Discussion in 'Art & Culture' started by Fraggle Rocker, Oct 21, 2009.
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That was virtually every American's introduction to the acoustic twelve-string guitar, in the hands of Eric Darling. Within a year, half of the guitarists I knew had bought one.
I waited several years, but when I finally bought mine it was a Martin, so I was king of the hill. I still have it, a D-12-35 made in the 1960s before the factory lost so much of its wood inventory in that (rather suspicious) warehouse fire.
Unfortunately, since I've been playing electric bass for 40 years, I've lost my guitar chops. I can fumble my way through a simple song on a six-string, but not a twelve.
I wonder why someone would burn it down, wasn't it making money back then since it was one of the best guitar makers around?
I can't tell the difference between 6 or 12 whenever I'm listening to music so I woner if I'm the only one who hears it like that.
Why is a twelve string necessary when six strings sound very good?
Here's an example of an earlier rendering from about the same genre, which also relies that pivot on Am-F. Of course it's relentless here. But you can almost sing the opening lines of "Rhiannon" on top of it, just about at half speed:
I was listening to this today and it occurred to me that they never once sounded a true chord progression. All of the chords are implied -- since there is no fourth player to furnish the harmonic framework -- and our "mind's ear" fills it in for us.
While kids I knew cut their eye teeth on ukes, recorders, and Silvertone guitars, I shared an Egmond 12-string with a cousin who mentored me. At the tender age of 11 someone decided that since I could play The Times They Are A-Changin, all the way through, without messing up, that I was ready for public performance. They talked me into playing it at what I thought was a small gathering of a few neighbors at a church picnic. When I showed up, they led me to a staircase which, when I ascended and passed through a doorway, put me on an end zone-sized wooden stage looking out high above an endless throng of faces. This jumbo guitar was deep enough to Scotch tape a cheat sheet of Bob Dylan's lengthy lyrics, and that, of course, was my secret to "not messing up". However, as soon as they did a sound check on me, the stage manager ran out and and adjusted the mikes and advised me not to worry about the volume of the guitar, but in order to send my voice (even though I bellowed) I needed to keep my lips up close to the windscreen. This of course forced me to look out on the sea of people craning their necks to see over each other, and made it impossible to follow my cheat sheet. Consequently, I did mess up, repeating the first stanza where I couldn't remember one of the others. And when I realized I'd done that, it confused me for a while, leaving me vamping on chords in the progression where I didn't intent to. But I had figured out that the first trick to not being noticed as a novice is not to mess up the rhythm and certainty of the chords, which were firmly ingrained in my mind. So I seamlessly fouled up and made it to the end. Then there was a pause in which you could hear a pin drop. I was sure that no one liked my rendering of this familiar tune, when in fact most of them were probably stunned -- I think most of them had never heard a protest song before, and certainly didn't expect to hear it at a church picnic. Lines like "you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone" and "your sons and your daughters are beyond your command" just seemed so cool to me I think I aced the diction, and maybe even accentuated those kinds of lines with a sort of enthusiastic flair. And of course, Dylan lays it on thick with Bible references like "the last will be first and the first will be last", and in fact this quasi-religious content is probably landed me the gig, notwithstanding all those cynical quips about the establishment stepping aside or getting run over by the underground.
Well, about the time I got up off the stool, bowed, and turned around, anxious to get down those stairs, I guess the synapses had all reset and the collective brain of the audience rebooted itself . . . and then there was this roar, and when I turned around I could see in slo-mo hundreds of people jumping to their feet wildly clapping, whistling, just about doing cartwheels. It was then that it occurred to me: well, gee, if they liked that then I wonder if they would like it better if I actually bothered to really learn the songs. So I was smitten. I undertook a project to memorize as many lyrics as I could, beginning with whatever I could figure out Bob Dylan was saying, plus the endless supply of folksongs found in books by Alan Lomax which I checked out repeatedly from the local library until the pages were all dog-eared, and they had to replace the sheet where the "date due" is stamped.
My cousin ended up giving me this 12-string guitar after seeing how manic I'd become. I played the hell out if it for about a year, probably immunizing myself against carpal tunnel syndrome. A year or so later he went off to college and left me, yes, his Silvertone electric and amp with mike and stand. The sound of me rattling the window panes on the garage doors may have invited my parents to rush in and, once I had dropped a few decibels, to my chagrin, only then could I hear them hollering in triple-f, "TURN IT DOWN!" in a shrill sort of Valkyrie voice which only developed in them during my electric years. But I soon found out the sound carried around the neighborhood, so all sorts of people were showing up all the time to jam, just kicking the amplitude up into the red zone, way beyond simple tympanic membrane damage level, somewhere closer to "may cause chronic migraines". A few incarnations of a garage band emerged from this, and that sort of set the tempo of my junior and senior high life. At least I was able to earn enough to buy my first motorcycle, then my first car, and to upgrade to jet engine-grade amplifiers.
But what got me to thinking about this was that I ended up playing for 17 years in a jazz band. Shortly after I joined the bassist quit, so I switched over to fill the gap. So like you I have the rather long experience on bass stemming from and early introduction to the 12-string.
In celebration of that instrument, and kind of keeping with the genre, how about some Leo Kotke? The audio sucks, but someone needs to find this and remaster it -- I think it conveys the essence of his trademark sound. Git-fiddlers like yourself will recognize this not only as the 12-string, but one with open tuning, a slide, and of course those finger picks which give an attack something like a harpsichord:
Never heard of him before now thanks for turning me on to him, he plays great on that 12 string.
I'm glad, cosmic. The first time I heard him I thought it was Johnny Cash -- back during that period when he started covering counterculture tunes. Except the guitar technique was completely fresh, leaving me to think Johnny Cash had dropped acid or something and found a whole new identity.
Weren't ear pieces around when you played so that someone could just tell you the next lines to sing? Most people used them to hear themselves sing but others did use them to get prompts. Also many famous people, Sinatra, used TV monitors with the lyrics scrolled along to let them see their lyrics.
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