This Historic Day In Music: Charlie Christian – Take 3

Oklahoma Jazz musician and electric guitarist Charlie Christian turned the nationally renowned Benny Goodman Quintet into a Sextet on August 16, 1939.

Over the course of the next twenty-three months, Charlie’s dazzling contributions to the many live performances, recordings and radio broadcasts by both the Benny Goodman Sextet and the Benny Goodman Orchestra firmly established the electric guitar as a totally viable and exciting voice in Jazz.

Charlie Christian made his first recordings as a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet on October 2, 1939. The other members of the group at that time were:

  • Benny Goodman – Clarinet
  • Fletcher Henderson – Piano
  • Lionel Hampton – Vibraphone
  • Artie Bernstein – Bass
  • Nick Fatool – Drums

“Rose Room” – written by Art Hickman in 1917 – was among the three pieces they recorded that day. It had also been the number Charlie played in his audition for Goodman back in August. (Read my post of August 16, 2010, for the full story of that legendary event.)

Check it out. Charlie’s solo starts at the 1:00 minute mark. 

Music that incredibly good certainly does not get old.

Charles Henry Christian was born on July 29, 1916 in Bonham, Texas. The family had moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma by the time he turned three.

Charlie recorded for the last time on June 11, 1941. In July, he was hospitalized with tuberculosis.

Charlie Christian died in New York City on March 2, 1942.

Scott Yanow wrote in the All Music Guide To Jazz: “Virtually every Jazz guitarist who emerged during 1940-1965 sounded like a relative of Charlie Christian.”

I think every Jazz guitarist since 1939 wishes (or wished) they could sound like Charlie Christian.

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The “Chitarra Battente” – a fourteenstr story

Last month, I had the great pleasure of spending an afternoon at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. It was my first time visiting this magnificent venue.

While exploring the Raphael Room on the museum’s second floor, I came upon this guitar.

Since there are no object labels at the ISGM, I had to consult the museum’s website to find out about this fascinating instrument. From there, I learned much. First and foremost, I learned that it is properly known as a Chitarra Battente or “strumming guitar.”

This chitarra battente was built in the 1720s by Jacopo Mosca Cavelli of Perugia, Italy. It is 36 1/4 inches long and made of wood, “elaborately decorated with inlay of mother-of-pearl, bone, and tortoise shell backed with gold leaf to highlight the translucency of this material.”

Isabella Stewart Gardner purchased it in Rome in (approximately) 1895.

The “rare and precious object” has fourteen thin metal strings, arranged in four triple courses and one double course. The chitarra battente was typical of Southern Italian music in the 1700s and often used by street musicians. Its role was “to add rhythm to songs and dances, such as the tarantella.”

Here are a few close-up photos, starting with the headstock. 

In 2016, this guitar was the beneficiary of a serious restoration effort by the conservators at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The first step in this restoration process was to take the Cavelli to Massachusetts General Hospital for a CT scan which produced 1600 images of the guitar’s interior.

The next step was undertaken at Boston Medical Center where an endoscopy was performed on the guitar. This procedure gave a view of the inside of the instrument where, beneath a thick layer of centuries old dust, a paper label was discovered with luthier Cavelli’s signature and the year 172_ (the last number being obscured).

Here is a video of part of the endoscopy.

From the moment I first saw this instrument, I wondered what it would sound like.

I found my answer in the person of Marcello Vitale.

Mr. Vitale – born in 1969 in Benevento, Italy – is a virtuoso performer, recording artist, composer and teacher of the chitarra battente. (His 2002 album is titled Chitarra Battente.)

Here is a video that was posted on YouTube in 2017 of Mr. Vitale performing on a 10-string chitarra battente. After a long spoken introduction – in Italian – his playing begins at 1:34.

Enjoy.

Finally, the Isabella Stewart Gardner website informed me that there is only one other instrument made by Jacopo Mosca Cavelli known to be in a museum’s collection. That fortunate museum is Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Wait. Really? Oh, yes! 

I wrote about that instrument in my post “A Trip To The Museum” on March 13, 2014.

