I needed a break from higher thought, so I picked up a book on one of my favorite subjects: the Blues. The History of the Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People from Charlie patton to Robert Cray seemed perfect for a light diversion from the rapture of the Singularity. What is more primal, more raw, more carnal, more earthy, less technological than the Blues? Here’s a music that can be played with old-fashioned household cleaning aids: jugs, washboads, washtubs, and homemade instruments: combs in wax paper, sticks on coffe cans, spoons on thighs. Even a human voice accompanied by fists thumping a table top will work. Maybe. And the subject matter is far from complicated. On the surface anyway. We’re not protesting here, or solving world peace. We’re just lusting after someone we’re not supposed to be lusting after. At any rate, imagine my dismay when I read, “The history of the blues, in one sense, is the history of folk art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” In other words, there would be no Blues if there were no recordings. Not sure if we can ever test that theory, but it certainly is true that I wouldn’t ever known about it. Not now, not these days with all the technological chatter we have to filter our lives through.
Worse than that, though, I pulled out an old Roots of Robert Johnson LP I’ve had since the last days of LPs and listened to a couple of songs mentioned in the book. Reading the liner notes pretty much killed me. Here’s a sample discussing Son House playing My Black Mama. “House’s rendition is a one chord tune played in “Spanish” (open G) tuning. Its eleven bars are comprised of a four bar vocal phrase followed by two 3 1/2 bar phrases, each consisting of nine beat vocal lines paired with a five beat riff. On the third beat of the first vocal phrase House launches an eccentric guitar measure consisting of three muted open string strums followed by two eighth note bass fills. The two concluding beats of the phrase are gauchely fleshed out by repeat strums. House further betrays his amateurism by repeating the subdominant bass notes of the second vocal phrase for the concluding one which should have used dominants.”
That silly Son House using those subdominants like that. If only he hadn’t been so amateurish. What with our modern sophistication, just think of what we could do now with those 3 1/2 bar phrases and nine beat vocal lines over a five beat riff.
At any rate listen to the song. See what you think. Don’t know about you, but I hear the regular I-IV-V blues progression so I have no idea what he’s talking about it being “a one chord tune.”