision already made by private companies to supply electricity. 

If these companies find that it is unprofitable to supply these outlying districts, what can the government hope to do about it?  Do they intend to build high priced transmission lines to these scattered farms?  In reading this high-pressure literature, one does not get the idea that the government will build the transmission lines, so it is left to the power districts or cooperatives.  For these organizations to build these lines and maintain them is going to be a mighty expensive business.

The private power companies, mostly, have all the power they need, and it does not seem as if there would be any great need for them to buy power from the project.  All in all, we wonder just what will become of this mighty reservoir of power that the government has built on the Columbia.  It is doubtful if any of it will get into southern Idaho, despite the administrator's glowing pictures of its great benefit here.

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"In Fall, Dear Reader, "

[Nancy Krygowski's latest packs a lot of wallop in a few lines!  Enjoy!]
In Fall, Dear Reader,

The wind, cold as a metal handrail hidden in shade.  
The sun wants to lick it, eventually does.
Bricks in brick houses perfectly line up
Against leaves whispering colors they ‘ll soon become.
Green tomatoes abandon stems for dirt’s dark chocolate.
Dying, maybe, isn’t so bad.
Except for us humans.  Poor, poor us.

Nancy Krygowski
© 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Poor Boy Long Way From Home #5 – Booker White

Monday Morning Blues time, & we’re back with another installment in the Poor Boy Blues series!

Today’s version dates from 1939, 11 years after the 1928 Ramblin’ Thomas version posted a couple of weeks ago.  In fact, there was a 1935 field recording by one Rochelle French (the recording was made by Alan Lomax & Zora Neale Hurston), but there’s no YouTube version for that one.  However, this take on “Poor Boy” comes from another field recording, featuring the playing & singing of Booker White (AKA Bukka White.)  In 1939 White was in the notorious Parchman Farm Prison, where he was serving time on an what may have been an assault, manslaughter or murder rap (accounts vary widely; White claimed self-defense).  The field recording was made by that highly influential but oddly mismatched father & son team of John & Alan Lomax—in fact, you can faintly hear John Lomax’s voice at the beginning of the recording saying “let’s go,” & then adding “one more, one more” before the final verse.  The Lomaxes, who were making recordings for the Library of Congress, captured White singing “Poor Boy Long Way From Home” & “Sic ‘Em Dogs On” ; the recordings were not released, however.  At least one online source claims that these recordings were made at the wrong speed; the issue of fidelity based on the speed of early recordings comes up fairly often, with the most famous example being the folks who claim Robert Johnson’s recordings were made at too high a speed—in fact some claim up to 20% too fast.  I’ve heard videos of Johnson on YouTube slowed down 20% & they definitely sound like a 33 rpm record on 16 rpm (for those of you old enough to have performed that experiment as a kid!)  But I’d be more inclined to believe that the White recording is at least a tad too fast.

Booker White was an exceptional slide guitar player & vocalist, & he certainly demonstrates that here.  By 1939 he’d already made several professional recordings, starting with four 1930 recordings for Victor under the name of Washington White (his full name was Booker T Washington White.)  White also played baseball in the Negro Leagues as well as doing factory work, which was his employment when a letter from John Fahey & ED Denson of the “Blues Mafia” reached him in the early 1960s (White had been released from prison in 1940.)  Fahey & Denson had been inspired by the work on his old 78s (of course, Bob Dylan had also recently covered White’s “Fixin’ to Die”) &, based on White’s song “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” had sent him a letter addressed to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi."  By this time, White actually was living & working in Memphis, but as coincidence had it, one of his relatives was working at the Aberdeen Post Office & forwarded the letter to him.  As a result, White entered into a whole new musical career from the 1960s until his death in 1977.

Hope you enjoy the song!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Change Is Gonna Come

Guitar shop in the process of moving to new location, with reflection - SE Division St
Happy Saturday, friends.  I’m checking in with my “bio” entry for the week—an entry which has undergone several significant revisions since I first wrote it on Friday morning!

This week seemed to be ending in a welter of negative emotion—I'd already been feeling some significant discouragement, & then I got back today in the late afternoon to find a letter from one of the management companies that handles subsidized housing units here.


