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Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?

DigiTrad:
FREIGHT TRAIN
OH, BABE IT AIN'T NO LIE
SHAKE SUGAREE


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PoppaGator 24 Sep 08 - 10:19 AM
Janie 23 Sep 08 - 11:56 PM
Janie 23 Sep 08 - 11:50 PM
Uncle Phil 23 Sep 08 - 09:33 PM
PoppaGator 23 Sep 08 - 03:20 PM
Uncle Phil 23 Sep 08 - 08:54 AM
PoppaGator 22 Sep 08 - 02:45 PM
GUEST,mark cool- a libba devotee 22 Sep 08 - 08:01 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 24 Feb 05 - 02:21 PM
GLoux 24 Feb 05 - 09:40 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 24 Feb 05 - 09:17 AM
GLoux 23 Feb 05 - 06:20 PM
GLoux 23 Feb 05 - 05:32 PM
Mark Ross 23 Feb 05 - 05:13 PM
GUEST,PoppaGator 23 Feb 05 - 03:38 PM
GLoux 23 Feb 05 - 03:04 PM
GUEST,Hootenanny 23 Feb 05 - 08:34 AM
GLoux 22 Feb 05 - 05:28 PM
PoppaGator 22 Feb 05 - 05:01 PM
outfidel 22 Feb 05 - 04:57 PM
Roger in Baltimore 22 Feb 05 - 04:32 PM
GLoux 22 Feb 05 - 03:51 PM
PoppaGator 22 Feb 05 - 03:07 PM
Chris in Wheaton 22 Feb 05 - 02:52 PM
GUEST,Hootenanny 22 Feb 05 - 06:48 AM
GUEST,Frank Delaney 22 Feb 05 - 01:30 AM
outfidel 04 Feb 05 - 12:13 PM
PoppaGator 04 Feb 05 - 12:04 PM
dwditty 04 Feb 05 - 10:39 AM
PoppaGator 03 Feb 05 - 05:28 PM
outfidel 03 Feb 05 - 03:20 PM
Mark Ross 01 Feb 05 - 02:15 PM
jaze 31 Jan 05 - 07:57 PM
PoppaGator 31 Jan 05 - 07:09 PM
outfidel 31 Jan 05 - 10:59 AM
Bsondahl 08 Oct 04 - 01:29 AM
GUEST,Art Thieme 08 Oct 04 - 01:04 AM
PoppaGator 07 Oct 04 - 08:28 PM
harpgirl 13 Aug 03 - 09:58 PM
Mark Ross 15 Nov 02 - 06:37 PM
gwonya 15 Nov 02 - 05:14 PM
outfidel 15 Nov 02 - 08:58 AM
Mark Ross 14 Nov 02 - 09:44 PM
outfidel 14 Nov 02 - 02:19 PM
Ballyholme 14 Nov 02 - 10:47 AM
outfidel 14 Nov 02 - 08:55 AM
khandu 13 Nov 02 - 07:57 PM
GUEST,Roy Book Binder 13 Nov 02 - 02:10 PM
outfidel 13 Nov 02 - 01:48 PM
Art Thieme 13 Nov 02 - 12:00 AM
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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 24 Sep 08 - 10:19 AM

Well, I stand corrected. I hadn't given any thought to how relatively "new" an instrument the present-day guitar is.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I put forth my misguided bit of speculation, if only to have prompted further discussion.

One statement with which I'd like to take issue:

Piedmont sounds like two instruments when played on one guitar.

Yeah, true enough ~ but the same can be said of quite a few other styles/traditions where the thumb plays in a steady rhythm on the bass strings while one, two, or three other fingers play more-or-less independent patterns and/or melody lines on the treble strings. Besides the Delta blues style that emerged in North Mississippi, that approach is seen in country music out of the white Appalachian community ~ e.g., "Travis" picking and Kentucky-style "thumbpicking."

It may well be true that this approach originated in the Piedmont region, since that area was settled by non-natives (Europeans and Africans) earlier than points further west. It's still impossible to know if what we describe today as "Piedmont style" is the original "sounds-like-two-instruments" method, or if it's simply one of several different subgenres all descended from some earlier playing style.

