This Historic Day In Music: “Crazy Blues”

From the opening notes of the introduction, “Crazy Blues” sounds like a Jazz record.

But when Mamie Smith starts to sing, the music takes a turn. “I can’t sleep at night, I can’t eat a bite because the man I love, he don’t treat me right.” 32 bars in and the first line of the chorus clarifies everything: “Now I’ve got the crazy blues, since my baby went away.”

This is not a Jazz record.

Listen for yourself!

 

“Crazy Blues” was recorded by Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds in New York City on August 10, 1920 for OKeh Records. Ralph Peer, the recording director for OKeh in New York, supervised the session.

It was the first Blues recording by an African/American singer.

The vocalist, Mamie Smith, was 37 years old when she recorded “Crazy Blues.” She had sung and danced and played piano on the Vaudeville circuit since she was 10.

The song was written by African-American composer Perry Bradford in 1912. Originally called “Nervous Blues,” he changed the title to “Crazy Blues” for its original sheet music publication in 1915.

The members of the Jazz Hounds who accompanied Mamie Smith on this session were: Perry Bradford, piano; Ernest Elliott, clarinet; Dope Andrews, trombone; Johnny Dunn, cornet; and Leroy Parker, violin.

Today, this type of Blues is referred to as “Classic Blues:” a female vocalist with at least a piano for accompaniment, all instrumentalists playing in the Jazz style of the times.

In 1920, however, this was something new and the success of “Crazy Blues” [b/w “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, ‘Taint No Fault Of Mine)”] by Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds took everyone by surprize. OKeh records sold 75,000 copies of the 78-rpm disc – #4169 – in the first month after its release and 1,000,000 before six months had passed.

The success of “Crazy Blues” proved that there was a very real market for music by African-American artists. American record companies began recording and releasing such records in earnest. The door to a recording career opened for such established performing artists as Bessie Smith (“Empress of the Blues”), Alberta Hunter, Sara Martin (“The Blues Sensation of the West”), Ma Rainey (“Mother of the Blues”) and Victoria Spivey. In 1924, OKeh recorded the first male Blues singer, singer/guitarist Ed Andrews. By the late 1920’s, five different record companies competed for sales in the category that had become known as “race records.”

A few years after the release of “Crazy Blues,” Metronome magazine boldly proclaimed: “Blues are here to stay!”

As I always say, “Good music doesn’t get old.”

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Through It All, So Far

Today is my personal new year’s eve.

It is the day before I start getting answers to the questions posed in a certain no-longer-cute song by The Beatles.

When I started thinking about commemorating this day here on sixstr stories, several songs came to mind. “Candles” – my old “Happy birthday to me!” ode – popped up first; but my records show that I’d posted that back on August 8, 2010. My two more recent musings on the subject of getting older – “Remaining Seas” and “Best Walked (Life’s A Road)” – made their way into this blog on July 2, 2014 and August 14, 2015, respectively.

Then I remembered this song.

“Through It All” was born on August 2, 2004. Twenty-one days later I had converted the four first-draft verses into three finished verses and a bridge and slipped a few strategically placed guitar licks into the mix. Finally, on September 18, 2004, I wrestled these many parts into a musical and lyrical sequence that, to me, worked.

Listen for yourself!

“Through It All” – Words, Music, Guitar & Vocals by Eric Sinclair.

That track was recorded in my home studio in March, 2005.

On this day, almost thirteen years later, I am pleased to say that “Through It All” still works. It tells the tale.

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“Summer Solstice Rag”

Since late last Spring, I’ve been reading a fine new book: Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar by Jas Obrecht.

This 2015 publication from the University of Minnesota Press chronicles the “most prominent singer-guitarists who made influential and enduring recordings during the Roaring Twenties.” (pg.1, Introduction)

The nine artists who Mr. Obrecht chose to profile are: Sylvester Weaver, Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and Tampa Red.

The fascinating stories in this book have, of course, motivated me to listen to and add to my collection of recordings by these giants of acoustic Country Blues. This listening has been both thoroughly enjoyable and unexpectedly inspirational: after listening to “West Coast Blues” (1926) and “Southern Rag” (1927) by Blind Blake – who Mr. Obrecht heralds as the “King of Ragtime Blues Guitar” – I decided to try writing a ragtime guitar piece of my own!

