Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dr Mog Bop Lecture #4567: The bawling blues swamp guitar

There is a style of electric blues guitar. It is one of chords more than stinging single notes. It’s about trembling tremolo, and monotonous vibrato, of really seriously bent major-and-minor blues notes, that really conjure an evocative mood. Mood is a big thing for me.

John Fog-arty did a riff on the tremolo style – a lot of people call it bawling guitar - that came to stand for a sort of swamp sound. Where did it come from? Fog-arty worked in the warehouse of Arhoolie records, I believe. And had access to Roebucks Staples records , and some others, who were creating this music within a music, and Fog-arty was taken by it, and took it out in those days on the Fillmore rock circuit. It was described as a swamp thing.

This style, chord-heavy, is out of the margins of the most classic blues guitar, but quite significant. None was greater on the bawling blues guitar sound than Roebuck Staples, center, leader and progenitor of the Staples Singers. He early on got an electric guitar, and applied it to – of all things- gospel music. So there was a religious quality to this stuff. Staples came from the center circle of Delta Blues, Dockery’s Plantation, and had heard no less than Charlie Patton, so his approach to gospel, was informed by a dervish revelator. As far as I know Charlie Patton never went electric.

So our pocket history of bawling blues guitar ends and begins with Pops Staples doing, first This May Be the Last Time and last Uncloudy Day. In an interview I found he marked the latter as a personal favorite. The interview has some funny parts.

What were you doing with the guitar to give it that sound? 

Nothin’. I was just playin’. 

Did you have a reverb or a tremolo? 

It was a tremolo on it, but they don’t make the tremolos like they did.

It’s different things. 

{He notes he often played a Gibson Les Paul.}

Besides Pops, we got I Promise To Wait My Love by Martha and the Vandellas, on the Gordy label as I remember, and Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin. None other than Joe South on the guitar on that. Then we have Candi Staton again this week on Im Just a Prisoner Of Your Good Lovin and Born on the Bayou by the John Fog-arty and his Creedence Clearwaters. Get out the Kleenex while these guitars roughly weep!

posted Jack Dr Bop Mog Vaughan 

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