Why bother, then, with blues fiddle at all in this day and age?. Where are the blues fiddle tune books, the blues fiddle contests, blues fiddle festivals? Pretty thin on the ground, to put it mildly.
Woody Shaw - Blues for Wood
However, although in itself very much a minority genre, blues remains a core element of rock, country, western swing, bluegrass and jazz, and without it you will never really get to grips with any of these styles. The use of slaves in North America began in the mid 17th C on the tobacco plantations of Maryland and Virginia, and soon spread throughout the southern states. Initially, the slaveowners sought to prevent music among the slaves.
Drumming, in many west African tribes a highly developed art, was banned; it was thought that it could be a focus of dissent and rebellion, and a medium for passing secret messages. Other forms of music however were soon recognised as having the opposite effect- a way of pacifying and placating the slaves.
The banjo, based on a group of plucked stringed instruments found in west Africa quickly became popular on the plantations as an accompaniment for singing of semi-improvised songs which the whites found comical. The owners soon introduced them to European instruments, most notably the violin, which gained rapid popularity among the slaves. Uncle Remus says truly that it is the fiddle.
Employment was mostly on cotton farms, in mines or factories, or on the railroads. This was the period in which blues began to come together. The chief musical ingredients were 1. Sprituals; songs reflecting despair and sorrow, but looking towards a better life in the next world.
Secular songs; more down-to —earth and often humorous songs complaining of or mocking their oppressors. Field hollers; not formal songs, and performed in a half shouted, half sung technique, these were improvised in the fields by the cotton workers.
Work songs. Similar in function to sea shanties performed by English sailors rowing or hauling ropes, these were repetitive songs with a strong rhythm used to coordinate the efforts of workers and take their mind off the strain and hardship. Such singing was already traditional among Africans working the land in their home countries. These then were the vocal background to the blues. Since the end of slavery there were now black musicians travelling the south, busking on street corners, playing for dances or performing in medicine shows. If they were solo they would often play the banjo or, increasingly the guitar to accompany their singing.
String bands were also becoming common, where guitar, banjo, fiddle and possibly percussion such as bones would be played. Performance, both from the string bands and jug bands would often be accompanied by entertaining and humorous patter,. Origin of the blues scale The origin of the blues scale has been the subject of much analysis and discussion. Conventional wisdom has it that African musicians were brought up using a pentatonic five note scale, and had difficulty singing or playing the raised thirds and sevenths they encountered in European music, instead bending the notes up.
As well as singing they played on stringed instruments resembling the banjo or fiddle. They were considered of low caste but were were often highly paid and were greatly valued for tribal celebrations of various kinds. In a curious parallel with fiddlers in Europe or America in conflict with the church, the Griots of Africa were seen as a threat by Islamic authorities, and were sometimes condemned as agents of the devil; they would not be buried in the cemetery, but somewhere outside under a baobab tree.
The equatorial rainforest of West Africa was the source of many but by no means all of the slaves shipped to the Americas. Here the easy availability of many large-bolled trees made drums a natural choice of musical instrument. Drumming developed to a high art, with complex multiple rhythms, syncopation, call and response and extended improvisation all featured. These characteristics, whilst perhaps of relevance to the origins of jazz, have little contribution to make to the early blues, which apart from anything else relies largely on a steady, monotonous beat. Here drumming is less prevalent, but stringed instruments, including spike fiddles and potential ancestors to the banjo are common.
Music is performed by independent, professional minstrels, who travel from village to village, entertaining at weddings and other ceremonies. The high, forced tones of the singing, with frequent breaks into falsetto, is not unlike the tone of many blues singers The griot was a hereditary position, and the musicians sometimes reached a high level of virtuosity. The Halam of Senegal and Gambia is a five-stringed plucked instrument with a hollow wooden body and a hide resonator. Two melody strings and three drone strings are plucked with the fingernails.
Senegal also has a Bania ; a similar instrument but with a gourd body. Either of these could have led to the banjo; with the latter even the name is similar. Further east in northern Nigeria is a two-stringed lute like instrument, this time played with a rhino-hide plectrum. The goge is a one-stringed stick fiddle found in different shapes and forms throughout west Africa.
The name goge comes from its use in Niger, and by the Hausa and Yeruba peoples of Nigeria. In Ghana it is known as a gonje , and in Benin as a godie. The body is typically made from a gourd with a lizard-skin facing. A thin stick neck holds a single horsehair string, connected over a bridge to the gourd.
The bow is a curved piece of wood or metal, strung with horsehair.
