Tag Archives: w.c. handy


[aired] Between Stations: Yellow Dog Blues Backstory

Enlightening walk-through by Mississippi writer Suzassippi with some fantastic photos of the actual location where the “Southern cross the dog” in W.C. Handy’s Yellow Dog Blues.

In 2014, the Disquiet Junto participated in an NPR Studio360 project to record modern versions of Handy’s track in honor of its 100th anniversary. My track, Between Stations, “won” the event, and I ended up on air with host Kurt Anderson and musician Marc Anthony Thompson.

The Blues makes us aware of how the universe perceives harmony through our ears. Its “source material” is not so much sadness, but a universal alienation. Everyone fears loneliness from different directions. Handy’s song says to me, “There’s no use for home where you always lose who you are,” which was the launch point for my recording. Suzassippi lends wonderful visual, grounded context to all the tracks she highlights, and quotes me at the end of her article.

via: Suzassippi

Back a number of years ago, I first read about where the Southern Cross the Dog in a Farm Bureau magazine quiz. I had never heard of it, and it was an intriguing story about the town of Moorhead and the junction of the old Southern Railway system and the “Yellow Dog”–commonly thought to mean the Yazoo Delta Railway.

Winner: Westy Reflector cover of Yellow Dog Blues. Of it, the judge Marc Anthony Thompson said “I just wanted something that I really liked to listen to.” Westy Reflector said “no one in the story is in a fixed place” and “blues was never fully about composition as an end, but about a rich community of shared source material.”

My faves: All of which, “I just really liked to listen to.”

Ari Swan cover of Yellow Dog Blues.

The City of Light cover of Yellow Dog Blues. I liked that he repeats the refrain ‘Southern cross the dog’ as did the original Handy heard.

Addieville featuring Sara Murphy cover of Yellow Dog Blues.


NPR Interview: Deeper Detail

A fuller transcript because radio interview
:^D

Kurt Anderson: “Are you comfortable playing the blues?”

Playing the blues intimidates me. Almost more than any other musical expression. You can’t fake it, and unless you’ve lived it, you can’t be true – merely authentic. And I’d rather eat, say, “true” Soul food than “authentic” Soul food, any day. The blues, along with most African American art forms, is an expression of a secret history, one that I may only learn about and process from afar.

That said, I’ve been down, way down. I’ve been to dark dark places inside myself, too. But have I ever had the true blues? History and culture have not oppressed (or suppressed) me in my lifetime (though my Jewish ancestors, even into the mid 20th century, were not so lucky). Depression, though debilitating and oppressive in its own way, does not “the blues” make. This challenge hit me right in a discomfort zone, which on some level, made it a perfect challenge to wrestle. I tried to approach with fearlessness, to conjure the courage of someone suffering the blues, hopefully, then, speaking to, recalling and giving safe harbor to the suffering. No judgments here.

Kurt Anderson: “Tell us about your process and approach to this recording.”

In W.C. Handy’s narrative, no one is in a fixed place, whether physical (Easy Rider) or mental (Susan Johnson). That’s the darkness of “the blues,” that you are robbed of a place in space and time – robbed of roots. As I wrote on SoundCloud in my track description, this story attempts to reconcile the desire to stay put with the yearning to run and never look back. The talk of technology and communication in the song (cablegrams, telegrams, letters, trains…) sent me thinking about the wait-times between communications, and then the spaces, static and snow between radio stations and tv stations. And then, broader, thinking about the spaces between songs around the same narrative. After all, W.C. Handy was continuing a story started in another song, jumping into it at a different time and place. What happened to Susan and her Easy Rider between those songs is part of the mystery. What happened to them was the blues.

Louis Armstrong’s recording helped get my timing right for the vocal part and understand the idiosyncrasies of the original’s 2/4 rhythm (I went 4/4, but did honor the underlying 12-bar structure). Then, Eartha Kitt’s take with Nat King Cole on piano opened a window into how to rearrange and rewrite some of the lyrics to suit my own style. In the end, I just tried to be “true” to myself rather than “authentic” to any canonical version. So mine is cool where the original is hot. I changed the chorus up, too, because when I’m blue, I’m more bVII-IV-I than V-IV-I.

