10. The "Flatted Fifth"
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10 - The "flatted fifth" There are many unusual scalar patterns in the blues, and some could perpetuate tonal concepts found in regions of Africa outside the west central Sudanic belt. One of the issues to be accounted for in any study of the origin of the blue notes is the so-called "flatted fifth" (cf. Schuller 1968:51-52). It was only recognized as a blue note in the 19405, but there is no doubt that it existed in some of the "early downhome blues" (cf. Niles 1949). The flatted fifth is not part of my merger model. Does it represent a different strand in the blues tradition? After all, the two other blue notes are characteristic of the melodic repertoire in almost any blues that has been recorded, while the flatted fifth appears sporadically, e.g., in Bessie Smith, Ed Bell, John Lee Hooker, and others. It could even be that it became more common in the blues during the 19405, after it had assumed a prominent position in bebop, a development which could have reflected back to blues singers such as John Lee Hooker. Nevertheless, the flatted fifth, especially when used as a starting note in descending phrases (such as by Bessie Smith), or resolved downward in various other contexts , is to be considered a distinctive pitch value. Its melodic position within the singer's scalar pattern (disregarding the instrumental accompaniment) probably contains the clue for its genesis. The flatted fifth in the blues most often occurs as part of a descending phrase. In an ascending phrase sometimes the samesinger would intonate a perfect fourth. This can be observed, for example, in Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See that My Grave Is Kept Clean." To me this suggests that the flatted fifth must be part of a descending scalar framework, blues scale, or whatever one might call it, while the movement upward from the basic tonal center to a perfect fourth is of a totally different nature, namely a progression between tonal levels and not between scalar steps. This would confirm what I have Itt EXAMPLE n Ed Bell (vocal and guitar), "Mean Conductor Blues," Paramount 12546, Chicago, September 1927. Reissued on Document DOCD-^o, Ed Bell (Barefoot Bill, Sluefoot Joe) (1927-1930). Bell plays the guitar in standard tuning, E position, but the actual sound is in the key of Fit, probably as the result of using a capotasta on the second fret. The piece has been transposed downward to the relative key of C in this transcription. Transcribed by David Evans. 1. That same train, same engineer; That same train, same engineer; Took my woman 'way, Lord, left me standin' here. 2. My stroller caught a passenger; I caught the mamlish blinds. My stroller caught a passenger; I caught the mamlish blinds. Hey, you can't quit me; ain't no need of tryin'. 3. Hey, Mister Conductor, let a broke man ride your blinds. Hey, Mister Conductor, let a broke man ride your blinds. "You better buy your ticket; know this train ain't mine." 4. I just want to blind it far as Hagerstown. Yeah, I just want to blind it far as Hagerstown. When she blow for the crossing, I'm gon' ease it down. 5. I pray to the Lord that Southern train would wreck. I pray to the Lord that Southern train would wreck. Yes, it kill that fireman, break that engineer's neck. 6. I'm standin' here looking up at the risin' sun. I'm standin' here looking up at the risin' sun. [If] Some train don't run, gon' be some walkin' done. stroller—a rambler; in this case, the singer's woman, passenger—a, passenger train. mamlish—an intensifying adjective of unknown etymology, having a meaning somewhat like "doggone." fc/iWs—the front of a railroad freight car; used in stanza 4 as a verb for hoboi Hogmtown-a town in western Maryland and important railroad junction, far from Bell's Alabama home. Southern—name of a railroad line. outlined above about a fundamental and a secondary tonal center in the blues. The flatted fifth, however, does sometimes occur as part of an ascending phrase. As a possible explanation of one such type of occurrence, David Evans has proposed that the flatted fifth can function as "the blue note of the blue note" (i.e., the third of the third). It seems John Lee Hooker often plays it this way, moving from tonic to blue third and to...