The aim of this exposition, centred around an audio paper, is twofold;
1) to gain a multifarious comprehension of the idiolect of the godfather of country harmonica playing, i.e., Charlie McCoy
2) to show how transcription can be used to develop artistic voice
The audio paper is based on interviews with three country harmonica players: Charlie McCoy, Buddy Greene and Mike Caldwell. Prior to the interviews I had transcribed McCoy’s harmonica playing on his first 13 albums, which represents his complete recorded output on Monument records from 1967 to 1977. I have made two types of transcriptions: aural transcription and notated transcription (Rusch, Salley & Stover 2016). Firstly, I made a notated transcription with a tablature system which I always use when I transcribe. In a second iteration, the aural transcription, i.e., learning to play my notated transcriptions, entails a more refined engagement with the performance. In other words, the purpose of the aural transcription is getting as close as possible to the sound and the phrasing as in the original. There are several layers that reveal themselves while I am playing, which are not represented in the notation. I am embodying the idiolect of McCoy by learning to play along with the recordings, a process which provides me with deeper insights into the various layers of his idiolect.
In order to enhance and validate my analysis of McCoy's idiolect, based on the transcriptions, I interviewed McCoy himself and two other distinguished country harmonica players, Buddy Greene and Mike Caldwell. These interviews were centred around McCoy’s idiolect and more specifically, how he created his style of playing harmonica within a country music context. When interviewing Greene and Caldwell, we also discussed McCoy’s idiolect in relation to their own idiolect. The interviews were a musical conversation: we both spoke about McCoy’s idiolect and exemplified what we were talking about by playing our harmonicas. Some questions were posed verbally, others were posed by playing a particular lick. Responses to questions were either spoken, played, or a combination of both. This multimodal form of communicating, which could be referred to as playing the interview (Rudbäck 2020), was a way for me to gain a more dynamic insight regarding the musical practice.
The method I used to explore the idiolect of McCoy could be regarded as a triangulation, where all three parts give a different perspective, see figure 1. The aural transcriptions, and my embodiment of those, are the basis of my analysis of what the significant traits of McCoy’s idiolect are. What I learned from that process is the basis for the interviews; all questions, whether posed verbally or played musically, are sprung from knowledge gathered from the transcriptions. The triangulation consists of testing and validating that new knowledge through the interviews. With McCoy I mostly discussed where it all came from, what inspired him and led to his idiolect. The transcriptions provide plenty of examples which demonstrate the influences which McCoy talks about, e.g., his blues background and the influence of various generic country music instruments. With Caldwell and Greene, I discussed the licks and strategies which occur frequently in McCoy’s recorded output. When I now return to play the transcriptions, I do so with a multi-layered insight into where these licks came from and how they are perceived by McCoy’s peers.
These transcriptions have been the starting point for my transformational journey where I aim to deliberately transform my own voice, or idiolect. This is exemplified toward the end of the audio paper. The audio paper consists of excerpts from these interviews intermingled with music. The harmonica playing you hear in the audio paper is played by me with the intent of sounding as close to the original recordings as I can.
The benefit of the audio paper is to listen to the music. Not only to hear the music discussed, but more importantly to hear the voices, both spoken and artistic, of these country harmonica players. They represent, in several ways, voices not previously heard in the world of academia. The format of an audio paper not only allows for their musical voices to be analysed and discussed, but in addition to that, we also hear their actual voices telling the story. My own musical voice is heard throughout the audio paper in all the harmonica playing. Whether I am trying to sound like Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, or Charlie McCoy, it is nevertheless my voice being heard.
The choice of presenting my research in the form of an audio paper is in line with how I conducted the research. Not only was I, as mentioned earlier, playing the interviews, the audio paper allowed me to compose the results in a manner as musical as the interviews themselves. My analysis of the interviews is presented in an artistic manner, allowing the music to speak for itself when words might be insufficient.
All illustrations are made by Ulrika Weinz, used with permission.