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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Backup Styles - Luke Kessinger and Dale Morris

Tugboat is a popular tune heard in the southern United States. Here are 2 takes on the tune, the 1st being the earliest recording I have found of the tune which features Clark Kessinger on fiddle and his brother Luke Kessinger on guitar. The Kessinger Brothers were from West Virginia and recorded this moment in the late 1920s. Clark later recorded this tune in 1966 featuring Gene Meade of North Carolina on guitar as Sandy River. There is a possibility that this tune was mislabeled when it was recorded in the 20s. In any case, it is a great melody, fun to play and full of energy for dancers and listeners alike. Listen to the groove laid down by Luke Kessinger from West Virginia:

And here is the tune played by Texas fiddle legend, Terry Morris backed by his brother, Dale Morris. Listen to the groove:

The chords are a standard G progression. It is interesting to note the difference in groove, as well as the difference in backup runs. Drive exists in both, prominent boom-chuck and solid backdrop, unwavering and confident. Luke Kessinger uses the 3rd prominently in his take and never plays the same bass note twice in a row. Only once does he hint at a possible 4 (C) chord or 6 (Em) chord (0:48 - 0:51), the G chord is featured prominently in his approach. Note, also, his use of the A note over the D chord. This creates the feeling of 2 - 5 movement. Beautiful, crisp and clear backup. Now listen to Dale Morris play. Again, strong driving rhythm, prominent boom-chuck, unwavering and confident. Dale uses the 4 (C) chord each time through which creates a different feeling of movement without betraying the melody (note the melody highlights G and E notes at that point, which could imply a C [CEG] chord). You will also notice how Dale plays both an Am (ACE) and A (AC#E) in the song. Firstly, note that Dale makes use of the same technique as Luke at 0:15 - 0:17. He is playing a D chord with the A note in the bass, implying a 2 chord (A) without actually playing the chord. Then, at 0:24 - 0:26, he plays the Am chord before the D chord, a full on 2 - 5 change. This creates a slightly different tension and movement without betraying the melody. You will notice he interchanges these techniques throughout the song. Now, listen in at 1:11 - 1:13. Did you catch that? He snuck a full 2 chord in there! Listen again to capture the tension created. Keep in mind, Dale has stated the chords and laid the framework for your ears, now he can make slight changes to create within the framework of the tune without betraying the melody. Finally, note the use of the Am chord after the C chord. 

Here is 1 more sample of the same tune. In this recording, Clark Kessinger is being backed by Gene Meade of North Carolina. Earlier, we listened to recording of Clark playing the same tune in the late 1920s, here, he plays it in 1966:

What do you think of that? Did you notice the use of the 4 (C) chord? Gene lays down a mighty fine groove, very fun for dancers and listeners and at a mighty good clip! He implements a run that he has played in other settings (i.e. Clark Kessinger - Sally Ann Johnson from Newport Folk Festival), in fact, the backup he plays here, is nearly identical to the backup he plays for Clark over Sally Ann Johnson! Listen again to Luke Kessinger backup Clark. Luke and Gene played backup similarly, yet very differently. They are both from the eastern  U.S., influenced by regional players of their day and recordings of their day, yet they speak differently. Dale Morris is from Texas, quite a ways from the eastern U.S., yet the tune remains, but with a different accent. 

Happy picking!

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  1. This isn't terribly relevant information but interesting none the less: Luke was actually Clark's cousin, not his brother. I learned this while picking some of Clark's tunes with Robin Kessinger about a year ago. Love the site so far. Thanks!

    1. Actually Luke (Luches) was his nephew