Here’s the picture! That other chitarra battente by Jacopo Mosca Cavelli is on the left.

 

The world of the guitar is a wide and wonderful place.

P.S.: I love museums.

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The Ballad of “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” (Remastered)

Ballad: A poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas or verse.

Prelude

Many years ago, I bought a songbook: Classic Rock Instrumentals.

I bought this book – published in 1992 by the Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation – because it contained “authentic transcriptions with notes and tablature” (by Fred Sokolow) for two 1960s guitar pieces that I grew up with: “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures and “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris.

I soon discovered that the book also contained a treasure trove of guitar classics from the 1950s that I was not so familiar with. Among them were “Rumble” by Link Wray & His Ray Men, “Raunchy” by Bill Justis & His Orchestra, “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy and “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” by The Virtues.

“Guitar Boogie Shuffle” has become a big favorite of mine and as tends to happen, it lately became the impetus of a fascinating search that led me down the links of a rather long chain of remarkable music and musicians.

Verse 1

Frank Virtue (1923-1994) and his Philadelphia-based band The Virtues recorded “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” in 1958 for Hunt Records. 

Frank played bass guitar for The Virtues and the lead guitarist – whose spectacular guitar part was transcribed in Classic Rock Instrumentals – was fellow-Philadelphian James Bruno.

I first heard “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” by The Virtues on the 1994 Rhino Records CD Rock Instrumental Classics, Volume 1: The Fifties.

Here it is from the Hunt Records single with the songwriter credit given to “A. Smith.”

Give a listen!

In 1959, “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” (b/w “Guitar In Orbit”) reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #27 on the Hot R&B Sides chart.

Verse 2

In 1953, The Esquire Boys – another Philadelphia-based band – recorded a piece they called “Guitar Boogie Shuffle.” (They gave songwriter credit to “Arthur Smith.”)  

The lead guitarist for The Esquire Boys was Danny Cedrone (1920-1954). Danny is now best known as the lead guitarist on “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets.

The bass player for The Esquire Boys was Frank Virtue.

Verse 3

South Carolina-born guitarist Arthur Smith (1921-2014) wrote an instrumental he called “Guitar Boogie.” He recorded it in September 1945 accompanied by Don Reno on rhythm guitar and Roy Lear on bass. Originally released on Super Disc Records, the track was listed as being by: The Rambler Trio featuring Arthur Smith – Guitar. In October 1948, “Guitar Boogie” was re-released by MGM Records, but now credited to: Arthur (Guitar Boogie) Smith and His Cracker-Jacks.

In 1949, “Guitar Boogie” spent seven weeks on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart (peaking at #8) and then crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it reached #25.

In his 2013 book, Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Larry Birnbaum quotes Arthur Smith in recalling the inspiration for “Guitar Boogie”: “I guess I picked that up from Tommy Dorsey’s ‘Boogie Woogie,’ ’cause I didn’t listen to country or blues, I listened to big band in those days.”

Verse 4

Trombonist Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) & his Orchestra recorded “Boogie Woogie” on September 16, 1938 in New York, New York for Victor Records. This arrangement of Clarence Smith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” – created by Deane Kincaide – put the Dorsey Orchestra on the charts in 1938, 1944 and 1945.

Verse 5

LeMoise Roosevelt Graves (1909-1962) and his brother Uaroy (1912-1959) came from Rose Hill, Mississippi. On September 20, 1929, in Richmond, Indiana, they recorded a piece for Paramount Records called “Guitar Boogie.” On the track, Roosevelt plays guitar, Uaroy plays tambourine and they are joined by Will Ezell on piano and Baby Jay (or James) on cornet.

“Guitar Boogie” was released by Paramount as being by Blind Roosevelt Graves & Brother.

Many years later, Ken Romanowski of Document Records wrote that this “Guitar Boogie” was essentially “a slower, countrified version of ‘Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.'”

Verse 6

“Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” was the first recording to have the term “Boogie Woogie” in the title and one of the first recordings of this style of piano music to be a hit.

Alabama-born pianist and composer Clarence Smith (1904-1929) recorded it under the name “Pine Top” Smith on December 29, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois for Vocalion Records.