One thing is pretty much for sure: whoever first developed this highly sophisticated approach to guitar playing was absolutely an American folk musician, working/playing far outside the music establishment of conservatories, concert promotion, etc., and probably (though not necesarily) African-American.

I can't provide a citation, but I've read more than once about Andres Segovia's reaction to hearing a recording of this kind of solo guitar playing. (If I remember correctly, he was listening to Mississippi John Hurt himself, although I'm less sure about that part of the story.) The highly talented and deservedly renowned Segovia assumed he was listening to two players, and was dumbfounded when told that the sound was the work of a single player. If this old story is true, or even partly true, it's a good indication that centuries of European-based musical study and tradition had never come up with anything remotely like the folk-guitar fingerpicking that so many of us take for granted today.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - histo
From: Janie
Date: 23 Sep 08 - 11:56 PM

Map of the Crescent Amtrak route from New York to New Orleans. Essentially unchanged since the first train route between these these two great cities was completed. Compare to the region mapped in the unca article linked in the above post.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - histo
From: Janie
Date: 23 Sep 08 - 11:50 PM

I think Piedmont blues is a relatively new style. According to Wikipedia, it derived from the earlier guitar and banjo styles of frailing or framming, ragtime, and parlour guitar styles.

Another article (links below to both Wikipedia and the UNC Ashville article), Piedmont Blues in some ways has more influence from "White" music than does Delta blues, but is also reflects West African roots.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piedmont_blues
http://facstaff.unca.edu/sinclair/piedmontblues/Default.htm

According to Mike Seeger, the guitar was a relatively late comer to the South in terms of being widely played. His album presenting Southern guitar styles starts with about 1850.

Don't forget how the railroad spread musical influences either. The rail line from New York to New Orleans carried blues and jazz musicians up and down through Maryland, DC, Virginia, across the North Carolina Piedmont through Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte, then on through Atlanta and Western Georgia on a regular music and performance circuit. All kinds of cross-pollination of music occurred along the way (not to mention a thriving drug trade in cocaine and heroin dating back to the late 20's and early 30's.)

Janie


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Uncle Phil
Date: 23 Sep 08 - 09:33 PM

Yes, but what instrument? A fiddle, banjo, and drum were common during that time period, often played by for country dances and often by slaves. However, both modern classical and steel-string guitars weren't developed until the 1850s or so. Their parlor guitar predecessors would seem to be too fragile, quiet, and expensive for rural music. Maybe someone who knows more about music from the period can enlighten us a little more.

Piedmont sounds like two instruments when played on one guitar. I wonder if it might have started off as a way to mimic the sound of melody played on a fiddle or banjo and an alternating rhythm played on some other bass instrument (or maybe a drum).
- Phil


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 23 Sep 08 - 03:20 PM

Phil, interesting question.

I'm not sure how much in the way of personal possessions a slave could carry along with him/her when sold. Of course, some of that migration involved planters moving west to "greener pastures" with their slaves. In such cases, I would imagine that the slaves would be able to bring along more of their own stuff than when they were sold.

I certainly don't think you can assume that slaves did not possess and play instruments. I've always assumed, judging from old artwork, etc., that black Americans had harmonicas and banjos, even while bound in slavery, and probably guitars as well.

I find it hard to accept a theory claiming that the African-American traditions of instrumental music did not begin until after emancipation.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Uncle Phil
Date: 23 Sep 08 - 08:54 AM

It would have been pretty unusual for a slave to have a guitar during the antebellum migration you describe. Could the style have migrated on a different instrument? Thanks.
- Phil


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 22 Sep 08 - 02:45 PM

I've been thinking about John Hurt, on and off, for at least forty years. Lately, I've been thinking about how and why his playing style should be so different from the usual "Delta Blues" indiginous to northwestern Mississippi, and so similar to the "Piedmont" style of Virginia and the Carolinas.

One historical fact that might be part of the explanation: Mississippi was, in very early times, the "frontier" or "wild west" of the slaveholding south. By the time the propertied class began to move west from the Eastern Seaboard to begin developing cotton plantations along the Mississippi River, many if not most of the slaves available for purchase were native-born ~ NOT straight off the slave-ship from Africa. In French-speaking Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, significant numbers of slaves were imported from the Carribean, but as you moved further north, a greater and greater proportion of the newly available slaves came from points east, including the Piedmont (i.e., Appalachin foothills) and nearby areas.

