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Going down the list: why I love Ralph Stanley this week

Posted by spurtalisterous on Friday, April 5, 2013

I love the way Ralph Stanley plays a lot of songs.  Besides all the singing songs ("Gonna Paint the Town," "Think of What You've Done," "I'll Never Grow Tired of You," "Hey! Hey! Hey!,"I could keep going for a page), I love his Stanleys-period instrumentals.  His "Daybreak in Dixie" is great with that drop to F, and that stop part in the middle.  This is a motif for him.  You hear it in "Lisa's Joy" too, another frantic banjo signature.  

The one I'm working on right now is "Mastertone March:"  it has a nice part where he takes the lick from "Lonesome Road Blues" that immediately precedes the famous backward roll bit in that song and plays it in the highest position possible in G, then goes half the way back down the neck to get his bendy lick in.  Some of those early instrumentals have a bit of a "cobbled together" feel, as though he's simply strung a bunch of licks together.  But they sound so composed when he's done!  And though I've worked on it off and on for years, I still haven't figured out what he's doing in "Midnight Ramble:"  there are definitely a couple of 5/4 measures thrown in, as well as a 6/4 every single round.  Go try to play it note-for-note from the beginning!  Then go listen to him do it effortlessly and revel in his nearly-electric tone.  Apocalyptic.  Get that King 615 record in whatever form you can and understand where Ralph Stanley got his name.  He's the guy I listen to when I decide I'm going to forward-roll nonstop through anything.



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