Hello, Eddie Lang Club members worldwide, with a special shout-out to New Zealand!
Let's get started by learning "Black and Blue Bottom", the first tune the Venuti and Lang recorded as a duo in September 1926 for Columbia. The two musicians were both about 24 years old at this point, and both had done a lot of recording with other groups, but never as a duo.
Jazz historians tell us that Venuti and Lang began playing together at an early age, ever since their first meeting at South Philadelphia's James Campbell (elementary) School, where both played violin in the school orchestra. The two boys became inseparable as each developed his unique playing style in the process of playing together constantly. It is known that both Eddie and Joe could play violin, guitar and mandolin, though it seems that only Eddie played tenor banjo.
We can imagine that the two young men must have done a lot of gigging in South Philadelphia's "Little Italy", possibly even accompanying accordion players at dances in much the same manner as Django?
But in hindsight, it must also have been the case that Eddie and Joe were keen to play their own version of the newly popular form of music "jazz" that had begun to sweep the nation ever since 1917, when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band first came up from New Orleans to take New York by storm. This would have been when Joe and Eddie were both about fifteen or sixteen.
So at what point in their musical development did the two lads did begin composing/playing "Black and Blue Bottom"? Was this a tune that they had been working on for years? Or was it something they put together just prior to the 1926 recording session? Alas, we can never know.
But since it was their first recording, and since it beautifully showcases each musician's mature playing style, it seems like a good starting point.
So here's the plan: for the next couple of days, your first assignment is to listen to this as often as you can:
In a few days, I will begin posting sequential sound clips from the tune, along with my best attempt to capture in chords or tab what I hear Eddie doing on guitar.
Our first job as musical detectives will be to establish exactly what fingerings Lang used. (Sometimes its hard to avoid using the ones that we habitually use, which may or may not match Lang's... )
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to listen real carefully and see if you can improve on whatever I've done. We're going to argue about every chord and transcribe this thing down to a growl.
Hopefully when we finish this piece, each of us will have a complete, accurate version of the tune under our belt.
And who know, someday if you are very lucky, you will meet a violin player who can play this piece just like Joe Venuti, because I believe that this piece has actually been transcribed for violin, though I doubt that the transcription includes Joe's final masterful "four string" chorus... (Spoiler alert: Eddie's weird augmented-chord solo is designed to give Joe enough time to wrap the horsehair of his bow over the strings and get the wooden part underneath the violin body to play all four strings....which is likely the reason that this recording is said to have required about a dozen takes!)
After we've done our best to master this tune, I propose that we start by looking very carefully at a few more tunes that feature Lang as solo accompanist before moving on to try to figure out other things that he recorded with larger groups. Right now, what we need are recordings where the guitar can be heard real clearly and transcribed very accurately.
I live in a little tourist town called Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, Canada, which is about twenty miles north of Niagara Falls.
If you are ever planning on visiting the beautiful Niagara area, feel free to PM me and perhaps we can get together and do some jamming.