Thanks to Stefan Grossman, I was already familiar with a ragtime chord progression.

In the April, 1976 issue of Guitar Player magazine…

…Mr. Grossman’s monthly column (pg.71) was titled: “Raggin’ The Blues.”

The 4/4 ragtime progression – “one of the most popular” – that he discussed in that column went like this:

| C     E7    | A     A7    | D7    G7    | C     G7   | C     E7    | A     A7    | D7            | G7            |

| C              | C7             | F              | Ab            | C     E7    | A     A7    | D7    G7    | C             |

Over the years, I’ve also frequently played two songs that are built on a very similar chord progression: “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Has Anybody Seen My Gal?)” by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis & Joseph Young and “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie.

So, realizing quite well that I’m no Blind Blake, I sat down with my guitar one mid-June afternoon, fingered an open-position C major chord and started fingerpicking.

By the beginning of July, I had something I liked.

I decided to call it “Summer Solstice Rag.”

Listen for yourself!

Here is a transcription, if you’d like to try playing it yourself (or you know someone who would)!

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The Past Five Historic Days In Music

Day One.

John Smith Hurt was born in Teoc, Mississippi, on July 3, 1893. He grew up to be the singer, finger-style guitarist, recording artist and performer know around the world as Mississippi John Hurt.

Here is a recording that Mississippi John Hurt made for OKeh Records in 1928.

 

Day Two.

Stephen Collins Foster was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1826. He grew up to be a pianist, composer and America’s first professional song writer. His catalogue of original songs includes “Oh! Susanna” (1848), “Gwine To Run All Night” aka “Camptown Races” (1850), “Old Folks At Home” (1851), “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!” (1853) and “Hard Times Come Again No More” (1854).

Fireworks? Absolutely!

Here is a 1958 recording of Pete Seeger doing what he considered to be “possibly Stephen Foster’s greatest song.”

 

Day Three.

On July 5, 1954, singer/guitarist Elvis Presley, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black were gathered in the recording studios of Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee. They turned an off-the-cuff rendition of the Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup song, “That’s All Right (Mama)” into Elvis Presley’s first hit record.

Here is that recording as released on July 19, 1954 on Sun Records.

 

Day Four.

On July 6, 1957, John Lennon met Paul McCartney in the Church Hall of St. Peter’s Parish Church in Woolton, England. They were introduced by Ivan Vaughan, a mutual friend. John and his band, The Quarry Men, had performed at the St. Peter’s Parish Church Garden Fete earlier that day.

More fireworks, please!

Day Five.

Richard Starkey was born in Liverpool, England, on July 7, 1940. He grew up to be a drummer, singer, performer and recording artist known the world over as Ringo Starr. He officially became a member of The Beatles on Saturday, August 18, 1962.

If I could, I would have the 1966 recording of “Rain” by The Beatles embedded right here. Ringo considers his drumming on this track to be among his best efforts.

You’ll have to dig that one up by yourself.

Can you find a more historically important five days-in-a-row in music than those?

P.S.: If you’d like to learn more about these artists and events, please visit the July entries for any of the years in the blog Archives.

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This Historic Day In Music: Capitol MAS-2653 (Mono LP), SMAS-2653 (Stereo LP)

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles was released in America on June 2, 1967. (It had been released in the United Kingdom the day before.) It was the thirteenth Beatles’ LP released in the United States. (#8 in the U.K.)

To Pop music fans everywhere, then and now, the 13 tracks on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” contain not only extraordinary songs. The entire collection is overflowing with such a joyously intoxicating rainbow of sounds and incredibly nuanced performances that we can’t stop listening. And for all the experimental gloriousness that graces every song on the album, it all culminates in the spectacular music that The Beatles created for “A Day In The Life,” Sgt. Pepper’s epic closing number.

The recording of “A Day In The Life” (originally called “In The Life Of…”) began on Thursday, January 19, 1967.

Take One was simple: bongos, maracas, piano and guitar accompanying John Lennon singing the songs’ first two verses. The last line of the second verse – “I’d love to turn you on” – was followed by a carefully counted 24-bar space to be filled in with something (?!?) at a later date. Next came an instrumental section (where Paul McCartney’s contribution to the song would go) and then John again, singing the third and final verse. The third verse also concluded with John intoning: “I’d love to turn you on.”

It was Paul who had the idea of how to fill that space.

On the evening of Friday, February 10, The Beatles, along with Geroge Martin, their producer, and recording engineers Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush, welcomed a 40-piece orchestra to Studio One of Abbey Road Studios in London. The instrumentation of the orchestra was: 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 2 double-bass, 1 oboe, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 french horns, 1 tuba, 1 harp and 1 percussion (including timpani).

George Martin gave the gathered musicians these instructions: “We’re going to start very very quietly and end up very very loud. We’re to start very low in pitch and end up very high. You’ve got to make your own way up there, as slide-y as possible so that the clarinets slurp, trombones glass, violins slide without fingering any notes. And whatever you do, don’t listen to the fellow next to you because I don’t want you to be doing the same thing.”

All of this was to extend over the 24-bar space and end on an E major chord.

With both George Martin and Paul McCartney conducting the orchestra and Geoff Emerick manipulating the controls on the recording equipment, this “orchestral build-up” was played and recorded not just once, but four times.

The four tracks were mixed down to one. The resulting part was inserted into that middle space as well as at the end of the song, each time slowly growing out of John’s inviting lyric: “I’d love to turn you on.”

Well, he certainly did.

Listen and watch for yourself.

 

P.S.: Yes, that was Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Mike Nesmith and Donovan in the film clips from the actual February 10 recording session. And yes, the orchestra members were in full concert dress and they were wearing an assortment of clown’s noses, upside down spectacles, imitation bald heads, red noses, false eyes and knotted handkerchiefs. It seems that a splendid time was had by all.

Information and quotes used in this post came from one of the best books on The Beatles ever published: The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes, 1962-1970 (1988) by Mark Lewisohn.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: fifty years young.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wrestling With The Angel, Chapter 12

If you’re a new visitor to this blog, the purpose of my Wrestling With The Angel series (or category) is to highlight and share individual songs that are on a list of mine entitled: Devastatingly Great Songs. The title phrase, “Wrestling With The Angel,” is my paraphrase of a line from a poem by Herman Melville called “Art.” You can read the complete poem in my archived post of November 4, 2011: “The Source.” 

I first saw and heard singer/guitarist/songwriter Buddy Miller in August of 2004.

Buddy was touring that summer with Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in an entourage billed as the Sweet Harmony Traveling Revue. I had the very good fortune to see their show on August 21 at the Meadowbrook Musical Arts Center (now known as the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion) in Gilford, NH.

During his outstanding solo spot, Buddy featured a few songs from his May 2004 album, Universal United House of Prayer. I picked up a copy of this fabulous CD not long after the concert and found that some of the best songs on it were co-written by Buddy and his wife, Julie Miller. (J.T.L.Y.K.: This album contains the best cover version ever of the Bob Dylan song, “With God On Our Side.”)

I again saw and heard Buddy Miller perform in October of 2009. Buddy was touring that Fall with Emmylou Harris as part of her back-up band, Her Red Dirt Boys, and as her opening act. I caught their show on October 16 at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, in Hampton Beach, NH.

As I had hoped he would, Buddy played several songs during his set from Written In Chalk, the album that he and Julie had released together in March of that year. This record is way up on my short list of albums that I simply cannot encourage you strongly enough to go out and buy yourself a copy of (or sit there and download) and then listen to as soon as you possibly can.

Sadly however, on that October evening at Hampton Beach, Buddy Miller did not play my favorite song from Written In Chalk.

That song is “Ellis County.”

“Ellis County” was written by Julie Miller.

Ellis County is the county in Texas that contains Waxahachie, the town were, on July 12, 1956, Julie was born.

“Take me back to places where my memory tarries,” Julie wrote, in the bridge of the song.

The recording of “Ellis County” that Julie and Buddy produced for Written In Chalk is, to me, exhilarating. I find it to be the kind of performance – full of passionate, exuberant vocals and masterfully played instruments (real instruments carefully recorded to envelope you in a sound like you were sitting right in the middle of the living room with the band playing around you) – that never fails to kick my however-weary engine into a joyous, uncontainable overdrive.

All of that, of course, would be nothing but window dressing without the finely crafted words and music of Julie Miller’s superb song.

But don’t just take it from me! You should, by all means, listen for yourself.

 

 

Julie Miller sings behind Buddy’s lead vocals on that track. Buddy also plays guitar. Accompanying the duo are Brady Blade on drums, Chris Donahue on bass, Larry Campbell on fiddle and John Deaderick on keyboards.

P.S., Dear Followers and Readers: I’ve been wanting to write about and share “Ellis County” with you for some time, but I’d not been able to find an embed-able copy of the original studio recording… until yesterday!

Thank you, YouTube! Thank you, Warner Music Group and New West Records!

Thank you, Buddy and Julie Miller.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

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This Historic Day In Music: Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was born in Patterson, New York on this day, May 3, in the year 1919.

Pete performed in public for the first time on Sunday, March 3, 1940 on the stage of the Forrest Theatre in New York City. His unplanned, walk-on appearance was part of a star-studded presentation organized by “The Theatre Arts Committee and Will Geer of the Tobacco Road Company” called “A ‘Grapes of Wrath’ Evening.” The 20-year-old rookie sang the outlaw ballad “John Hardy,” accompanying himself on the 5-string banjo.

On January 18, 2009, Pete Seeger performed in Washington, D.C. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His highly-anticipated performance was part of We Are One: The Barack Obama Inaugural Celebration. The 89-year-old veteran performer played his 5-string banjo and led the audience of nearly 400,000 people in singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (Pete’s grandson), Bruce Springsteen and the Inaugural Celebration Chorus assisted Pete during his performance.

If you’ve not seen Pete’s Inaugural Celebration performance, you should. I cheered the live broadcast from my living room and have watched the video clip below several times. I’m still in awe.

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No. 7

Today is sixstr stories’ seventh birthday.

What better way to celebrate than with a brand new song?! Especially if that song has seven verses! (Ok: it has eight.)

I wrote “Weekdays, Weekdays” with my grandson in mind and, well… just for the fun of it.

I hope you have fun with it, too.

Happy Birthday, sixstr stories! Here’s to many more.

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This Historic Day In Music: The Kansas City Five

On Friday, March 18, 1938, record producer John Hammond gathered five Jazz musicians in a New York City recording studio for a recording session.

The musicians were: Buck Clayton, trumpet; Eddie Durham, trombone & electric guitar; Freddie Green, rhythm guitar; Walter Page, bass; and Jo Jones, drums. They were, at the time, all members of the Count Basie Orchestra.

This ensemble, tentatively called Eddie Durham & His Base Four, cut four numbers that day: “Laughing At Life,” “Good Mornin’ Blues,” “I Know That You Know” and “Love Me Or Leave Me.”

Those recordings were designed to be the first in Jazz to feature the electric guitar.

“Laughing At Life” was the first piece that the group recorded.

Dave Oliphant wrote in his 1996 book, Texan Jazz, that Eddie Durham’s performance on “Laughing At Life:” “abounds with riff-like figures as well as sixteenth-note pickups to boppish licks. He leaps from low to high notes, plays bluesy, falling-off moans, and utters sudden whines in the upper register.”

Listen for yourself. (You’ll be glad you did!)

 

John Hammond had originally produced this session to be released by Brunswick Records. But when they declined, he sold the sides to Milt Gabler of New York’s Commodore Music Shop. Somewhere along the line, the name of the group was changed so as to be perfectly clear about the geographically-specific style of Jazz that they played.

“Laughing At Life” b/w “I Know That You Know” by the Kansas City Five was released as Commodore Records #510, a 78 rpm disc, in 1938.

“Laughing At Life” was written in 1930. The song’s music was composed by Bob Todd and Cornell Todd and the lyrics were penned by Charles Kenny and Nick Kenny.

Ruth Etting, “America’s Sweetheart of Song,” was the first to record “Laughing At Life,” waxing her rendition on September 29, 1930, for Columbia Records.

Scott Yanow, writing in the All Music Guide to Jazz, sees Eddie Durham’s work on the four Kansas City Five recordings as being “among the first worthwhile examples of the electric guitar on record.”

