(Sorry the newsletter is out late this week. The YMM editor missed Monday! And Tuesday, and ...Thanks to Al Nemcek for writing this up.)
Our next study song is Call It Stormy Monday, a slow 12-bar blues song with a foot planted in jazz, written by guitarist T-Bone Walker and first recorded in 1947. We listened to the orginal version and a version on the album T-Bone Blues, the latter also noteworthy for including two songs featuring Junior Wells on Harp and Jimmy Rogers: Papa Ain’t Salty and Why Not, the latter discussed in conjunction with our study of Walkin’ By Myself.
The original song, in the key of G, has the following chord structure:
I / IV / I / I or G7 / C7 / G7 / G7
IV / IV / I / I C7 / C7 / G7 / G7
ii / V / I / I Am7 / D7 / G7 / G7
Bobby “Blue” Bland subsequently recorded another famous version of the song in 1962. Wayne Bennett, the guitarist, plays a chord change in bars 7 and 8 that is now known as the “Stormy Monday change”. Although originally recorded in A flat, the chord structure is shown below for comparison as it would appear in the key of G (note that there are also changes in bars 10-12):
I / IV / I / I
IV / IV / I•ii / iii•biii
ii / bV•V / I•IV / I•V
G7 / C7 / G7 / G7
C7 / C7 / G•Am /Bm•Bbm
Am7 / Eb7•D7 / G7•C7 / G•D7
Call It Stormy Monday has been recorded many times by many different artists, including Albert King and the Allman Brothers Band. Versions with harmonica are uncommon, as the song tends to be a little harp unfriendly. We listened to a version by Muddy Waters and James Cotton on Live at Mr. Kelly’s in which bars 9 and 10 are a typical V/IV chord change, as well as a version by Sonny Boy Williamson II on the King Biscuit Time album. You can also apparently find versions by James Cotton and Junior Wells without harmonica.
Toward the end of the class Shoji played Call It Stormy Monday against both a straight slow tempo bassline as well as a shuffle. The song still works as a shuffle but is not as easy to play over.
Joe asked what it is that makes this song a hit. Great lyrics (including the line “the eagle flies on Friday” which refers to getting paid)?, The laid back guitar? The vocals? The distinctive chord changes? We didn’t come up with a sure answer; nevertheless the song remains popular and has become common in the repertoires of many genres.
Based on our discussion from last week, several of the students this week “opened the hood” prior to their performance in class, discussing form, position, any unusual aspects of the song itself or its history.
Celtic Harmonica Concert - Tonight!!!
Celtic Harmonica Concert, Thursday April 30, 7:30 PM.
Corrib Irish Pub 5522 N. Elston. No cover. Featured are James Conway, Harry Horan, The Boils, and Donald Black (a harmonica legend, per Joe, whose specialty is the Scottish tremolo harmonica; this harmonica has a niche in Scotland, Finland, French Canada, and amongst the Amish).
- Joe's back! And this was the first night of the new session. Register now if you haven't already.
A week ago Shoji led a class discussion on improvising and shortly after, this essay about the mindset of an improviser from our recent class guest, Ronnie Shellist landed in our inbox and he has graciously allowed us to run it here for YMM readers:
"Letting go of fear, and playing what you feel is easier than you think. The mental roadblocks that we put in front of ourselves can sometimes be overwhelming, and bring one's playing to a standstill. I remember the first few times that I played in front of other people how terrified I was. Luckily for me, I pushed through the fear only to find that there was nothing to fear, but fear itself. Yes, FDR was right. My biggest critic turned out to be me. Once I gave myself permission to express myself without the internal criticism, my musicality, and confidence exploded.
My advice to those who feel stuck in this perpetual circle of self-doubt, judgement, and fear is to remind yourself of why you play this funky little instrument in the first place. For me, it is the indescribable feeling of joy that I get when I play it, and knowing that I have the opportunity to share that feeling with others. Every time I pick up a harmonica, I get that feeling in my gut. I know that when I put it to my lips, and begin playing that there is a bit of magic about to happen. It's the same feeling I had when I first witnessed someone else play the harmonica live for the first time. I had no idea that the instrument was capable of such a range of sounds, and emotional intensity. I remember standing there in a transe as I listened, and absorbed the moment. Everything else faded away into the background. I was one with the sound coming out of those 10 holes, and I had to have more.
Even when nobody is around, or listening, the feeling is there. I try to focus solely on this emotional quality, and tone when I play. I make sure that every single sound I make has purpose. It is my belief that this mental focus is what helps guide me throghout a solo. Sure, I have riffs, ideas, patterns that I have practiced etc. going on while playing, but my brain is dead focused on the sound, and feeling that I'm creating in each moment. This eleviates me of any pressure of "what to play". I always tell students that it doesn't matter what you play, it's how ya play it.
It is important to not continually play throughout a solo. The rest within, or between your musical ideas is crucial as it carves out the message you're delivering. When I'm on stage, but not playing, I'm actively listening/feeling what's happening around me. I'm noticing the nuances of the dynamics going on so I can respond naturally without thought. Give yourself a break sometimes, and let a phrase, or riff just be after you've played it. Don't always follow it up with another riff immediately. This will also allow you to become more aware of how your playing relates to the music as a whole so you can determine what you want to say next.
The end result is pure freedom. When I improvise it feels like I'm always creating a new piece of artwork on an empty canvas. Mistakes, or the idea of making a mistake, never enters my mind because I don't believe in them. Mistakes are simply opportunities to understanding a deeper level of music. Just because a note seems out of place to you, it may make total sense to another person. Don't let an unintentional note trip you up! It just may be the key to unlocking some new ideas, or directions in your playing.
Believe in yourself, your sound, your emotional connection, and let it shine! Over time you'll develop the ability to relax more and more, allowing you to accurately express the feelings you have inside with more control, and dynamic range. Let it happen organically. You can't rush this process so you might as well have fun along the way."
- Grant Kessler and Al Nemcek, B1 Blues Crew