The New Possibility – Take 2

I started learning how to play the guitar because I thought it would provide a better accompaniment to my singing than playing the drums did.

At the time, I had no idea that there was a way to play a song on the guitar so that it would sound like the guitar itself was singing the song.

John Fahey introduced me to this possibility and he showed me that it was a very cool thing to be able to do.

John Fahey (Feb.28, 1939 – Feb.22, 2001) was a fingerstyle guitarist who primarily played the steel-string acoustic guitar. From his first album – 1959’s Blind Joe Death – and on through the other 35 studio and live albums released during his lifetime, John Fahey pioneered, popularized and perpetuated a genre of music he referred to as “American Primitive Guitar.”

In 1968, he released an album entitled The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album.

There had never been an album of holiday music played on acoustic guitar in the Merle Travis/Elizabeth Cotten/Country Blues-based fingerpicking style before this one.

In later years, Fahey recounted what gave him the idea to make such a record.

“I was in the back of a record store in July and I saw all these cartons of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas albums. The clerk said it always sells out.”

In the liner notes on the original LP jacket, Fahey gives credit to 20th Century German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher Paul Tillich for referring to the birth of Jesus Christ as “The New Possibility.”

“The birth of this New Possibility,” Fahey wrote, “has nothing to do with Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, and little to do with superstitious thoughts regarding virgin births, astrologers, bodily ascensions of virgins, etc. The New Possibility is rather the gift of reconciliation between God and man.”

Regarding his arrangements of the holiday pieces on the album, Fahey’s liner notes explained: “The songs are, wherever possible, syncopated, not because I feel that syncopation or ‘swinging the carols’ is more in keeping ‘with the times,’ but simply because I prefer to play them the way I do.”

Regarding his performances, Fahey told an interviewer in 1979: “There are more mistakes on this album than on any of the other 17 albums I’ve recorded.” However, The New Possibility proved to be one of his best selling albums.

I don’t remember when I bought my copy, but the very first time I listened to The New Possibility I was amazed and immediately intrigued. This LP has proven to be immensely influential in my guitar playing. It is one of my favorite records during the holidays and at any time of the year.

Here’s what I heard the first time I dropped the needle on Side 1 of this LP.

 

I hope you enjoyed that.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and the best of everything to you and yours in 2019.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

“All valuable stories need to be told over and over and over again.”

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This Historic Day In Music: November 27, 1936, The Gunter Hotel, Rm.414, San Antonio, Texas – Take 2

On Friday, November 27, 1936, Robert Johnson, a 25-year-old Blues musician from Mississippi, had his third recording session for ARC Records.

The location of these sessions was The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. The ARC recording crew of A & R man Don Law and engineer Art Satherley had converted Rm.414 into a recording studio for the duration of their several weeks stay in San Antonio.

Johnson’s first session had been on the previous Monday, November 23. It had been quite productive, with a master disc of each of eight songs recorded, and an equally-fine, alternate take “safety” disc made of most of those eight as well.

Among the songs recorded on the 23rd were: “Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Terraplane Blues.”

On Thursday, November 26, Johnson recorded again, but cut only one master. The song was “32-20 Blues.”

November 26 was, however, a busy day for the men from ARC. They recorded a white gospel group known as the Chuck Wagon Gang and the Mexican musicians Andres Berlanga and Francisco Montalvo with Robert Johnson in-between.

On Friday, Novmber 27, Johnson got to go first in Rm.414.

He started off with two “hokum” tunes, “They’re Red Hot” and “Dead Shrimp Blues.”

Then Robert Johnson got down to business.

In this order, the singer/guitarist recorded “Cross Road Blues,” “Walkin’ Blues,” “Last Fair Deal Gone Down,” “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)” and “If I Had Possesion Over Judgement Day.”

Years later, Don Law would remember Robert Johnson as being “slender, handsome, of medium height, with beautiful hands.” He also described him in the recording studio as “embarrassed and suffering from a bad case of stage fright, Johnson turned his face to the wall, his back to the Mexican musicians. Eventually he calmed down sufficiently to play, but he never faced his audience.”

In an article about Robert Johnson published in the September 1990 issue of Guitar Player Magazine,  author Jas Obrecht quotes guitarist Ry Cooder’s challenge to this account.

“Listen to Johnson’s singing and his forceful personality. This is a guy who was afraid of his audience? Hell, no! This is a ‘chew them up and spit them out’ kind of guy. I’ll tell you what he was doing. I think he was sitting in the corner to achieve a certain sound that he liked.”

“Find yourself a plaster corner,” Cooder goes on, “without wallpaper or curtains sometime – all those hotel rooms were plaster. Go and sit facing the corner with your guitar tight up against the corner, play, and see what it sounds like. What you get is something called ‘corner loading.’ It’s an acoustic principle that eliminates most of the top end and most of the bottom end and amplifies the middle, the same thing that a metal guitar or an electric guitar does. He wants to hear wang!”

Listen for yourself.

 

The first record that ARC released from these sessions was “Terraplane Blues” b/w “Kind Hearted Woman Blues.” This was #03416 on the Vocalion records label. It hit the stores on January 4, 1937.

Thanks to the commercial success of “Terraplane Blues,” Robert Johnson recorded again for ARC, on June 19 & 20, 1937 in Dallas, Texas.

Sadly, Robert Johnson died under mysterious circumstances on August 16, 1938 near Greenwood, Mississippi.

The 13 recordings he made at the Dallas sessions combined with the 16 he cut in San Antonio brought his complete catalogue to a grand total of 29 songs.

29 songs.

In 1961, Columbia Records released an LP containing 16 of Robert Johnson’s songs, including five from the sessions of November 27, 1936.

The LP was entitled: The King of the Delta Blues Singers.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

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Over The River Once More

“Oh, hear the bells ringing, ‘Ting-a-ling-ling!,’ for it’s Thanksgiving Day.”

If your holiday gathering could use a festive sing-along, here’s a good one for you.

“Over The River And Through The Woods” – guitar, vocal and arrangement by me.

Ready? Ah one, two, three…

 

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandfather’s house we go;

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river and through the woods, oh, how the wind does blow!

It stings the toes and bites the nose as over the ground we go.

 

Over the river and through the woods, to have a full day of play;

Oh, hear the bells ringing, “Ting-a-ling-ling!,” for it’s Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river and through the woods, trot fast my dapple gray;

Spring over the ground just like a hound for this is Thanksgiving Day!

 

Over the river and through the woods and straight through the barnyard gate.

It seems that we go so dreadfully slow, it is so hard to wait.

Over the river and through the woods, now Grandmother’s cap I spy.

Hurrah for fun, the pudding’s done, hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

 

The words to “Over The River And Through The Woods” are from the poem “The New England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day” by Lydia Maria Child and originally published in 1844.

The song was originally published in 1897, composer unknown.

If you’d like to learn more about Lydia Maria Child and hear a fingerstyle acoustic guitar arrangement of “Over The River…,” check out my post of November 24, 2016.

Finally, a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from all of us at sixstr stories.

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Sparklers: “Doc’s Guitar” by Doc Watson

This is the second installment of my newest category here at sixstr stories.

It features recordings of outstanding performances by noteworthy guitarists – or outstanding guitarists giving noteworthy performances –  for your listening pleasure.

It is inspired by whatever god oversees the shuffle mode of my iPod classic during my morning walks.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you..

“Doc’s Guitar” by Doc Watson.

Listen and enjoy.

 

This is the original recording of this dazzling instrumental as it appeared on Doc’s first album – Doc Watson – released in 1964 on Vanguard Records.

The Vanguard Years is a 4-CD, 64-track set released by Vanguard Records in 1995.

Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson was born on March 3, 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina. He passed away on May 29, 2012.

