Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

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Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby bighollowtwang » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:36 pm

[updated:LAST EDITED ON Feb-16-05 AT 02:38 PM (EST)]Now here are some videos which have really helped me in learning the rudiments of guitar styles of country blues guitarists. For the guitarist and music fan alike, these provide a window into the past and a close look at what is close to becoming a lost art.

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Masters of the Country Blues BUKKA WHITE and SON HOUSE (Yazoo/Schanachie)

Here we get creepy footage of Son House playing "Death Letter Blues" and "Preaching Blues" played on a National Style O along with "John The Revelator" and "I Want To Live So God Can Use Me" accompanied only by hand clapping. Son talks about his internal conflicts regarding blues vs. the church and looks genuinely afraid that a divine lightning bolt will strike him as he sits on the stage. Harrowing, to say the least.
Bukka White, on the other hand, looks nonchalant and tough as a rhinoceros while bashing out songs on a battered National Duolian. providing a close look at his percussive guitar slapping techniques on "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues" along with a glimpse of his piano playing and a lap-style rendition of "Poor Boy."
The only negative thing I can say about this release is that the annoying introduction by Taj Mahal (he is clearly reading cue cards) could easily have been skipped.

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Masters of the Country Blues FRED McDOWELL and BIG JOE WILLIAMS (Yazoo/Schanachie)

Here Fred McDowell looks very uneasy and camera-shy, but still manages to infuse his songs with an incredible rhythmic drive reminiscent of Mississippi fife & drum bands. The interplay between his voice and bottleneck is spectacular, as is his "drumming on the strings" technique which is even more remarkable considering how much sound he produces using only his thumb and index.
Big Joe, on the other hand, looks right at home, his clip-on bowtie off to one side, armed with a small projector amp and his 9-string guitar which is clearly held together with tape and god-knows-what-else. Big Joe literally pounds his guitar into submission and pulls out all the tricks in his bag, from Patton-style string snapping to bottleneck.

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Masters of the Country Blues MANCE LIPSCOMB and LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS (Yazoo/Schanachie)

As on the House/White DVD, first thing you get here is an irritating Taj Mahal introduction, but once you get past it there is some great footage of Mance Lipscomb playing fantastic guitar despite the fact that most of his picking hand's fingers are bandaged up! Mance covers hard blues, ragtime and even old-time pop ("Shine On Harvest Moon") in his low-key but potent fashion and aptly demonstrates his driving Texas monotonic bass style and even his pocketknife slide playing on "Jack O' Diamonds."
Lightnin' is also in fine form and characteristically flashy, executing some hackneyed but highly entertaining guitar stunts. His playing is vigorous and energetic, to the extent that his thumbpick actually flies off his thumb at the end of one of the tunes.

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Masters of the Country Blues JOHN LEE HOOKER and FURRY LEWIS (Yazoo/Schanachie)

Here we get a glimpse of John Lee Hooker at his best - alone, amplified, and extremely dark and brooding. With the exception of the uptempo "Boom Boom" his songs here are slow, droning and full of subtle menace which is in stark contrast to his friendly demeanour between numbers.
Furry Lewis, despite his advanced age, remains a bottleneck showman who has quite a lot of flashy tricks in his repertoire. His material provides a glimpse of Memphis blues as it existed in the 20's complete with an extremely archaic sounding rendition of "Going to Brownsville" which is derived from the slide guitar standard "Rollin' and Tumblin'."

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Legends of Country Blues Guitar vol 1 (Vestapol/Rounder)

On this DVD you get footage of Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi John Hurt, Henry Townsend, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Pete Williams, Brownie McGhee, Josh White and a bonus feature - the short John Jeremy film "Blues Like Showers of Rain."
Henry Townsend's rendition of the St. Louis classic "Cairo Blues" performed on a National Style O is worth the price of the DVD! The real surprise here is the amazingly fluid playing of Big Bill Broonzy, including some flashy flatpicking!

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Legends of Country Blues Guitar vol 2 (Vestapol/Rounder)

Here you get color footage of Bukka White, Sam Chatmon, Big Joe Williams, Houston Stackhouse (accompanied by Delta legend Joe Willie Wilkins), Rev. Gary Davis and Leadbelly.
Sam Chatmon plays some incredibly nimble guitar despite the fact that he looks positively ancient. The Leadbelly footage is something of a letdown, but the Big Joe Williams segment is outstanding, as are Bukka White's two numbers.

