Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tarheel Slim - Number 9 Train (Fury 1016)

Number Nine Train

The guitar moved forward in the mix all through the 1950s, while the sax began a gradual process of being squeezed out. This cut was released in 1958, and there's not a saxophone in sight. In the place usually occupied by the horns, two or three guitars stir the roux all through the song, while one fellow cuts loose towards the end with a killer guitar solo. 

I don't read much about it, but recording technology and the electrification of the guitar had a lot to do with changing instrumentation over the course of the entire 20th Century. While guitars were straight-up acoustic, the banjo was a necessary part of a jazz band. It was the only stringed thing loud enough to cut through the horns. Horns make a terrible racket. If there's a sax player in the group, sometimes you just have to tell the guy, “please, don't aim that thing at me.” The horns could drown out a guitar, no problem.

Then came decent guitar amps and better microphones in the Thirties, and the guitar moved up at the expense of the banjo. Before long, the banjo was a rare thing to see in a jazz outfit. The guitars were still regular hollow wooden boxes with lousy pick-ups on them. They were okay for chords, and could generate some volume, but feedback was a problem, and horns still took most of the solos.

The clarinet was popular there for a while for reasons somewhat analogous to the banjo. They have such a high, penetrating sound that they could be heard over any racket that the band could make. 

That was it throughout the Forties. In the early 1950s, Les Paul and Leo Fender simultaneously introduced very good solid body electric guitars with much better pick-ups. And Leo also came out with some new amps that could just blow like hurricanes. It was a few years before the guitarists got the nerve to really push those amps, but guys like Guitar Slim really started to have some fun. Distortion lost its stigma and was no longer considered to be a problem. By the time Number Nine Train came out, guitars were taking over.

The drums were still a problem. The mics of the time just weren't up to the challenge of accurately recording drums. On a lot of mid-1950s rock and roll records, the drum part was recorded by putting a mic inside a cardboard box and playing a simple part on the box. All of that had been sorted out by the early 1960s, and thereupon rock and roll took over the world.

I love songs like Number Nine Train, and I love artists like Tarheel Slim, and I'm grateful to record producers like Bobby Robinson, of Fury Records and many other smaller labels. This is one of his records. Bobby had a great ear and the energy to put the whole show together and sell it. Without guys who can do that, we're all just sitting under a tree strumming the blues for the birds.

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