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Quotations Marked 8

I established this blog’s motto on April 28, 2010 in my very first posting.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

That quote comes from the American Jazz musician Mr. Ferdinand Joseph “Jelly Roll Morton” LaMothe (1890-1941). I found it at the end of Sally-Ann Worsfold’s liner notes to Volume 1 of the JSP Records 5-CD box set of Jelly Roll Morton’s recordings.

In that introductory post I explained: “This quote has become a bit of a mantra for me. There is so much good and old music that is fast being forgotten that I need to do something beyond my teaching to keep it alive. Thus this blog.”

Well, I recently discovered a “new” quote that I hereby declare as sixstr stories’ co-motto:

“All valuable stories need to be told over and over and over again.”

That validating and rather liberating statement came from Mr. Bruce Springsteen. I found it in an interview that Bruce gave to his friend and biographer Dave Marsh in April, 2006. That interview was published in the Spring/Summer 2006 issue of Backstreets: The Boss Magazine under the title: “Will It Go Round In Circles?”

So, does this mean that I will continue writing and re-writing about all of the “various different musicians’ different various”* stories that I love and feel to be not only valuable but important?

It does indeed.

To let you know if a new post is actually a re-visited version of an older post (or two), I will mark the title with a “Take” number. For example, my recent “This Historic Day In Music: ‘Guitar Blues’/’Guitar Rag'” post is labeled “- Take 2.”

My first post about Sylvester Weaver’s ground-breaking recordings that appeared on November 2, 2010, will henceforth be known as “Take 1.”

There you have it. Words to blog by.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

“All valuable stories need to be told over and over and over again.”

 

* from “912 Greens” by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

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“November 7”

Here’s one for my son and all of the fingerstyle-acoustic-guitar-loving, guitar-picking, tablature-reading viewers/readers/followers of this blog out there.

November 7 is my son’s birthday.

In 2010, I celebrated his birthday here on sixstr stories with a “This Historic Day…” post. That post included a link to a recording of a fingerstyle acoustic guitar piece that I wrote for him called “November 7.”

Recently, I had a bit of free time and decided to transcribe “November 7” and maybe do another celebratory post in honor of my son’s birthday.

So… here it is.

“November 7″… the recording.

 

“November 7″… the transcription.

 

Happy Birthday, my son. May your day be filled with joy, delicious cake (with candles!) and all sorts of wonderful music.

T.C., H.F., E.W., D.T.A.W.N. and M.M.L., Dad.

P.S.: If you guitar-pickers/tablature-readers would like to check out some of my other guitar TAB transcriptions, go to the Guitar Music category and browse around!

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This Historic Day In Music: “Guitar Blues”/”Guitar Rag” – Take 2

On November 2, 1923, Blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver sat in front of the large horn/”microphone” of the acoustic recording machine in the New York City studios of OKeh Records. He played and recorded two original instrumental guitar pieces that day: “Guitar Blues” and “Guitar Rag.” The resulting 78-rpm record – OKeh #8109 – stands as the first recording of solo acoustic Blues guitar music.

Two weeks earlier, on October 23, 1923, and in the same studio, Sylvester Weaver was the guitarist on the first recording by a Classic Blues singer where the only accompaniment was an acoustic guitar. The singer was Sara Martin and the songs were “Longing For Daddy Blues” and “I’ve Got to Go and Leave My Daddy Behind.”

The success of these landmark recordings led to Sylvester Weaver cutting 25 more sides with Sara Martin, making 24 more solo recordings and waxing several duets with guitarist and (occasional) singer Walter Beasley. He made his last recordings in 1927.

Sylvester Weaver was born on July 25, 1987 in Louisville, Kentucky. He passed away in Louisville on April 4, 1960.

That’s pretty much all that is known about Sylvester Weaver.

But all we really need to know is in his music.

When I listen to “Guitar Blues” and the first notes start creeping up through the dense fog of scratches, pops and surface noise from the original 78-rpm record, I find myself turning an ear towards the speaker and closing my eyes or putting my hands over the headphones and leaning forward, straining to catch every detail.

