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Most contemporary musicians know little about early American music, even though all modern music genres derive from American musical foundations of the 1800s; and even though the music of early 1900s America contained many of the music and songs that were modified or categorized to create new genres later in the 1900s. When confronted with music that shares much with the music of the 1800s and early 1900s, like Valentine’s, contemporary musicians attempt to dictate strict adherence to the musical conventions of the second half of the 1900s, forgetting where all their modern genres came from, and leading to some confusion over harmony and rhythm. Valentine’s songs have qualities modern musicians consider radical, though they were commonplace in the early 1900s and late 1800’s: no bass (‘kick’) drum; a swinging 2/4 shuffle with an equal emphasis on the one and three of 4/4; a metronomic, quarter-notes-only walking bass line; a rhythmic, syncopated melody; and a metered and rhymed lyric. Yet the feel of the syncopation or ‘Swing feel’ of Valentine’s songs is far cooler in than the swing of the early 1900’s. Added to this foundation are ‘horn-line’ type ‘gang-licks’ commonplace in the Big Band era, and later in Soul music. Furthermore, Jazz chords and Blues chords and inversions of 18th century Classical chords take his music to a sensitive and sophisticated place harmonically. Nashville’s finest musicians, who rank among the best in the world, contribute a sophisticated gamut of tones, styles, and flavors from many genres and blends of genres to the licks and fills they layer in even behind Valentine’s vocals in what are ‘busy’ mixes that make these complicated songs sound effortlessly musical. Music theory, after all, is merely an attempt by humans to describe sound. As legendary pedal steel player Roby Turner, who played for Waylon Jennings for decades and played on all 45 of Valentine’s Nashville library, so aptly stated: “I never let theory get in the way of good sound”.
Valentine’s melodies rule the rhythm and enforce the syncopations. The swing of his classically metered and strictly rhymed lyrics are enhanced by strongly stated, well timed vocals. This is Jazz, where the players are tasked with keeping the groove while instrumentally expressing or interpreting the varietal sentiments of the lyrics and the harmonies. And this is Country, whose instruments so accurately express so many different emotions.
The instrument used to create Valentine’s songs is his voice. The subject matter of the song is selected to fit the tone of the hummed melody. For example, if it’s a sad sounding melody, then sad subject matter will be selected. The lyrics are then written to match the sentiment of the subject matter, and then the chords are chosen to express in harmonies the exact mood of the tone of voice and word of lyric they accompany, since the voice suggested the lyric and requires the same sentiment in the chord. The three are inseparable throughout the process of composition, and further influence the rhythmic choices.
Valentine’s vocal color and the tone of his melody notes dominate his harmonies and theory throughout the creative process. Valentine’s chords are often not in the common ‘parent’ position, but instead are ‘inverted’. Inversions of chords are accomplished by reordering the notes that make up the chord, and are called ‘voicings’ since they emulate the color of the voice and harmonies suggested by the vocal timbre or word of lyric, whether haunting or blue or wistful, and can drastically change the sentiment of a chord, especially considering the effect on and of the adjacent chords. Voicings create very different sentiments than their parent chords and are important for composers to accurately communicate the feelings expressed in their songs. The three notes may be arranged in any order or ‘voicing’, so Valentine chooses his three notes without regard to what chord it may be, and instead attempts only to emulate the voice or the harmonies suggested by the voice.
Most of Valentine’s chords can be readily identified or named by their sound, but many of the voicings cannot be easily identified, and therefore require the selection of a bass note to determine the name of the chord, which tells the musicians what to play and what harmonies to involve. Valentine’s voicings may well be closer to chords originally created centuries ago than current common ‘parent’ chords. What originated as a typical classical chord or voicing say in the 18th century, and carried with it a feeling meant to express experiences from that different era, may have been co-opted for so long by now by say heavy metal or pop, that the original parent chord is now considered a radical voicing while the heavy metal inversion is now considered the parent standard, regardless of its departure from however moody or beautiful it sounded centuries ago or sounds today in Valentine’s songs.
The playing of some Valentine’s chords requires ‘aping’ piano chord inversions on the guitar neck, a difficult task for even the best contemporary musicians. To even find these chords on the guitar neck the exact fret is required. Playing the bass note on the root on one and three of every 4/4 measure ensures that the identity of each chord is honored and keeps the players within its harmonic confines. The bass further supports these voicings as together they climb or descend the neck to achieve the appropriate ‘movement’ for each song. Finding or playing even one of these chords is a difficult task in and of itself, but when followed by three or more inversions of chords normally played a different way and at home only on the piano, it is nearly impossible to make the changes quickly enough on a guitar neck, let alone to do so within the feel, groove and timing of the song. The musicians playing solos and riffs must in some instances play ‘around’ some of the chords’ harmonies leading to the creative interpretations and discoveries Jazz is so well known for.
