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Tom Young


From:
Sacramento-California, USA
Post  Posted 19 Dec 2018 11:36 am    
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Didja know?: A 1927 recording by Blind Willie Johnson of Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground was launched into space as part of the Voyager mission.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNj2BXW852g

I initially posted this on a thread regarding blind steel players and couldn't believe that a few players were not mentioned. And since I don't know any other steel guitar in space- I figured it warranted its own headline! I just couldn't let these guys go un-championed! So we can't forget Blind Willie McTell either
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_yqc7hMHs0

Therefore in answer to the question: Can one play blind? Yes, Virginia... and if you're good enough you might even go to outer space!

(I think Chuck Berry was on the same flight)

Original Post: https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=257115&highlight=blind
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now the time to beat the earth with unfettered foot.
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Mike Anderson


From:
British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 21 Dec 2018 7:55 am    
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Welp...I’m going to have to play bubble burster here and say that bottleneck guitar is not steel guitar. Great song though!
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Tom Young


From:
Sacramento-California, USA
Post  Posted 21 Dec 2018 9:23 am    
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Mike Anderson wrote:
Welp...I’m going to have to play bubble burster here and say that bottleneck guitar is not steel guitar. Great song though!


Understood. I'm new around here and I took the board name literally: Steel Without Pedals
Lap steels, resonators, multi-neck consoles and acoustic steel guitars. I thought "acoustic steel guitar" meant slide players included.

Hopefully I am correct in my assumption that if one can learn to play bottleneck (or piano!) blind - one can certainly learn to play lap steel without their sight.

Cheers!
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The One & Lonely Tommy Young
Virtuous Victualer.

Now is the time for drinking;
now the time to beat the earth with unfettered foot.
-- Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 B.C.)
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post  Posted 21 Dec 2018 10:04 am    
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Mike Anderson wrote:
Welp...I’m going to have to play bubble burster here and say that bottleneck guitar is not steel guitar. Great song though!

I hate to burst your bubble, but a lot of the older so-called "slide" players played with the guitar with a knife for a steel bar, at least sometimes. I think it is generally agreed that "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" was played with a knife as a bar, not a slide.

I know that it is heresy around here to think about playing with a slide around a finger in the same breath as playing with a bar. But I view them quite similarly and play slide guitar plenty. And sometimes with a knife. Yes, there are technique differences, but that is also true for different versions of "steel guitar", of which there are many.
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Mike Anderson


From:
British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 22 Dec 2018 10:40 am    
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Dave Mudgett wrote:

I hate to burst your bubble, but a lot of the older so-called "slide" players played with the guitar with a knife for a steel bar, at least sometimes. I think it is generally agreed that "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" was played with a knife as a bar, not a slide.

I know that it is heresy around here to think about playing with a slide around a finger in the same breath as playing with a bar. But I view them quite similarly and play slide guitar plenty. And sometimes with a knife. Yes, there are technique differences, but that is also true for different versions of "steel guitar", of which there are many.


I don't see it as heresy at all - I think everyone, including Mr. Tom Young the original poster (and no offense at all meant to you Tom) is entitled to think of steel any way they want, so I'll rephrase:

TO ME, steel is played horizontally with a steel, and a guitar played in the standard "Spanish" fashion with a bottleneck or knife or whatever is slide or bottleneck, and they aren't the same thing. If they're the same thing, then Tampa Red and Bukka White and a thousand other slide players need to be included in this forum as steel players. I like having the distinction, YMMV. Smile
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Frank James Pracher


From:
Michigan, USA
Post  Posted 22 Dec 2018 7:31 pm    
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Well there's this....

https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=213975&highlight=astronaut
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Justin Lee


From:
Georgia, USA
Post  Posted 26 Dec 2018 10:33 am     Re: The Only Steel Player in Space? Blind WJ
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Tom Young wrote:
Didja know?: A 1927 recording by Blind Willie Johnson of Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground was launched into space as part of the Voyager mission.


I was talking to someone about this the other day when the song popped up on the playlist we were listening to and was glad to see your post.





It occurs to me that some may miss the wonder in this story, so I wanted to take a moment to share why it's meaningful to me.

Note: 90% is from other authors, and my 10% is mostly editing and summary.

Blind Willie Johnson's song, "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)" is currently hurtling through space at 38,026.77mph, having travelled more than 13.486 billion miles in 41 years. In 2012, after crossing the heliopause, it became the first blues song to reach leave our solar system and reach interstellar space.

