Before going any further, listen to this magnificent performance.
There are many elements to consider.
This video was recorded originally on VHS in 1984 and distributed by Homespun Tapes, not as a commercial music release, but as an instructional video
for guitarists. (A studio version may be heard as the lead-off cut on Tony Rice's album of the same name.)
Church Street Blues was written by Norman Blake (a musician and songwriter who deserves his own thread) and is performed here by the inimitable Tony
Rice on "the 'Bone", the legendary herringbone Martin D-28 he inherited from fellow bluegrass music innovator Clarence White. (The guitar is also
notable for its enlarged soundhole, probably the result of production line experimentation or accident.)
The song has been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard it. Its plaintive verses and refrain speak about longing for home, rejection of material
wealth, faith in and the healing power of music, and, not least, the comfort of rocking chairs. The song exudes an acquiescence to the ineluctable
hardships of life that hit me in my core as few songs do.
Like many people who have picked up acoustic guitar, there was a time when all I wanted in life was to be able to play like Tony Rice. The command he
has over his instrument is spell-binding. An astute observer will note that in the fretting (left) hand, nothing particularly impressive is happening
- slick bass runs and fill licks notwithstanding.
The picking hand is a different story. Bluegrass guitar pickers typically observe a strict down-up motion (called "alternate picking"). Tony's picking
has always set him apart, evidenced by his divergence from strict alternate picking, often in down-down-up and up-up-down motion, which yields musical
results that would sound unnatural if they were alternate-picked. He does this accurately, and fast. For one man playing a stick with strings, it's
flabbergasting how full-sounding it is.
Tony's baritone voice, in his heyday, set the standard for male bluegrass singing, and was equally divergent as his guitar-playing: the so-called
"high lonesome sound" had characterized bluegrass vocals since the innovation of the style by Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and others. Tenors were
often the stars, as their voices more readily cut through a mix with (probably offensively loud) banjo playing. (Sadly, he has been effected by a
disorder of the vocal chords and has been unable to sing for many years.)
The gestalt is a brilliant musical syncretism, and an expression that perfectly frames one of many snapshots of our shared human condition. I
sincerely hope that listening to it has improved your Sunday in some small measure.
edit on 12/8/2019 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no
I spent easily hundreds of hours learning (read: trying) to emulate Tony Rice's style. I got to be a decent flatpicker for a little while with an
obligatory vocabulary of licks lifted straight from his records.
I don't play that style anymore, but valuable lessons I learned from studying Tony Rice are to become the best rhythm guitar player I possibly could,
and to forge my own musical identity. Still workin' on it.
edit on 12/8/2019 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)
I wasn't aware of the Led Zeppelin connection, but it's true. Those bluegrass pickers had a pervasive influence on much of popular music. Elvis
Presley, for instance, was another Monroe fan, evidenced by his rendition of "Blue Moon of Kentucky."
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