The ‘kick’ drum is the foundation of popular western music after 1950 which relies on the kick drum and bass guitar to drive the beat in the all important rhythm section. Valentine removes the ugly thud of the kick drum completely to ensure that it does not emphasize the bass note wherever simultaneously played. This doubling of sound would increase the volume of the bass note in those instances and change the rhythm and swing and shuffle of Valentine’s songs and truncate the driving, clock-like beat so important to maintaining his signature pace. The snare and hi-hat, on the other hand, are significant contributors to Valentine’s rhythms, as they were in early jazz, folk and most music prior to the use of the kick drum which began (outside of marching bands and classical orchestras) with Gene Krupa and was central to the creation of rock and roll and rock and pop from 1950 on. Valentine does, however, employ the rock ride cymbal to help drive the rhythm. The ride cymbal is most common in rock music, yet translates perfectly to the ‘top of the kit’ sound in Valentine’s songs. Nashville session drummer Brian Fullen describes Valentine’s drums technically: “The second played 8th note of each beat is the third note of the triplet played in a linear, swinging fashion, while the last 8th note triplet of each beat is also emphasized which illuminates the swinging motion. For these songs, the backbeat is accented and we move between a ‘feeling of two’ and a ‘feeling of four’ (walking bass quarter notes).”
The rhythm of the bass line in Valentine’s songs is critical since the kick drum is gone. In its place is a quarter note walking bass line. In rock, the bass note hits at the same time as the kick drum, doubling the volume wherever they coincide and robbing the song of its hard driving pace and time keeping clock. This consistent forceful foundation supplied by Valentine’s bass lines is supplemented by the snare, high hat and ride cymbal, and reinforced by the horn lines and rhythmic melody. Like a giant metronome, the bass keeps a constant, steady beat and combines with double time drums to create a faster 2/4 pace.
Valentine’s songs have plenty driving the rhythm without the use of a kick drum. The snare, hi-hat, ride cymbal, clock-like bass lines, horn-line style gang licks, and rhythmic, syncopated vocal melody lines all contribute to what is very rhythmic music. The result is a feel which drives the strength of the rhythm and enhances the feeling of pace. The ‘pushed’ chords in number charts are played early creating syncopation and further corralling the players into the desired rhythm. Valentine writes his songs in notated charts in 2/4, then translates them into Nashville number charts in 4/4 since Nashville session players count and ‘read’ exclusively in 4/4 Nashville number charts. Several of Valentine’s compositions appear to be adding or subtracting two beats at the ends of verses and/or choruses, leaving a band playing in 4/4 struggling at times to ‘find one’ simply because the measure in 2/4 ended two beats earlier than it should in 4/4. The significance of counting in 2/4 rather than 4/4 is feel, and set by the drummer. 4/4 primarily emphasizes only the one of 4/4, making it a long wait for that next big beat, while 2/4 adds pace by hitting the three as hard as the one of 4/4, giving 2/4 a sense of being in double time.
Valentine’s exclusive use of the top of the drum kit gives him the pace and feel he wants, and goes a long way towards solving the mystery of his shaker click tracks, which the rock and country oriented session’s players said seemed ‘backwards’. Valentine contends that most people of the late 1800s and early 1900s would hear it as he does. But 2/4 can be confusing to musicians since it is normally reserved for marches and polkas, and Valentine’s songs are really just syncopated, up tempo versions thereof. Louis Armstrong said: “Ah, well, we used to call it syncopation, then they called it ragtime, then blues, then jazz. Now, it’s swing. Swinging in 2/4 without a bass drum turns a polka or march into a very different, sexy kind of rolling swing.
“The drummer thinks he’s playing in 4/4 (with triplets), while the guitarist thinks he’s playing in 12/8, and the composer hears it in 2/4.” answered Feb 28 ’12 at 23:24
Valentine’s HORN LINES
Valentine’s songs have ‘horn-line’ style ‘gang-licks’ reminiscent of the horn sections of the Big Bands and Soul Bands. The steadfast periodic recurrence of Valentine’s horn lines contributes greatly to the rhythm section, adds to the swing, enhances danceability and anchors the ‘heard rhythm’ of each song. The chords in the horn lines are often unique to the horn lines in the songs since they are intended to ‘comment’ on the lyrics expressing sentiments and emotional reactions often unique to the unsung portions of the songs. Additionally, they constitute a response and reply mechanism which blends well with the other contributors to the heard rhythm.
In Valentine’s songs soloists play constantly, even closely behind the vocals. The musicians naughtily fill entire verses or choruses or trade off with other instruments, or riff and lick between the horn lines, or even replace the horn lines in some instances. The vocal is treated as simply another instrument, and the mixes separate and enhance the rich musical interplay in a pleasing manner.