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Legends of Country Blues Guitar vol 3 (Vestapol/Rounder)

On the 3d volume of this series we have Furry Lewis, John Jackson, Josh White, Robert Pete Williams, Ethel & George McCoy, Pink Anderson and Rev. Gary Davis.
John Jackson amazes with some Blind Blake styled ragtime virtuosity, Jesse Fuller shows off his one-man-band approach (complete with his foot-operated bass instrument), and Ethel & George McCoy perform a seriously brooding and dark number called "Black Mary" which features some fantastic interplay between their guitars. Pink Anderson plays some spectacular Piedmont blues which demystifies some of Blind Boy Fuller's licks.

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Legends of Bottleneck Blues Guitar (Vestapol/Rounder)

On this DVD there is footage of Son House, Johnny Shines, Fred McDowell, Jesse Fuller, Furry Lewis and Mance Lipscomb, each displaying their own personalized approaches to slide playing and demonstrating the diversity of bottleneck guitar styles.
Johnny Shines delivers a low-key but extremely intense performance of his classic "ramblin" which is an update of Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues" and Jesse Fuller plays some harrowing spirituals performed lap-style and a rendition of "John Henry" which he plays with a pocketknife held in a manner that allows the use of his fingers to fret notes - a revelation! A much more relaxed and comfortable looking Fred McDowell clearly looks like he is enjoying himself while playing, and Mance Lipscomb provides another glance at his pocketknife slide technique. Highly recommended to any slide players.

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DEVIL GOT MY WOMAN - Blues at Newport 1966 (Vestapol/Rounder)

Alan Lomax filmed these incredible performances of Skip James, Bukka White, Son House, Howlin' Wolf and Rev. Pearly Brown at the '66 Newport Folk Festival. What sets these apart from the other DVDs I have mentioned so far is that the performances take place in a recreation of a country juke joint, complete with bar and a dancing audience. Although the dancers sometimes obscure the performers, it provides an invaluable glimpse at how blues performers functioned in their natural environment.
I never thought I would see footage of Son House dancing (!) and hamming it up, and the segment of Skip James is particularly powerful as a result of the clearly depressive effect his music has on his audience.
Howlin' Wolf appears with a full band and prefaces one of his numbers with a scathing attack on Son House who he berates for drinking his life away. Rev. Pearly Brown plays some amazing Blind Willie Johnson style spirituals on his 12-string guitar accompanied by an unidentified female vocalist while Bukka and Wolf look on in admiration.
An excellent release.

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LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS Rare Performances 1960-79 (Vestapol/Rounder)

My complaint here is that the two best tracks on the DVD (recorded in '59 and featuring some outstanding guitar work) are edited and incomplete, and the '79 footage of Lightnin' on the Austin City Limits show (playing a strat and using a wah pedal) is something of a let-down. The rest is classic Lightnin', an entertaining performer and storyteller who knows how to charm the pants off his audience with his humorous style and flashy guitar techniques.

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Legends of the Delta Blues (Vestapol/Rounder)

Yet more footage of Son House, Johnny Shines, John Lee Hooker and Bukka White, with Shines getting the lion's share of airtime (playing both acoustic and an el-cheapo 4-pickup Teisco Del Rey electric) and delivering several note-perfect Robert Johnson covers.
It opens with Son House delivering a talk about the nature of the blues (while seated in front of a huge Orange amplifier!) and includes an ensemble performance of Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton and Honeyboy Edwards. Another standout is Son House performing the Charley Patton flavored "Empire State Express" complete with violent string snapping. A must-have for Johnny Shines fans.

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All in all, these DVDs are a priceless look at the playing styles of some very diverse musicians, and clearly illustrate how effortlessly they execute what sounds, at first listen, as incredibly complex playing. An invaluable lesson in fretting hand economy and, more than anything else, the emphasis on rhythm over all else.

It is interesting to see that the majority of the guitarists on these videos use only their thumb and index fingers of their picking hand.

If you're considering a "how to play blues" instructional video I would say that these DVDs are some of the best instructional materials out there, providing clear shots of the musicians' hands and illustrating their playing techniques very clearly.
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby grady » Wed Feb 16, 2005 8:01 pm

I just read that whole post Zak.

It's VERY informative and will be a deciding factor in which DVD I bring home next.

Thanks
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby bighollowtwang » Wed Feb 16, 2005 8:09 pm

Considering the fact that you like Fred McDowell, Son House and Johnny Shines I would recommend either "Legends of the Delta" or "Legends of Bottleneck" as the ones to start with - I think they're all great but I guarantee that you will enjoy those two DVDs tremendously.
Chances are you'll want to get most, if not all of them!
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby johnny66 » Tue May 24, 2005 2:29 am

BigHollowTwang,

THANKYOU SO MUCH FOR THE REVIEWS!