The goge is held almost horizontal on the lap. It is used in groups to accompany singing, and is often played with great virtuosity. Not unlike the fiddle in Europe and America, religious authorities often consider the goge to be the work of the devil. The kukuma is a smaller version of the same instrument.
The AB Real Book – C (Treble-Clef)
Another West African 1-string fiddle is the Riti. Whilst there is no suggestion that these African fiddles were played in America, blues historian Paul Oliver believes that slaves taken from this sub-Saharan region would have been those most likely to take readily to the European violin when given the opportunity on the American plantations.
By the turn of the century a format was becoming established of songs sung in a standardised format of three lines. The first line is sung over four bars of a major chord, then the same line is repeated but with the chord changing first to the subdominant then back to the root. A third, and different line concludes the verse, passing from the dominant back to the root. I'm going to leave baby, ain't going to say goodbye. But I'll write you and tell you the reason why. The sung melody is also simple and mostly pentatonic, but some of the notes, particularly the third, are flattened or bent as the chords change.
The result was dark, deeply soulful, and to the trained classical ear, utterly bizarre. He famously describes how in , at a Mississippi railway station, he saw a busker playing blues, bending the notes on the guitar with a penknife. He had already been exposed to fiddle music; his grandfather Christopher Brewer had fiddled at plantation dances, and the young Handy had enjoyed doing fiddlesticks while his uncle Whit Walker played fiddle at country frolics.
Despite this, he became a professional musician with a travelling minstrel show, eventually becoming a successful orchestra leader. His ensembles always included at least one fiddle, sometimes as many as three. Among the performers to record were many fiddle players. Lonnie Johnson was one of the most influential and prolific, cutting over 20 sides for the Okeh label, starting in He had already been a professional musician for a decade; having started with his family band, he had played string band music and jazz as well as blues.
He performed on both guitar and fiddle, working with a popular band, the Mississippi Sheiks. Winning a blues contest in St Louis gave him his big break, the prize being the contract with Okeh. From here on he concentrated on the blues, working both as a bandleader and session man. He was best known as a pioneering virtuoso guitarist, but his violin playing, as heard for example on the Memphis Stomp, is powerful and expressive.
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Lonnie Johnson. I rubbed it hard when I wanted a loud tone and I rubbed it easy when I wanted to play soft. From this he moved up to a cigar-box fiddle, and finally a mail-order violin from Sears and Roebuck. To start with he mostly played music for white audiences-old time, breakdowns and waltzes, but when he moved to Chicago in there was already a big demand for blues; he took up the guitar and began a long and successful career as a blues singer.
Although his dirty, muscular fiddling was heard on some of his early recordings, Broonzy has played little violin since. Blues fiddle of the period around to can be described as being earthy, energetic and rhythmic. It was rarely slick and polished, but often exciting and impassioned. The fiddle, which had not yet been successfully amplified, had no place in this new sound, and as we have already seen people like Big Bill Broonzy abandoned the instrument in favour of the guitar. For the blacks there were no good old days, and the idea of misty eyed nostalgia for the early days on the plantations was laughable.
There are three great black artists who held the torch for blues violin through most of the rest of the century; Papa John Creach, Don Sugarcane Harris, and Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Griot A griot is a West African performer who perpetuates the oral traditions of a family, village, or leader by singing histories and tales. Griots typically perform alone, accompanying themselves on a stringed instrument, and are considered by many musicologists a critical African root of the solo acoustic blues that developed among African American communities during the early 20th century.
Harp In blues circles, the term "harp" is used interchangeably with "harmonica. However, prior to that road's construction, 51 was a frequent metaphor in blues songs, particularly from the Mississippi Delta region, the eastern edge of which it borders as it connects Jackson to Memphis. Mentions of 51 frequently connoted "rambling," both around the Delta region and beyond, as well as joining the Great Migration northwards for a new life. Hoochie Coochie Man A slang term referring to both a type of suggestive dance, as well a class of conjurer or folk doctor in the voodoo tradition.
However, the sexual suggestiveness of the song itself has led to an expanded definition, in which the hoochie coochie man is someone with sexual prowess and appeal as powerful as the magic of a voodoo conjurer. Hobo A homeless person, typically one who is traveling in search of work. Though often used derogatorily to refer to such a person, it is also used more neutrally to describe the act of traveling in search of work, e. House Party Also known as "rent parties," an informal gathering at a private residence for drinking, eating, live music, and occasionally gambling, where the resident charges money for some or all of the above.