Verse 7

Chicago pianist Jimmy Blythe (1901-1931) composed and recorded a piece he called “Chicago Stomp” in 1924 for Paramount Records. “Chicago Stomp” is generally considered to be the first example of the “Boogie Woogie” style of piano playing on record.

Verse 8

West African words such as the Hausa “buga” and Mandingo “bug,” both of which mean “to beat” as in “to beat a drum,” may represent the linguistic roots of the word “boogie,” though the words “bogy,” “booger,” and possibly “boogie” have long been common in English slang.

From: Deep Blues (1981) by Robert Palmer.

Boogie Woogie: Originally, a special type of piano blues… characterized by an ostinato bass figure, usually sharply rhythmic, against which the right hand rhapsodizes freely, the sections usually comprising twelve measures and the treatment often being contrapuntal.

From: Harvard Dictionary of Music (1969) by Willi Apel

Postlude

So, there you have it! I hope you enjoyed that little (?) journey as much as I did.

You know my motto: “Good music doesn’t get old.” 

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This Historic Day In Music: Bob Dylan

Somewhere, Bob Dylan is celebrating his 80th birthday today.

Bob Dylan’s career as a musician, songwriter, performer and recording artist has spanned a fraction over 60 years. At some point in the midst of his immense success, I wonder if Dylan has ever pondered what turns his life would have taken if that folk singer thing hadn’t worked out all those years ago.

If, for instance, John Hammond, Sr. – producer and talent scout for Columbia Records – had not seen something he liked when the two first met in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the Fall of 1961.

I’ve asked myself lately what would life have been like for me if Bob Dylan had not become …Bob Dylan.

What if there had been no albums…?

No Greatest Hits (vol.1, 1967)

(With that fabulous Milton Glaser poster!)

John Wesley Harding (1968)

Nashville Skyline (1969)

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971)

No concerts…

Bob Dylan & The Band – January 14, 1974 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Rolling Thunder Revue – November 9, 1975 at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym in Durham, New Hampshire.

The Spring Tour of Canada & USA – April 11, 1997 at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center in Durham, New Hampshire.

No songs…

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

Goodbye is too good a word, babe, so I’ll just say “Fare thee well”

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand…

Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

Cloud so swift, the rain won’t lift. Gate won’t close, the railing’s froze…

How does it feel?

Kick your shoes off, do not fear. Bring that bottle over here…

I offered her my hand, she took me by the arm…

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief…

May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung…

I see my light come shining from the west unto the east. Any day now…

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free…

Ah, the songs. With lyrics like nobody else.

Can’t imagine life without Bob Dylan’s songs.

Can you?

Probably, neither can he.

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan.

May your songs always be sung.

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“Hints Taken (8+4)”

The first “hint” came to me in a dream.

Sometime in the wee hours of Thursday, March 5, 2021, I had a dream in which I was playing the guitar; slide guitar, actually.

When I awoke, the tune I’d been playing was still in my head. “Nice,” I thought. But work beckoned.

The next morning, the same tune stirred me awake before my alarm did. Hint hint.

“Work can wait.”

I picked up my trusty Tele, found the notes on the fingerboard and captured a quick recording on my phone.

Untitled – 3/5/2021

The following Friday – March 12 – I decided that my new (now harmonized) 8-bar composition needed a “B section.” Inspiration struck just as I was heading to bed and an initial 4-bar creation came to somewhat drowsy life on my guitar.

Many more stolen moments of crafting, refining and practicing later, my new Acoustic Guitar Instrumental got a title and a proper recording with my D28.

So, without further ado, let me introduce to you…

“Hints Taken (8+4)”

“Hints Taken (8+4)”

I hope you enjoyed that.

Finally, for all of you guitar players out there, here’s a transcription.

P.S.: Happy 11th Birthday, sixstrstories!

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Wrestling With The Angel, Chapter 13

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this category, so I probably should let you know: the purpose of my Wrestling With The Angel series 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 “The Source,” my archived post of November 4, 2011. 

Songs are like old friends.