The east-coast plantations were downsizing as tobacco had echausted the fertility of the soil and indigo became less profitable to produce, and at the same time, cotton was emerging as the cash-crop of choice just as very fertile land was opening up to the west.

It is hard to imagine that the slave population purchased and moved en masse into Mississippi from points east would not have included a number of guitar players conversant with the popular "Piedmont" style, and/or with other variations on the "parlor-guitar" approach.

It is hardly necessary to postulate that John Smith Hurt or any member of his immediate family was a displaced guitar player dragged in chains into Mississippi directly from the Piedmont region. All that is necessary is that one recognize that it is very likely that he encountered one or more such players, or someone who had enjoyed and learned from such an encounter years earlier.

Even the harder and more modern "Delta" style undoubtedly evolved from "Piedmont"-style or parlor-style picking ~ the regular bass line played with the thumb (whether alternating or monotonic) which underlies the melodic, or at least more-complex treble line played with one or more other fingers, is a common characteristic of both schools.

While a large number of players in the thickly-populated Delta region influenced each other while they trasveled the same roads and played the same circuit of juke joints, it's easy to see how they would gradually develop a new style suited to a hard-partying atmosphere. John Hurt lived a quieter and more private life in a less-populateed and less-traveled area on the edge of the Delta region, and it's pretty obvious that all the innovations and advancements he made to whatever older style of guitar playing he first learned were personal and unique, coming from his own mind and hands and not so much from collaboration with other musicianers.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,mark cool- a libba devotee
Date: 22 Sep 08 - 08:01 AM

i've been working on "graduation march" from libba's carolina songs disc. anyone know if she wrote it, someone else wrote it, or if it's another old parlor tune like vastopol and flang dang?


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 24 Feb 05 - 02:21 PM

Greg,

Re, Doc's "Deep River", I pulled the video from the shelf and played it, first track up was an old black and white film with Doc finger picking said track with thumb and one finger. I use thumb ad two fingers and still can't get the same result !!

Doc also talks about hearing the Delmores version and plays this number on the recent (2004 ?) triple CD which he did with David Holt. He mentions that he knew there was more backing than just one guitar on the Delmore's version and decided he wanted to learn it. When he then heard Merle Travis he decided that that was the style he wanted to use for backing.

If anybody hasn't heard the triple CD and is interested in learning the background to Doc's style, instruments, demonstrations of playing, family etc. then this is well worth listening to.

Hoot


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GLoux
Date: 24 Feb 05 - 09:40 AM

Hoot and Mark,

I always thought Doc was flat picking Deep River Blues because of something he said on that old Vanguard recording of him with Merle (Doc Watson On Stage). I dug out an old (1971) Oak Publications book ("Doc Watson") with his notes and tablature of his arrangement, and sure enough, he's finger picking it...

Thanks,
-Greg


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 24 Feb 05 - 09:17 AM

Hi Greg,

I'm pretty sure that Doc finger picked "Deep River (Big River) Blues", I have him doing it on a video tape somewhere on the shelves so will double check.

Hoot


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GLoux
Date: 23 Feb 05 - 06:20 PM

The original sheet music for Creole Belles says that it was also published as a song, which is what the Canotes referenced in their liner notes. I've looked, and haven't been able to find an online version of that sheet music, which was also copyrighted in 1903. Perhaps the words were by "Sidney".


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GLoux
Date: 23 Feb 05 - 05:32 PM

Here's an earlier thread on Creole Belle that references the sheet music.

-Greg


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 23 Feb 05 - 05:13 PM

Doc used thumb and one finger. The Delmore's flatpicked the song on
6 and 4string tenor. They were so tight that Doc thought it was just one guitar.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,PoppaGator
Date: 23 Feb 05 - 03:38 PM

Greg,

The more I thought about it, the more I came to suspect that the "unknown" parts of "My Creole Belle" ~ unknown to me and to most of us, anyway ~ would probably turn out to be so corny I wouldn't want to work 'em up.