Like juke joints in the South, house parties in the North are credited with being key incubators of the blues, particularly the electrified Delta style of Muddy Waters and other performers newly arrived to the city whose styles were at first considered too "country" to attract a club audience. Improvisation Musically, the act of composing, performing, or otherwise playing without prior planning or consulting specific notation such as sheet music. In jazz and blues, for example, familiar forms may be utilized throughout a song, but the singer may alter the lyrics to better suit their mood, and the instrumentalists may take solos of a length and direction that is entirely determined by them.
Jim Crow A term arguably arising from a minstrel performer of the early 19th century, Jim Crow more generally refers to the laws and regulations that arose in the South following post-Civil War Reconstruction. Through the mandated segregation established by these laws, African Americans were systemically prevented from achieving economic, political, and cultural power and equality.
The Blues . Blues Classroom . Glossary | PBS
Used to refer to both the oppressive laws e. Jive A slang term with multiple connotations. Rose to common usage in the late s among African Americans in reference to swing and jump blues music-"that's some great jive they're playing"-as well as the dance styles that accompanied this music. Also used to refer, sometimes dismissively, to the lingo used by fans and musicians of this music-"Don't listen to him, man, he's just talkin' jive.
Jug Band With a likely origin in Louisville, Kentucky, in the early part of the 20th century, jug bands employed an array of homemade and found instruments such as kazoo, washtub bass, and whiskey bottle, as well as banjo, harmonica, or guitar. Particularly fashionable in Memphis, jug bands played up-tempo popular, vaudeville, and blues numbers for both black and white audiences, and accompanied blues musicians from that era, many of whom were also members of the ensembles, both live and on recordings. Some jug band performers remained active in the region until the s, most notably Gus Cannon.
Juke Joint An informal type of drinking establishment that arose along the rural back roads of the South among and to serve the regional African American population as opposed to "honky tonks," similar establishments that served the white population. The term "juke" has its likely origins in West Africa, where similar terms mean "wicked.
Jump Blues Jump blues refers to an up-tempo, jazz-tinged style of blues that first came to prominence in the mid- to late s. Usually featuring a vocalist in front of a large, horn-driven orchestra or medium-sized combo with multiple horns, the style is earmarked by a driving rhythm, intensely shouted vocals, and honking tenor saxophone solos-all of those very elements a precursor to rock 'n' roll. The lyrics are almost always celebratory in nature, full of braggadocio and swagger. Killing Floor Literally, the location in a slaughterhouse where animals are killed prior to processing.
Levee Camps Levee camps arose throughout the post-Civil War South as large numbers of manual laborers typically African American were gathered, sometimes by force, to build and maintain systems of earthen levees that held rivers in their channels, thus making more farmland available and theoretically minimizing the hazards of annual flooding. Frequent locations of group work-song singing and solo field hollers, they were notoriously difficult and violent places to make a living.
They were natural destinations, as well, for traveling musicians, who sought the money of workers enjoying their fleeting and hard-earned pay. Louisiana Blues A looser, more laid-back, and percussive version of the Jimmy Reed side of the Chicago sound, Louisiana blues has several distinctive stylistic elements to distinguish it from other genres. The guitar work is simple but effective, heavily influenced by the boogie patterns used on Jimmy Reed singles, with liberal doses of Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters thrown in for good measure.
Unlike the heavy backbeat of the Chicago style, its rhythm can be best described as "plodding," making even up-tempo tunes sound like slow blues simply played a bit faster. The production techniques on most of the recordings utilize massive amounts of echo, giving the performances a darkened sound and feel, thus coining the genre's alternate description as "swamp blues. Maxwell Street From the early s until its relocation in the mids, the weekend open-air market along Chicago's Maxwell Street was a frequently changing urban milieu where one could find everything from used and new merchandise, to food, religion, and live music.
It was a particularly important location for new immigrants to the city seeking employment, entertainment, and the familiarity of customs and people from "back home. Memphis Blues A strain of country blues all its own, Memphis blues gives the rise of two distinct forms: the jug band playing and singing a humorous, jazz-style of blues played on homemade instruments and the beginnings of assigning parts to guitarists for solo lead and rhythm, a tradition that is now part and parcel of all modern day blues-and rock 'n' roll-bands.
The earliest version of the genre was heavily tied to the local medicine show and vaudeville traditions, lasting well into the late s.
