Monday, 7 November 2016

School of Underground Scrape Part 2

Some more key recordings of Underground Violin music:

Reaching back to the beginning of electric violin shredding we find a couple of diamonds in the rough so to speak, rough diamonds, uncut and filthy despite their hideous Hollywoodish American schtick historical placement. Both created some extraordinary music for the times it seems, with the first being one of the great innovators of Rock 'N' Roll, the other a more obscure choice, being both African-American AND a woman no doubt playing some part in this, although a life of cheesy cruise ship gigs and Las Vegas orchestra jobs, as well as becoming a TV personality, probably didn't help to overshadow her greater artistic triumphs.

The first to whom I refer is none other than Bo Diddley, whose background is famously enough rooted in the violin music his mother got him to play in church as a child, and without a doubt, like other guitar gods who followed such as Eddie Van Halen who also shared a childhood schooling in the violin, you can hear violin licks in Diddley's guitar playing. He never really got the violin out much in his legendary Rock 'n' Roll trailblazing, except for on a cut I recently discovered on my travels in NYC, spun by a 45 rockin' DJ at Troost in downtown Brooklyn one fateful September eve. I couldn't wait to tell Henry Flynt about it, before winding up a little drunk and promptly forgetting about it as I hit the air again Helsinki-bound, only to be reminded of it by fellow Scrapes founder Ryan Potter a few weeks later while I made my way through a can of Karhu in my Turku accommodation. I did finally share this piece, known as The Clock Strikes Twleve with Henry and it blew his mind - "this pre-dates my American ethnic music by several years"...well... - and my mind remains suitably blown.

A basic 12 bar blues R & B piece of late 50s rockabilly ilk expected by any of these guys, the standout element being that the instrumental features Diddley on electric violin as the key solo instrument. The fiddle creaks and soars, downtrodden and distorted like a futurist vignette of decades of black fiddle music, buzzing with a tone that harks back to West African bowed chordophones like the gondze or riti and as high and lonesome as the rustiest harmonica. It is an extraordinary document, and one can only wonder what woulda happened had this vein of fiddle rock been taken up on mass at the time. Alas that was not the case, but around the same time another fiddler, having studied with the great jazz violinist Stuff Smith, shook her stuff in great early, obscure be-bop numbers, like A Woman's Place is in the Groove, recorded in a gimmick all-female ensemble which seems to have barely hidden a genuine feminist sub-text by performing such a number. The violinist wailing in this band was known as Ginger Smock, and her playing is truly singular and sadly overlooked by most of the planet.

Ginger's playing on much of the extant recordings featuring her, isn't hugely special (although the feel is wonderful and has more of the Black Gypsy of Eddie South to it than the clean polish of her mentor Stuff Smith), but it is unique enough. There is one recording though that is of a similar mind-manifesting level to Diddley's aforementioned masterpiece, and that is Ginger's Boogie, a mysterious piece found on a rather innocuous compilation called 'Boogie Woogie Gals' (2015, JSP Records). A standard 50s boogie woogie tune, it winds up into a vamp over which a male voice asks Ginger about her "mighty fine box", licentiously referring of course to the violin, which Ginger then cuts loose on with the wild abandon of a woman who wasn't going to let that sorry motherfucker anywhere near either box. The solo is mean, intense, and wilder than anything I've come across from the era, and far too short, a burst of free electric fiddle mung in a sea of sexist, formica coated, Hollywood bullshit.

This is just scratching the surface of early electric violinists, but I dare say this is some of the heaviest stuff from the 40s and 50s set to groove that anyone could readily find.


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