This Historic Day In Music: Elizabeth Cotten

It’s been five years since I last celebrated Elizabeth Cotten’s birthday here on sixstr stories.

I think it’s time to do so again.

On January 5, 1893, in the town of Carrboro, North Carolina (right next to Chapel Hill), George and Louise Nevills welcomed their fifth child, Elizabeth, into the world.

When Elizabeth (or “Babe” or “Sis” as her family called her) was seven years old, she started playing around with her brother’s five-string banjo. When she was eleven, her brother moved out and took his banjo with him. Missing that banjo – but now really wanting a guitar – Elizabeth went to work doing household chores for a woman in Chapel Hill. On a salary of $.75 to $1.00 a month, she eventually saved up the $3.75 needed to buy herself a guitar of her own.

Elizabeth taught herself how to play. She developed a unique style in which she held her guitar left-handed and upside down. She picked out songs and “tunes” using just the thumb and first finger of her left hand. Before long, Elizabeth started writing her own songs, one of which she called “Freight Train.”

At the age of 15, Elizabeth married Frank Cotten. At the age of 16, she gave birth to their daughter and only child, Lillie. With her new life, responsibilities and pressure from her church to stop playing those “worldly songs,” guitar playing soon became a thing of the past.

Decades later, thanks to a miraculous string of events – see my post of January 5, 2011 for more details – Elizabeth Cotten regained her guitar playing skills. An album of her songs and tunes – Folksongs And Instrumentals With Guitar – was released on Folkways Records in 1958. Elizabeth became a successful and highly-regarded recording and performing artist and continued recording and performing well into her 80’s.

In 1983, Arhoolie Records released a posthumous album of live recordings from the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s. Elizabeth Cotten – Live! was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 1984. It is an utterly charming and amazing record of her songs, stories and inimitable guitar playing.

Here is a track from that album. Listen for yourself!

 

Elizabeth Cotten’s unique style of guitar playing became known as “Cotten picking.” To this day, it continues to thrill and inspire countless guitarists around the world.

Elizabeth passed away on June 29, 1987 in Syracuse, New York.

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Quotations Marked 6

From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens:

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that, while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

British author Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote A Christmas Carol – originally titled A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas – in 1843. The novella was published in London on December 19, 1843. The 6000 copies of its first printing sold out in one day.

As 2018 unfolds before us, may we all, every now and then, become contagious.

Happy New Year!

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A Little Christmas Polka

Must Be Santa! The Rounder Christmas Album is one of my all-time favorite Christmas collections. Released in 1995 by Rounder Records – the legendary-and-still-going-strong Cambridge, Massachusetts-based label – this 19-track album contains a recording that is one of my family’s favorites, too: “Must Be Santa (Polka)” by Brave Combo.

Give a listen! (I dare you to sit still.)

 

“Must Be Santa” was written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks. It was first recorded and released in 1960 by Mitch Miller of Sing Along With Mitch fame.

Brave Combo is a band from Denton, Texas. Founded in 1979 by guitarist/accordionist/keyboard player Carl Finch, Brave Combo presented this high-energy rendition of “Must Be Santa” on their 1992 Rounder album, It’s Christmas, Man!

“Must Be Santa (Polka)” features: Carl Finch on guitar, keyboards, accordion & vocals; Bubba Hernandez on bass & vocals; Jeffery Barnes on saxophones, clarinet, guitar, organ & vocals; and Mitch Marine on drums, percussion & vocals.

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours from everyone here at sixstr stories.

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This Historic Day In Music: “Two Tone Stomp” & “Have To Change Keys To Play These Blues”

In the Fall of 1928, Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang were the two best and busiest studio guitarists in New York City.

Lonnie Johnson…

…was born Alfonzo Johnson in the Storyville section of New Orleans, Louisiana on February 8, 1894. (Some sources list the year as 1899.)  The singer/guitarist cut his first release for OKeh Records – “Mr Johnson’s Blues” b/w “Falling Rain Blues” – on November 4, 1925.

Over the next three years, Lonnie Johnson went on to make dozens of solo recordings for OKeh Records. He also contributed his distinctive, Blues-based guitar playing to a long list of records featuring other artists and groups. Among those being so fortunate were Victoria Spivey, Texas Alexander, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five and Duke Ellington & His Orchestra.

Eddie Lang…

…was born Salvatore Massaro in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 25, 1902. He made his recording debut on December 10, 1924 playing guitar with the Mound City Blue Blowers.

Before too long, Eddie became the #1 Jazz guitarist in New York, in and out of the recording studio. He added his masterfully articulated playing to recordings by Red Nichols & His Five Pennies, Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Venuti, Victoria Spivey and Bessie Smith. On April 1, 1927, Eddie recorded two original guitar pieces for OKeh Records: the solo “April Kisses” and “Eddie’s Twister” (with Arthur Schutt on piano). These tracks would become the two sides of the first record released under Eddie’s name.

Sometime in November of 1928, Thomas G. “Tommy” Rockwell, the 27 year old Artist Manager of OKeh Records, had the idea to get Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang together in a recording studio and see what musical magic they could create.

The first time this happened was on Thursday, November 15, 1928. The session was held in OKeh Records’ New York City recording studios located at 11 Union Square. Blues singer Texas Alexander was the headliner that day, with Johnson and Lang brought in to provide the accompaniment. The trio successfully recorded two Texas Alexander originals: “Work Ox Blues” and “The Risin’ Sun.”

Two days later – Saturday, November 17, 1928 – Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang returned by themselves to 11 Union Square.

The only inkling we have of just how this historic collaboration actually worked comes from Lonnie Johnson himself. In an interview published in Nat Shapiro & Nat Hentoff’s 1955 book, Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz by the Men Who Made It, Lonnie recalled…

“I well remember Eddie Lang. He was the nicest man I ever worked with. Eddie and I got together many a time in the old OKeh record studios in New York, and we even made many sides together with just two guitars. Eddie was a fine man. He never argued. He didn’t tell me what to do. He would ask me. Then, if everything was okay, we’d sit down and get to jiving.”

On November 17, that “jiving” would result in two Johnson-Lang creations: “Two Tone Stomp” and “Have To Change Keys To Play These Blues.”

In “Two Tone Stomp,” the first guitar you hear is Eddie Lang’s. He maintains his role as rhythm guitarist throughout the piece, providing intricate bass lines and an ever-changing variety of extended chord voicings in support of Lonnie’s highly inventive, melodic and very bluesy improvisations.

Listen for yourself!

 

 

In “Have To Change Keys To Play These Blues,” Eddie and Lonnie start off in the same roles. But, at 1:46, during the fourth time through the 12-bar progression, Lonnie switches to strumming chords beneath Eddie’s perfectly conceived and executed single-string solo.

Again, listen for yourself.

 

 

Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang recorded eight more duos over the course of the next year. (Stay tuned to sixstr stories!) Writing in the All Music Guide To Jazz, Bill Dahl proclaimed: “The red hot duets (they) recorded were utterly groundbreaking in their ceaseless invention.” Blues historian Stephen Calt observed that the Johnson & Lang duets “set a standard of musicianship that remains unsurpassed by Blues guitarists.”

One last thing.

OKeh Records knew that in 1928 the American record buying public would not knowingly accept music made by an interracial group of musicians. Even a duo.

Therefore, “Two Tone Stomp” and “Have To Change Keys To Play These Blues” were released on OKeh record #8637 as being by Lonnie Johnson and Blind Willie Dunn.

 

Just To Let You Know…

The guitar that Eddie Lang played on those recordings was a brand new Gibson L-5 six-string archtop acoustic. Eddie is holding a Gibson L-5 in the picture above.

The guitar that Lonnie Johnson played on those recordings was a 12-string acoustic. Lonnie is holding a 12-string acoustic guitar in his picture above.

But!!! Is the guitar in the picture the one he recorded with on November 17, 1928?

Well…

Lonnie Johnson told British Blues historian Paul Oliver in a 1960 interview that he’d bought his 12-string guitar in San Antonio, Texas.

Lonnie had been in San Antonio in March of 1928 with a field recording unit from OKeh Records.

According to Todd Cambio – guitar maker at Fraulini Guitars in Madison, Wisconsin, and specialist on 6 and 12-string guitars from the early 1900’s – the only luthier in San Antonio who made and sold 12-string guitars at that time was Mexican-born Guadalupe Acosta. Guadalupe’s shop in San Antonio was called The Acosta Music Company.

Lonnie Johnson performed at the Ella B. Moore’s Theatre in Dallas, Texas, for three weeks in April of 1928. According to music journalist Jas Obrecht, the photo of Lonnie above was taken “around this time.” (That photo, by the way, is the only known photo of Lonnie with a 12-string guitar.)

