non-Thursday music link

I think you’d have to be a perfesser to miss this point (h/t Jamie Kenny’s twitter feed).

But even Mass Observation conceded the startling contrast between the ‘mechanized barbarity’ of dancehall music and the wordless decorousness of the dancers’ movements. In order to request a dance, a young man would simply touch a potential partner lightly on her elbow, and they would move silently on to the floor. It was quite normal for partners to dance for hours without speaking to each other, before going their separate ways.

Well, a big dance hall implies big sound. That implies either electronic amplification, or before that was invented, a fuck-off big horn section. And either of those will help the dancing while cramping your conversation. (I SAID, HOW ABOUT ANOTHER DRINK!) In fact, the electric guitar was invented in the 1930s as a substitute for quite so many wind players providing the wash.

It’s true, as William Baumol said, that you need as many people to play a concerto as you did in 1900 and the same isn’t true of producing steel, farming, or running a phone exchange or a bank. Interestingly, the electric guitar was originally an attempt to substitute capital for labour in the music industry, with enormous unforeseen consequences.

Don’t believe me? Compare the horns-as-power-chord here and the the rhythm guitar-as-horns here, although those are ahistorical. Anyway, it’s not Thursday, so how about a music link?


  1. Matt McG

    I don’t think that’s really true re: the role of the guitar in 30s bands. The guitar in big bands was originally a replacement for the banjo, which had been one of the rhythm section instruments in older jazz/dance music. A lot of the famous early guitar players were originally banjo players, including Django Reinhardt. Amplification let the guitar replace the much more strident banjo [which cut through the ‘mix’ of horns] with a sound that fit better with the rest of the rhythm section and could be heard.

    In all the great 30s bands that had guitars (Basie, Goodman, etc) the guitar player is part of the rhythm section, playing 4-to-the-bar rhythm chords and locked solid with the double bass (itself a replacement for earlier tuba), and drums. The guitar player was rarely, if ever, playing the same lines as the horn section and in no sense a replacement for it. The guitarist was there to provide rock solid rhythm (in a way that a pianist generally doesn’t) and set the harmonic foundation that the horns and soloists sit on top of. Some guitar players were also featured soloists, so would get to cut loose with some improvisation, but when they weren’t soloing, they were still with the rhythm section, not the horns.

    Check out Freddie Green here:

    The horns are doing their thing while he (even though it’s his tune) is chunking away with 4-to-the-bar. On Basie records when Green stops playing the swing seems to almost disappear as his groove is so strong, but he’s very definitely not playing horn-like stuff.

    Or, in a horn-less group:

    In some of the smaller groups — e.g. the Goodman small groups — the guitar (Charlie Christian) plays a bit more with the horns and less clearly as part of the rhythm section but you still couldn’t describe the guitarist as replacing the horns in any sense. Later small groups, the sorts of groups that became early rock’n’roll, RnB, and soul, that were guitar driven didn’t so much replace horns with guitars as drop the horn parts all together, and go with more of a rhythm section plus vocalist approach.

    That’s all broad brush strokes, obviously. You do sometimes find small groups where the guitarist plays ‘horn-like’ parts, but as a general rule, guitar was (for years and years after amplification) largely a rhythm section instrument playing 4-to-the-bar. Even in, say, the Hot Club de France (which was a hornless band) there were still usually two guitar players other than Django Reinhardt laying down the 4-to-the-bar solid rhythm while Reinhardt and Grapelli floated on top.

  2. Thanks. In recognition of that, have one of these.

  3. belle/tierce

    yes, the amps weren’t that big at first — the early emergence of amplified guitar was pedal steel in country, which was a strange hawaiian/nashville crossover invented by a mr rickenbacher, who was (son of?) a WW1 air ace (irrelevant but fascinating)

    charlie christian was loud in bebop terms, but bebop was already an escape from the world of swing

    • Matt McG

      Sadly Christian died in 42, before Parker et al really got going, it’d be interesting to hear where he’d have taken it. The famous bootlegs from Minton’s Playhouse when he was part of the group more or less inventing bebop are pretty amazing:

      So much continuous invention.




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