Archive for March, 2009

SSP

March 31, 2009

Warning: This entry contains some Shameless Self-Promotion.

Ryan Bañagale at that school across the river wrote this about the Boston University Music Society graduate student conference held Saturday. As one of those who helped organize it and, in particular, arranged for the keynote speaker and helped select the papers that were presented, I feel a bit like crowing. Caw. Caw.

Transparent Barriers

March 30, 2009

I’m currently working on the biography chapter of my dissertation. I’ve been making notes from each of the three published biographies then trying to verify the information (some truly blatant errors in those books, by the way). In my search for “correct” information, I have found that the Country Music Hall of Fame has an impressive collection of oral histories, including recordings of Margaret Everly, as well as other informants who played with or knew Ike Everly. There are also recordings of key figures in the story such as Wesley Rose. I’m now waiting to hear from the historian at CMHF about access to those histories.

I have also discovered that the Kentucky State Library and Archives has collected newspaper and magazine clippings concerning the Everly Brothers. It is more than they are willing to photocopy and mail, so I’m currently trying to find a local researcher who can do it for me (for pay, of course).

Ideally I would talk to Don and/or Phil in a sort of ethnographic interview. I found a phone number for one of them today (thank you, oh great internet gods), but I can’t imagine what I would say in a phone call to convince him that I am a legitimate researcher and not some kooky fan stalking him. Bruno Nettl and Helen Meyers are silent on this topic. I’m going to sit and contemplate this for a few days. Maybe ask my advisor. But I keep looking at that number and thinking this is too good to be true. Only People magazine has phone numbers like this, right?

And therein lies one of the strange problems with doing musicological research in the area of popular music. If your subject is alive and famous, your access will probably be restricted or heavily mediated, assuming you can get any access. If you can’t, then whatever you can learn through secondary sources is, again, heavily mediated. This is, of course, a common dilemma for the historical musicologist, who deals exclusively with artifacts and descriptions that have been processed by both humans and time. The ethnomusicologist, on the other hand, can interact directly with the music-making subjects and objects, reporting her findings with or without critique. I feel caught between the two worlds and know that most of what gather from secondary sources (newspapers, magazines, fan biographies, websites, liner notes, etc.) has been “spun” to meet a marketing need; in other words, the information is presented as a transparent barrier. None of the writers on methodology for popular music studies seem to address this and many of the works I’ve read maintain a distance with the actual subject, as if they were dead. I am not satisfied with taking that approach, but I’m not certain yet how to negotiate this new territory.

Connections

March 27, 2009

I love connections. This week’s favorite connection starts with an African American guitarist in western Kentucky named Arnold Schultz. Born in 1886 in Ohio County, Kentucky, Schultz has attained legendary status as the key figure in the development of the guitar finger picking style that is known today as “Travis picking.” Like Robert Johnson, he was remarkably skilled on his instrument, only one photograph is know to exist of him (shown below), he died at a relatively young age, and the rumors that surround his death center on a jealous husband.

Arnold Schultz

Arnold Schultz

Where and how Schultz developed his unique finger-picking style is not entirely clear, but he appears to have traveled and performed widely in his youth, possibly on riverboats. His reputation as a guitarist led many to seek him out for instruction: Melford Everly, grandfather of the Everly Brothers, is said to have once hired him to teach his daughter, Hattie, to play a song called “The Drum Piece.” He may have taught Hattie his unique finger-picking style, which involved playing a bass note with the thumb and the melody with the other fingers.

Throughout the 1920s, other western Kentucky musicians also listened to and learned from Schultz, including Kennedy Jones, who added a thumbpick to the style. Jones, in turn, influenced Mose Rager (1911-1986) and Ike Everly (son of Melford and father of Don and Phil). Mose and Ike played together early in their careers but eventually went their separate ways. Mose, in particular, employed alternate chords, embellishments, and other trechniques with the style. Merle Travis (1917-1983), also from Kentucky, credits both men as influencing his own playing style, which can be heard on his numerous recordings during the 1940s and 50s. His style of playing became the predominant style in country music and the next generation of guitarists studied his work closely. One was Chet Atkins (1924-2001), who heard Travis on the radio and imitated his style, adding his own personal elements. In time Atkins would be become one of the greatest guitarists, session musicians, and producers in Nashville. In fact, it was Atkins who was instrumental in helping Don and Phil make the necessary contacts in Nashville and ultimately led the studio musicians in many of their Cadence recordings.

As a side note, I think nearly every guitar student in the South, at least back in my day, learned some variation of Travis-picking, usually on old standards like “Wildwood Flower.”

Sources:
Lightfoot, William E. “A Regional Musical Style: The Legacy of Arnold Schultz.” In Sense of Place: American Regional Cultures, edited by Barbara Allen and Thomas J. Schlereth, 120-37. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.

Wolfe, Charles K. Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982.

Sizzling music

March 11, 2009

Dale Dougherty over at O’Reilly contemplates the delivery process of recorded sound as a cultural artifact. I don’t think he questions the notion and aesthetics of “quality” enough but an interesting read nonetheless.

Three People, One Guitar

March 9, 2009

The Everly Brothers appeared on the Tennessee Ernie Ford television show sometime in the late 1950s. In this clip, Don, Phil, and Ernie are all playing one guitar. Don is sitting and holding the guitar. Phil stands behind him and frets the lower strings with his left hand while Ernie stands on the side of Don and strums the lower strings with a pick. Don frets just above where Ernie is strumming and plays a lead melody just below where Ernie’s hand. The video makes it clearer.

According to one biographer, this neat little trick was one that Don and Phil learned from their father, Ike, and his two brothers, Charlie and Leonard.

The guitar is probably the black Gibson J-200 with dual white pickguards. Don and Phil played a number of J-200s during their career, including their own custom designed model.

Wiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!

March 6, 2009

This is totally off topic. We bought a Wii and Wii Fit a few weeks ago. I haven’t bought any of the music-based games yet because I’ve been having fun with the skiing and bowling. In fact I’m very intrigued by the way that Wii Fit is forcing a rethinking of the potential gaming audience and the possibilities for games. For instance, senior centers all over the country are holding Wii bowling tournaments, as well as classes on how to use your Wii for fitness. A study is under way in Scotland to study whether the balance board can be used in helping elderly people improve their balance and prevent falls.

It occurred to me that some clever programmers, working with doctors and researchers, could design specially tailored rehabilitation programs to run on the Wii. The best design would involve a series of modules that could be enabled and configured specifically for the patient’s needs. Information from the patient’s sessions could be stored and transmitted to the supervising medical professional for review. I imagine this would be most useful in orthopedic and cardio rehab (some extra telemetry could be added for that one for even better monitoring). And there’s no reason it couldn’t be as fun as bowling or skiing or Zelda or Mario.

Gotta go. It’s my turn at bowling. My Wii Mii has a habit of tapping her foot if I take too long.