The first recording session during which Lonnie Johnson used a 12-string guitar was with Duke Ellington & His Orchestra on October 1, 1928 in New York.

Seems to me that it is very safe to say that the guitar Lonnie played on “Two Tone Stomp” and “Have To Change Keys To Play These Blues” on November 17, 1928, was his Acosta 12-string acoustic guitar.

 

The sources for the information used in the writing of this post were:

Early Blues: The First Stars Of Blues Guitar (2015) by Jas Obrecht.

The Guitar Players: One Instrument & Its Masters In American Music (1982) by James Sallis.

Lonnie Johnson’s Mysterious 12 String by Todd Cambio. Posted July 31, 2017 on his Blogspot blog, From The Bench Fraulini Guitars.

The All Music Guide To Jazz (2002), edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra and Stephen Thomas Erlewine.

Pete Welding’s liner notes to the 1990 Columbia Records’ Roots N’ Blues Series CD Lonnie Johnson: Steppin’ On The Blues.

 

Good music doesn’t get old.

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The Ones That Got Away

I was looking through an old photo album the other day and came upon some pictures of a few old friends.

Here’s one.

That is a Fender “Duo-Sonic.” It was my first electric guitar.

I purchased that guitar sometime in 1975 or 76. The person that I bought it from ran a private school for special needs children. Her school building was a large, Victorian-style house (previously a private home) located directly across the street from the public elementary school where I was the music teacher. She’d found the instrument in the attic of the house and thought I might be interested. My memory tells me that I paid her $90.00 for the guitar with the hardshell case.

[Just To Let You Know: The Fender Electric Instrument Company of Fullerton, California, added the “Duo-Sonic” – a 3/4-size, solid-body electric guitar – to its product line in 1956. (This was just two years after they had introduced their now-iconic “Stratocaster” electric guitar.) With a list price of $149.50, the Duo-Sonic was designed for the student and/or beginning guitarist. My guitar was a “second version” Duo-Sonic and manufactured some time between 1959 and 1964. Its features included a rosewood fingerboard, plastic pick-guard, 2 “vintage style” single coil pick-ups and a body color known as “Desert Sand.” Fender stopped making Duo-Sonics in 1969.]

The guitar in the next photo is a Gibson “ES-125T.” It was my first “Jazz guitar.”

I bought that guitar about a year or two after buying the Duo-Sonic. I came upon it one day standing on display in the window of Exeter Music. To this day, I swear that the instrument beckoned me into the store. Mrs. Clegg – co-owner of Exeter Music with her husband, Gordon – took the guitar out of the window for me to try. She informed me that it was “made in the ’50’s.” I was soon writing her a check for the asking price of $150.00. I left the store that day a very happy guitar player.

[JTLYK#2: The Gibson Guitar Corporation of Kalamazoo, Michigan added the ES-125T – a hollow-body, archtop electric guitar – to its product line in 1956. (This was just four years after the company introduced their now-iconic “Les Paul” solid-body electric guitar.) A thin-line version of the popular ES-125, the company considered the ES-125T to be a student and/or beginner guitar. My guitar – which I estimate to have been manufactured in 1959 – had a 16 & 3/4-inch wide, laminated maple body with a “Tobacco Sunburst” finish; a “dog ear” P90 pick-up; a mahogany neck with a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard; gold “top-hat” volume and tone control knobs; and an “alligator” cardboard case. Gibson discontinued the ES-125T in 1969.]

Now that I had two electric guitars, I needed a guitar amplifier!

In the late 1970’s, I knew of three ways to “research” guitar amps: see what the local guitar stores had for sale, talk to other guitar players and read articles in Guitar Player magazine to learn what the pros used.

The cover story in the April, 1976 issue of Guitar Player was about Jazz virtuoso Joe Pass. In the article, Joe said that he used a Polytone “102” guitar amplifier. He explained to interviewer Jon Sievert: “It’s the only transistor amp I’ve ever found that has a warm, round Jazz tone. It doesn’t give me any problems and weighs only 23 pounds, which makes it easy to carry.”

Good enough for Joe Pass was certainly good enough for me, but no local guitar store carried Polytone amps. I ended up ordering one by mail from Sam Ash Music out of New Jersey. My 102 was everything I hoped – and Joe said – it would be.