I started by layering frozen guitar drones based on the melody lines and chords over some old royalty-free snippets of radio and static from a sound effects disc from the 80s. Then took a stab at the actual song, albeit with a new arrangement. I had intended to helix the drone and the straight track together in a more holistic way, but in the end, time got the better of me. So I cleaved the drone piece in two and bled each part into the straightforward track. In the context of my concept, Easy Rider drones along on a quiet train until hitting a town, where he’s seen and Susan is sent a message (Easy Rider’s unaware of that). Then, after some raucous celebration, Easy’s off again, real life receding into the background; time and communication technology just moving forward, though radio brodacasts, tape recordings, television surfing… oscillating into space with all the other particle waves…


disquiet.com: yellow dog coda

Yesterday Disquiet.com‘s Marc Weidenbaum published a wonderful perspective on the Junto’s impact on the Studio360 Yellow Dog Blues cover challenge. In addition to featuring my contribution on this week’s Studio360, tracks by Junto members Ethan Hein and Tom Anderson (both in the set below) had been featured on the May 28th broadcast of Soudcheck, in which Kurt Anderson and Marc Anthony Thompson (Chocolate Genius) were interviewed by John Schaeffer.

Marc writes (via: http://disquiet.com/2014/06/27/got-those-junto-blues/):

Challenges like the blues cover initiated by Studio 360 have a lot in common with the Disquiet Junto: open calls based around a specific prompt. I’m always on the lookout for an external project that seems like it would be fun to put forward to the Junto, especially a project where the Junto’s interest in abstract sound might provide some unique contributions. This particular Studio 360 project seemed especially appropriate because of the sense in which the blues was never fully about composition as an end, but about a rich community of shared source material. The blues, like other forms of folk music, is a source of inspiration for the Creative Commons, and this seemed like a good time to make that connection. That connection is emphasized in the Studio 360 broadcast, when it’s mentioned how in the blues “lyrics are passed form person to person, generation to generation.”

A few days ago, I wrote on why I stated making tracks for the Junto and the impact its had on my process. And here’s the full set of the Disquiet Junto contributions to the Yellow Dog project (disquiet0125-junto360blues), many of which were never ported over to the Studio360 page:


npr studio360 review: between stations (yellow dog blues) [disquiet0125-junto360blues]

Honored to have been highlighted as one of the two best tracks among some stellar contributions. Produced originally for Disquiet Junto challenge 0125.

via:
http://www.studio360.org/story/1914-blues-challenge-marc-anthony-thompson-picks-winners/

By far the longest submission at 9:17, Westy Reflector sandwiches his psychedelically influenced cover in the static of a radio dial. Reflector (born Dave Westreich) tells Thompson, “No one in the story is in a fixed place. The Easy Rider’s not in a physically fixed place and Susan Johnson’s not in a mentally fixed place. Nobody seems to be fixed in time or in space.”

“I love that you gave it that much thought,” says Thompson. “Maybe that’s why it appealed to me on just so many levels and was my choice almost from the first time I heard it.”


between stations (yellow dog blues) [disquiet0125-junto360blues]

Cover of W.C. Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues” bleeding in and out of an intro and outro drone of ambient guitars over a cascade of analog sounds: radio snippets, static and a quiet ending flurry of a reel-to-reel careening in reverse into a manual television changing channels.

A studio360 as well as a Disquiet Junto challenge. Marc Weidenbaum, who runs the Junto, told me this particular studio360 project seemed especially appropriate for our collective because “the blues was never fully about composition as an end, but about a rich community of shared source material.” The blues, like other forms of folk music, is a source of inspiration for the Creative Commons, and he felt like the Yellow Dog Blues project seemed a vehicle to make that connection.

For the challenge, we were given the original sheet music and told to do something with it. In W.C. Handy’s narrative, no one is in a fixed place, whether physical (Jockey Lee, aka Easy Rider) or mental (Susan Johnson). The story seems to try to reconcile the desire to stay put with the yearning to run and never look back. The talk of technology and communication in the song (cablegrams, telegrams, letters, trains…) sent me thinking about the wait-times between communications, and then the spaces, static and snow between radio stations and tv stations. And then, broader, thinking about the spaces between songs around the same narrative. After all, W.C. Handy was continuing a story started in another song, jumping into it at a different time and place. What happened to Susan and her Easy Rider between those songs is part of the mystery. What happened to them was the blues.

Louis Armstrong’s recording helped get my timing right for the vocal part and understand the idiosyncrasies of the original’s 2/4 rhythm (I went 4/4, but did honor the underlying 12-bar structure). Then, Eartha Kitt’s take with Nat King Cole on piano doubled-down on my Junto-channeled courage to rearrange and rewrite some of the lyrics to suit my own style. I figured it was better to be “true” to myself than try to be “authentic” to any canonical version. So my take is cool where the original is hot. I changed the chorus up, too, because when I’m blue, I’m more bVII-IV-I than V-IV-I.

peace from brooklyn,
:^D

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akg c3000-b condenser mic, lexicon mx-200 rack delay

motu 828mk2 firewire, acid pro 7.0, win 8.1

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