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Rock 'n' Roll - swing vs eighths


Phil W

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Had that great feeling the other night playing some rock 'n' roll classics. One example was in Johnny B Goode. The crowd was moving, the dancers were really caught in the groove, I smiled at the drummer who was swinging as I dished out the thumb and palm-mute swing style quarter notes :D . . . then the bubble burst (well maybe just got a little out of shape) :rolleyes: .

The guitarist/bandleader was in my face "Eighths, eighths he was shouting" - I pretended not to hear :evil: . I wanted to keep the dancers dancing, not in a heap on the floor.

We'd had this discussion in rehearsals, what bass player played straight eighths on the original recordings anyway, save for Jerry Lee Lewis' left hand. We'd decided to go for the swing feel as it grooved more, but the bandleader is brought up on the modern eighth note style.

Well, he is the bandleader, he gets the bookings, pays the band, hires and fires even sorts out the transport so I should just follow orders. We taked amicably about it (I didn't let on that I pretended not to hear - twice), and it's something we have to resolve. At the moment, there's an extent where he needs me enough for what I can deliver, that he does listen to and value my advice. Maybe if he found another bass player as good, I'd have problems. :eek:

 

What would you do?

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I think you already have the answer:

Well, he is the bandleader, he gets the bookings, pays the band, hires and fires even sorts out the transport so I should just follow orders.
It is simply a matter of interpretation and taste. He isn't asking you to play triplets or do something that really doesn't work... why not?

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Fair enough, what was the problem in this situation was that the drummer was playing swing eighths so it would have changed the feel mid-song but we all know that can work as in Jerry Jemmott with BB King (although it's ridiculous to mention him and me in the same sentence).

We'll sort it out at the next rehearsal, maybe swing some, play quarter notes on others with a duple feel on the drums and play eighths on others as I do on the Jerry Lee Lewis stuff.I'm flexible, I just prefer the swing feel on at least some of the tunes. We swung Rock Around the Clock as in the original

You're right Bob, it would be wrong of me to try to undermine the bandleader and I have to do my job. He's a great peformer and he's brought me much needed opportunities anyway.

I learnt all of the parts from CDs he sent out which had the original 50s recordings but I don't mind being flexible as to what works.

The older crowds (most of our audiences) seem to prefer the original swing feel but wwe'll work it out.

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The bandleader cuts the checks...if he asks you to do something, be grateful it's not something that is completely inappropriate and terrible...a request I often get ("play slap bass!" on a ballad, fer instance).
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If the drummer is swinging the beat, you can't really play straight eighths and you already know that.

 

On some of the original Chuck Berry stuff, Chuck is playing straight eighths, the drummer is playing swing eighths and bass player is playing quarter notes.

 

It sounds like you need to talk to the drummer....and tell him that the band leader wants you to play straight eighths...you need him to play straight eighths so that it will all work.

 

The next question is what feel is the bandleader playing? If he is playing straight, just go with him and forget the authentic reproduction of Chuck's records. But of course you and the drummer have to talk about it ahead of time.

 

If you ever have rehearsals you and the drummer could demonstrate several feels and ask which one he likes better.

 

And I think we both already know what he will say.

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Good points, I think there is also the issue of the bandleader's communication with the drummer. As you say, 'If the drummer is swinging the beat, you can't really play straight eighths and you already know that.' I think the next rehearsal will resolve the whole thing.

It's one thing knowing 40 or 50 tunes and another thing getting the performance as tight as you'd like. Particularly as in a handful of gigs with this band I've already played with three different drummers, and we have a gig coming up with another dep!

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

On some of the original Chuck Berry stuff, Chuck is playing straight eighths, the drummer is playing swing eighths and bass player is playing quarter notes.

 

If you ever have rehearsals you and the drummer could demonstrate several feels and ask which one he likes better.

 

And I think we both already know what he will say.

Why does nobody ever play this right? I saw Steve Jordan and the NRBQ bassist do this (behind Chuck)and it was so cool. Nobody ever plays it like this! He's on glue. But if he's writing the checks.....
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Originally posted by DONUT:

Why does nobody ever play this right? I saw Steve Jordan and the NRBQ bassist do this (behind Chuck)and it was so cool. Nobody ever plays it like this! He's on glue. But if he's writing the checks.....

You're right about going with the guy who pays your rent. I must know 3 or 4 ways to play it depending on who hires me.

 

Once I had to deal with a drummer who thought the bandleader asked him to play "Cold Shot" (SRV) instead of JBG, so we adjusted the tempo and my playing accordingly. Ironically, very few people (including the drummer) caught on to what we were doing.

 

OTOH, I don't mind some of the "wrong" versions of Johnny B. Goode. The versions by Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter aren't that bad to listen to.

And I have to admit at times I still find it hard to hear the bass on some of Chuck's tracks. Are there better mixes out yet?

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Yeah, the Jimi version is great. We had tried out several feels at rehearsal and the bandleader had chosen/been persuaded of the swing one. At it's best it did work with the guitarist playing straight eighths, the drummer playing swing eighths and myself on the quarter-notes. I'm thinking now maybe the guitarist/bandleader was somehow uncomfortable with his playing over the rhythm though to me it just sounded like a cool tension and obviously the dancers liked it.

