Tag Archives: Dickey Betts

The Evolution of the Statesboro Blues

11 Apr

List five of the most famous blues songs you can think of. Was “Statesboro Blues” on your list? It is a mainstay on most lists not only because of its excellence as a song, but also because of its proliferation – i.e. the song was re-recorded by the right people. Even if “Statesboro Blues” didn’t find a spot on your list, it is certainly a staple of blues history and a widely recognized song today. You hear the opening few notes of the riff and hear “Wake up Mama, turn your lamp down low” and you just know you are traveling to Georgia to experience the Statesboro blues. But with whom are you traveling with. The original creator of the famous blues piece, the first modernizer, or the performers with arguably the best version of the song? I think we are in need of a Blues Evolution.

By the way, before I continue, if you are interested in the blues and want to learn more about famous originators check out the list that John Phillips is compiling over at the Real Canadian Music Blog. His Let’s Explore the Blues section offers a deep dive into pre-rock blues (http://therealcanadianmusicblog.wordpress.com/category/blues/)

The best way to explore the evolution of “Statesboro Blues” is to work backwards. Instead of starting in 1928, let’s start 43 years later at the Fillmore East in March of 1971. The Allman Brothers recorded a version of blues piece for their live album At Fillmore East, which is one of the most extraordinary live albums ever released. The song is now a staple during Allman Brothers’ concerts. Why did the song succeed initially? One name. Duane Allman. His slide work on “Statesboro Blues” is some of the greatest ever done by any guitarist ever. It is spine-tingling, goose-bump inducing, holy sh*t how is he making that sound, good. You can listen to it over and over again, transcribe it and play it until your fingers are blue and pulsating, NO ONE will ever play the slide guitar and this song like Duane Allman. Let’s not forget Dickey Betts who also creates a magical tone with his guitar. The riff is heavenly, the blues solo scary good, and the vocals fresh and original. The Allman Brothers makes the song theirs, which is partly why everyone thinks it is their song!

But it’s not. And it is not Taj Mahal’s either, who recorded a modernized version of the song for his eponymous debut album in 1968. The version, slower than the Allman Brothers piece, clearly influenced the Brothers. Taj Mahal’s voice is the strength of his version. I give him a whole lot of credit for turning this song into a late 60s blues piece, but he knocks the piece out with his chops. Listen here:

Will the real Statesboro Bluesman please stand up? Name is Willie McTell, Blind Willie Mctell. McTell was an early 20th century blues singer/songwriter/guitarist, with tremendous skill on the 12-string guitar – fingerstyle and slide (Allman inspiration of course). His music is more Eastern than Delta Blues. It is more ragtimey and his voice is not as granular as the deep south Delta blues performers like Big Joe Williams and Charley Patton.

The original lyric is different from the Taj Mahal and Allman Brothers versions of the song. The covers splice together parts of McTell’s original lyric, a narrative about some family struck with the Statesboro, Georgia blues. One of the most influential portions of the song is McTell’s fast-paced verse progression later in the song which is a bit atypical and certainly much appreciated. Anybody out there have the “Statesboro Blues?”

Tangled Up in Blue: The Bands

8 Sep

The Beatles were the most popular rock band throughout the 60s, and many believed their reign of supreme rock band could not be challenged. Well, I’m going to give you two bands that definitely could put up a legitimate fight.

Led Zeppelin wasn’t just a band of musicians, but a conduit to the dark side.  They didn’t have to tune down to ungodly low notes or play loud or fast for their music to be bad ass because they weren’t mere mortals.  Jimmy Page wasn’t a guitar god, Robert Plant didn’t sing like an angel, John Bonham didn’t play drums like a sissy and John Paul Jones’ bass lines weren’t stairways to heaven.  Page was a demon, Plant howled like a Viking warrior, Bonham played like he was at war with his drum set and Jones’ bass lines were chutes to hell.  Check out How the West Was Won for 10 minute drum and guitar solos from some of the most talented musicians who ever lived!

