The Blues and “Voice Throwing”

     Last year the venerable Chicago independent label Delmark released Magic Sam: Live at the Avant-Garde, a recording of a gig in the summer of ’68, Milwaukee. This is the 7th CD I have of Magic Sam, and I keep buying them because they are ALL GREAT, although also ALL VERY MUCH THE SAME. But check out this guitar chorus on Come On In This House:

1. Magic Sam excerpt     

     Isn’t that lovely? Two distinct guitar “voices”, call and response, played with his fingers, straight into his Fender amp. It really sounds like two guitars, and that illusion is done with his hands: how hard he picks, where he picks and what he plays. This is moment that slays me:

2. Magic Sam excerpt of excerpt     


     Thinking and re-listening to this solo, I was reminded of Charley Patton’s Spoonful. It’s been a while since I’ve gone through a Patton obsession, perhaps I’m due. I play some of his songs from time to time, and I like not listening to the originals for some time, and letting my interpretation drift from its model. Spoonful is virtuoso “multiple voices” play: he alternates between two voices talking back and forth, and then the bottleneck guitar takes over the final word “Spoonful”:

3. A Spoonful Blues     

     At one point I went through a phase where I was convinced that one of those voices was Walter “Buddy Boy” Hawkins, who had traveled with Patton from the Delta to Richmond, Indiana for the recording session. Somewhere in this track I thought I heard the two voices slightly overlapping. I was convinced that this was an elaborate joke by Patton and Hawkins: set it up to make you think that both voices were being done by one person, and then overlapping, just a bit, to make the whole effect surreal. I no longer think this, but I’m nostalgic for a time when I ascribed such devious operations to my Delta Blues heroes.

There’s a lot going on here:

     vaudeville, and its fascination with “freakishness”, 

     (see also King Oliver’s “freak cornet”)


     African conceptions of voice-instrument interchange,

     use of the recording medium to shape a performance,

     multiplicity of Black voices,

and probably, in the case of Magic Sam,

     the desire to make your guitar-bass-drums trio sound like B.B. King’s seven-piece band.

     I know someone has written on this, but I can’t recall where at the moment. Probably Paul Oliver. 

     At the same session that Patton recorded Spoonful, June 14, 1929, Richmond, IN, Buddy Boy Hawkins recorded Voice-Throwin’ Blues. This is putting the technique front and center, although in Hawkins’ practice it’s a little different. For the most part he doesn’t run the two voices right into each other. Somehow it seems both more and less weird than Patton’s song.

4. Voice Throwin' Blues     


All right, for tonight, that’s all I got. 

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