Bo Weavil Jackson (Sam Butler) May 17, 2012 23:15:24 GMT
Post by Michael Messer on May 17, 2012 23:15:24 GMT
Further to a discussion that started on another thread a while ago asking about Bo Weavil Jackson (Sam Butler), before writing anything I thought I would re-visit Mr Butler's music, and I am very pleased that I did.
I have been aware of Bo Weavil Jackson for many decades, but I have to say that until forum member, Frank, asked me about his playing, I had not really taken it in.
I spent a few days listening to his recordings and doing what I call 'decoding' them. He is a fascinating musician, especially considering we are talking 1926. I believe he is an important influence on what was to follow a year or two later, and indirectly, that influence is still alive today.
It took me a while to get into some of his music, especially the lap steel spirituals. However, once I did, just like any acquired taste, I now really love his style and am fascinated by his technique.
Of the handful of recordings he made, his music falls into what I see as four categories:
There are the non-slide fingerpicked blues tunes - Pistol Blues, Some Scream High Yellow, Why Do You Moan, Devil & My Brown, and, You Can't Keep No Brown (Vocalion). These appear to played in open Spanish tuning and regular tuning. The most interesting of these to me are Devil & My Brown Blues and You Can't Keep No Brown (Vocalion), as BWJ's playing is excellent on both of these recordings. Devil & My Brown Blues, in Spanish tuning is really wonderful, as is Some Scream High Yellow. The latter contains some classic blues and rock'n'roll lyrics that predate anything I have heard.
Then there is category two which consists of only one recording that I know of; I'm On My Way To The Kingdom Land. This is played in regular tuning and is an average 1920s rural recording of a religious / spiritual song.
Category three has three recordings of spirituals; When The Saints Go Marching In, Christians Fight On Your Time Ain't Long, and, Heaven Is My View. All three are played Hawaiian-style as lap steel guitar pieces. His lap steel playing is very unusual on these recordings. He plays them in D tuning in the key of G with a very strange approach to playing the melody that creates an unusual sound.
Now we come to category four which consists of four recordings; You Can't Keep No Brown, Poor Boy Blues, and two takes of Jefferson County Blues. Although all four songs are based around a similar-ish blues theme, his playing and creativity within this area of his music, is for a recording artist recording in 1926, quite extraordinary. These four songs, two played in open Spanish tuning (You Can't Keep No Brown, Poor Boy Blues) and two in Vastapol tuning (Jefferson County Blues takes 1 & 2), as bottleneck slide pieces with the guitar held in regular position, are played with amazing control, precision, virtuosity and inventiveness, and represent pre-war country blues at its very best.
This is very early for someone to be playing bottleneck blues in both Spanish and Vastapol tunings with such skill and virtuosity, and for me it throws a bit of a curveball into the history of blues slide guitar. We have no idea what happened in the early part of the 20th century because there are no recordings of blues slide guitar until Sylvester Weaver recorded in 1923, and Bo Weavil Jackson in 1926. Both are very different musicians, Weaver has a sweet tone and Jackson has the speed and dexterity, and until this recent study of his music, I had not considered the importance of Bo Weavil Jackson in the history of blues slide guitar.
I have worked out his bottleneck playing style and this is no rural musician singing a few spirituals with an out of tune guitar, this is high class very skilled slide and lap steel playing. Don't forget that we are talking about 1926, and as a blues slide player, apart from Sylvester Weaver, Bo Weavil Jackson predates everyone.
I have never read anything about Bo Weavil Jackson's guitar playing and would be interested to know if anyone else has done some research into this very early and interesting slide player.
I have more to add to these ramblings about Bo Weavil Jackson, mostly about the musicians that I believe he may have influenced……..stay tuned…..and thanks for reading.