A history of one-man bands, from fife and drum to wireless midi
April 17, 2016 9:19 AM   Subscribe

The term "one-man band" generally brings to mind someone surrounded by instruments, like this Croatian street performer, but the earliest examples are a simple combination of pipe and tambor, which traces back to the 1300s. There were records of some creative, enterprising individuals in the centuries since, with more in the early to mid 20th century, including seated set-ups by Fate Norris, Jesse Fuller, and Joe Barrick, with Vic Ellis representing the traveling one-man band. Add in a MIDI controller, and you can expand your sound with less gear. The footprint can shrink more with the new ACPAD, with demos focusing on bringing electronic sounds to an acoustic guitar.

If you want to know more, you can read the One-Man Band entry (Google books preview) in Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Part 1 Performance and Production, and on John Barrick's one-man band: a history of the piatarbajo (previously) and other one-man bands. Both include Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Google books preview) as a rare case of a jazz musician who played multiple instruments at once.

If you want start your own one-person band, you can start out small, as all you really need to be a one-person band is to play two instruments at once, like the old pipe and drum, or the modern combination of guitar and harmonica. If you want something more complex, here's a discussion of what equipment you might need for a one-person show on Sweetwater forums, and you can learn more about some MIDI options from 1manband.nl.
posted by filthy light thief (27 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
here in chile we have chinchineros :o)

(although in that video there's actually two people playing - the other has an organillero, and someone still walks the streets near here on summer weekends with one of those, selling sweets and toys)
posted by andrewcooke at 9:37 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

One artist I know does loops, building up a track starting with beat boxing and adding vocal layers and finally some live guitar while singing on top of the loops he just recorded right there in front of you, triggering them as needed.

It's a different version of the one man band, but it's pretty astounding to hear the song after watching him build all the loops.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 AM on April 17, 2016

I guess the recently viral marble machine one-man band doesn't really qualify here, but his brother definitely does.
posted by effbot at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

my spanglish is butter fingered. organilleros are the people; organillos are the instruments.
posted by andrewcooke at 10:06 AM on April 17, 2016

The Lonesome Organist
posted by lenore at 10:24 AM on April 17, 2016

Would this be the appropriate place to share the fact that my favorite one-man band Colin Stetson has recently reimagined the 3rd Symphony by Górecki? With the help of his numerous friends this time, of course. It's a great album, in every sense of the word.
posted by sapagan at 10:30 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Holy crap, sapagan... that should be an FPP all on its own. It's breathtaking!
posted by hippybear at 10:40 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

It had never occurred to me that there could be wiggle room about the definition of "one man band." Rahsaan Roland Kirk played multiple instruments, but almost always with other musicians accompanying him. I would never have thought of him as a one-man band.

And that Fate Norris piece can't possibly be a one-man band, despite the picture.

No one-man band post could be complete without the late great Hasil Adkins. This video of Paddy Steer is pretty amazing. The most unusual one-man band I've seen is Fuyuki Yokohama, who throat-sings, plays guitar, and amplifies his heartbeat. His control over his heart rate is unlike anything I've ever seen elsewhere.
posted by vathek at 10:50 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

posted by ardgedee at 10:52 AM on April 17, 2016

Phillip Roebuck is a one-man band out of Norfolk, VA who plays a mean banjo. A couple of videos: Monkey fist, Summons Song

More info: Washington Post, his bandcamp site

My in-laws live in Tidewater, and I look forward to the opportunity to finally see him play live at some point.
posted by xiix at 10:52 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Great post! There's a long history of one-person "bands" in electronic music, although the amount of presequencing / pre-recorded material involved in the genre blurs the line somewhat. I've always liked this video of Grimes in which she does about as much as one human can to produce full-bodied electronic music live, recording her voice and synths into delay lines and then looping them.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 11:26 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

One Man Destruction Show is amazing. That drum-stick in the guitar picking hand thing is... well.. see for yourself.
posted by motty at 12:02 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

all you really need to be a one-person band is to play two instruments at once

So.. does that mean Dario Rossi doesn't qualify?
posted by progosk at 1:09 PM on April 17, 2016

Man (aka Man Incorporated, after the prog band Man's lawyers got wind of it) is bellowing, kickdrum, and bass.
Beer for Man
posted by ardgedee at 1:29 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

San Francisco Bay Area record collectors have known for years about one-man band sensation, Bobby Brown. His private press mystical New Age beach bum psychedelia LPs are amazing.

Bobby Brown, I Must Be Born
posted by jonp72 at 1:33 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

The first record Sam Phillips distributed before founding Sun Records was the one-man band blues Joe Hill Louis, Boogie in the Park.
posted by jonp72 at 1:39 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

John "Paul" Blackman, The Blackman Special from the Folkways 10" LP, One-Man Band.
posted by jonp72 at 1:43 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another street musician in the tradition of one-man bands, George "Bongo Joe" Coleman, Transistor Radio.
posted by jonp72 at 1:47 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's one of my favorites. Imogen Heap performing "Just for Now" all by herself:
posted by MythMaker at 2:46 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

KT Tunstall's debut as a last-minute stand in on Jools Holland always springs to mind when I think of one-woman-bands.
posted by Jakey at 3:18 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

This performance, by Shakey Graves blows me away every time I see it. It's very close to what I saw when I discovered him at Pickathon (an Oregon music festival). Subsequently he's done great stuff with a band, but his one-man-band work will always stand out for me.
posted by dylanjames at 4:36 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Steve Hill is all analog including a beer can taped to his foot
posted by canoehead at 8:35 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

McRorie opened for the last Beck concert I went to and was almost the best thing about the whole evening.
posted by crushthemall at 5:34 AM on April 18, 2016

That Fate Norris YouTube piece isn't a one-man band performance. Someone (Riley Puckett?) is playing guitar in a way you can't one-man band- the walking bass is played by the same old-time guitar player who is playing the chords on the other half of the beat.
posted by girl Mark at 3:19 PM on May 7, 2016

He was part of this band when not doing one-man band tricks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skillet_Lickers but I don't see how in that one-man band photo the contraption could have possibly have fretted that many notes in the guitar bass runs, even if your feet could have moved fast enough to make it sound so identical to a live guitar player. Left-handed people who play old-time guitar upside down don't sound identical to the right-handed variety, so I'm pretty sure you would have heard a slight difference in where the various parts of the rhythm fall in this recording.
posted by girl Mark at 3:23 PM on May 7, 2016

Not to mention that there's a second person singing in the refrain. They recorded an entire band with one microphone, so this is clearly a band.
posted by girl Mark at 3:26 PM on May 7, 2016

Man, I love Remy Bricka (France).
posted by nicolin at 6:49 AM on May 10, 2016

« Older It's Almost A Complete Load Of Pants   |   Seattle School's Segregation Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments