Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Did You Miss This Week? (Week 381 #425)

Juke Influences!!!

Shoji jumped in with some cool audio research this week on Juke. We had previously tracked a big band tune and a Snooky Pryor song that seem to have influenced the head on the released take, but we wondered about the outro verse, phrasing we hear in both the released as well as the alternate take.

Shoji had these songs to listen to that all seem to have "been in the air" prior to the 1952 recording of Juke and may well have lent inspiration to that hornlike, repetitious outro verse:
  • Detroit Jump by Big Maceo, 1945 - here the verse in question serves as the head and outro of the song.
  • Bassology by Sunnyland Slim, 1954 but likely played prior.
  • 627 Stomp by Pete Johnson, 1940 - this seems to be the song that led to Bassology.
  • Rockin' the House by Memphis Slim from 1947 or 48.
Having listened to all of these, Shoji made the point that Little Walter was not thinking about notes so much as rhythm on this verse.

And clearly Walter is heavily influenced by the horns and uptempo R&B hits around him. Which brings us to Joe's next point - where was Little Walter coming from as he starts to play this way?

Up to this point in time, the Little Walter recordings clearly show him a strong disciple of Sonny Boy Williamson I. Recordings are mostly slow blues and show strong Sonny Boy influences of driving, chordal rhythm playing.

So where does Joe start to first see a hint of Walter's burgeoning jazz/swing/R&B sensibility? Check out his 1947 recording with Jimmy Rogers, Little Store Blues. Here Walter is playing freer with the rhythm, laying into syncopated and anticipated sounds.

Remember that to date, players like Little Walter and Sonny Boy were accustomed to playing in small combos without amplifiers and often without drummers. In a duo setting, the harp needed to play "busy" and add rhythmic elements. Now, having a full band surrounding Walter meant he could leave that driving rhythm work to others and explore a swing feel as a lead instrument. And again, the hand-held mic and amplifier also gave him volume and horn sound he hadn't had before.

Everything was coming together to pave the way for our hit, Juke , and all the jump and swing instrumentals that came after.

Class Notes
  • Registration for private lessons is now open!
News from Richard Sleigh!!!

B1 friend and harmonica customizer Richard Sleigh checked in recently and has a couple updates on the work he's doing to share:

Richard Sleigh's website, HotRodHarmonicas.com, isdevoted to the art and science of hot rodding harmonicas. Richard created this website about a year ago and has been posting articles on building light boxes for checking reeds, new tools and techniques for upgrading harmonicas, and resources for tools, etc. He has posted pictures from some of his subscribers (there is a mailing list if you want to go deep into this world) showing their creations, and updates on other projects.

Richard also created a series of videos on customizing, tuning, and repairing harmonicas which are available as downloads and DVDs through the HotRodHarmonicas website. They feature detailed, close-up shots of Richard customizing harps, breaking down the techniques into step by step instructions.

MB30 and MB30S Harmonicas

One of the projects Richard got involved with earlier this year was helping to build a limited edition of a breakthrough harmonica that is made from Marine Band reed plates - thirty reeds, twenty valves, with all chromatic pitches available as bent notes (it is impossible to overblow on this harmonica). Designed and machined by Brendan Power (UK by way of New Zealand) and Zombor Kovacs, (Budapest, Hungary), this harmonica uses the idea of additional reeds to facilitate bending.

Will Scarlett, Brendan Power, Rick Epping and Richard Sleigh all independently discovered or developed the concept of the "enabler reed" which makes this design possible. Rick Epping's brilliant design for the XB-40 was the first harmonica manufactured that used the idea. About 3 years ago, Suzuki came out with the SUB 30 which was based on Brendan's design.

The MB-30 harmonica project is currently on hold as Brendan and Zombor assess how to improve the design with Richard's input. The feedback they have gotten so far from the folks who bought one or two of the 50 harmonicas they put on the market has been very positive. The price tag (around $400) puts this harmonica at the high end of the custom harmonica market. To check out a video of Richard playing the MB30S, click here

- Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew

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