I'm still mildly curious, though, of course...


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GLoux
Date: 23 Feb 05 - 03:04 PM

Hoot,

Wasn't Doc's version amazingly done with a flatpick?

-Greg


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 23 Feb 05 - 08:34 AM

Surely the original "Creole Belles" was an instrumental piano ragtime piece, that's the only way that I have heard it.
If my memory is correct it contains three or is it four strains? (sorry I'm not knowledgeable on musical theory) and it is only one of these strains -the third I think- which MJH uses for his song "My Creole Belle". This is the same tune used as a melody for a skip rope song which became "Rubber Dolly", "Rubber Dolly Rag" as an instrumental and then "Back Up And Push" usually a bluegrass treatment of the same part. I am sure there are other songs too which utilise this part of "Creole Belles" for a melody.

Just a minor point on Libba Cotten and Merle Travis picking styles, Travis seemd only to use thumb and one finger and sometimes dampened the strings with the heel of his picking hand. Doc Watson demonstrates the dampening when explaining how he took the Delmore Brothers song and combined it with Travis picking to produce "Deep River Blues"

Hoot


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GLoux
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 05:28 PM

PG:

The Creole Belle parts MJH didn't do seem rather hokey and dated...to my ear...

-Greg


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 05:01 PM

Thanks, Greg.

"Creole Belle" is one of the simpler pieces in the MJH songbook. If the song originally had additional "parts" ~ an intro-verse? a bridge or "middle-eight"? ~ it would be an interesting exercise to come up with a John-Hurt-style arrangement of the whole thing.

We don't know where and how MJH learned the song, so he may never have heard the whole thing, only the part that he passed along to us. Of course, it's also possible that he once knew the whole piece and then consciously edited it down to a shorter form (to "improve" it), but that's not the only possibility.

John Hurt didn't always perform every part of every song. Even among his Vanguard recordings from the 1960s, there are at least two songs that exist in two versions, one including more "parts" than the other: "Candy Man" and "Chicken."

On one of his recorded renditions of "Candy Man," Hurt omits the bridge-type part that goes "You and the candy man be gettin' mighty thick / You must be stuck on the candy man's stick." I've head the opinion that he was reluctant to sing that part out of embarrassment over its bawdiness, but I'm not sure if I buy that ~ every part of that song is kinda naughty, isn't it?

The children's song "Chicken" was recorded once consisting only of the single verse where the word is spelled (C-H-I-C-K-E-N). That's the way I learned it, and ~ since I first learned most of my MJH repertoire from tablature ~ I think that this shorter version may also have been transcribed into tablature. However, the performance of "Chicken" on the album "The Immortal MJH" includes an additional introductory part, set to a different tune, that goes "Chicken, chicken, don't roost too high for me / Chicken, chicken, c'mon down outta that tree." The melody for this opening part is pretty much the same as what I've always known as "Howdja, howdja / Howdja like to bite my a**" (Sorry!)


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 04:57 PM

Frank D & others - For more info, stories & pictures of MJH, check out this long thread over on Blindman's Blues Forum. The guy posting as "john4y" was a grand-nephew of MJH as well as a cousin of Skip James.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 04:32 PM

In my memory from the '60's', the fingerpicking style with the alternating bass that mirrors Elizabeth Cotten's playing was called "Cotten pickin'" by some and "Travis pickin'" by others. Of course "Freight Train" was a required tune for any budding fingerpicker. The name Cotten Picking implies that Elizbeth Cotten's style was original. From this thread, it sounds like there were many influences at work in the world in the early 1900's.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GLoux
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 03:51 PM

The Canote Brothers, Mark Rubin and W.B. Reid (The Bing Bang Boys) did Creole Belle on their "I'm Feeling Good" CD. The notes on the song are:

"Like many folks, we first heard this song from Mississippi John Hurt. Some years ago, W.B. discovered the complete version by Sidney and Lampe in Ann Charters' fine work, "The Ragtime Song Book." The quote from the 1900 sheet music says it all: "What is more livelier than a March, Jig, or Reel? Look at the fun you can have in the parlor, on the lawn, on the deck of a yacht, or the roof of a tenement."

