- How to listen to classical music 1 - overwiev
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- Scarborough Unfair
An article on how Paul Simon stole Martin Carthy's arrangement of the English folk song "Scarborough Fair"
Modified: Jun 12 2009
Written by: Stefan Grossman
|Format: Method||Medium: Book (paperback)|
|Series: Country Blues Guitar Series||Publisher: Oak Publication|
The second volume in Stefan's classic series. Feature music by Charley Patton, Son House, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Ichman Bracey, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson, Skip James and others. You can get the songs on cassette from Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop. The book is discussed a little further in conjunction with The book of the month August 2002. The Country Blues Guitar Series was featured as Book of The Month March 2003
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Book of the Month 2003-03
The Country Blues Guitar series by Stefan Grossmann.
You may ask why I choose an entire series of five books this month, when one is out of print, one may be hard to find, and I am a bit reluctant to recommend any of them. But I do this to honor Stefan Grossman for what he has done for us guitar players, and I have chosen his ground breaking Country Blues Guitar series to do so. (The series eventually got the name Oak Anthology of Blues Guitar when it was completed, but I stick to the name that Stefan used in the first volumes.) But hang on. I will point you to the books I will recommend today, if you want to learn more about these playing styles. And you will see that Stefan is still very active.
Stefan Grossman is a person who never gets and probably never will get the credit he really deserves. When asked about our main influences, many of us will name persons like Mississippi John Hurt, Big Bill Broonzy, Rev Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, etc. What we do not tell, is that we learned about these players and their gutiar playing from Stefan Grossman's many publications. Many has later learned from people like me, who learned from Stefan through his publications, and our students may not even know where their teacher learend what he or she is teaching, and they have no ideas on how important Stefan Grossman has been for what they learn. I think this is very much how Stefan Grossman want it to be. His philosohpy of learning to play these styles is that you have to go the the original recordings by the old masters. But we should not forget those who showed the way to the old masters.
Stefan Grossman learned at the feet of the masters. He studied with Rev Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James,, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mance Lipscomb He was still only a kid when he toured US searching for old an long forgotten blues players (but he could not have felt like a kid at the time ...). He became friend with many of them, and he learned their playing styles. He also searched for old blues records (sometimes by borrowing from his friends' record collections), and learned the playing. He was not the only one to do this during the folk- and blues revival in the early 60's. But Stefan wanted to pass his insight on to us - young players who had not yet discovered this music. I think his first effort was to issue the record How To Play Blues Guitar, with Rory Block, a record that has been re-issued many times.
But then he embarked on the Country Blues Guitar series, published by Oak Publications.
The Country Blues Guitar series consists of five volumes.:
- The Country Blues Guitar
- Delta Blues Guitar
- Ragtime Blues Guitarists
- Rev Gary Davis Blues Guitar
- Texas Blues Guitar
The Country Blues Guitar was first published in 1968. It must have been an immediate success. The copy I have is from the 4th printing, printed in May 1971. It covers artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Furry Lewis, Rev Robert Wilkins, Memphis Minnie and others. When I bought the book in a small town music store in Norway in the early 70's, I had not heard of any of these musicians. The blues-sound I had in my head was John Mayall and other British blues-rockers, some simple folk blues and some bottleneck playing (which turned out to be Stefan Grossman playing, which I did not know at the time). At that time we thought that blues was a kind of music that was played in the key of E. Mississippi John Hurt does not sound like any of the British blues-rockers, and none of his tunes transcribed in the book is in the key of E. To make it short: My first encounter with Country Blues Guitar was not a success.
