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Thread: The "High Lonesome" Sound Defined?

  1. #26
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    Garrett, you may have grabbed it by the roots. Roscoe H. is not your everyperson's model these days, but some years ago was a major influence for many. There are others not as famous.
    But what we have here is the convergence/split of old and new. With a very few in the middle still. Definitely the sound originated in the Appalachian tradition - and as we envision here, a unique development of the European immigrants living in the new world. It can be traced back deep into differing sections of Europe and European folk musics. But somewhere along the line, this music became more than localized phenomenon (probably in the early 20th century and due to radio/recording) and began to typify a certain region of the United States.
    Most of us now think of Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe (and his many great vocalists!), as leading the way for Peter Rowan,Del McCourey, Mike Seegar, John Herald, and, yes, even Dan Tyminski from time to time. There are so many others with great skill at these heart-wrenching tenor vocals that showcase this style to great effect. To say they are spiritual is a bit vague, and probably not overly correct. Although some have amazing lyrical beauty, some are just plainly pathological. Yes, Gospel, Shape Note, and other religious music overlapped with the music of the many HL performers, but that's another complex story. In the modern sense, high and lonesome has now become that back of the neck hair raising sound that grabs you whether you want it to or not.
    A recent commercialization that was not all that tacky was Stanley's 'O Death' in "Oh, Brother". Kind of trancended the filmed sequence.

    We baritones don't always aspire to these particular heights, and tend to explore other avenues. #

    rasa




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    The harmonies on Hot Rize's 'Footsteps so Near' epitomizes the high lonesome sound for me.
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    This is a great thread......

    I also know that Jimmy says he created the "High Lonesome Sound" when he was with Bill. Whether or not that's true is speculative, but it is pretty clear that they kicked a lot of tunes up into higher keys (or as Jimmy says "keyed em on up there") when Jimmy joined the band.

    I'm also glad to see Buzz Busby mentioned. "The Lonesome Wind" is about as lonesome as it gets, there mister.........

    Also, as to Jimmy being Bill's best lead singer, I think it's kind of subjective. Although I have my preferences, I'd rather spend my energy and time listening to all of that old stuff, especially the Flatt/Monroe and the Martin/Monroe duets.

    OK, here's the problem: It is now 12:30 AM. I have to be at work in exactly 5 hours. BUT, I'm so jacked up about this, I'm sure that I'll sit down and listen to all of that Monroe stuff from 1945 through 1954 tonight.

    Wish me luck on "The Chain Gang" tomorrow...........

    More coffee Jim?

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    Thanks for the suggestions folks, I'm headed into the radio station to see how many of these I can find.

    We've been talking a lot about Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin and such, but how about any of the current bluegrass performers (besides Del McCoury)? #I just heard a recording by David Davis and Warrior River Boys, that sounded pretty high and lonesome to me.

    So far my take on this sound is a high pitch for the singer (seems like the key of B quite often) with the falsetto voice as a feature and possibly a tenor vocal above that. #I still think the subject matter should reflect lonliness or a lost love sort of thing. #I think that might separate the material from gospel songs that have a similar vocal style, such as "Get Down On Your Knees and Pray".

    Keep 'em commin'





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    Hey flathead!!... thanks for the support & "agreement! - Yes, it IS a subjective matter for discussion. "Evan R.", our resident Monroe authority is of the opinion that ED Mayfield was the finest - if not best - "lead" singer for Monroe (hey Evan..,I know you're out there!??) - That material from the Martin, Mayfield, Del Mc. era is priceless - anybody that don't get "goosebumps" listening to THAT ..., is surely DEAD!! - There are also many who would say Peter Rowan and that "Boston/folk/college era" group of "Bluegrass Boys' contributed much. They certainly created a much broader "listener base"(i.e. "younger") for Mssr. Monroe. Regards and keep a' pickin... MOOSE.




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    Monroe liked Edd Myfield's vocal blend with his tenor maybe more than anyone else. In additon, Monroe admired Edd Mayfield because Mayfield was a real Texas coyboy & could ride a horse probably better than Monroe himself could. And anyone who could do anything 'manly' better than Monroe could was sure to win a bit of admiration from Monroe.
    I have to mention that the Monroe - Frank Buchanan blend was also pretty good!!!
    To answer a reference to Hazel & Alice as epitomizing 'High & Lonesome', I dug out their CD the other day; their version of Monroe's "The One I Love is Gone" may be all you need to hear.