The letter informed me that I am qualified for a particular subsidized housing unit & that I was being put officially on the waiting list—so far so good.  But the letter concluded by stating that there would probably be an opening by 2016.

OK, I was in shock.  When I moved to Portland, my friends Sue & Jay generously opened their home to me.  I have a large room of my own & am treated like "one of the family."  The rent I pay them is more than fair, especially given what they could get for this room on the open housing market—believe me, I know that well, as I've been examining that market quite closely.   Still, when we'd originally discussed the arrangement, we'd spoken about my being here for a matter of months.  Now I realize the 2016 date is intended as a more-or-less worse case scenario, but still, even taking half that & we're talking between two to three years.  

So I briefly went into disaster management mode.  It seemed unlikely that I could generate enough income in a relatively short space of time to be able to afford a more permanent situation (& again, this would be a roommate situation, essentially the same as what I have here.)  Although I've been taking some positive steps toward getting a guitar teaching practice started, I realize this is going to take time.

So at this point I was really second guessing the move to Portland.  I questioned the wisdom of moving to a place where subsidized housing was my only option, & wondered if I'd painted myself into a corner.  I began considering my options, & was actually entertaining some fairly radical ideas.

Two things happened: first, I found a new site associated with the Portland Housing Authority that has quite a few more listings than the ones I'd used previously.  At the very least, I hope this will lead to getting my name on a few more waiting lists.  But more importantly, Sue & Jay & I had an open & upbeat discussion about my situation (over a very tasty dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, I might add!) & we all came away with the feeling that this agreement is working well for everyone, & if it's going to take longer than we all expected, well, so be it.

I feel the best tonight I've felt in a while; I can concentrate on what I need to do, what is in front of me, while resting assured that in the normal course of events I will have a place to call home while I wait for the eventual "place of my own."  This is a good feeling.  It's been a long time coming, but I believe a change is going to come.

Speaking of which: hope you enjoy John Boutté’s take of the great Sam Cooke song “A Change is Gonna Come.”  Is there a better vocalist on the scene right now than Boutté?  Wow!  There have been great versions of this by Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Al Green & many others, but in my opinion Boutté’s version is just sublime.


Friday, October 14, 2011

“Butter & Egg Man Blues”

Happy Banjo Friday everybody!  I’ve been absent for a few days in part because I was busy trying to get my guitar teaching practice off the ground—lots of bus riding & hoofing it looking for places to put up posters (& yes: I am on Craigslist too)—& partly because I wanted to give folks plenty of chance to absorb Barbie Angell’s latest poem (a really good one) & her art.  By the way, I’m happy to announce that Barbie Angell took a third place award in the “Best Poet in western North Carolina” poll on Asheville’s Mountain Express.  Well deserved, & we are all lucky to have Barbie Angell as a regular contributor here!

But on to the banjo!  Last week we talked about one of my favorite hybrid instruments, the banjo-ukulele.  This week we’re looking at one that I consider even more obscure (but then, I have run some in uke circles over the years), namely the banjo-guitar, AKA banjitar, AKA guitjo, AKA ganjo, AKA 6-string banjo (tho one should note that there are banjos with six strings that aren’t guitar banjos.)

The guitar-banjo is more or less what you’d expect from the name: a banjo head with a guitar neck, the instrument is typically tuned EADGBE just like a guitar—of course, you could substitute other common guitar tunings as well, & on YouTube I have seen folks playing bottleneck blues on banjo-guitars in open tunings.  But “traditionally” the instruments have been tuned like a guitar, since there chief purpose has been to allow for a guitar player to double on banjo.  In fact, some of the best known hot jazz banjo players—Johnny St Cyr, who played with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five is a great example—played this instrument. 

But the instrument was also used outside of “jazz proper,” especially by musicians who played music that draws somewhat equally from blues, ragtime & jazz sources.  These would include not only the Reverend Gary Davis & Sylvester Weaver, but also by today’s featured artist, Papa Charlie Jackson (see pic).

