String and finger economy

Vesica Piscis

One way of phrasing on your string instrument:  Use the fewest fingers possible for the phrase, and get the most you can from each string.  Emphasize gamakas, emphasize articulation.  Emphasize voice, shades of dynamics and intonation.

(Nabbed that sweet image from David L. Smith, Contemplative Photography)

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Sweet And Dandy

One of my favorite songs from Toots and the Maytals.

Ran through it a few times today, loving that sweet bass line.

Kicks off with a little jazzy intro, V minor. (Or call it a V hexachord made of overlapping minor pentatonics on the V and I…)

Main body of the song:  The bass phrases use 1-3-2-1 of the I, IV, and V major chords. Give a 4-count to the space each of those phrases fills, call that a bar. You get a 15-bar cycle. The progression goes like this, one chord per bar:

I   I   I   IV   IV   V   V   V   I   I   IV   IV   I   V   I

So far this is my favorite way to chunk it out, in three groups of five bars, which seems to really fit the way the Maytals swing it:

(I   I   I  –  IV   IV)    (V   V   V  –  I   I)    (IV   IV  –  I   V   I)

I guess this beautiful 15-bar rhythm helps to build the tension that’s released in the “sweet and dandy” transition. Ditch the IV and bring the song home with repetitions of an 8- or 16-bar form.

16-bar form begins with an extension of the last turn of the 15-bar cycle:

(I   I   I  –  IV   IV)    (V   V   V  –  I   I)    (IV   IV  –  I   V   I)  + I

which sets up the sweet and dandy refrain:

(V   V   I   I)   (V   V   I   I)   (V   V   I   I)   (V   V   I   I)…

Man I love this song.

Mo’ Roll and Tumble

Canned Heat just sawed the edges off the song in 1967, and played it as a straight-ahead 12-bar blues.

A 1960 version from Elmore James reduces the whole song to vocals playing loosely over a vamp.

Here’s Clapton and friends foot-stomping what I’ll call an eighth-note pulse. I really dig the way this version blends Muddy’s riff and Chicago vibe into Hambone’s elegant nine-beat form. How it adds up if you count the foot-stomps:

  1. (4 + 4) + (4 + 6)
  2. (4 + 4) + (4 + 6)
  3. (4 + 4) + (4 + 6)

That’s 8 + 10 = 18. Divide by two, use a half-time stomp, to land at Hambone’s slow nine beats, 4 + 5 = 9.  I don’t know about you, but I wanna call that three bars of 9/4.

You can find the same formal and metric structure clearly applied in Sleepy John Este’s The Girl I Love She Got Long Curly Hair. And in Sunnyland Slim’s Going Back To Memphis. And Howlin’ Wolf’s Down In The Bottom.  Let me know if you got any other classic blues songs with this form.  I’d also love to know if there are any customary names for this pattern.

I’ll apply the same foot-stomp ruler to the classic Muddy Waters version, for another way to draw out the difference between the two forms:

  1. (4 + 4) + (4 + 4 + 6)
  2. (4 + 4) + (4 + 4 + 6)
  3. (4 + 4) + (4 + 4 + 6)

That’s 8 + 14 = 22 foot-stomps.  Divide by two to get a half-time count and you land at 4 + 7 = 11.  And now I wanna call that 3 bars of 11/4.

Here’s Cream playing the song Muddy’s way in 2005, though I think they may loosen up the form during the jam and lean into the riff instead.  Rather like the version on their 1966 album, Fresh Cream.  The version on Clapton unplugged follows a similar format.  I’d like to hear other versions of the song with something like Muddy’s 1950 form, or any blues songs with a similar form.

I’m still mulling over Robert Johnson’s free-wheeling variation on this theme, If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day.

robert-johnson

 

Roll and Tumble

hambone-willie-newburn

They say the earliest recorded version is Hambone Willie Newbern’s, from back in 1929, called Roll and Tumble Blues.  Sounds like he’s basically playing a nine-beat cycle, fairly slow, I might call it 9/4.  4+5.  Or if you prefer, call it nine bars of a quick 2- or 4-beat measure.   Hambone repeats this rhythmic cycle three times to produce what we might nowadays call a nonstandard blues form.

If you abstract away from the 9-beat (or 9-bar) metric structure, it’s still a three-part form roughly corresponding to the first four, second four, and third four bars of a 12-bar blues.  Harmonically, the song is normally interpreted as starting on IV instead of I, so you get

  1. IV / / / – I / / / /
  2. IV / / / – I / / / /
  3. V / / /  – I / / / /

Muddy Waters stretches out the form in his version of Rollin’ and Tumblin’.  He uses a cycle I might call five bars of 4/4 plus a half measure of 2/4.  That’s 22/4 or 11/2, if you put it all together:  essentially an 11-part pattern in place of Newbern’s 9-beat pattern.

Muddy also repeats his cycle three times to make a nonstandard blues form.  The five-and-a-half-bar core of the structure breaks down as 2 bars of singing, 3 bars repeating instrumental riff, and a little half-bar tag.

  1. IV / / / – IV / / /
  2. I   / / /  – I   / / /
  3. I   / / /  – I  /
  4. IV / / / – IV / / /
  5. I   / / /  – I   / / /
  6. I   / / /  – I  /
  7. V / / /  – IV / / /
  8. I   / / /  – I   / / /
  9. I   / / /  – I  /

Or boil that down to bring out the slow 11-beat structure lurking in Muddy’s version:

  1. IV / / /   – I  / / / – I  / /
  2. IV / / /   – I  / / / – I  / /
  3. V  / IV / – I  / / / – I  / /

muddywaters-1950s

Rock and roll tradition

Rock and roll used to be kid’s music.  Now we’re all accustomed to rockin’ out with a pack of greybeards on stage.  This is an important transition in rock culture.  The genre has matured, and in this respect caught up with similar folk-musical traditions around the Earth and across time.

Here’s a related shift we might look forward to:  As old band members age out and new ones come in, why kill the band when the original members have all departed?  Pass the torch and keep going.

The music never stops.

weir-mayer

Bob Weir and John Mayer

Besides, we’re running out of good band names.