[JTLYK#3: After a good bit of on-line searching, all I can tell you about the company that made Polytone amplifiers is that they were a California-based company; they made amplifiers from the 1970’s into the 1990’s; and their amplifiers were extremely popular among Jazz guitarists and accordion players. Beyond that, nobody seems to know much of anything about Polytone! There is no website or even a Wikipedia page. (Therefore, they must not exist.)]

Over the years, I ended up playing the ES-125T much more than I played the Duo-Sonic. I even used it and the Polytone on two tracks of my 1988, self-produced, cassette-tape-only album, Anytime.

Here’s the Gibson, the Polytone and the brilliant Jim Howe, on upright bass, on my song “Love Is Given,” from that album.

The most memorable use of the Duo-Sonic came in 1987 when it became a prop for my daughter to act out her childhood Rock & Roll fantasy for the family camera.

 

So, what became of those two guitars and the amplifier?

In 1990, three friends and I formed a band. We called the band “Merseyside.” Our main goal was “to accurately reproduce the recorded music of The Beatles live, on stage.” (See my post of April 17, 2011, titled Merseyside, Part 1.) After one rehearsal, I realized that neither the Duo-Sonic or the ES-125T was going to work sonically or visually in that musical format.

I needed a Rickenbacker.

Most fortunately, the Guitar Warehouse in Portsmouth, NH, had one: a gorgeous Jetglo (black) Rickenbacker 330. To be able to afford the purchase of the Rick, I had to offer the Gibson and the Fender as trade-ins. So, on December 21, 1990, Rod – the salesman at The Guitar Warehouse – gave me $550.00 for my two guitars towards the purchase of the Rickenbacker.

I used the Polytone with Merseyside for about a year. Needing a bigger, more “Rock & Roll” sound, I traded it in at Daddy’s Junky Music Store in Portsmouth, NH, for a tweed Peavy Classic 50 212 amplifier.

If I could get together with one of these old friends again, I must say that I’d really like to be able to spend some time with the Gibson. There are several vintage ES-125Ts listed for sale on-line, but with prices ranging from $1,195.00 to $3,480.00, a reunion is… well, who knows?

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This Historic Day In Music: Georgia Turner & The Rising Sun Blues (Yes, again.)

I love this story.

In September of 1937, Alan Lomax and his wife, Elizabeth, took a song-collecting trip through the mountains of Kentucky.

Alan had recently been appointed as the Assistant in Charge of the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Alan and Elizabeth believed that the Kentucky mountains harbored a rich, generations-old heritage of Elizabethan song that was quickly disappearing and needed to be documented and preserved. The Library provided the couple with some money; a portable, disc-cutting recording machine; and a large supply of big, black, blank acetate discs for their journey.

On September 15, 1937, Alan and Elizabeth arrived at the Middlesboro, Kentucky home of Tillman Cadle, a coal miner, union activist and lover of Folk music. Through their acquaintance with his wife, Mary Elizabeth Barnicle – a teacher at New York University – the Lomaxs had contacted Tillman in advance, asking for his help in finding local singers who would be willing to share their songs.

16-year-old Georgia Turner – a thin, pretty, blond-haired miner’s daughter – was among the group Tillman had gathered at his home that day.

When it was her turn, Georgia offered two songs for the Lomaxs to record. The first was called “Married Life Blues.” Ed Hunter, Georgia’s neighbor and fellow-teenager, joined in on harmonica. The second song that Georgia sang was her favorite and she sang it alone.

Her song began: “There is a house in New Orleans, they call the Risin’ Sun. It’s been the ruin of many poor girl and me, oh God, for one.”

Listen for yourself.


In 1941, Alan Lomax published a transcription (done by Ruth Crawford Seeger) of Georgia’s performance of “Rising Sun Blues” in a songbook called Our Singing Country. With it he wrote: “The fact that a few of the hot jazzmen who were in the business before the war have a distant singing acquaintance with this song, indicates that it is fairly old as Blues tunes go.”

(The Our Singing Country transcription of “Rising Sun Blues” includes verses from a version of the song by singer/guitarist Bert Martin that the Lomaxs collected on the same trip in Horse Creek, Kentucky on October 9, 1937.)

Alan Lomax also shared the song with his friends in the New York City Folk music community. In 1941, The Almanac Singers – Woody Guthrie, Lee Hayes, Millard Lampell and Pete Seeger – had recorded their version of the song under the title “The House of the Rising Sun.”

The Georgia Turner recording would not see the commercial light of day until 2003. It is the final track of the Rounder Record’s CD: Alan Lomax: Popular Songbook. The track is entitled “The House of the Rising Sun (Rising Sun Blues)” and, for some reason, the first two words, “There is…,” are not there.