I happened to meet Stefan Grossman briefly after a concert near my home town - the only time I have met Stefan in person. I had brought with me my copy of The Country Blues Guitar, and asked him to sign it, which he did. He also asked me if I had learned any of the songs, which I had to admit that I had not. I said that it was too hard to learn when you only had the book, and did not know the actual music. And I explained that it was impossible to find this music in any of our local music stores. Stefan sighed, and pointed at some of the addresses at the back of the book. What I had done was probably what many others had done, but it went totally against Stefan's approach to teaching. I believe that he think we should listen, listen and listen, and that printed material is something that can help us dechipher the sounds we have in our heads. I had seen these addresses before, but had never tried to order. This remark from Stefan was probably what got me going, combined with the inspiration from hearing him playing at this concert. I got the cassette to the book, and it was a shock. It was made from old, scratchy 78 rpm records, and it did not at all sound like the blues I had heard before. But I slowly started to learn the music. And I had found that mail order worked well, and bought hard to find books and records from publishers and small record companies in US, and eventually from London. And over the years I got the entire The Country Blues Guitar, along with other books on the subject.
Mississippi John Hurt is in my opinion by far the most interesting guitarist among those covered in this book, with Rev Robert Wilkins a good number two. If you want to learn the playing of Mississippi John Hurt, I will suggest that you get Stefan's more recent publication on his playing, in the Masters of Country Blues guitar series.
Stefan also have a cassette series on the playing of Mississippi John Hurt. But he is in the process of converting his cassette series to CDs, and I think it is worth waiting for the CD version. If you like videos or DVD, you can now get a two-volume series on the playing of Mississippi John Hurt by John Miller, published by Stefan Grossman Guitar Workshop
You can also get a video on Rev Robert Wilkins by John Miller (I do not know the video, so I cannot say more about it). From the same John Miller, you can get another video on Furry Lewis and one on Bo Carter, so there is more than enough material available on the artists covered in The Country Blues Guitar.
There is also one Rev Robert Wilkins tune in Stefan Grossman's book Legends of Country Blues Guitar .
I will also mention Complete Country Blues Guitar Bookwith more than 50 songs and two CDs. It includes a lot of what is covered in the Country Blues Guitar Series. But as I do not have the book (yet), I cannot make any further comments.
Stefan Grossman's book Delta Blues Guitar was my introduction to the playing of greats like Charley Patton, Willie Brown (all three of them), Son House, Skip James, Ichman Bracey and last but not least: Robert Johnson. My copy of the book is from 1969, and according to the publisher, the book has been entirely revised recently. I have not seen the revised edition, and cannot tell you what has been done. But it still does not come with a CD, which is a drawback.
If you want to study the playing of the "Father of the Delta Blues" - Charley Patton, there is no choice. You have to get this book.
I discussed some books on pre-Robert Johnson delta blues guitar as Book of the Month August 2002, and will not repeat it. Go there if you are interested. Then you have of course to study Robert Johnson, and I suggest that you start with Dave Rubin's book on his playing.
The three Skip James songs are also included in Roots of Robert Johnson and in the new book/3CD set xxx. In the first of the two publications you get transcriptions and original recordings, in the second you get a breakdown and analysis of his playing.
Much of the same material is covered by Rory Block's book/CD and book/4CD onClassics of Country Blues Guitar. I prefer Rory Block's publication over Stefan Grossman's old Delta Blues Guitar, when the same material is covered. But I do not know of Stefan's more recent publication compares with Rory Block's .
This book is out of print, so even if I would have liked to do so, it does not make sense to recommend the book as such. The main artists covered in this book are Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Blake. They were all sophisticated fingerpickers, and their playing is not for the beginners. It might be an idea to work with some basic fingerpicking before you start on these artists. I will come back to Blind Lemon Jefferson under Texas Blues Guitar.
Big Bill Broonzy played in a variety of styles, including ragtime blues. For Big Bill Broonzy, my recommendation is Woody Mann's set The Guitar of Big Bill Broonzy. But you can also find some Big Bill Broonzy tunes in Stefan Grossman's book Legends of Country Blues Guitar. If you prefer video, there is one by Woody Mann available.
Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Blake play swinging ragged blues, with Blind Blake as the more sophisticated of the two. For Blind Boy Fuller, I will recommend the book/CD set Blind Boy Fuller in Masters of Country Blues guitar series. As with the book on Mississippi John Hurt, you get Blind Boy Fuller's original recordings and Stefan Grossman's transcriptions of the songs. But you can also find some Blind Boy Fuller's tunes in Stefan Grossman's book Masters of Country Blues Guitar. If you prefer video, one by Ari Eisinger is available, again published by Stefan Grossman.
. For Blind Blake I will suggest a two step approach (or three steps, if you include that Blind Blake is not for beginners). Start with Woody Mann's The Guitar of Blind Blake. If you like it and start to master the style, continue with the book/CD setBlind Blake in Masters of Country Blues guitar series. Blind Blake is playing, and Stefan Grossman has transcribed the music. If you prefer video, one by Woody Mann is available.
Rev Gary Davis must be the Godfather of contemporary blues fingerpicking. At his home in Bronx in New York, he received many young and aspiring guitar players until his death in 1972. Three of the authors of books mentioned in this article, Stefan Grossman, Rory Block and Woody Mann were among his students. And who knows where we would have been today had it not been for teachers like them and Rev Gary Davis who got them going.
It seems that one of many missions in Stefan Grossman's life is to make sure that Rev Gary Davis gets the credit he deserves. Stefan has published a lot on Rev Gary Davis' music, and he has also helped publishing his recordings. I think it is true to say that no others has meant as much to Stefan Grossman's guitar playing as Rev Gary Davis. But then no others has meant as much to make Rev Gary Davis' known to the public as Stefan Grossman. Very much thanks to Stefan, I think almost everything that Rev Gary Davis ever recorded is available on CD, and a lot of his music is available in print.
The book on Rev Gary Davis in the Country Blues Guitar series would not be my first choice today. There are a lot to choose from if you want to study Rev Gary Davis. And if you are interested in fingerpicking, I think you have to do so.
I will recommend Stefan's two audio lessons (book/3CDs) on Rev Gary Davis. In Ragtime Blues Guitar of Rev. Gary Davis he focus on the blues playing, and in Holy Blues of Rev. Gary Davis he focus on how he approached religious gospel songs.
Then we have the book Rev Gary Davis in Masters of Country Blues guitar series, with the same format as for the other players featured in the series: Original recordings by Rev Gary Davis and transcriptions by Stefan Grossman.
If you prefer video, you can get a new 4 DVD-set by Ernie Hawkins on his gospel playing. I have been working with this set recently, and you get a lot from it that is hard to get from the books and records. But for the blues playing, you must stick to Stefan's own publications.
This was the last volume to be completed, and it took 16 years form the publication of The Country Blues Guitar in 1968, till the publication of Texas Blues Guitar in 1984. This is a book I still would have recommended without hesitation, if there had been a CD included. It comes with the "soundsheet" that was fashionable in the early 80's, a thin plasic record that can be played on an old fashioned turntable. But this is not what want today. You can get a cassette to the book, but a CD is far better. (I know that Stefan has tried to convince Oak Publication to include a CD, but without success so far. Oak, if you are listening: Just do it ...)The book covers the playing of Blind Lemon Jefferson , Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson and a few others.
Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the most influential players. But for some strange reason, very little ha been written on his playing style. There is one video on his playing.
The playing of Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins is covered in many introductions to blues guitar. But there are not much in print if you want to study their guitar playing more in depth. But you can get a two-video series on the playing of Mance Lipscomb by Ernie Hawkins, published by Stefan Grossman Guitar Worskshop.
The Country Blues Guitar Series is a milestone work in the guitar literature. Today it is a bit dated. But if you want to get more recent publications on the musicians and playing style covered in this series, all but a few are either written or published by Stefan Grossman. So on behalf of the many thousands of guitar players who have learned from Stefan, I will say thank you for the work Stefan has done so far, and we are looking forward to future publications.