The Rolling Stones are one of the few bands that could compete with Zeppelin and the Beatles for popularity.  In fact, the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll band was formed as an anti-Beatles (despite singing Lennon/McCartney songs on their first few albums). They contrasted the Beatles’ finely tailored suits and mop-tops with rugged and dirty looks.  Their image, however, wasn’t just a front.  Their music was the blues with attitude and I don’t mean Tony Robbins keep a positive outlook on life attitude.  It was at times mean (check out “Bitch” on Sticky Fingers) and at times tender (check out “Angie” on Goat’s Head Soup) but they always played with Attitude with a capital A.  The Stones are recognized for their sustained popularity, but I want to bring up a band that was just as good.

Faces played a similar Honky Tonk blues style and they played it exceptionally well, albeit for lesser years.  Check out pre-pop Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood (future member of the Stones) on guitar as they play a no-nonsense song about a one night stand.

The Stones and Zeppelin sold millions of studio records in their rise to popularity, but it was a live album that skyrocketed the Allman Brothers Band to stardom.  Unlike the previous bands, the Allman Brothers’ blend of blues was purely Southern and helped to create a Southern Rock sound emulated by many.  That album, Live at the Fillmore East, features two of the greats in the line of talented Allman Brothers Band guitarists.  Duane Allman’s slide guitar is unmatched and the interplay with Dickey Betts defines early Allman Brothers’ sound.  Current guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are no slouches either.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey guys, Matt here. I just wanted to give Aaron Shipper, the author of this post, a full Music Court welcome. Aaron, a blues aficionado and lover of good music, has joined the small editorial staff at the Music Court and will be bringing you music posts in his “A Different Drummer” category two days a week. So, everyone please make Aaron feel at home!

Inagural Journey

5 Sep

I’d like to take you on musical journey, more specifically my musical journey, from a tiny dweeb with a mix CD of songs downloaded from Kazaa to this post pubescent humanoid interested enough in music to volunteer to write for this esteemed music blog.

I envision this category as an exploration of musical genres that I enjoy, handpicking artists, albums and even specific songs that are part of my musical gospel.  These music genres and how I divide and subdivide them are really of my own creation and bear no resemblance to what you may or may not have read on wikipedia.  Also, I haven’t decided yet if I will crossover artists between genres.  You’ll just have to stay tuned to find that tantalizing bit of knowledge out.

With that administration stuff out of the way, we can now make way on this exploration.  I’d like to start with my longest obsession: the blues!

The Blues: Great Guitarists

My guess is if you’re here, you’ve at least heard of the greats.  Perhaps you enjoy listening to the Pioneers of Blues, like Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, the three Kings (BB, Freddie and Albert), Buddy Guy,  or Hendrix.  Or maybe you rock out with the blues guitarists of the British Invasion, try Jeff Beck, Mr. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page or Keith Richards.  Perhaps, (like myself), you find something really cool about Southern Blues like SRV, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts or Gary Rossington.  Those guys are the greats for many reasons but they certainly are not the only great players out there.

I’m sure you’ve heard of a guy named John Mayer.  Tall, skinny white dude who only seems like a prick until you actually hear him speak and you can confirm it.  Everytime I used to hear the man’s songs I had the sudden and barely controllable urge to break things.  Sometimes I still do.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that although he may have the voice of a pop singer who injects himself with estrogen, Mr. Mayer plays like a guitar god on steriods with three hands who will be killed painfully when and if he stops playing with a healthy does of skill and soul.  Just check out the mans solo and even compare it to the great Eric Clapton’s.

As amazing as some of these guys are, I’ve never wanted to learn to kick ass and take names on guitar more than seeing a guy by the name of Davy Knowles play live.  I was standing next to another act, a pretty good guitarist himself by the name of Evan Watson (checkout this video) who was standing there, mouth open, shaking his head as Davy fretted and played with one hand.  Check out his album Coming up For Air to understand just how talented he is.

Just watched Davy?  The song he just played isn’t actually his.  It’s by a guy by the name of Rory Gallagher.  I know, wimpy first name, not wimpy player.  The bad boys of rock and roll themselves,, those Rolling Stones even asked this guy to play for them.  That’s how good.  Check out the Irish 74 tour live double album for a legend in tippy top shape.

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