Listening to old recordings such as this is like listening to ghosts.

Hear for yourself.

 

I’ve seen re-enactments of what it was like making records in the days before electric microphones and long before tape recorders. In these films, there is a Jazz band or small orchestra being recorded and the musicians are positioned in careful proximity to the sound-capturing horn, softest instruments in front, loudest further back, so that the resulting record has a full and balanced sound.

So, I can picture Sylvester Weaver, the lone guitarist, sitting right up close to the horn, playing loud; pulling the notes from his instrument and pushing them up towards and, hopefully, deep into that large, gaping mouth.

Here’s the flip side of “Guitar Blues”

 

The actual 78-rpm records this music was released on were made of shellac: thick, brittle, easily broken. The record companies at that time reserved the highest quality record-making material for their serious, Classical music releases. It’s a wonder that any copies of “Guitar Blues” or similar music from the 1920’s and 1930’s survived into the digital era.

We can listen to this music today thanks to a small, passionate and obsessed group of record collectors who started back in the 1940s building and sharing collections of these fragile gems. Those collectors saved this music and the artists who created it from certain extinction. They made it possible for these recordings to be preserved for us and for future generations of listeners.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

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This Championship Season

From the front of my refrigerator.

Red squares were home games; white squares were away games.

O = a win; X = a loss.

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The Ballad of “Eight Days A Week”

(Ballad: “A poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas, or verses.”)

Verse 1

Most likely it was in late September or on a day in very early October, 1964.

Paul McCartney excitedly arrived at John Lennon’s house with an idea – maybe a title – for a new song.

He’d been chatting with his chauffeur on the way there. “How’ve you been?,” Paul inquired. “Oh, working hard,” the driver replied. “Working eight days a week!”

Paul told John, “Hey, this fella just said, ‘eight days a week’.”

John replied, “Ooo, I need your love, babe…”

And so “Eight Days A Week” was born.

Years later, Paul recalled in The Beatles Anthology…

“We were always quick to write. We would write on the spot. I would show up, looking for some sort of inspiration; I’d either get it there, with John, or I’d hear someone say something.”

Paul also explained, “John and I were always looking for titles. Once you’ve got a good title if someone says, ‘What’s your new song?’ and you have a title that interests people, you are halfway there.”

Verse 2

The Beatles – Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison & Ringo Starr – began recording “Eight Days A Week” on Tuesday, October 6, 1964 in Studio Two of Abbey Road Studios in London, England. Producer George Martin, recording engineer Norman Smith and second engineers Ken Scott and Mike Stone also participated in the proceedings.

Mark Lewisohn wrote in The Beatles: Recording Sessions

“‘Eight Days A Week’ was a landmark recording in that it was the first time The Beatles took an unfinished idea into the studio and experimented with different ways of recording it.”

By all accounts, the “Eight Days A Week” idea that John and Paul brought to the late afternoon (3:00-6:45 pm) session consisted of two verses…

1) “Ooo, I need your love, babe/Guess you know it’s true. Hope you need my love, babe/Just like I need you.”

2) “Love you ev’ry day, girl/Always on my mind. One thing I can say, girl/Love you all the time.”

…and a chorus – “Hold me, love me/Hold me, love me/Ain’t got nothin’ but love, babe, eight days a week.”

The song needed an intro, an outro and a “middle eight” – a third part (sometimes known as a “bridge”) different from the verse and chorus and usually eight measures long.

They came up with a middle eight: “Eight days a week/I luh–uh–uh–uh–uh-ve you. Eight days a week/Is not enough to show I care.”

The intro and outro, however, proved to be more of a problem.

John and Paul tried multiple vocal arrangements going from a cappella vocals through various melodic sequences of harmonized “Ooohs” over acoustic guitar. By take six, the band had turned to an instrumental intro that they carried into the 7:00-10:00 pm recording session.