I've seen these (import) DVDs in one or two guitar shops here in Melbourne, Australia. I've been curious, but a little wary of purchasing them (they are priced at $50 AUD here!).

Now I'll be running down to one of those stores tomorrow to purchase 'Legends of Bottleneck Blues Guitar'.

Can I ask a somewhat esoteric question: Is the footage of Son House playing 'Death Letter' in 'Masters of the Country Blues: Son House and Bukka White' the same footage used in John Hammond's 'The Search for Robert Johnson'? I love that snippet and would hope it is the same performance featured on the 'Masters of the Country Blues' DVD...

Thankyou so much for those in-depth reviews. I'll print them out - they are invaluable! :)
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby stumblin » Tue May 24, 2005 6:28 am

Yeah, thanks Zak, that's all very informative.
Looks like there are a whole lot more DVDs out ther for me to seek out.
I have the Yazoo Mance Lipscomb & Lightnin' Hopkins one, and I actually think Taj's introduction is quite funny, yes he's reading cue-cards, yes he's wearing the silliest hat known to science in whatever late 80s bubble he's in, yes those flip-up shades are ridiculous. But I still think that whoever wrote the cue-cards for him did a great job.
The Lightnin' Hopkins rare performances DVD is also great. Maybe he should have left that wah-pedal in the van ;)
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby bruneau » Tue May 24, 2005 12:00 pm

bighollowtwang

Thanks for the reviews

I see there a lot of Rounder - Vestapol dvds that interest me, and the one from Yazoo - Schanachie about FRed Mc Dowell - Big Joe Williams I will surely purchase.
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby jellyroll baker » Tue May 24, 2005 3:10 pm

>I've seen these (import) DVDs in one or two guitar shops
>here in Melbourne, Australia. I've been curious, but a
>little wary of purchasing them (they are priced at $50 AUD
>here!).


Have you tried JB Hi Fi? You can usually get 'em for 10 - 15 dollars less there.
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby bighollowtwang » Tue May 24, 2005 3:21 pm

>Can I ask a somewhat esoteric question: Is the footage of
>Son House playing 'Death Letter' in 'Masters of the Country
>Blues: Son House and Bukka White' the same footage used in
>John Hammond's 'The Search for Robert Johnson'?

I can't remember which footage was used in "Search For..." - do you remember if it is b&w or color? Scattered throughout the DVDs I reviewed above there are several performances of Death Letter, the footage on "Masters Of" is the only b&w footage I've seen of that song.
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby johnny66 » Tue May 24, 2005 11:10 pm

Yes, it is black and white footage of Son House in 'The Search for Robert Johnson'. He's alone, and sounds very clean on the National (as opposed to his 1960s album, where he sounds very rough - for various reasons, I know). I know there is other black and white footage of House used in 'Can't You Hear the Wind Howl?' (the other Robert Johnson doco DVD), which is different - there he seems to be facing off another guitar player (or something to that effect - the snippet is very small).

It doesn't matter - I'll be buying one of the DVDs for Johnny Shines anyway. Magnificent player and man.

Thanks Mr. Twang! :)
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby bighollowtwang » Wed May 25, 2005 2:21 am

>Yes, it is black and white footage of Son House in 'The
>Search for Robert Johnson'. He's alone, and sounds very
>clean on the National (as opposed to his 1960s album, where
>he sounds very rough - for various reasons, I know).

That's the footage on the House/Bukka video. It's very good, unfortuantely there's only four songs, and only two on the guitar.

>there is other black and white footage of House used in
>'Can't You Hear the Wind Howl?' (the other Robert Johnson
>doco DVD), which is different - there he seems to be facing
>off another guitar player (or something to that effect - the
>snippet is very small).

That's on the "Legends of" videos, along with some later color footage (some of which is amazing) from various sources.
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby johnny66 » Wed May 25, 2005 8:16 am

Thanks, Mr. Twang!

Just listening to your Soundclick songs again. Some nice stuff on there. :)

Your two guitars are my 'Grail' guitars. I already have a National Delphi Vintage Steel - now just have to go into debt to get that Tri-cone. ;)

Keep up the playing!
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RE: Good grief! A HUGE PILE of DVDs!!

Postby bighollowtwang » Wed May 25, 2005 1:51 pm

Thanks, glad you like it.
As for my guitars...they're asian copies, I can't justify the $$$ for a National, I'd love to get one eventually too.
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