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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Texas Fiddle Favorites

Recorded in 1966, Texas Fiddle Favorites captured Major Franklin, Lewis Franklin and Norman Solomon backed by Omega Burden on guitar and Betty Solomon on piano. Charles Faurot produced and recorded the album released by County Records. Here are a couple excerpts on the Texas style of backup written by Charles Faurot in the liner notes of the album. I highly recommend the full liner notes posted below as they contain some very interesting information about the musicians and the regionality of the area.

“It is quite common for one fiddler’s accompanist to get up on stage at the start of the contest and remain there to back up all the contestants, regardless of whether or not he regularly accompanies them. The tight band structure so essential to Southeastern fiddling contests is largely absent in Texas. In some cases, a “second,” for example a bass player, will come to the contest by himself. As the contest gets underway the bass player may be asked by a fiddler to back him up, and he may remain on stage for the duration of the contest. Similarly, at informal jam sessions at the motel (selected as much for the availability of a piano as comfort), all the back-up musicians will accompany a fiddler who will keep playing until he becomes tired, or until another fiddler manages to take his place.”

Similarities are also found in the accompanists. Indeed, the technique of the back-up musicians is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the overall Texas sound. Rhythm, or as the Texans call it, “sock” guitar is much preferred to the open guitar styles still commonly found in bluegrass bands and in the accompaniment of Southeastern fiddlers. Running a close second to the guitar in popularity is the piano, along with other back-up instruments such as tenor banjos and guitars. Texas fiddlers require their guitarists to follow the tune more closely than the usual three chord pattern found in many fiddle tunes. The accompanist must learn the entire fingerboard intimately in order to provide a wide variety of appropriate bar chords. For instance, a bluegrass guitar picker in backing up Durang’s Hornpipe would only use the three basic chords, “D”, “G” and “A-7th,” plus bass runs to tie the chords together. A Texas style guitarist or pianist would not only use these chords but also “D-7th,” “G-7th,” “F-sharp,” “E-flat,” “F-sharp minor ”and “E-minor.””

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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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Friday, September 18, 2015

Free Texas Style Guitar Chord Diagram

Royce Franklin is a legendary Texas style guitar player. Having learned at the knee of Omega Burden and his Dad, renowned fiddler, Major Franklin , Royce has spent a lifetime absorbing and creating what is referred to today as Texas style guitar backup. The video below, captured by Nonnie Orosco at a fiddle contest in Conroe, TX back in 2006 is wonderful footage of the master at work. On fiddle is Carl Hopkins, a legend in his own right. This video is of the accompanist division, in which, the guitar accompaniment, rather than the fiddling, is judged. Note the groove and the pocket shared by the fiddle and the guitar. The full sound Royce pulls from the instrument is inimitable. The chord choice is simple, yet involved. Listen to the tension and the groove. I cannot emphasize the groove enough. Go ahead, listen...

I have taken the time to transcribe this moment, chord for chord. You may download it here for free. Keep in mind, the chord diagram does not speak to the groove. You will need to listen to find out what that is about. Listen, listen, listen, then try and repeat what you are hearing. It does not hurt to attend a workshop or take a lesson from someone to help with these ideas. Now, go and listen some more and enjoy the free download!

More from Texas Style Guitar Backup Blog:
Ray Franklin plays Say Old Man
A Texas Fiddle Anthem
Another Free Chord Diagram