MJH's version does not include all of the parts of the original. We could debate whether or not MJH improved the song...

-Greg


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 03:07 PM

Chris ~ got any more info on "My Creole Belle"? I didn't know anything about its origins, and the choice little bit you just revealed is making me all the more curious...


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Chris in Wheaton
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 02:52 PM

I went to see MJH in DC in 1/64 - EC was there sitting right next to the stage, but she was not on the bill. This was just after he was on the Carson show.
I also like the cross-pollination of Creole Belle - a pseudo ragtime piece by Danish musician, J. Bodewalt Lampe while with the St, Paul (MN) Orchestra. Great country!!
When I sing "Do you love JH," I say yes I shook his hand - a great honor.
Chris


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 06:48 AM

Going off at a slight tangent here but if you right handed pickers are fascinated by southpaw pickers try and see Bill Birchfield of the Roane Mountain Hilltoppers. I don't believe he re-strings any of his instruments: autoharp, fiddle, banjo and guitar, and to see him fingering the latter two from over the top and hear the results is amazing. His band is one of the genuine old time(y) dance bands with a long family history.

Hoot


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - histo
From: GUEST,Frank Delaney
Date: 22 Feb 05 - 01:30 AM

I produced a blues show for our local public radio station back in the 1980's and interviewed Elizabeth Cotten, Dave Von Ronk, and John Fahey, all of whom knew Mississippi John Hurt. They all spoke very highly of him. Also Eric Park - who had transcribed all of his songs back in the 70's but who was denied publishing rights due to legal hassles.

I am the webmaster for the John Hurt Family website www.msjohnhurtmuseum.com, and have done extensive research on him and his guitar style for 35 years.


Elizabeth and John both taught themself to play in very unique individualistic styles.

Elizabeth played guitar upside down and backwards, playing the bass with her finger and playing melody with her thumb.

John taught himself to play fingerstyle, and plays in a very unique snycopated style, often dropping the bass complete, and inserting little riffs he liked.

I am currently teaching a class on him for our local parks and rec department, and would be glad to talk to anyone interested in him.

Frank Delaney
fdspokane@earthlink.net


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 04 Feb 05 - 12:13 PM

I've been studying Elizabeth Cotten's guitar style via John Miller's excellent DVD lessons. For each song on the DVD, they show you archival footage of Libba playing the song, then John plays it the "normal" way (i.e. right-handed playing, right-handed stringing).

It is weird to watch Libba's technique, but it sure sounds beautiful -- she had a wonderful sense of tone & melody as well as a graceful, smooth rhythm. Interesting that unlike other Piedmont fingerpickers as well as contemporaries like Mississippi John Hurt, Libba Cotten did *not* play swung eighth notes -- you do *not* hear that ragtime-y emphasis on the 2nd & 4th beats of the measure. Her playing style seems to owe more to the parlor guitar style of the late 19th century than it does to 20th century blues & ragtime.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 04 Feb 05 - 12:04 PM

Looking at the left hand of such a player must indeed be weird, but the right hand (when fingerpicking like Libba, anyway) has to be even weirder, with the thumb playing melody and the finger(s?) pounding on that steady/alternating bass line.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: dwditty
Date: 04 Feb 05 - 10:39 AM

I have a friend who plays upside down ala Cotten and Kate McConnell. The amazing thing to me is that barre chords are played with the same fingers on the same strings, even though just looking at it seems to complexify my mind.

dw


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 03 Feb 05 - 05:28 PM

Thanks, outfidel -- I knew somebody did that, but was mistaken in thinking it was Hendrix.


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Subject: RE: Mississippi John Hurt and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 03 Feb 05 - 03:20 PM

> she did play "upside down" as well as "backwards."

fyi I believe Albert King & Otis Rush did the same thing -- played guitar lefty, but strung it as a righty


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 01 Feb 05 - 02:15 PM

She also played the 5 string banjo the same way! A truly sweet soul!
COnfusing to watch on stage if you were trying to figure out what she was doing. I met her in 1968 in Resurrection City in the Poor Peoples Campaign March. When I got back to DC a couple of years later, she invited my then wife and I over for lunch. cooked enough food to feed an Army!