Papa Charlie Jackson’s recording career began in 1924, & thus he was one of the first self-accompanied male blues singers to be recorded.  While the male country blues players are perhaps most valorized today, it’s important to remember that in the 1920s the women blues singers were the big stars.  But Papa Charlie Jackson over 60 solo sides between 1924 & 1934, & in addition backed up star singers such as Ma Rainey, Ida Cox & Lottie Beaman on their recordings.  & speaking of the confluence between early hot jazz & blues, Jackson also recorded with Freddie Keppard & his Jazz Cardinals.

“Butter & Egg Man Blues” dates from a 1926 Paramount session; it was the B side to “Let's Get Along.”  I love Jackson’s work on the banjo-guitar on this song—he really had a feel for what the instrument could do!  It’s interesting to me that in surfing banjo-guitar videos on YouTube I don’t find very many folks who seem to have a feel for the instrument.  A lot of people seem to try to make it sound like a 5-string banjo—in my opinion, why not just play a 5-string then?  I do think that the 1920s guitar-banjo players were onto an interesting sound, but these days their work seems to be covered mostly using either a guitar or a 4-string plectrum or tenor banjo.

I’ve yet to hold a banjo-guitar in my hands, so I’ve also yet to figure out how easy it is to coax this type of sound out of one—but hey, I’d be happy to give it a shot!

In the meantime: please enjoy the song.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“Send Supplies”

[For your Tuesday: another romp with the inimitable Barbie Dockstader Angell thru halls where allegory & surreality commingle with wit & melancholy—enjoy!]
 

Send Supplies

The fridge is stocked with Sadness.
The cupboard’s full of Pain.
The coffee reeks of Madness
and the tea is made from rain.
I keep a piece of Confidence
in the top left dresser drawer.
It’s locked up safe from Loneliness
‘till I make it to the store.
I’ve made up a new shopping list.
It has everything I need.
From Peace of Mind to a cup of Bliss
And Love that grows from seeds.
But I can’t escape the shell I’m in.
I just can’t seem to leave.
I’d really like to start again,
but I can’t get a reprieve.
They won’t deliver anymore.
They say I’m too far gone.
And I really can’t get past the door.
I think that something’s wrong.
The spice rack’s full of Bitterness
and the recipes call for a Smile.
I know one was left by a long ago guest,
but it hasn’t been seen in a while.
My Heart is asleep in the freezer.
My Joy is decayed in the hall.
My Spirit’s come down with a fever.
My teardrops are staining the walls.
I’m trying to capture a wish or two.
They were making a break for the door.
I’m hoping that they’ll see me through,
just ‘till I get to the store.


Barbie Dockstader Angell
© 2009-present

Monday, October 10, 2011

“Dippermouth Blues”

Hey there, friends!  Welcome to the Monday Morning Blues, & welcome to a new series that’s entering the Monday blues rotation—I’m calling it Jazz Me Blues, & in it I’ll be selecting some songs that illustrate the many points at which these two musical genres intersect.

In fact, if you’ve been following here for awhile, you know that I often try to underline ways in which musical genre “typing” of songs is more of a marketing device than descriptive of anything intrinsic to given pieces of music.  The fact is, especially in the first half of the 20th century the dividing lines between genres was pretty blurry.  That’s not to say there were no distinctions made—the fact that music was divided racially obviously imposed a big distinction.  But beyond that, categories were much more fluid.

This is perhaps most true when we look at the distinction between jazz & blues.  Now I acknowledge the differences between, for example, the music of Charlie Patton & the music of Sidney Bechet.  But it’s also true that both these musicians & many were drawing from a common pool of musical ideas.  The flatted thirds, fifths & sevenths of blues are also the flatted thirds, fifths & sevenths of jazz—to non musicians, it means the rather than the scale running simply do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do, the tones mi flat, sol flat & ti flat are added in blues & jazz.  These tones don’t replace the unflattened forms, especially in the case of mi & sol, but exist alongside them as complementary forms that add depth & color to the underlying scale.    