The Voyager "Sounds of Earth" record is an analogue disc record containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, attached to the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft.

When the Voyager I and II spacecrafts launched in 1977 to explore the outer Solar System both carried identical messages to any form of life that might be encountered. The message was contained on a phonograph record--a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing a variety of images, natural sounds, spoken greetings in multiple languages and an eclectic 90-minute musical program that includes Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground".

"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" is 3 minutes and 21 seconds of Johnson's unique guitar playing in open D tuning. By most accounts, Johnson substituted a knife or penknife for the bottleneck.

The song's title is borrowed from a hymn that was popular in the nineteenth century American South with fasola singers. “Gethsemane”, written by English clergyman Thomas Haweis in 1792, begins with the lines “Dark was the night, cold was the ground / on which my Lord was laid.”

Francis Davis, author of The History of the Blues wrote, "In terms of its intensity alone—its spiritual ache—there is nothing else from the period to compare to Johnson's 'Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground', on which his guitar takes the part of a preacher and his wordless voice the part of a rapt congregation."

His melancholy, gravel-throated humming of the guitar part creates the impression of "unison moaning", a melodic style common in Baptist churches where, instead of harmonizing, a choir hums or sings the same vocal part, albeit with slight variations among its members. Although Johnson's vocals are indiscernible, several sources indicate the subject of the song is the crucifixion of Christ.

Professor Timothy Ferris, who produced the Voyager Golden Record, said of picking the songs, "We had a group of us working on the record. We reached out to all sorts of people: musicologists, field recordists like Alan Lomax, scholars of music - our main concern being to cast a wide net and have music from all over the world. Our two criteria, from the beginning and at the end, were to make it a world record, to make it universal as we could, and to make it a good record."

Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played.

The Golden Record also contains an introductory statement from then US president Jimmy Carter, who summarizes some of the aspirations of the scientists who assembled the first galactic mix tape:

"We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some – perhaps many – may have inhabited planets and spacefaring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message:

This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe."

It will be forty thousand years before they make a close approach to any other planetary system. As Carl Sagan has noted, "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

“Dark Was the Night” is a song that can move mountains, and has inspired nearly every blues and rock artist since. Jack White called it “the greatest example of slide guitar ever recorded.” Ry Cooder described it as “the most soulful, transcendent piece in all American music.” It was included on the Voyager Golden Record, explained producer Timothy Ferris, because "Johnson's song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight."

It’s a morsel of music heritage so precious and momentous and true that it was picked to represent humanity on Earth. If some intelligent life form ever comes across that album, they too are going to understand the same truth embodied by the blues: that along with all the beauty and brightness of the human experience, there also exists a darkness as inescapable as the night.

There's something about this song that moves me to tears for reasons I haven't begun to understand. Maybe it has something to do with the contrast between the cold loneliness of the Voyager journeys and the outburst of Willie Johnson's soul as he wails out for something that can't be conveyed in words...
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David Matzenik


From:
Cairns, on the Coral Sea
Post  Posted 27 Dec 2018 4:56 am    
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Its not that bottleneck isn't interesting music. Its just that it is not steel guitar. Steel is often played without sliding. Likewise, pedal-guitar doesn't belong here either, and I notice pedals on a recording posted in the last few days.
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Tom Young


From:
Sacramento-California, USA
Post  Posted 28 Dec 2018 6:30 am    
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David Matzenik wrote:
Its not that bottleneck isn't interesting music. Its just that it is not steel guitar. Steel is often played without sliding. Likewise, pedal-guitar doesn't belong here either, and I notice pedals on a recording posted in the last few days.


Honestly, I was just trying to do two things in my post, one answer the question: Can a blind person learn to play a string based, sliding instrument? and to pay respect to someone who did it so well they made it to space.

There's an earlier post about Leon Mcauliffe misappropriating a Sylvester Weaver (slide player) song note for note which shows that the song can be played either way and still be a great song. I have heard Dark Was The Night played horizontally. I've seen Hendrix stuff played on guitar,lap/pedal steel and Weissenborn..and they can all be equally amazing...to some people.

I can understand a B3 organ forum not wanting to be hijacked by piano or farfisa players but I hope my post was seen in the educational and historical context I tried to place it in.

Cheers!
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The One & Lonely Tommy Young
Virtuous Victualer.