You know you’ve got a good one when it puts a smile on your face even when you can’t remember how long it’s been since the last time the two of you got together.

“Cold Dog Soup” by Guy Clark is one of those songs.

I’ve been listening – and smiling – to Guy Clark quite a bit lately.

I was inspired to do so after reading the news about and watching the trailer for “Without Getting Killed or Caught,” the documentary film by Tamara Saviano & Paul Whitfield about Guy, Susanna Clark and Townes Van Zandt. Originally scheduled to debut at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, the movie premiered this week – March 16-20 – at the 2021 SXSW event.

The Guy Clark album I listened to first after reading the news about the film was Boats To Build. That 1992 collection from the American Explorer series on Asylum Records features many outstanding, smile-inducing songs including “Baton Rouge,” “Ramblin’ Jack & Mahan,” “Must Be My Baby” and the title track.

Today however, my hand plucked Cold Dog Soup from the Guy Clark section of my CD rack.

This 1999 album on the Sugar Hill label starts off with the title track and… well, I never did make it to Track #2. The name-dropping, image-rich spoken verses and the harmony-soaked anthemic chorus of this definitely devastatingly great song demanded more than one listen.

And the more I hit “replay,” the more I smiled.

“Cold Dog Soup” – the song – was written by Guy Clark & Mark D. Sanders.

The recording features: Guy on lead vocal & acoustic guitar; Verlon Thompson: harmony vocal & acoustic guitar; and Darrell Scott: harmony vocal & mandolin.

Give a listen.

“Now there’s a pride of lions to draw to.”

Cold Dog Soup – the album – was recorded by Chris Latham at EMI Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. Guy, Verlon, Darrell and Chris shared the production duties. The release date was October 26, 1999.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

We met on Monday, February 17, 1975.

We were students at the University of New Hampshire and our paths crossed that day in the office of The Granite, the school yearbook.

I was there to have my senior picture taken and you were working at the front desk, checking people in for their appointments.

Our first official date was on Tuesday, February 25.

We celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary this past August.

This is the song that the band played at our wedding reception for our “first dance.”

As true now as it was then.

Happy Valentine’s Day (#46) to you, my one and only.

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This Historic Day In Music: February 9, 1961 & 1964

On Thursday, February 9, 1961, The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe – performed for the first time at The Cavern Club in Liverpool, England.

Here’s a photo of the Fab Five taken on August 17, 1960, at the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany. (L-R: John, George, Pete, Paul & Stuart)

The Cavern Club was located in the cellar – 18 steps down from street level – of a 7-story former fruit and vegetable warehouse at 10 Matthew Street in the Liverpool city center. The claustrophobic venue had bare brick walls and arches, no ventilation, tables or carpets and a small, two-foot-high stage that was dimly illuminated by a minimal set of 60-watt white light bulbs.

The Beatles’ gig that day at The Cavern was a lunchtime session, running from 12:00-2:00 pm. Admission to the show was one sterling and the band was paid 5 pounds. But since these lunchtime sessions had only been going on for a few months and the membership of the club drew from parts of Liverpool where The Beatles hadn’t been yet, The Cavern was half empty on that Thursday afternoon.

On Sunday, February 9, 1964, The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – performed for the first time in America.

They played at CBS Television’s Studio 50. The studio was located in a 13-story building – initially called The Hammerstein Theatre and built in the 1920’s – at 1697 Broadway, Manhattan, New York, New York.

Studio 50 was home to The Ed Sullivan Show; an immensely popular, hour-long variety program that was broadcast live on CBS every Sunday evening from 8:00-9:00 pm.

The Beatles’ first performed in the afternoon of February 9, playing three songs for an enthusiastic studio audience of 728 people. This appearance was taped for the Sunday, February 23 broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show.

The Beatles’ second performance on February 9 was for The Ed Sullivan Show’s live nationally broadcast program, starting at 8:00 pm. That performance – three songs at the beginning of the show and two songs in the second half – was seen by a different studio audience and a television audience estimated to number 73,000,000 people in 23,240,000 homes across America.

I was one of those 73,000,000.