Today’s recording dates from 1923, & as such it’s an early example of fusing jazz & blues.  “Dippermouth Blues” (a 12-bar blues in its harmonic bare bones) was co-written by King Oliver & Louis Armstrong, & is here performed by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, which featured Oliver & Armstrong on cornets, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Honore Dutrey on trombone, Lil Hardin (soon to become Lil Hardin Armstrong) on piano, Bill Johnson on banjo & Baby Dodds on drums—however, for the purposes of recording Dodds is playing a wood block.  This recording was done thru an acoustic horn, & these devices couldn’t reproduce either drums or bass instruments without considerable distortion, so early jazz recordings featured drummers playing something less resonant than a kit.

It’s worth noting that the cornet solo on “Dippermouth Blues” is taken by King Oliver, not by Armstrong—Armstrong was “second cornet” in the band—tho the song’s title refers to Armstrong’s large mouth!  Oliver’s three chorus solo is justifiably famous—here’s what music critic Ted Gioa has written about Oliver’s playing on this song:

Early New Orleans jazz was about the quality of sound rather than the quantity of notes, and Oliver was the great master of getting the cornet to speak with a vocal tone. His range is limited here, and his phrases are built on only two or three notes of the scale. But his down-and-dirty sound captures the ethos of jazz as it emerged at the dawn of the American century.

Terry Teachout in his Louis Armstrong biography Pops also writes about Oliver’s sound: “Oliver used mutes to alter the timbre of his cornet, making it cry like a baby or curse like a man….”  This is important when we consider the blues-jazz link, because both the “down & dirty sound” described by Gioa & the use of an instrument to replicate the human voice as described by Teachout are prominent elements in both blues & jazz.

This is a great song, folk—enjoy!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mouse Fairies to the Rescue! Christmas Wedding Planned!

The most thrilling package arrived in the mail yesterday.

Among other treasures, it contained Glamora’s wedding cape and bouquet, prepared by the cunning hands of Mouse Fairies and their Beloved Queen Margot! There has never been more beautiful wedding finery, Glamora’s bridesmaid G.W. Moose assures us.

Bridesmaids do not have to be girls in BBL, and G.W. Moose is among those whom Glamora has chosen to share that honor. (Although G.W. are the initials of George Washington, they stand for Gee Whillikers in the case of G.W. Moose.) Amanda Every Otter will be officiating, and Boo Boo will give the bride away.

Piggles is Best Man and will also lead the dancing (you should have seen her pirouetting along with the Nutcracker Ballet last night!)

The bridesmaids have carried the wedding finery safely out of view and are preserving a strict code of secrecy on these important matters. They advise us to turn our attention to other tasks, such as decorating the wedding gazebo or helping Pinky write out the announcement. We want to state once again how much Platypuss-in-Boots owes to the Mouse Fairies. In the words of Polar Knight:

This locomotive new creation
Whistling out of Platypuss station
Would be nothing but a dream
Without Mouse Fairy steam.



The box contained other treasures – such as photos from the Mouse Fairy archives, going all the way back to the turn of the millennium! You will be hearing more about the history of these fascinating creatures on P-in-B.

Bink decided that some new words should be invented in honor of the Christmas wedding! So here's your invitation, complete with Bink's own words, hand-crafted especially for this occasion:

You are emfrappingly invited to the nupcoming wedding party in Big Bed Land on Christmas two days hencelish. Lambanarfest greetings!

P.S. If you’d like to offer a gift, please bring along an Arctic Snow Goose to participate in the Honking Song that will wake all of Big Bed Land early Christmas morning!

(Very early, adds Little Pig Petunia who loves presents!)

Friday, October 7, 2011

“12th Street Rag”

A happy Banjo Friday to you all!  I’m here to stir up perhaps a bit of controversy or debate today, since some folks may think this isn’t “Banjo” Friday at all, but “Ukulele Friday”—horrors!  But hey, I say be open-minded, because I know you’re going to love the music.

Last week’s Banjo Friday featured a duet between a plectrum banjo & a tenor banjo.  This week’s song only features one instrument, but also one that's a bit uncommon: the banjo ukulele, AKA banjo uke AKA banjolele.  So is it a uke or is it a banjo? 