Now is the time for drinking;
now the time to beat the earth with unfettered foot.
-- Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 B.C.)
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post  Posted 28 Dec 2018 7:42 am    
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I’ve yet to hear anything played with a slide or bar that surpasses it.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post  Posted 28 Dec 2018 8:07 am    
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Mike Neer wrote:
I’ve yet to hear anything played with a slide or bar that surpasses it.

Bingo.

My point was that the contemporaneous consensus was that it was played with a knife for a bar in the steel guitar fashion, not with a "bottleneck" slide. It sort of amazes me that the steel community would run away from and essentially disown (as part of its own history) one of the greatest pieces of steel guitar music ever put to wax. IMHO.

Quote:
... one answer the question: Can a blind person learn to play a string based, sliding instrument?

Yeah, I think this answers that question.
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Joachim Kettner


From:
Germany
Post  Posted 30 Dec 2018 5:52 am    
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I've known this tune, it was on the first Ry Cooder album.
Maybe it's of interest that on Fairport's "What We Did On Our Holidays" there's a song very similar, but with a different title:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_yVlM9Xz0Y
Richard Thompson played it. He was only twenty years old.
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Mike Anderson


From:
British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 31 Dec 2018 7:02 am    
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I'd be interested to know how this consensus was reached, given that the only known photo of BWJ shows him playimg Spanish style, extended pinky possibly sporting a bottleneck:



As for being surpassed that's obviously purely a matter of taste; I could name dozens of players I'd rather hear, some of them still living and performing. All this bristling defence of BWJ is commendable, but confusing, because nobody attacked him. He just wasn't a steel player, any more than Son House or for that matter Ry Cooder. Nothing wrong with defining and dividing, it's how we humans describe the world around us and always will be, because that's how communication works. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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Bill McCloskey


Post  Posted 31 Dec 2018 7:30 am    
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Folks can make up their own minds I guess, but when I was playing bottleneck slide (which I played before I picked up a dobro) I never thought I was playing steel guitar. I thought I was playing bottleneck slide. As far as I'm concerned, if you can fret the instrument, you aren't playing steel guitar. And judging from the fact that the forum to my knowledge has zero questions about playing bottleneck and zero discussion related to bottleneck, I think most people feel the same.
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post  Posted 31 Dec 2018 8:24 am    
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The overwhelming majority of those with deep knowledge about Blind Willie (well, as deep as one can be, since there is so much mystery) are of the opinion that he played with a pocket knife. I am not entirely familiar with that technique, but as far as I know knives are made of steel. Does that not qualify it as steel guitar since it is the slide that gives the instrument its name?

There is this bit from a Sam Charters interview with Blind Willie’s second wife Angeline: “he used a pocket knife, playing in the "Hawaiian style" that had been introduced into the United States by the Hawaiian troops that toured the country before the First World War."

Bluesman Tommy Shaw said “Willie lived in Temple and we’d go down there to play for the country dances and school openings and all and I’d stay with him. I learned that ‘Just Can’t Keep From Cryin’ from him but I learned to pick it ’cause I didn’t like the knife on it.”
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Mike Anderson


From:
British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 31 Dec 2018 8:33 am    
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...and yet there is just that one photo, showing him playing in the standard Spanish manner with the extended pinky, no knife in evidence, just like all the other bottleneck bluesmen.

Anyway as Bill just said and as I said, if people want to include bottleneck blues in their definition of steel guitar that’s fine, no skin off my back. Smile
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Tom Young


From:
Sacramento-California, USA
Post  Posted 31 Dec 2018 9:18 am    
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Bill McCloskey wrote:
As far as I'm concerned, if you can fret the instrument, you aren't playing steel guitar. And judging from the fact that the forum to my knowledge has zero questions about playing bottleneck and zero discussion related to bottleneck, I think most people feel the same.


So at the risk of hijacking my own thread, here's a newbie question: Is playing pedal steel like fretting, in the sense that you're changing the pitch of individual strings - albeit with your feet?

Also - please let me reiterate... I was just trying to answer the question is sight required to learn how to play a slide instrument (of any kind) and point out one of the premier examples.

Happy New Year btw!
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The One & Lonely Tommy Young
Virtuous Victualer.

Now is the time for drinking;
now the time to beat the earth with unfettered foot.
-- Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 B.C.)
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Bill McCloskey


Post  Posted 31 Dec 2018 9:25 am    
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" Is playing pedal steel like fretting"

no.
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