This is a recording studio photo of Eddie Durham, circa 1940.

 

J.T.L.Y.K.: The majority of the sources that I used in putting together this post listed March 18, 1938 as the date of the Kansas City Five recording session. However, a couple of sources did have the date as March 16, 1938.

Good music doesn’t get old, whatever its birthdate.

P.S.: If you’re interested in reading more about some of the other early recordings that feature an electric guitar, go into the Archives for June, 2010 and check out my post of June 15 called Recent Discoveries.

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This Historic Day In Music: Nina Simone

The 4th Annual Boston Globe Jazz Festival was held the weekend of January 31 and February 1, 1969. The festival’s venue was the War Memorial Auditorium in the Prudential Center on Boylston Street in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. (Tickets were $5.50, $4.50 and $3.50.)

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I attended the Saturday evening, February 1 performance with Alan, my friend and bandmate, and his father. It was my first Boston concert.

The 8 pm show featured trumpeter & vocalist Hugh Masekela; singer & pianist Nina Simone; Blues singer & electric guitarist B.B. King; and pianist & synthesizer player Sun Ra with his Arkestra.

Remarkably, I still have snapshot memories of all four performances. And even though Nina Simone is one of the two artists from that evening (the other is B.B. King) who had the biggest impact on me, I could not even begin to tell you what she played that night.

Until now.

Thanks to a bit of luck and the wonders of the internet, I found a review of the entire festival that had been published in the May 1, 1969 issue of Down Beat magazine. It was written by Alan Heineman, one of the magazine’s chief music critics at that time.

According to Mr. Heineman, Nina Simone and her band opened their set that February night with a slow but forceful reading of the Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” They carried on with a joyous performance of “In The Morning” (aka “The Morning of My Life”) by The Bee Gee’s, followed by another Dylan song, “I Shall Be Released.” Nina then kicked into a rousing medley of “Ain’t Got No” and “I Got Life” from the Rock musical Hair and segued into her (not The Beatles’) “Revolution.” She closed the set with her superb interpretation of the Leonard Cohen song, “Suzanne.”

I recently discovered as well that Nina Simone had recorded her gorgeous rendition of “I Shall Be Released” just a few weeks prior to the Boston Globe Jazz Festival. On Wednesday, January 8, 1969, at RCA Studios in New York City, accompanied by a five-piece band and two background vocalists, Nina played piano and sang on this recording.

Listen.

 

(If you enjoyed that piece, let me recommend a CD: Just Like A Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs Of The ’60’s. This 2007 RCA/Legacy, Sony BMG collection includes “I Shall Be Released,” “In The Morning,” “Suzanne” and eleven other exemplary recordings.)

Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933. She was the sixth child of Mary Kate and John Divine Waymon. Mary Kate was a Methodist minister and John was a handyman. They raised their family in the town of Tryon, North Carolina.

Eunice began learning to play the piano at the age of three. She made her concert debut at the age of twelve performing a recital of classical piano music. Throughout high school, Eunice aspired to become a concert pianist. After her graduation in 1950, she spent the summer at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She then applied for a scholarship to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Despite a well-received audition, Eunice’s application was denied.

In 1954, Eunice took a gig at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She created a stage name, “Nina Simone,” (“Nina” is Spanish for “little girl” and “Simone” came from the French actress, Simone Signoret) because she didn’t want her mother to find out about her performances at the bar. Mary Kate would have considered the Jazz and Blues music that Eunice played and sang to be the “Devil’s Music.”

Nina Simone recorded her first album, Little Girl Blue, in 1958. Her forty-fifth and last album, A Single Woman, was released in 1993.

Nina Simone’s music was and always will be impossible to classify. She drew from Jazz, Blues, Classical, Gospel, Pop, Folk, Soul and Broadway show tunes. The only label she would allow was “Black Classical Music.” In 1997, she told a writer for Interview magazine: “My choices were intuitive and I had the technique to do it.” Ben Edmonds wrote in the liner notes to the CD mentioned above that whatever song Nina chose to sing, “Once done by her, it (became) simply a Nina Simone song.”

Nina Simone/Eunice Kathleen Waymon passed away on April 21, 2003 in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhone, France.

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