Fred Vine Presentation on Son House, November 18, 2019

On Nov 18, 2019 Fred Vine gave a presentation to the Rochester Guitar Club on his May 2019 work with the GEVA production of The Resurrection of Son House. There was a Question and Answer exchange at the end, followed by Fred playing two of his original songs. Here is a summary of the evening’s presentation::

Fred Vine’s career in music had its roots back in the 1960’s. The starting point may have been the guitar solo on the Beach Boys’ “Surfin USA”, with the 1964 Beatles phenomenon soon to follow. Next was Fred’s garage band “The Uncalled Four” that gave him the chance to apply what he learned from some of those ’60’s hit songs.

The next decade saw Fred getting into solo acoustic guitar, being influenced by Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, and Son House, among others. A jump into the 1980’s found Fred working trio gigs with Rochester musicians Rockin’ Red and Brian Williams.

Fast forward to 2018 when Fred got a call from Billy Thompson, musical director for a proposed 2019 GEVA production on legendary blues man Son House titled, “Revival: The Resurrection of Son House. Billy was looking for a guitar player for the production. Fred already had 25 gigs lined up for the year and wasn’t sure what to tell Billy. After checking with Rochester music notable John Dady for advice (John said, “Fred, you gotta do it!”), Fred signed on to do the show after rearranging his gig schedule.

Rehearsals began in April of 2019 in an apartment behind the GEVA theater. The musicians worked from 10 am to 2 pm six days a week. Fred’s equipment consisted of seven guitars: a resonator guitar, a “guitjo”, an Epiphone Casino, a Gibson ES175, a steel string acoustic guitar, and a Fender Deluxe Reverb amplifier. Music was sent to the players via a “Drop Box” on their computers. Of the 25 music files almost all of them were used for the production. The main challenge was understanding show producer Keith Glover’s metaphoric descriptions of how the music was supposed to sound. In addition there were key changes, tempo changes, short eight bar segments, different actors being assigned the same songs, and other production challenges.

Practices were later moved to GEVA’s rehearsal room with the actors present. Sometimes the musicians were idle while the producer worked with the actors, and other times when the actors and musicians were working together. During rehearsals, the script kept changing. which affected how the music was to be played. Fortunately, the net result was positive.

A significant disadvantage for the musicians was their location in the orchestra pit, which was mostly underneath the stage. This made it impossible for most of the players to actually see what was happening on stage. Fred was deep inside the pit, which had very little headroom. Fortunately all the musicians were able to have excellent eye contact with each other.

During what was called “Tech Week” the production was still going through changes, not uncommon in the world of Theater. Scenes were being flip-flopped, and the 12 hours a day, six days a week rehearsals led all concerned to wonder if the production would ever gel. To add to Fred’s challenges, he was asked if he would perform a 25-minute prologue that was written for the show.

Previews of the show were scheduled for May 1, 2, and 3, but the first didn’t happen because the show still wasn’t quite ready. Following the previews, 42 performances were scheduled for just one month!

Every effort was made to keep the music period-and-chronologically correct. Minimal guitar effects were used, and chords played were basic voicings, rather than Wes Montgomery style block chords or dominant seventh chords with 13th tones added.

Fred then did an abbreviated version of the Prologue written for the show. It noted that Son House is still known as the “Father of Delta Blues”. Son influenced Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, the Rolling Stones, and other blues-oriented artists. Born in Mississippi, he moved to Rochester and gave up music entirely after the passing of another blues musician, Willie Brown. Around 1962 his name and reputation resurfaced during a period of Folk Music revival. In 1972 he moved to Detroit, where he remained until his death in 1988.

After a brief Question and Answer segment Fred played two of his original songs: “Lynnie’s Joy” and “The Garbage Plate Song.”

~ John Williamson

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