In 2007, Ted Anthony published a book called Chasing The Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song. In this fabulous book, Ted wrote about how he felt after the first time he heard Georgia Turner sing “Rising Sun Blues”: “I have just listened to The Moment – the nexus where generations of folk expression and oral tradition flowed in and the seeds of modern recorded, produced, marketed music flowed out. From the little cabin on September 15, 1937, we can chart a direct course into and out of the folk revival, to Bob Dylan and the definitive version recorded by the Animals – and everything beyond, across america and across oceans.”

P.S.: The first time I visited the American Folklife Reading Room at the Library of Congress, curator Todd Harvey showed me an archival storage binder containing the original heavy paper sleeves that once held and protected the original discs that Alan Lomax recorded onto during his 1937 song collecting trip through the mountains of Kentucky.

On the paper sleeves, in Alan Lomax’s own handwriting, were the names of the musicians, titles of the songs and pieces of music contained on each disc. But also, Alan had added  personal observations about an individual performer or performance here and there among the listings.

After the listing for “Married Life Blues” (the song that Georgia sang with harmonica player Ed Hunter before she sang “Rising Sun Blues”), Alan Lomax had written: “She had a bad cold.”

If you’ve got another few minutes, go back and listen to that recording again.

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Another Trip To The Museum

In March of 2014, I published a post here on sixstr stories entitled “A Trip To The Museum.” In that post I wrote about three very old guitars (1628, 1680 & 1725) that were on display in the Musical Instruments Gallery – #103 – of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.

I was fortunate enough this summer to be able to take a return trip to the MFA and I am happy to report that not only are those three very old guitars still on display, but the collection of instruments in Gallery #103 now includes three “new” guitars!

The oldest of the three “new” guitars was built in about 1840, in France, (probably) by the luthier, Antoine Anciaume.

This instrument was built to commemorate the transfer of the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte to Paris from his grave on the island of St. Helena.

The woods used in this guitar are burled amboyna, spruce, maple and ebony. The extensive and elaborate ornamentation was crafted from pearl and iridescent abalone. Among the images and scenes depicted on this presentation instrument are a Legion of Honor star (below the bridge); Napoleon’s tomb on St. Helena (inside the soundhole); the Colonne Vendome in Paris (on the fingerboard); and a statue of Napoleon himself (on the headstock).

This one-of-a-kind work of art is housed in a long glass display case that runs along the left side wall of the gallery. I found the two other “new” guitars displayed on the back wall of Gallery #103.

This sea-foam green National Glenwood 99 electric guitar was the first to catch my eye.

This instrument was produced by the Chicago-based Valco Company in 1964.

The somewhat map-of-the-United-States-shaped body was constructed using a type of plastic consisting of a two-part resin with glass fibers added. This composite material was called “Res-O-Glas.” The two molded, color-infused Res-O-Glas body halves encased a wooden core and were joined around the perimeter at the seam with a strip of white vinyl.

This unique, still-stylish rocker sports a gold-tone Bigsby vibrato tailpiece; a rosewood bridge and fingerboard; and mother-of-pearl fingerboard inlays. I can only begin to guess what the seven (!) white rotary knobs do.

Finally, to the right of the National hung this guitar: a 1954 D’Angelico New Yorker.

 

John D’Angelico (1905-1964) built arch-top guitars by hand in his shop in New York City –  at 40 Kenmare Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side – from 1932 to the early 1960’s.

For the New Yorker on display at the MFA, the arched top of the body was carved from a single piece of spruce and features a shaded “sunburst” finish. The body’s sides and back (also arched) and the neck were made from maple. Ebony was used for the fingerboard and bridge. Mr. D’Angelico was inspired by the Manhattan skyline for the Art Deco geometric designs of the brass tailpiece, plastic pick-guard, and pearl headstock inlay.

Darcy Kuronen – Curator of Musical Instruments at the Museum of Fine Arts – wrote in Dangerous Curves: The Art of the Guitar (2000): “John D’Angelico is regarded by many to have been America’s most gifted guitar maker, and his instruments are among the most admired and highly sought by players and collectors alike.”

I wrote in “A Trip To The Museum” (2014): “The world of guitars is a vast, wonderful and fascinating place!”

The information used in this post came from Dangerous Curves: The Art of the Guitar; the information/display cards for each instrument at the Museum; and the MFA website.

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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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