The AB Real Book, B flat
The later, post-World War II version of this genre featured explosive, distorted electric-guitar work, thunderous drumming, and fierce, declamatory vocals. New Orleans Blues Primarily but not exclusively piano and horn-driven, New Orleans blues is enlivened by Caribbean rhythms, an unrelenting party atmosphere, and the "second-line" strut of the Dixieland music so indigenous to the area.
There's a cheerful, friendly element to the style that infuses the music with a good-time feel, no matter how somber the lyrical text. The music itself uses a distinctively "lazy" feel, with all of its somewhat complex rhythms falling just a hair behind the beat. But the vocals can run the full emotional gamut from laid-back crooning to full-throated gospel shouting, making for some interesting juxtapositions, both in style and execution.
Oral Culture Conventionally, oral culture is understood to mean any and all traditions that are sustained within and between generations strictly through the spoken as opposed to written word, such as stories, tales, and songs. Panama Limited With the exception of a few years during the depression, the "Panama Limited" was, during the first half of the 20th century, the most luxurious of the Illinois Central's trains running the route from New Orleans to Chicago.
Parchman Farm Formally known as the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the Parchman Farm was opened in and, until federally mandated reform in the s, was geared primarily towards the profitable production of cotton using convict labor. With little emphasis upon rehabilitation, it had a solid reputation for deplorable and brutal living and working conditions. A frequent image in blues songs from the surrounding Delta, both among musicians who did time there and those who did not, it was also a frequent destination in the midth century for folklorists recording work songs and related traditions in an effort to trace the development of the blues.
Piedmont Blues Piedmont Blues refers to a regional substyle characteristic of black musicians of the southeastern United States. Geographically, the Piedmont means the foothills of the Appalachians west of the tidewater region and Atlantic coastal plain stretching roughly from Richmond, VA, to Atlanta, GA. Musically, Piedmont blues describes the shared style of musicians from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, as well as others from as far as Florida, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.
It refers to a wide assortment of aesthetic values, performance techniques, and shared repertoire rooted in common geographical, historical, and sociological circumstances; to put it more simply, Piedmont blues means a constellation of musical preferences typical of the Piedmont region. The Piedmont guitar style employs a complex fingerpicking method in which a regular, alternating-thumb bass pattern supports a melody on treble strings. The guitar style is highly syncopated and connects closely with an earlier string-band tradition, integrating ragtime, blues, and country dance songs.
It's excellent party music with a full, rock-solid sound. Piano Blues Piano blues runs through the entire history of the music itself, embracing everything from ragtime, barrelhouse, boogie woogie, and smooth West Coast jazz stylings to the hard-rocking rhythms of Chicago blues. Race Records "Race records" was a term used by major and independent record labels from the early s until the early s to specifically label records recorded by African American artists.
The term itself was not used pejoratively, but instead so that the records could be more readily marketed to an African American audience. Ramblin' Slang term used to connote both the act of leaving a place and of wandering, particularly in search of work, a home, or spiritual peace. Roadhouse Conventionally, the definition of a roadhouse encompasses barrelhouses, juke joints, honky tonks, or any similar drinking establishment located along a road.
What is regionally considered a juke, honky tonk, or a roadhouse often differs according to the predominate race of its clientele, although they are presently more racially integrated then in the past. Sharecropping An agricultural system particularly common in the post-Civil War South, where a tenant worked a piece of land in exchange for a portion of the year's crop or revenue. For their work on the land, the tenants were supplied living accommodations, seeds, tools, and other necessities by the landowner, who was invariably the bookkeeper and proprietor of the local commissary as well.
While theoretically offering a degree of independence to sharecroppers, the system was invariably harrowing, with hard work and poor living conditions the norm. In addition, it was nearly impossible to work one's way out of the system, as tenants, both white and black, invariably found themselves with little to no money left after the balancing of year-end accounts, if not actually in debt to the landowner. Although the norm for half a century, the sharecropping system met a quick end in , when the first successful mechanical planting and harvesting of a cotton crop indicated that human labor was no longer as necessary.
Signifying Signifying refers to the act of using secret or double meanings of words to either communicate multiple meanings to different audiences, or to trick them. To the leader and chorus of a work song, for example, the term "captain" may be used to indicate discontent, while the overseer of the work simultaneously thinks it's being used as a matter of respect.
Slide Slide is a method of playing guitar where the player uses either a tube placed over the finger such as a "bottleneck" or a flat edged object such as a knife blade to press down the strings of the guitar. The resulting sound wavers and fluctuates, and can include tones that cannot be reached in the conventional manner, where fingers are used to depress the strings.