T. Berry Shuffle wrote:Very interesting suggestions thus far and a lively debate also.
Pete, I'd like to put forth a suggestion that we split the field. Let's have one just for musicians and one for "also served". That way we can analyze each segment and not feel pressed to leave out anyone whose contribution demands attention.
There’s been so much spirited debate thus far that I don’t know where to start. I don’t know too much about punk’s roots. So I asked the wife, who is a huge punk aficionado who would qualify as the source for that movement. Her opinion is The Stooges. She says “Please Kill Me”, one of the definitive texts on punk, really pushes them as the impetus for the whole punk thing. And she even argues that it could be the MC5.
On country roots, my opinion is that if the colossus of country stood with his arms outstretched, balancing in each hand the two major forces in country music that had a direct influence on all roots traditions and consequentially rock/pop music he would be holding Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family.
Jimmie Rodgers’ style encompassed the depth and breath of musical traditions of the time. He incorporated everything from the blues of his native state of Mississippi to tin-pan alley pop, the essence of the rural white country tradition, elements of jazz, gospel influences, and melded them all to become the first real songster in the country tradition and the single most influential country artist of that time. His blue yodel was the source of the high lonesome singing style adopted by Hank Williams and others. King Oliver even adopted that yodel for a reworking of the New Orleans standard “St James Infirmary” in 1929. He was the first artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His plague read “The man who started it all” You can’t start walkin’ if your foot ain’t in Jimmie’s damn shoes.
It would hard to imagine how different music would be without the impact of The Carter Family. They were discovered in Bristol, Tennessee in1927 by Ralph Speer of RCA on the same field recording trip that brought Jimmie Rodgers from Meridian, Mississippi. (Can you fucking imagine?!)
The Carter Family laid the groundwork for much of American Roots Music. If you want to know where three part harmony began in country music look no further, if you want to know where the genesis of some of the biggest titles in folk and rural music emerged here they are – Wabash Cannonball, Wildwood Flower, Will the Circle be Unbroken, Single Girl, Worried Man Blues, Keep on the Sunny Side, name it – they sang it.
Their 78s sold incredibly well even into the darkest days of the Depression and they were all over the radio. You could catch their signal from West Texas to Kalamazoo, Los Angeles to Baltimore, Maryland. You root out any pillar or cornerstone in country music, early blues or whatever and they’ll point you in the direction of the Carter Family. Maybelle Carter’s guitar style would cause an avalanche in the music world. Her alternating thumb and first finger style influenced everybody, and I mean the biggest pickers you can name-drop - Les Paul, Merle Travis and Chet Atkins (their styles would later be studied and dissected by Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins and Cliff Gallup – the baddest mothers going in rockabilly guitar) but it didn’t stop there.
You know where the walking thumb driven bass style rooted deepest and exploded don’t you? The blues, that’s where. Hambone Willie Newbern first put it on record when he recorded the earliest known version of Roll and Tumble Blues which was several months after Maybelle’s style blanketed the radio waves. It became a benchmark of the delta blues tradition used by everybody from Charley Patton to Son House to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Which leads me to….
If the blues were a vast ocean that could somehow be diluted to single drop of water that you could let soak into the palm of your hand – that drop of water would be Son House.
While Charley Patton might well be rightfully known as the Father of the Delta Blues it was House who took his style and condensed it into the music recognized as Delta blues today. Patton’s canvas was wide but it still exhibited much of an earlier tradition characterized by his main influence, The Mississippi Sheiks. House on the other hand honed his style down to razor sharpness and used the bottleneck slide as his main weapon. He married the purest embodiment of delta singing to lyrical imagery that reached in every direction at once, from the field, to the pulpit, the Saturday night house party, to the back bedroom and when he was done with it he wretched together songs with an intensity that had cataclysmic power. There were forces at work inside him that took control of his being when he sang and his slide became as dangerous as a knife blade. If you’ve ever seen any footage of him singing you know what I’m talking about and if you ain’t ever seen any footage of him singing you ain’t seen shit.
House was thee major influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Many of Johnson’s major songs borrow pieces from other, earlier artists - House more so than any. You must remember that Johnson’s records didn’t sell at all during his lifetime. His biggest selling record was Terraplane Blues and it sold hardly anything. When Muddy was discovered by Alan Lomax in 1941 he tells Lomax that Johnson and House were about equal and that his own biggest influence was Son House – that he preferred House to Johnson.
When House re-emerged in the sixties he was one of the very few surviving links to the earliest days of Delta blues history. It was House who accidentally set off the “Johnson sold his soul to the Devil” firestorm when he recalled Johnson’s return from Hazlehurst, Mississippi. House had told Pete Welding that “Robert couldn’t play no guitar, he could do pretty good on harp, I told him stick with it. He just beat on the guitar and made a racket – like to get us run off from where we was playing. Then he came back after while with a guitar on his back – we all tease him, say could he play it? He sure could then – he was gone. Boy musta sold his soul to the devil to play like that…” But after Johnson died he didn’t have much influence until much, much later. It was these little pieces from House and the lack of information on him that caused the mystery that drove people to create wild stories.
Sure some carried on Johnson’s tradition and his music, Elmore James turned some of his numbers into anthems. Robert Lockwood spread some of his influence while working with Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Hour over WFFA radio out of Helena, Arkansas.
But, Muddy exerted a much bigger influence that Johnson ever did. Muddy invented the Chicago Blues sound, earlier Chicago Blues stuff was pretty pale in comparison – it had become urbane and lacked the grit of the country. Before Muddy re-infused some Mississippi influences it was an entirely different sound. If you’re looking for an electric influence, then it’s Muddy. But House – he’s your man.
And for electric guitar you can’t begin to talk without putting Charlie Christian forward first. Without him you just got a buggy and no damned horse to pull it. It all, all of it comes back to Charlie. Here you go:
B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Lowell Fulsom, all of them were referencing T-Bone Walker. All of them admit it. They wanted to play like T-Bone. Read anything that any of them have to say. Even Jimmy Rodger, who played with Muddy’s first electric blues band – he was referencing T-Bone. And T-Bone, he was just dieing to be as smooth as Charlie. He was picking up on everything Charlie did. Charlie Christian was the first genius of electric guitar. It all boils down to him.
So my recommendations are:
The Carter Family
Son House or Muddy Waters
What a post that was!