Fred, I have that problem with the mix on Chuck's records - I've been boosting the bass frequencies and trying to get a feel for what the guy is doing - it's some crazy stuff: sharp 9ths and all sorts. I play it more restrained in terms of note choice as I'm more audible and want to avoid those funny looks ;)

We finally got to play Bebopalula at a gig - that song rocked, I love the time feeling on that song, hope no-one would try to play that one with straight eighths!

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Well, I learned it the "wrong" way in '78; didn't have a recording to go by. (I was only 11 at the time.) To me it's always a straight-8ths song.

 

OTOH, if by dancers dancing on the dance floor you mean swing dancers, well, I'm one of those people, too. From that perspective, I'd rather dance to swing-8ths, even something like Johnny B that approaches a dangerously fast tempo. (I'm more sufficient at east coast/Savoy style than that crazy west coast/slot dancing.) Still, there are plenty of different ways to dance the song; if it's straight-8ths I'd probably do a '50s-style jitterbug, but someone else may do a '20s collegiate shag. A little slower and you can lindey hop to either straight or swing.

 

Of course if it's too fast, I'll be finding a drink and a seat. ;)

 

(It may be that your band leader has spoken with the dancers/instructor and they said they need at least one song fast and straight so they can dance a particular style, too.)

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That's a usfeul perspective for me, Ric. On another topic I've been watching an English documentary about the history of dance and hearing dancers talk about afro-cuban dance styles explained a lot to me. To me, and many musicians, Salsa often seemed a rather meaningless catch-all term, sometimes you might play rumba, son, guajira, guaguanco, meringue, cha cha cha etc. under the heading of salsa but when dancers talk of Salsa, they are talking anout a dance style which is a fusion of other styles.

The dancing was spontaneous and the dancers were dancing in pairs in the classic rock'n'roll style. We had plenty of other fast straight eighths tunes so it wasn't the case of giving the dancers something fast, the bandleader's instruction came in the middle of the tune.

We could have made it work, and I probably should have followed instruction. He's a well organised bandleader who sorts out CDs of material for everyone, runs everything on time, plays great guitar and is sorting me out with a jazz/function/bowtie/tux regular gig so I should be and am grateful.

I'm interested in other people's approaches to similar material though. I know Ed Friedland influenced me approach with some of his articles/books.

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Originally posted by Phil W:

On another topic I've been watching an English documentary about the history of dance and hearing dancers talk about afro-cuban dance styles explained a lot to me. To me, and many musicians, Salsa often seemed a rather meaningless catch-all term, sometimes you might play rumba, son, guajira, guaguanco, meringue, cha cha cha etc. under the heading of salsa but when dancers talk of Salsa, they are talking anout a dance style which is a fusion of other styles.

I'm no expert on Latin dance styles, but I have had instruction on at least salsa, meringue, rumba, tango, cha cha cha. Each is danced quite differently. For this and other "ballroom" dancing -- from the dancers' perspective -- you want a nice variety throughout the evening. If the band (or dj) is playing salsa all night, admittedly the more popular of the bunch in my area, someone will eventually request a tango or something different. But tango is not as "street dancer" friendly, so something like that might clear the floor at a club where teens/twenties hang out, but not an event hosted by a dance studio.

 

Why do dancers like variety? They may only know a dozen moves in a given style. Playing different styles allows a greater variety of dance steps to be employed, thus alleviating boredom.

 

It can be quite intimidating to learn to dance, especially if you've never tried and feel you have no inate ability. It's quite terrifying to take the dance floor when you've only learned one style, and then only the basic step and perhaps one turn. But it can be quite rewarding if you stick to it, especially if you have a long-term partner (like a spouse) for partner dancing. If nothing else, you can be a hit at any wedding you attend! :) (I've been to an outrageous number of weddings; I think 10 in one year not too long ago.)

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Dancing is so so cool, with any music, especially once you get over the fear of failure and ridicule. Face it folks, most people in America can't really dance, and most "professionals" aren't going to show up and mock you at a local club or wedding, so even if you can only shine at a "Revenge Of The Nerds" social function, just go out and do it!

 

One of my dates took me to an "industrial disco" club where I'm sure I embarrased myself pogoing around and working up a sweat in a crowd of people a couple of generations younger than me. But it's made me a better bass player by training my body on how to react to the beat. Not that it replaces sight reading or music theory, but it helps on a subliminal level just like ear training.

:wave:

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I had a good chat with the bandleader on the phone. He is happy to try out different feels. His problem wsthat he has done so many duo gigs with the keyboard player (and backing tapes - due to obscure UK entertainment licensing laws - due to change mnext month). He is very used to what the backing tapes do but obviously prefers a live band.

I also heard from a mutual acquantaince that he frequently praises my musicianship and bass playing, so I guess the position is safe for now.

At least until he finds a bass player that can do backing vocals!

:freak:

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

...On some of the original Chuck Berry stuff, Chuck is playing straight eighths, the drummer is playing swing eighths and bass player is playing quarter notes...

The classic problem with early Chuck Berry - add that Johnny Johnson, the piano player, is also playing swing. To my ears it's that polyrhythm that makes early Chuck so compelling. But it's hard to get a band to replicate that. I (as a guitarist) usually just churn out the straight eighths and don't worry about it.

 

On other Chuck stuff, like, say, "Almost Grown", the swing feel is indispensable.

 

 

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