During the evening, over the course of seven more takes, vocals and handclaps were overdubbed and the recording – though still without an outro – was perfected. Take 13 was declared “best.”

Back in Studio Two on Sunday, October 18, The Beatles started an epic nine hour recording session by finally recording the outro piece for “Eight Days A Week.” It features a shimmering electric 12-string guitar part from George Harrison.

George Martin, Norman Smith and Ken Scott did the editing, mixing and mastering of “Eight Days A Week” on Tuesday, October 27 in Studio Two. It was here that Mr. Smith suggested the idea of having the intro “fade in”: start soft and gradually increase in volume; very much the reverse of the “fade out” commonly used at the end of Pop/Rock records.

“Eight Days A Week” would be the first Pop/Rock recording to start this way.

Listen for yourself!

 

On that recording…

  • John Lennon sang the lead vocal and played acoustic rhythm guitar.
  • Paul McCartney sang harmony vocals and played bass guitar.
  • George Harrison played 6-string and 12-string electric lead guitar.
  • Ringo Starr played drums.
  • They all joined in for the handclaps.

Verse 3

“Eight Days A Week” soon made its way into the world.

    • December 4, 1964: Beatles For Sale – the band’s fourth LP – was released in the United Kingdom by Parlophone Records. “Eight Days A Week” was the first track on Side 2.

    • February 15, 1965: “Eight Days A Week” b/w “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” – a 7-inch, 45-rpm single – was released in the United States by Capitol Records.

    • April 6, 1965: Beatles For Sale – a four-song EP – was released in the UK by Parlophone Records. “Eight Days A Week” was the second song on Side 2.

    • June 14, 1965: Beatles VI – the band’s eighth US album – was released by Capitol Records. “Eight Days A Week” was the second track on Side 1.

 

Verse 4

The Beatles For Sale LP entered the top-20 on the “Official Albums Chart” in the UK on December 12, 1964. During the 46 weeks that it spent in the top-20, the LP held the #1 position for 11 weeks.

The Capitol Records US single of “Eight Days A Week” held the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the two weeks of March 13 & March 20, 1965.

The Beatles VI LP sat in the #1 spot on the Billboard Top LPs album chart in the US for six weeks, starting on July 10, 1965.

“Eight Days A Week” b/w “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” was certified as a Gold Record by the Recording Industry Association of America on September 16, 1965. In the US, a Gold Record is earned for sales of 500,000 copies.

Verse 5

The Beatles never played “Eight Days A Week” in a live performance.

The only solo Beatle to play “Eight Days A Week” live was Paul McCartney. He did so for the first time on May 4, 2013 in a concert in Brazil.

In September of 1980, John Lennon was interviewed for Playboy magazine by David Sheff. Part of that extensive interview consisted of Lennon offering a song-by-song analysis of his music, both from his solo career and with The Beatles.

When Mr. Sheff asked him about “Eight Days A Week,” Lennon replied: “Eight Days A Week” was never a good song. We struggled to record it and struggled to make it into a song. It was (Paul’s) initial effort, but I think we both worked on it. I’m not sure. But it was lousy anyway.”

Ian MacDonald wrote about “Eight Days A Week” in his wonderful 1994 book Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties.

I agree with Mr. MacDonald’s assessment: “On any list of Pop records that capture the soaring sunshine optimism of the mid-Sixties, “Eight Days A Week” would be near the top. It holds its place with its sheer verve and the embracing warmth of its sound, whose texture of carillon electric lead and chiming acoustics was so influential on the nascent American Folk-Rock scene.”

Verse 6

“Eight Days A Week” was the first Beatles’ song that I learned how to play.

More accurately, “Eight Days A Week” was the first Beatles’ song that I was able to figure out a way in which I could play it.

My thick Beatles Complete piano/vocals/guitar songbook…

…presented “Eight Days A Week” – for some still unknown reason – in the key of B flat.