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    This really is a great thread…

    About Edd Mayfield: #I concur that he was most definitely one of the best that Bill ever had. #As Evan (certainly one of the “Monroe-esque” cats I’ve ever met) said, Edd was a real Texas tough-assed cowboy, which suited Bill fine. # He played on most or all of the “I Saw The Light” record in the 50’s.

    I got a chance to be around Bill Monroe for a few hours several years ago, and I asked him about Edd Mayfield. #At first he didn’t say anything, he just kind of looked at the floor. #This went on for maybe a minute or two (which, by the way, seemed like a lifetime to me). #After this minute or two of silence, I started to get up and leave the room. #Right as I stood up, he looked at me and said “Edd was a fine a Bluegrass Boy, and a mighty powerful man, too”. #Then Bill told me the story *in detail* of the last days of Edd’s life. # He talked for hour at least, maybe more. #It was kind of like a floodgate opened. #I remember he stressed that when the band pulled into Bluefield, West Virginia, Bill went and found a hotel “with a bed, you know….and air conditioning” expressly for Edd, to keep him comfortable. #As I recall, he then said he got a doctor to look at Edd, after which Edd was immediately admitted to the hospital. #I think he only lived a few more days after that.

    Among the many things that struck me about that conversation was that quote: #“….with a bed you know…and air conditioning”. #The way he said it gave (to me, at least) a huge insight about just exactly how tough those guys had it on the road, back then. #A bed was a luxury, and air conditioning was a fantasy for those guys.

    That kind of makes the “Which is better, a Calton or a Pegasus case?” argument seem just a tad thin, doesn’t it?

    More Please…..

    Best Regards to all

    Jim Rollins

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    Flatthead: Thanks for sharing that.

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    Hey All,

    High lonesome sound? Why has nobody mentioned the band Open Road.
    Their lead singer Bradford Lee Folk flat gets it done. Go to:

    http://www.openroadbluegrass.com/sound.html

    an give a listen to Cold Wind or Hard Times if you have any doubt.

    Take Care! -Ed-

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    Ditto what Moose said! I had always heard that Monroe had a special place in his heart for Edd Mayfield and this story confirms it.

    Thanks for sharing!
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    If I remember right, Edd Mayfield wrote "I'm a Knockin' on Your Door" which is both high and lonesome. Did he ever record it with Monroe? I only know versions of it covered by Peter Rowan.
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    I believe the song was actually written by Merle 'Red' Taylor. #There is a live recording of Edd doing the song with Monroe (Beanblossom 1954??) and that tape is where Grisman learned the tune.
    A self-correction: I was thinnking about "I ain't Broke..."




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    " I think that might separate the material from gospel songs that have a similar vocal style, such as "Get Down On Your Knees and Pray".

    Pete, it's something to consider that the the predominant religious (Christian) outlook viewed life as a path of suffering and loneliness with the promise of salvation to come.

    So, I don't see the same problem that you do about the gospel songs. Though I'm not a relious person myself, I plainly hear the pain, faith, and hope within those old gospel songs like "Get Down on Your Knees and Pray"

    - Benig

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    I quit countin' all the tunes I've learned to love, then found out later they were considered gospel, and here I just thought they were great music, with or without a label. But then I tend to judge music on how it makes me feel rather than just the notes played, and the bluesier gospel stuff just gives me that good bluesy feelin', sad but happy to be that way.
    mandollusional Mike

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    Although it is risky to make any absolute statement about waht constitutes 'blue grass music', I'll say it is impossible to remove the religious/gospel component from Monroe's music and exclude that from consideration.
    Monroe recorded maybe four gospel albums. They contain some of the greatest examples of his music, that is Blue Grass music.
    One of the not-previously-mentioned singers with Monroe was Carter Stanley. Go listen to "You're Drifting Away" for an example of the best in Monroe's Blue Grass music. Their other vocal collaboration was on "Sugar Coated Love"; try topping that one also!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Benignus @ April 08 2004, 09:40)
    Pete, it's something to consider that the the predominant religious (Christian) outlook viewed life as a path of suffering and loneliness with the promise of salvation to come.

    So, I don't see the same problem that you do about the gospel songs. Though I'm not a relious person myself, I plainly hear the pain, faith, and hope within those old gospel songs like "Get Down on Your Knees and Pray"
    Interesting observation and quite frankly, I had never looked at it from that perspective.

    I was thinking about the notion of "lonliness" in the context of a romantic point of view, but one could also look at it from a philosophical or religious context as well.

    I was just listening to Monroe sing "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" and the line about "travelling alone" struck me that it might describe the lonely path of religious conviction.

