Last time, we looked at some intro lines for the harp. This time we take a look at the other end of the song. I remember when I was a kid, my friend's dad was a jazz piano player and he used to play us old blues and jazz records. I was always impressed by some of the endings on these records. You could almost see the recording engineer signalling to the musicians that it was time to bring the song to an end, as there was a limit to the amount of music you could fit on a 78! Best of all was the piano player Jimmy Yancey, who always ended his songs in Eb, no matter what key he started out in!
Many blues use the trick of ending on the flat seventh of the home scale. Our first example does this. This is taken from "Sixth Street Moan" by Kid Cole1. Kid Cole is almost certainly the singer/guitarist Bob Coleman who recorded both solo and with the Cincinnati Jug Band. He is also probably the same artist as Walter Cole and Walter Coleman. The harp on this piece is played by Sam Jones alias Stovepipe No.1. I have transcribed the intro and first verse to this elsewhere2, but I thought the ending deserved special attention. Played cross on a C harp (guitar in G) I love the sense of humour, with the bugle call riffs to set up the last line.
The second ending is a rather strange one from Daddy Stovepipe (Johnny Watson). "Black Snake Blues"3 is a standard 12 bar in the key of C, with Stovepipe playing first position on a C harp. Everything seems fairly normal and predictable until the very last note, which is the natural seventh of the home scale and Stovepipe suddenly plays an E chord on the guitar to finish the piece. Just in case you think this is a mistake, he uses a very similar ending on "Tuxedo Blues", recorded at the same session (also with the enthusiastic contributions of Whistlin' Pete, which made transcribing this ending far harder than it should have been), presumably with the assistance of some strange bootleg liquor. This needs a guitar to make it really work, but don't be surprised if your guitar player refuses to sully himself with this ending!
I think the final word on this subject should go to the Birmingham Jug Band. Short, synchronised and straight to the point, this is taken from "German Blues"4, but most of their performances use a variation of this ending riff. This is a Bb harp played cross, in the key of F. Jaybird Coleman is supposed to be the harp player with this outfit - I'm not convinced of that, but I don't have any better suggestions5. This riff should pose no technical difficulties and will sound impressive if your accompanists hit it the same time as you.
1. Reissued on Rare Country Blues Vol 3 1928 - 1936 (Document DOCD-5642). Click here for more details from Amazon.com or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk
2. Harmonica World, Apr-May 1991. Reprinted here.
3. Reissued on Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924 - 1949 (Document DOCD-5166). Click here for more details from Amazon.com or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk
4. Available on Jaybird Coleman & Birmingham Jug Band (Document DOCD-5140). Click here for more details from Amazon.com or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk
5. I am now pretty much certain that Jaybird Coleman was not the harp player on these sides. The original source for this information was Big Joe Williams and whilst he was a truly great bluesman, he was not the most reliable historian. It is possible that Jaybird played with them at some point, or played with another jug band from Birmingham which Big Joe was remembering, but the harmonica work on this session sounds nothing like him. They were recorded the same year that Jaybird recorded two tunes with piano accompaniment and there is a huge difference between the tight ensemble playing of the Jug Band and Jaybird's tendency to ignore strictly measured bars, preferring instead freely stretched field holler-like phrases. Compare also his session playing harp with Bertha Ross - strict 12 bar blues was just not his forte. Also, it sound like the harp player of the Birmingham Jug Band was also the singer and I don't think his voice sounds at all like Jaybird's.
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