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Hey, one string's all you really need.
May 24, 2008 12:09 AM   Subscribe

One fine old day in old LA, in the year of nineteen and sixty, one Frederick Usher met Eddie "One String" Jones, heard him lay down some deep blues on his diddley bow, and was so taken with Jones' monochord masterpieces that he ran home, grabbed his tape recorder and recorded Jones in the alley. One other recording session ensued soon thereafter, which was released as an LP in 1964. By that time, however, the mysterious Eddie Jones (if that was even his real name) was long gone, and was never heard from again. [NOTE: see hoverovers for link descriptions]

In case you didn't read the hoverover accompanying the released link in the FPP, I'd like to reiterate here: the Amazon.com page is linked to because of the reader comments, and one in particular, that includes a wealth of diddley bow-related links. And yes, those links are also to Amazon pages, but anyone really interested in this stuff will appreciate the pointers, I think.

Eddie "One String" Jones also appears on this compilation.

Here's a blog from a fellow who put the liner notes from the release One String Blues at the top position in his list of the Greatest Liner Notes Of All Time.

A monochord player is part of this charming junk-instrument band in Malawi.

In this clip, Alan Lomax makes mention of the African origins of the diddley bow, and takes a look at bluesman Lonnie Pitchford, another one-string plucker.

Here's a fellow calls himself Seasick Steve, playing an instrument virtually identical to that of Eddie "One String" Jones, except that Steve has his running through an amp.

And here you'll find One String Willie's replica of Eddie Jones' diddley bow. Here's his instructions on building a BIG diddley bow, like that made famous by Joe Willie Duncan.

Finally, I should note that the man who purportedly recorded Eddie Jones, that is Mr. Frederick Usher, is shrouded in even more mystery than Jones himself. I could find absolutely nothing about him. I think he might've been a fictional character...
posted by flapjax at midnite (22 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oops, forgot to include the quote from an interview with the great Don van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, in which he talks about Eddie Jones. This interview snippet appeared on the liner notes to the CD release of One String Blues. Take it away, Captain!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:14 AM on May 24, 2008


Oh, and also, here's the MySpace Music page for One String Willie, "Keeper of the flame for Eddie 'One String' Jones".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:51 AM on May 24, 2008


Wonderful post, flapjax.

In the early nineties, I knew someone in a band called Crash Worship. They featured several drummers and put on these incredible, primal shows during which they set off fireworks and poured wine and chocolate syrup into the audience and generally encouraged semi-naked orgiastic mayhem. The guitar player had built what I dimly recall to be a gigantic diddley-bow out of piano wire attached to a two-by-four or some such thing. Googling didn't turn up much to support my memory other than the intriguing statement that "the band Crash Worship made use of Ivor Darreg's megalyra subcontrabass microtonal instrument for both xenharmonic and industrial noise purposes," in the wikipedia entry on microtonal music.
posted by googly at 2:48 AM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


slightly different, recently discussed one-string: the satongue.
posted by progosk at 3:02 AM on May 24, 2008


Great post.

I have quite a few diddley bows - the best-sounding one is made from a length of wood from the packaging that surrounded my washing machine when it was delivered, a length of copper pipe the plumber left behind after installing said washing machine for a bridge (is that the right term? the thing that raises the string off the wood...), plus a pickup inside an old sweetie tin at the plucking end.

Also, you can stick a contact mic inside a tin for a really nasty (in a good way!) sound, or, with a very steady hand, playing a diddley bow with an eBow produces lovely raga drone type sounds.

For someone like me, with pretty much no musical talent, they're a great instrument to noodle around on: no matter what you do, it sounds like the blues! (Especially if you cheat and cut a few notches along the wood as a guide to the good notes.)

On a semi-related note, British readers searching Amazon.co.uk for the One String Blues album beware: I just encountered some rather surprising results involving crotchless knickers!
posted by jack_mo at 5:01 AM on May 24, 2008


...crotchless knickers!

Haha!

Interesting what you mentioned about creating a drone with an e-bow, jack_mo. I'm reminded of the wonderful musician/composer Ellen Fullman's music, which is based on rich, lush drones from very long strings. She calls it the Long String Instrument. Here's Ellen in action.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:33 AM on May 24, 2008


Is One String Willie picking the string, or is he hitting it with something?
posted by creasy boy at 5:39 AM on May 24, 2008


Is One String Willie picking the string, or is he hitting it with something?