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: jaze
Date: 31 Jan 05 - 07:57 PM

Great photos. What an impish, jolly soul he must have been.


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 31 Jan 05 - 07:09 PM

Seeing as how this good old thread has just been re-revivied, let me correct something I got wrong back in October 04: Jimi Hendrix did not play "upside down and backwards" as Libba Cotten did.

I recently rented "Woodstock" on DVD, checked out the closeups of Jimi's right hand, and saw that he played "conventionally" for a lefty, with the strings installed across the guitar fingerboard in the opposite order from the usual "right-handed" arrangement. He was quite obviusly in standard tuning, and his chord shapes were the exact mirror-image of how a right-handed player would make them.

Elizabeth Cotten's approach was something else entirely. Her guitar was strung normally, but she flipped it over and fretted with her right hand and picked with her left (with the left thumb positioned over the treble strings and left index finger over the bass strings); in other words, she did play "upside down" as well as "backwards."


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 31 Jan 05 - 10:59 AM

Since this thread has been revived, I thought I'd post a few pictures that I've found in various places -- all were taken at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival:

MJH & Libba -- photo by Jim Marshall

MJH & Libba -- photo by Dave Gahr

MJH, Libba & distinguished group of friends -- photo by Dave Gahr


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Bsondahl
Date: 08 Oct 04 - 01:29 AM

BTW, the Jon Pancake cited above is a noted musicologist and old time musician in Minneapolis, who wrote a lot of the liner notes for the 60's Folkways records. He plays in a group called the Brandy Snifters.

I think another newsgroup I monitor reported a photo from 63 with Libba and John playing together at Newport, off stage.

Brad Sondahl


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 08 Oct 04 - 01:04 AM

Of course, Libba wasn't "rediscovered". She never had an early career that I ever heard about. She never recorded earlier in her life as did John Hurt.

Libba was the housekeeper for the Seeger family and Mike and Peggy were rather amazed when she picked for them once when they were younger. They brought attention to her and made it possible for her to meet Moe Ashe and record for his Folkways Records label. The rest is history.

Folk revivalist and songwriter, Bill Staines, plays finger-style left handed guitar without restringing his guitar---same way Libba did.

I've heard it jokingly said that Libba, playing upside down and backwards the way she did, had a terrible time keeping her skirt down !! ;-)

(art thieme)


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 07 Oct 04 - 08:28 PM

Refresh.

Two wonderful artists, the main inspirations for my playing style (such as it is). I doubt that they ever played together, but they must have met at least once during the 60s -- at Newport, maybe? According to George Wein's memoir, during the early years of the Folk Festival, the organizers housed all the blues artists (i.e., southern Blacks) together in a large vacant mansion, the "Blues House."

Check out gwanya's post, three messages above this one, which verifies something of which I was *almost* sure, having seen Libba Cotten more than once employing her upside-down lefthanded technique.

How in God's name did Libba play the thumb part with her finger and the finger part with her thumb AND SOUND EXACTLY AS THOUGH SHE WERE PICKING "NORMALLY"?

Jimi Hendrix played upside-down and backwards, too, but of course he didn't sound like ANYONE else...


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: harpgirl
Date: 13 Aug 03 - 09:58 PM

reflux


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 15 Nov 02 - 06:37 PM

She still declined, but I don't know why. Perhaps she felt that it was Mississippi John's tune.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: gwonya
Date: 15 Nov 02 - 05:14 PM

lest we forget that Elizabeth played with the treble strings
north and the wound strings south. The effect this had on her sound may have been subtle but surely she needed to be innovative.
I was fortunate to see her in 1985 - she was 93 and still explaining
her unusual style. It was a magic night for me as I've played
the same "upside down" way for 25 years and have never had a chance
to meet another picker with this style. I know you're out there
though! ....what a great thread.


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 15 Nov 02 - 08:58 AM

Mark - Did she then play Make Me a Pallet? Or did she decline because it was a MJH tune?


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 09:44 PM

Miss Libba was definitely aware of MJH's work, I once asked her to play Make me a Pallet on Your Floor and she said quickly, "That's a Mississippi John Hurt tune!"

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 02:19 PM

Boy do I learn a lot from these forums!

