Archive for May, 2019

Dave Van Ronk’s “Green Green Rocky Road”

Dave Van Ronk

In the mid 1950s, several intellectuals congregated to create their art in New York City’s Greenwich Village : its colleges, universities, book stores and coffee shops. The first were the storytellers, the beat poets who shaped their words to the cadence and rhythms of jazz, often reciting their poetry to the sound of an upright bass or a drum kit. The musicians followed and the instrument of choice was the acoustic guitar, usually fingerpicked. From this cultural hub, what came to be known as the folk revival spread across the United States.

The Reverend Gary Davis (and dancer)

I learned about the folk revival from Canadian television. Both CTV and CBC aired “Let’s Sing Out”, filmed on location from a different Canadian University each week. Several prominent artists were featured, including Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell, the pride of Saskatchewan. The American show “Hootenanny”, plagued by political differences between the producers and artists, only lasted two years but was rebroadcast on CBC. It was through “Hootenanny” that I learned about guitarists like Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966), the Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972) and Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002). Van Ronk was a pupil of the Reverend Gary Davis, who saw the guitar as a piano worn around the neck. Van Ronk took this pianistic approach and added the harmonic sophistications of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. He also introduced the folk world to the complex harmonies of Kurt Weill.

Scott Joplin

I remember Van Ronk playing Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and I couldn’t believe that such sophisticated piano music could be played on a guitar. I rushed out and eventually found a few guitar transcription books on the music of Scott Joplin (1868-1917). I still have these books to this day. Van Ronk was also a mentor to many artists who came to Greenwich Village from far and wide, most notably Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

“Green Green Rocky Road” comes from the beat poet Bob Kaufman, who simply gave it to Van Ronk, who in turn completed it with the help of fellow folk musician Len Chandler. The song quickly became a fan favourite and Van Ronk’s signature piece for his entire career.

Bob Kaufman

Bob (Robert Garnell) Kaufman (1925-1986) once famously said “I want to be anonymous. My ambition is to be completely forgotten.” I hope he will forgive me for disregarding his wishes but he is too important an artist to forget. A resident of San Francisco, Bob Kaufman founded and edited Beatitude, a magazine dedicated to poetry and the source of the word “beatnik”, which Kaufman coined. He usually didn’t write down his poems, and much of his published work survives by way of his wife Eileen, who wrote his poems down as he conceived them. He named one of his poetry books “Cranial Guitar”, a sublime concept. Kaufman often incurred the wrath of the San Francisco police simply for reciting his poetry in public. In 1959 alone, at the height of the beatnik era, he was arrested 39 times by the San Francisco police on disorderly charges (i.e., reading poetry in public).

In 1961, Kaufman was nominated for England’s Guinness Poetry Award, which was eventually won by T.S. Eliot. In 1963, he was arrested for walking on the grass of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. He was incarcerated on Rikers Island, then sent as a “behavioral problem” to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital where he underwent electro-shock treatments that greatly affected his already bleak outlook on society. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Kaufman, a Buddhist, took a vow of silence which lasted 10 years.

Even though Bob Kaufman’s life was filled with a great deal of suffering, many will remember him for his wonderful idea that became the musical butterfly we know as “Green Green Rocky Road.”

 

Richard Séguin – voice and acoustic guitar

 

Green Green Rocky Road

posted by R.A.Seguin in Non classé and have No Comments

Little Walter’s “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights”

Little Walter

When Little Walter (Marion Walter Jacobs, 1930-1968) arrived in Chicago in 1945, he was already a bandleader and a seasoned veteran of the so-called “Chitlin Circuit”, a collection of performance venues throughout the eastern, southern, and upper midwest that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for Afro-American musicians and other entertainers during the era of racial segregation in the Untited States. Chitlins are the fried small intestins of hogs, a southern delicacy.

In 1952, just as Little Walter was joining Muddy Waters’s band, the first take at his debut recording session was the instrumental “Juke”, the biggest hit to this date for any artist on Chess Records and its affiliated labels and one of the biggest national R&B hits of 1952, securing Walter’s position on the Chess artist roster for the next decade. Besides recording with Muddy Waters, Little Walter recorded a string of commercially successful songs under his own name, including 14 top ten hits on the R&B charts between 1952- and 1958.

Little Walter’s groundbreaking technique of amplifying the harmonica changed the sound of the instrument so much that it came to be known as a blues harp, or simply a harp. At Chess, Little Walter could use the talents of the most gifted musicians and songwriters in the country. In 1957, he recorded “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)”, another top ten hit which featured such stars as Willie Dixon on bass, Luther Tucker and Robert Lockwood Jr. on electric guitars and Fred Below on drums. Apart from Little Walter’s strong vocal and harp playing, the song showcases guitar playing which ventures into chords that are typically heard in jazz but definitely not in blues. In that more misogynistic era, the lyrics of the song didn’t raise many eyebrows but they wouldn’t pass so easily today.

“Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)” was written by Stan Lewis (1927-2018), one of the many great entrepreneurs who work in the sidelines of the music industry. Lewis set up Stan’s Record Shop in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1948, a tremendous success story whose early customers included the young Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan. As a producer, Stan Lewis is responsible for “Reconsider Baby”, a huge 1954 hit for Lowell Fulson (1921-1999) and for one of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs of all time, “Susie Q”, recorded in 1957 by Dale Hawkins (1936-2010), an employee of Stan’s Record Shop and a cousin of Ronnie Hawkins. A tribute to Stan Lewis’ daughter Susan, “Susie Q” features the great James Burton on guitar, one of the best players of all time.

To read more about Little Walter’s short and difficult life and to listen to our trio play another of his greatest hits, click on this link : « My Babe.»

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)

posted by R.A.Seguin in Non classé and have No Comments