Those tracks on his MySpace player sound like he's hitting the string with a little stick, which was the playing method of Eddie "One String" Jones.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:43 AM on May 24, 2008


Has anyone here ever tried to just leave one string on a guitar and play it the same way?
posted by creasy boy at 8:13 AM on May 24, 2008


So I picked up a copy of the recent John Sayles movie, Honeydripper, this week. The film set in the deep South in the fifties, and opens with a couple of kids, teaching themselves how to play the blues. One is practicing his chording on what looks like a piece of asbestos, painted to look like a piano keyboard, and the other kid is practicing on a Diddleybow that appears to be the porch of his house.

I haven't actually watched the movie yet, but perhaps I'll go do that now and let you know if it's any good or not. It looks great though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:34 AM on May 24, 2008


Has anyone here ever tried to just leave one string on a guitar and play it the same way?

Sorta. But without the blues inflection, it was really, really bad.
posted by googly at 10:33 AM on May 24, 2008


Has anyone here ever tried to just leave one string on a guitar and play it the same way?

I'd imagine that a real guitar would sound too clean. I wanna know if people have done this with old car bodies or trees or something.
posted by cmoj at 12:11 PM on May 24, 2008


My good friend Velcro Lewis plays a diddlybow in his band. The thing sounds great.

Googly: I had the pleasure of seeing Crash Worship play in San Francisco back in '95. To this day it remains one of the greatest performances I've ever been lucky to see. I don't remember the guitar player having a diddlybow, just a giant metal horn over his shoulder that shot sparks whenever sound came out of it.
posted by jtron at 12:42 PM on May 24, 2008


Has anyone here ever tried to just leave one string on a guitar and play it the same way?

I think the problem you are going to run into is the geometry of a guitar's strings and finger board. As you work the slide or tap the strings you're going to have to be really gentle to not have the strings hit the finger board and, as a result, loose all your volume. You could modify the string geometry a bit but pretty soon you're going to be doing more work than if you just made yourself a diddley bow, not to mention being out a guitar.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:55 PM on May 24, 2008


flapjax at midnite: "I'm reminded of the wonderful musician/composer Ellen Fullman's music, which is based on rich, lush drones from very long strings. She calls it the Long String Instrument. Here's Ellen in action ."

Great stuff - I've read about her but never checked out the music, so thanks for the 'Tubes.

Re: converting a guitar into a diddley bow - I have a guitar neck I found in the street which I've been meaning to diddleyise, so that I can tune the string, but reckon Kid Charlemagne is right: it's much easier to just nail a guitar string to a stick than faff about adding bridges to a guitar (and risk damaging it in the process).
posted by jack_mo at 1:13 PM on May 24, 2008


Peter McDermott writes :...the other kid is practicing on a Diddleybow that appears to be the porch of his house.

This was a somewhat common pracrice, apparently: simply banging some nails into the side of the house, or the railing along a front porch, running a wire there and, voilĂ , instant diddley bow! You see Lonnie Pitchford doing exactly that at the end of the Lonnie Pitchford clip from this FPP. And there's also a picture of a "house" diddley bow here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:15 PM on May 24, 2008


AND... this WONDERFUL clip of Napoleon Strickland opens with him playing his house diddley bow. God, I wish that segment was longer! (It's from the Lomax film "Land Where the Blues Began".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:34 PM on May 24, 2008


Hey hey, more diddley bow YouTubery: This fellow has a good feel for the diddley bow blues. True, he might wanna rethink those striped pants with plaid shirt, but, well, he's young, after all. And he gets extra points for using an Illy coffee can. Billy Spoons would appear to have nary a shred of the blues (didn't pay his dues?) but his instrument sounds cool. Actually, he's demonstrating the harmonics of the string, so maybe he can get bluesy when necessary... And here Bluesboy Jag shows you how he made his diddley bow and demonstrates a little slide technique on it. Some may remember Bluesboy Jag from this cigar box guitar post from 2007.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:00 PM on May 24, 2008


Dave Williams uses two ass pockets a'whisky for his diddley bow version of Casey Jones.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:55 PM on May 24, 2008


I' m guessing that Bo Diddley's stage name might have something to do with this instrument.
posted by msalt at 1:23 AM on May 25, 2008


msalt wrote: I' m guessing that Bo Diddley's stage name might have something to do with this instrument.

Apparently not - Diddley, Bo contacted one diddley bow website to correct the assumption, saying, "I have never played the diddley bow, or any form of slide guitar. My fingers are too big to fit any slide or bottleneck", and Bo Diddley was allegedly a slang term in the South for a shady character (as was Bo Jangles).
posted by jack_mo at 2:44 AM on May 25, 2008


flapjax at midnite wrote: Billy Spoons would appear to have nary a shred of the blues (didn't pay his dues?)

Crikey, I take back what I said earlier about anything you do on a diddley bow sounding like the blues!
posted by jack_mo at 2:48 AM on May 25, 2008


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