I posted my query, and Jon Pankake's response (above), to The Woodshed forum (http://www.hotboards.com/plus/plus.mirage?who=woodshed). No less an authority than Stefan Grossman replied:

Jon is spot on. The world of Parlor Guitar is often ignored by students of fingerstyle guitar. It was the rage in the USA from mid-1850s to the turn of the century. Lots of music survives from this era - though what I have seen little is of great interest - BUT it was fingerstyle and folk blues 'standards' such as Spanish Fandango and Vestapol (Sebastapol) are from this ear of Parlor Guitar Playing. Not to mention all those beautiful Martin Parlor Guitars!!!! In general this was a type of music played by women in their provebial parlors. Much of it sounds pseudo-classical. It is the missing link and unfortunately there seem to be no recorded examples from the 1910s-1920s. A very interesting area of musical development for the guitar.

Hey, getting the insights of Roy Book Binder, Stefan Grossman and Dick Waterman is pretty cool for a guy who regrets being too young for The Great Folk Scare! ;)


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Ballyholme
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 10:47 AM

An interesting discussion. A question for Mr. Book Binder - I got your John Jackson video (formerly a near neighbor of mine) - any comments on where he fits into the MJH/Libba Cotton styles? I believe JJ met MJH on occasions.


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 08:55 AM

Thanks Mr. Book Binder and khandu.

I received an e-mail from Dick Waterman, and he said he doesn't believe MJH and EC every shared the stage together. He said Libba was a very shy woman and didn't mingle much with other performers.

I also posted my query on rmmga and received this very interesting (and plausible) reply from a Jon Pankake:

Many nineteenth-century "parlor guitar" instruction books survive that taught one to play the bass strings with the thumb and the treble with the fingers. "Spanish Fandango" was one of the pieces taught and both EC and MJH played versions of it. When Hurt was a boy an itinerant music teacher used to board at his home and John could well have been exposed to formal guitar playing. Not to say that either Hurt or Cotten used books or were formally taught, but their style of playing was in the culture and influenced players at all levels of the culture. For example, every tuning that Robert Johnson used appeared in parlor guitar instruction books long before his time.

Does anyone know where I could find a reproduction of one of these parlor guitar instruction books?


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: khandu
Date: 13 Nov 02 - 07:57 PM

Avalon, MS. is in the Delta. Barely, but it is in the delta. Perhaps two miles away from Avalon, the hills begain. However, Hurt actually lived a large part of his life in the hills up from Avalon; his homeplace is approximately 5 mile from Avalon, in tthe Valley community.

Avalon is also a good way from Clarksdale, but it is just a few miles from Greenwood.

khandu (who lived in that area most of his life.)


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: GUEST,Roy Book Binder
Date: 13 Nov 02 - 02:10 PM

No, Mississippi John Hurt was not from the Delta. He was from Avalon in the Mississippi hill country. The music in the hill country had more in common with the Piedmont style than with the Delta.

John and Libba first met each other in 1963. They shared folk festival stages several times from 63-66.

Book


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: outfidel
Date: 13 Nov 02 - 01:48 PM

MJH was from the Delta, but his playing style sounds more like Piedmont than typical Delta blues. Here's an excerpt from a piece by Jas Obrecht that I just found:

Besides ragtime, ballads, and blues, what were Hurt's musical roots? "Who knows?" conjectures Ry Cooder. "Here's a guy from Mississippi who's playing in an un-Mississippi style. It's very linear and melodic. What did he hear? He must have heard geechie music, and maybe he heard stuff that came up from the Piedmont area. Maybe he thought it up by himself."

What exactly is "geechie" music? Does it come from the Geechee people of Sea Island, South Carolina (http://users.aol.com/queenmut/GullGeeCo.html#background)?

Anyway, if MJH just "thought it up himself", it's very curious that he thought up a style that is, to my ears, very similar to Elizabeth Cotten's. It seems more likely that MJH and Libba share some kind of common root -- whether it's ragtime, Piedmont, geechie, or some combination.


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Subject: RE: MJH and Libba Cotten - history?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 13 Nov 02 - 12:00 AM

...and absolutely none of those terrible rumors about the two of them are true either. ;-)

Art


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