Well, for starters, banjo ukes are very good things.  I was the proud owner of one myself (see pic!), tho I have since passed it on to Eberle who absolutely loves the instrument & does great things with it.  They were first designed in 1917 by one Alvin D. Keech who sold them as "banjulele-banjo." A bit of a redundancy & a bit of a mouthful, but otherwise we can be very grateful to Mr Keech.  Wikipedia gives a pithy definition of the instrument saying that it “combines the small scale, tuning, and playing style of a ukulele with the construction and distinctive tone of a banjo, hence the name.”

The taxonomy of instruments fascinates me, it really does.  Generally speaking, if you’re looking for a banjo uke in a catalog or on a website or in a music store, you’ll find them with the ukuleles.  But as a point of comparison: there’s also the banjo-guitar AKA banjitar, which has 6-strings & is typically tuned the same way as a guitar (in fact, these instruments were extremely popular in the old hot jazz bands, & were played by such notable musicians as Johnny St Cyr—more on them in an upcoming post); the banjo-guitars are almost always found with the banjos.  But why is the banjo-guitar “more” of a banjo than the banjo ukulele is?  Why do we consider an instrument to be more one thing than the other?

As we saw in the previous paragraph, it can’t be a question of tuning—& besides, a number of stringed instruments are played in different tunings.  If we re-tune an acoustic guitar to open G, which is done pretty commonly, it’s still an acoustic guitar.  Same thing with the tenor banjo that’s tuned like an octave mandolin in a Celtic music ensemble—it’s still considered a tenor banjo.  & in fact, 5-string banjos are retuned a lot, especially in old-time music. 

If the classification is based more on the way they actually produce sound, then both the banjo uke & the banjo-guitar are more “banjo” than anything else, since both have the drumhead & a banjo type bridge.  Ukuleles, by contrast, produce sound in the same way as a guitar, which would mean….

See what I mean?  Hey, I say let’s just enjoy Marcy Marxer tearing it up on “12th Street Rag!”


Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Hesitation Blues"

Happy Thursday, friends!  I’m back with a bit of an update on how things are going in my world—hope things are swell in yours!

This post is a bit of a throwback, because as you may notice, there’s an mp3 of yours truly performing at the end—haven’t done that in quite awhile.  The sound quality on this one is a bit lo-fi, as it was recorded on a handheld Olympus voice recorder, just using the device’s built-in mic.  No distortion or other overt audio badness, just not as clear as with a good microphone set up.  I did record it using my Harmony archtop guitar (see pic) rather than the Regal resonator I usually play it on, simply because the resonator guitar tends to distort unless you’re using a better microphone.

The song fits my “bio” post for the week for two reasons.  First, on the minus side, I’ve reached the point in my new surroundings where there’s a lot of waiting.  I’ve done the footwork & gotten applications in to a number of subsidized housing complexes, & even looked into room situations.  I’ve also made some first steps toward setting up a guitar teaching practice, & while there’s a few more practical things to do along that line, there’s a good bit of “waiting” for me right now.  Fortunately, I have a wise counselor & good friends who remind me to focus on the positive steps I’ve taken rather than the things that haven’t yet fallen into place.  Patience—not an easy state of mind to attain!

On the plus side: I’ll be performing this song & a number of others during a three hour gig Friday night at the Bare Bones Café right her in Portland, OR on SE Belmont & 29th (locals: I’m at the Bare Bones Café, not the Bare Bones Bar, which is right next door.)  I’m really excited about this, since it’s my first gig as a resident of Portland (I’ve actually played in Portland in the past when I was living in Idaho), & for that matter, also my first completely solo gig of the year—a bit odd after being mostly solo during 09 & 10.  I’m hoping it leads to more—& I’m not too proud to do open mics either, if it comes to that to continue to get exposure.  Also, being able to perform is never a bad thing when you’re trying to drum up students!