My novice guitar player fingers could not begin to penetrate the tangle of barre chords that one needed to play anything in the key of B flat.

But (somehow), I knew about transposing.

Confidently armed with a blue ballpoint pen, I crossed out that first nasty B flat major barre chord and wrote “G” above it. “A7” replaced the following C7 chord.

When I was done, the complete chord progression of “Eight Days A Week” lay before me in six, open-position chords that I could actually play: G, A7, C, E minor, D and D7!

And, as an added bonus, I soon discovered that I could sing “Eight Days A Week” while strumming those chords with my guitar capoed at the third fret. (The Beatles play “Eight Days A Week” in the much-higher key of D.)

Woohoo!

Years later, being unable to find a published transcription of “Eight Days A Week” in the key of G, I wrote out a lead sheet of my own.

To this day, I use that hand-written piece of music to teach my novice guitar playing students how to play their first Beatles’ song.

The End

 

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This Historic Day In Music: “Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp,” “Midnight Call Blues,” “Hot Fingers” & “Blue Room Blues”

On October 9, 1929, Blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson…

…and Jazz guitarist Eddie Lang…

…got together again in the New York City recording studios of OKeh Records to record what would prove to be the final four of their groundbreaking and still-dazzling collection of guitar duets.

The duo had previously recorded and released six duets:

  • “Two Tone Stomp” & “Have To Change Keys (To Play These Blues)” – recorded on November 17, 1928.
  • “Guitar Blues” – recorded on May 7, 1929.
  • “A Handful Of Riffs” & “Blue Guitars” – recorded on May 8, 1929.
  • “Bull Frog Moan” – recorded on May 15, 1929.

(You can read about Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang and listen to those wonderful recordings in my This Historic Day In Music posts in the Archives from November 2017 and May 2018.)

On that October Wednesday in 1929, Lonnie and Eddie got to “jiving” – as Lonnie Johnson later described just what he and Eddie did in these sessions – with an original number called “Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp.”

JTLYK: According to The Harvard Dictionary of Music, “stomp” is “A term found in Jazz titles of the 1920s and 1930s connoting fast dance music with a strong beat.”

“Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp” might not be “fast,” but Eddie Lang’s rhythm guitar accompaniment definitely drives its 16-bar chord progression with a strong and very danceable beat. What a perfect backdrop for Lonnie Johnson to spin eight choruses of magical 12-string guitar solos over!

Listen for yourself.

 

“Midnight Call Blues” features a not-too-fast, not-too-slow tempo and a smooth and swinging rhythm. The duo plays an eight-bar intro before settling into a 12-bar blues progression at the .18 mark. Lonnie takes the first solo and then (at .46) Eddie takes the role of lead guitarist and solos over two, 12-bar choruses! Lonnie takes the lead again (at 1.47) and solos soulfully through to the end.

Check it out!

 

“Hot Fingers” is hotter than hot. As great as “Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp” and “Midnight Call Blues” are, it seems that Lonnie and Eddie might have just been warming up for this number. These two totally tear the cover off the ball with this out-of-the-park home run blast: a 16-bar “stomp”-style intro followed by 14 blazing choruses of 12-bar Blues in the key of D. Lonnie’s solos and Eddie’s accompaniment are equally brilliant throughout.

Give a listen.

 

Last but certainly not least, “Blue Room Blues” is appropriately different from its nine siblings. First of all, it is not a Blues! (It is built on a 16-bar chord progression like “Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp.”) It is also the slowest of the ten duets (Did “Hot Fingers” tire them out?) and the only one in which Eddie Lang takes the opening solo! Then, like any good closing number, it leaves the listener wanting, wishing, for more.

Here you go.

 

“Hot Fingers” b/w “Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp” was released on OKeh Records, #8743.

“Midnight Call Blues” b/w “Blue Room Blues” was released on OKeh Records, #8818.

The artist’s credit line on both recordings reads: Lonnie Johnson & Blind Willie Dunn.

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