Here’s a photo of the band playing “I Saw Her Standing There” from the second part of the Sunday evening performance.

CBS Television received 50,000 requests for tickets to the February 9 shows.

The Beatles were paid $10,000.00 plus travel expenses for these two and one other appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The other appearance was a live performance on Sunday, February 16 from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.

February 9, 1961 – February 9, 1964. What a different three years can make!

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The Voices of January

All of these musicians – each one especially revered for her/his unique and extraordinary voice – were born in January.

Elizabeth Cotten – January 5

Elvis Presley – January 8

Joan Baez – January 9

Janis Jopin – January 19

Huddie Ledbetter – January 20 or 23

Richie Havens – January 21

Sam Cooke – January 22

Etta James – January 25

As you read those names, did you hear them sing?

I did.

However memorable and unquestionably worthy those musicians are, today I wanted to celebrate two voices from this past January. Two voices that made my spirits soar and left me as awestruck as any I’ve ever heard.

On the morning of Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, poet and activist Amanda Gorman took her seat on the Inaugural Platform on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building, looking out across the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Amanda was the day’s Inaugural Poet, chosen at the recommendation of Dr. Jill Biden. At 22 years old, she was the youngest Inaugural Poet in U.S. history.

Holding the large black binder containing the manuscript of her poem on her lap, Amanda watched as Kamala Devi Harris was sworn in as Vice President and then Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. was sworn in as President – #46 – of the United States of America.

When finally the time arrived – after President Biden delivered his Inaugural Address and Garth Brooks sang “Amazing Grace” – Amanda Gorman took her place at the podium. At 12:18 pm ET, she began reciting her Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

That evening, 71-year-old singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen waited at the western end of the National Mall, lightly strumming his well-worn Takamine six-string acoustic guitar. He stood before a microphone, in an oval ring of white light on the upper platform before the last row of steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial.

Bruce was the opening act of “Celebrating America,” the primetime television special hosted by actor Tom Hanks that would “represent the rich diversity and extensive talent America offers” and cap-off the festivities of the Biden-Harris Inauguration Day.

At 8:30 pm ET, Bruce got his cue, welcomed his audience and introduced his 1998 song “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

Try as I might, I simply do not have the words to adequately describe how I feel about those two performances.

(I can tell you that having a new President and Vice-President feels absolutely FANTASTIC!)

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch each performance as it happened: Amanda Gorman on my iPad during my lunch break at work and Bruce Springsteen on my TV at home, standing in the living room with my arms around my wife.

I’ve watched them again online several times over the days since. I found and read the text of “The Hill We Climb” and I figured out how to play and sing “Land of Hope and Dreams” just the way Bruce did that night.

(JTLYK: Bruce’s guitar is in an open-G major tuning, but with the sixth string dropped down to C. It is capoed at the second fret thus sounding in Key of A major.)

I hope you took the time to watch and listen to these extraordinary Voices of January.

I know that I will, many times again.

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This Historic Day In Music: “Mr. Tambourine Man”

The first time Bob Dylan recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man” was on June 6, 1964.

It was one of fourteen songs he recorded that day at Columbia Records’ Studio A in New York City. Eleven of those songs – “Mr. Tambourine Man” not included – would become Dylan’s fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan.

Another Side of Bob Dylan was released by Columbia Records on August 8, 1964.

Dylan returned to Studio A on January 13, 1965 to begin recording songs for his next Columbia LP.

These sessions continued into the next two days, producing some of Dylan’s earliest recordings where he is accompanied by a band including electric guitars and drums.

Among those now-classic tracks were: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.”

On January 15, 1965, Dylan cut four “acoustic” songs for the new album.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” was the third.

On this definitive recording, Dylan sings and plays acoustic guitar (in dropped-D tuning and capoed at the third fret) and harmonica. Guitarist Bruce Langhorne provides the sparkling high-note accompaniment.

Listen.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” was released on March 22, 1965, as the first song on the second side of Bob Dylan’s fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written.

I have listened to it, played it, performed it and taught it a countless number of times and I will continue to do so for as long as I am able.

Hmm… Where’s my guitar?

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