Hope you enjoy the song & enjoy the rest of your Thursday!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adams County Makes the News - Adams County Leader #41

The Adams County Leader        Published Weekly On Friday
Wm. Lemon Editor and Manager
Member State Editorial Association 
Member National Editorial Association
Official Paper of Adams County Price $2.00 Strictly in Advance

July 13, 1934
FRANK GALEY DISCUSSES NEED OF SQUAW FLAT WATER PROJECT

 

I wonder if our citizens realize what will happen to the orchard industry if we do not get the Squaw Flat reservoir?  Last year the coddling moth struck us in damaging quantities with a consequent heavy carload loss to fruit shippers.  The moths are here again and will always be here.  From now on we will spray three to six times.  Therefore, the apples must be washed before shipping.  Now this added expense absolutely prohibits anyone owning, renting or caring for an orchard which has not an adequate supply of water to mature the fruit every year.

Before the heavy infestation of moth, we could take a chance on the water supply.  Today, the best orchards in the valley are not producing commercial apples because of water shortage.  Many of them are completely abandoned.  Bill Spahr examined a limb containing twenty apples in an abandoned orchard about June first.  Nineteen apples were wormy and one contained seven worms.  He said, “I would not give $3.00 for the orchard now, but if it had late water I would like to own or rent it.”  The law demands that these abandoned orchards must be sprayed or chopped down.  The question now is—are we to save and improve our orchards by getting a water supply for them?  Or allow about half our best orchards to be chopped down next year.  It seems to me the tremendous loss to the owners, to our taxes, and our pay roll will warrant us getting Squaw Flat.  Otherwise, we can hope for only a sleepy cow town—at least while we have .02 cattle.
   
Frank Galey
February 9, 1934

A PERTINENT QUESTION

A Leader reader writes:  "In the name of sense, why should the village dump be in such close proximity to the cemetery and so conspicuous from the highway?  That situation is indicative of a town on the ragged edge of decay.  Certainly the dump ground should be in some out-of-the-way place and less conspicuous."

December 31, 1937
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: A SIMPLE TALE

The habits and ways of men are little known!  No one has yet found out for certain whether Mother Nature blinds them in one eye or confines man's reading ability to horses, cows, women, and wine-- whether the world's supply of men are increasingly dumb, blind, or don't care.  Above Council (birthplace of Noah, apples, and George Wink) is a sign reading "Stock Drive."  This by-way is one of the greater engineering feats of early days.  A narrow crawling road for the modern cars, but a boulevard for your grandpap and mine.  An obviously good highway for cows, sheep, and sons out riding.

You cannot cross this road without reading the sign, but local stockmen drive their critters nonchalantly down the highway.  Past the "Stock Drive" sign.  Tramp! Tramp! Aha! A soft spot.  Ascend the Forest lawn.  Several hundred hoofs to cut the turf of velvet.  Three sleepy herders to drive them off.  Four disappointed Forest men.  A hundred furious townsmen.  On across the town they go.  Down to green pastures or feed lots.  Fifty cents an hour for dirt to fill the tracks.  Up once more the grass comes, only to be trodden underfoot.  A peculiar situation which surrenders its beauty to industry.  The ways and habits of men with his neighbors and beasts are little known.

October 1, 1937
THE COURTHOUSE LAWN

What has happened to the courthouse lawn this summer?  In the past several years there has been a beautiful green lawn, always nicely watered and mowed, and it has been a beauty spot on top of the hill the courthouse is situated upon.  This summer there has been no lawn.  Why not?  All other county and municipal buildings of the state are characterized by the beautiful lawns surrounding them.  The official and other visitors coming to the Adams county court house, the sight of the barren spot there now, made worse by the dried burned grass that was once a lawn, leaves with a feeling that there is a lack of care of the public buildings.  Where does the fault lie?

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Making the Most of What You Have

[A short poem by Nancy Krygowski that's both fun & deep—enjoy!]
Making the Most of What You Have



Seagulls are flying
Over the river again.

White mistakes or
Small white lessons.


Nancy Krygowski
© 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Poor Boy Long Way From Home #4 – Ramblin’ Thomas

Good day!  It appears Monday has caught up with us again—but don’t worry: we’ll be driving your Monday blues away with a great tune on Robert Frost’s Banjo.

This week the Poor Boy Blues series continues, & this may be my favorite installment of the 12 posts I have planned.  In fact, for my money, the Ramblin’ Thomas of “Poor Boy Blues” is a really magical two & a half minutes of music, & ranks up there with any song from its period, in whatever tradition. 

