Archive for June, 2018

Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain”

Bob Dylan

In 1966, Bob Dylan was involved in a serous motorcycle accident that temporarily stopped his career. Much changed as he recuperated and the recordings he released afterwards were generally acoustic and moderately interesting at best. It was a difficult period – as he said at the time, “Everything was wrong, the world was absurd.” Then, in 1975, Dylan released “Blood on the Tracks”, one of the most important albums of his career. “Buckets of Rain”, which I play here, is a Piedmont Style fingerpicking country blues that closes out the album. This style, based on ragtime piano music, got its name from the Piedmont Plateau on the east coast of the US, where many of the guitarist who played this style originated.

Mississippi John Hurt

I play this Dylan song in the style of Mississippi John Hurt. In 1965 and 1966, I saw Mississippi John play on a couple of the folk revival TV shows that were popular at that time and I immediately knew that, more than anything else in the world, I wanted to play like him. Much later, I found out that Mississippi John (1892-1966) was a self-taught guitarist, like I am. He was a sharecropper from Avalon, Mississippi who was recorded in 1928 by Okeh Records but the recordings never found an audience. He returned to being a farmer in Avalon for almost forty years. In 1964, he was recorded by the Library of Congress and these recordings were a huge success with our generation and Mississippi John became a crowd favourite on the college and coffee house circuits. Unfortunately he died before he got the chance to fully enjoy his late popularity. His influence in contemporary music is vast and his songs have been recorded by artists like Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, Bruce Cockburn, Gillian Welch and Taj Mahal, among others.

Growing up in Rockland, it was extremely difficult for me to learn Mississippi John’s finger-picking style, mostly because I had no money so I didn’t have a guitar of my own! I played on bad, borrowed instruments. There was of course no internet or any music shops in Rockland so I had to save and buy Mississippi John’s records in Ottawa. I also ordered a few finger-picking music books by mail, my favourites being the ones published by guitarist Stephan Grossman in New York, who had an enormous sphere of influence on thousands of guitarists. I bought my first guitar when I started working at the age of 19. Eventually, I worked at it and taught myself to play in a style similar to John Hurt’s – mine is more percussive. My early instrumental compositions recorded in the 70s were all based on this finger-picking style. To this day, my proudest achievement is learning how to finger-pick like Mississippi John Hurt, one of my biggest heroes.

Richard Séguin – voice, acousric guitars, electric bass

Buckets of Rain

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Howlin’ Wolf’s “Forty-Four”

Roosevelt Sykes

“Forty-Four” is a blues standard whose origins have been traced back to early 20th century Louisiana. In its earliest forms, the piece was an instrumental piano blues sometimes referred to as “The Forty-Fours.” Little Brother Montgomery, who is usually credited with the development of the piece, taught it to a blues pianist called Lee Green, who taught it to Roosevelt Sykes. It was Roosevelt Sykes who provided the lyrics and first recorded the song in 1929. It was his first release and the song became his signature piece. Through numerous adaptations and recordings over the years, ”Forty Four” has remained a vibrant part of the blues lexicon to this day.

In 1954, when Howlin’ Wolf recorded his version of “Forty Four”, the song took on a whole new feel. Backing Wolf, who sang and played harmonica, were Hubert Sumlin and Jody Williams on electric guitars, Otis Spann on piano, Willie Dixon on upright bass, and Earl Phillips on drums. Together they transformed “Forty Four” into a driving Chicago blues with prominent agressive guitar lines. However, it is Earl Phillips’ performance that drives the song, with an insistent martial shuffle on the snare drum and a bass drum that slams down like a hammer. Given Howlin’ Wolf’s gruff and overpowering vocal, the overall effect was described by one critic at that time as “menacing.”

Howlin’ Wolf and his band

When I was 21 years old, my brother bought a Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder and I recorded some of my favourite songs with three other musician friends in the basement of our home. I was more and more into the blues at that age and one of the songs we recorded was ”Forty-Four.” Amazingly, those recordings still exist and I can hear the slightly altered Hubert Sumlin guitar part that I had come up with for that recording. I kept this altered guitar part on our recording. Lowell George (1945-1979) introduced a slide guitar on Little Feat’s version of “Forty Four”, which I’ve also used here.

Wolf only sang two verses in his landmark recording and I’ve added two more. The third verse is taken from Roosevelt Syke’s 1929 recording of “Forty Four.” The last verse is taken from Wolf’s great trance blues classic, “I Asked For Water.”

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, slide guitar, MIDI guitar (piano)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums, buffalo drum

Forty-Four

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