    I am still curious about the "high" component - do most people feel this equates to falsetto voice or are there tonal (perhap nasal) considerations as well?

    Evan - I sure don't want to go down the "what is bluegrass?" path, I'm more interested in looking at this one particular aspect of bluegrass music. #Much like a "fiddle tune" or "gospel quartet", I think the high lonesome sound is merely a part of the overall composition of bluegrass and I'm really looking for specific song examples that people feel describe the sound.



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    "I know dark clouds will hang 'round me,
    I know my way is rough and steep
    Yet beauteous fields lie just before me
    Where God's redeemed their virgils keep
    I'm going there to see my mother
    She said she'd meet me when I come
    I'm only going over Jordan
    I'm only going over home"

    I have a lot of respect for religious conviction. I think those lyrics above speak to something deep inside us all. I've always looked at the 'lonesome' adjective as describing the longing for those who have passed over, our mothers, siblings, spouses and children ... rather than the lonelienss of a 'mere' broken heart.

    So ... I guess I'm back on page (1), agreeing with Garrett.

    "And the Ultimate
    Brother Bill -- Get Down on Your Knees and Pray"

    - Benig




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    Hey All,

    I must confess that I've never though of high lonesome in terms of religion. Interesting perspective. I guess I always assumed you were lonesome if you weren't! The idea of being alone as in separated from those who have passed over fits though. Listen to Ralph Stanley doin the fields have turned brown for example. To me high lonesome in bluegrass has usually mean't a high tenor like voice with nasal characteristics singing songs about loneliness (many causes) or loss or a man's lone struggles with nature. Often though the voice predominates - singers like Mon, Del, Bradford Lee all have that relatively unique high lonesome voice.

    Take Care! -Ed-

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Benignus @ April 08 2004, 11:31)
    Where God's redeemed their virgils keep....
    I don't want to get too far off base, but I always thought that line was:

    Where Gods we deem, their vigils keep

    I always thought it was a strange line and it made me think the lyric was more Pagan than it apparently is..........

    Benig - thanks for your thought provoking and insightful input. #This is what I like about the Mandolin Cafe!



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    " Benig - thanks ... "

    Thank you!

    " ... but I always thought that line was: "

    [shrug] I just did a command-C off an Internet lyric site ... I honestly can't really make heads or tails out of either line up above. I don't sing the song, but if I did, I would have to figure out something there that I could understand as I have a hard time singing a line I wouldn't speak.

    This is also, just the sort of discussion I look for here at The Cafe. Great thread Pete!

    - Benig

    P.S. Thanks Pete for the compare and constrast right below here. *Now* I get it.




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    Quote Originally Posted by (Benignus @ April 08 2004, 16:12)
    I honestly can't really make heads or tails out of either line up above.
    Where God's redeemed, their vigils keep

    Folks up in heaven watching over us. #I assume they are keeping a vigil until we get there (assuming that we're going there in first place, eh?)

    Where Gods we deem, their vigils keep

    Many gods (think Romans and Greeks) that we choose might be watching over us. #I know that's a bit of a stretch, but I always liked that notion and I continue to sing it that way as it suits my ideas about religion in general.



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    FYI... "Get Down on Your Knees and Pray": Recorded July 6, 1951, (8:30 a.m.-12:00 a.m.) ; personnel: Carter Stanley, lead ; Bill Monroe, tenor ; Rudy Lyle, bass ; Gordon Terry, baritone. "Wayfaring Stranger" : recorded March 31, 1958 ; personnel : Bill Monroe ; Edd Mayfield ; Kenny Baker ; Cully Holt.(Source: Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys; an illustrated discography, compiled...by Neil Rosenberg. c1974. The Country Music Foundation Press.).

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    I think the high lonesome sound is high. But I get that same high lonesome feeling listening to other Bluegrass bands that do not have that timbre,, for instance Lost Highway.
    Why is that?

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    IMWO, Lost Highway does it for me with their harmonies.
    mandollusional Mike

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Frankmc @ April 09 2004, 09:51)
    I think the high lonesome sound is high. But I get that same high lonesome feeling listening to other Bluegrass bands that do not have that timbre,, for instance Lost Highway.
    Why is that?
    So is it possible that there may a "low lonesome" sound? #I guess the key elements are the relative pitch of the song (for the singer's voice and harmony vocals) and subject matter. #Can you cite an example by Lost Highway that you feel illustrates your point?

    For example, what if a baritone singer was to attempt this sound? #I can't think of an example off the top of my head, but I'm going to look around and see if I can find one.



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