Ramblin’ Thomas was born Willard Thomas in Logansport, Louisiana in 1902.  Not a lot is known of his biography, tho the fact that his younger brother, Jesse “Babyface” Thomas was “re-discovered” in the 1970s (& lived until 1995) did fill in some gaps about his life.  We know that Ramblin’ Thomas moved to the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas sometime in the late 1920s, & that his considerable travels also brought him to Chicago & other points in the midwest.  He recorded 16 of his existing 20 sides in Chicago in 1928 during two separate sessions for Paramount—the first was in February, the second in November.  The fact that Paramount brought him back for a second session suggests that they considered his material to be commercially viable.  He also recorded four songs for Victor in Dallas in 1932.

“Poor Boy Blues” dates from the second Paramount session: it was the “B” side for his “Ramblin’ Man.”  The song was included on the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music on volume 3, “Songs.” 

When you hear “Poor Boy Blues,” you may get a sense of why there’s still debate over whether Willars Thomas’ nickname came from his hoboing ways or the fact that he had a very individual sense of timing in his music.  He plays “Poor Boy” as a rubato (freely timed) recitative, with his voice rising on falling above the spare slide background, which mostly doubles the vocal melody.  Tho this type of accompaniment is rare these days, doubling the vocal melody with the accompanying instrument was quite common in old-time music, whether it was "blues" or "hillbilly."  Thomas also comes up with an effective slide solo on the mid-range guitar strings.  Otherwise, he chords sparsely (& there really are no true chord changes in the song, which is played in  open D or E (I’ve never checked which—the intervals between the strings are the same in either case
—this is the so-called Vestapol”tuning.)  I’ve read that he’s playing this song lap style, & have also read that he played “knife blues,” in other words, using a knife rather than a bottleneck or a metal tube as a slide. 

Hope you enjoy this truly great version of “Poor Boy Blues.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

“The Sunny Side of the Street”

Happy Saturday!  I must admit I have very few profound observations to share with you today.  This week has been a complex one from an emotional weather report standpoint, so my choices were either to map a rather baroque, or maybe expressionist series of weather maps to delineate this, or else to keep it short & sweet.  I opted for the latter.

On the practical side, I’m taking steps to setting up my guitar teaching practice here; it will likely be a slow process, but I do have a Craigslist ad in circulation & I hope to get flyers & business cards in distribution next week.  I’m hoping the added income will give me more flexibility in the housing search.  Fingers crossed!

Otherwise, I’ve been trying to maintain the proverbial positive attitude, & not doing too badly at that, all things considered.  One lesson I’ve learned repeatedly in my life & especially in the last year or two: while I’ll never be rich in terms of material assets or dollars, I am rich in friends: friends have seen me thru some very harsh times.  The times these days only occasionally seem harsh, but they often seem uncertain.  Yes, you need to reach out & let friends know you need them—but whenever I do, I’ve received a rich return.  I’ve also witnessed one friend in particular who’s experiencing a very harsh & dire situation in her life, & it’s been great to see how many friends have come to her support; & I’ve been happy to do what I could for her in my own small way.  When we consider how good it makes us feel to help a friend, why should we be selfish about our own problems & not reach out to others?  

If you’re having a hard time, reach out.  If a friend is having a hard time, reach out to her/him.  In either case (or both cases), you may just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street!

OK, so ends today’s power of positive thinking sermonette!  I’ve also been reading Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops.  I have mixed feelings about Teachout’s book, but at its best, such as in his descriptions of the later Hot Five sessions (those with Earl "Fatha" Hines), it’s quite engaging—tho I didn’t appreciate his dismissive writing about Lil Hardin Armstrong.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Armstrong, & tho this recording dates from a time when his powers were on the wane, you can still hear why Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest musical forces in US 20th century music.  I’m not sure specifically when this clip was recorded—since Trummy Young is playing trombone that places it between 1952 & 1964, but we probably could have guessed that anyway.

Enjoy!  & enjoy your Saturday—spend some time with some friends!



Pic shows wall art on SE Division Street, Portland, OR