Apr 302019

Today is the birthday (1896) of reverend Gary Davis, a blues and gospel singer whose fingerpicking guitar style influenced a great many artists. Davis was born in Laurens, South Carolina. He was the only one of the eight children his mother bore, who survived to adulthood, becoming blind as an infant. He was poorly treated by his mother so that his father placed him in the care of his paternal grandmother. Davis reported that when he was 10 years old his father was killed in Birmingham, Alabama. He later said that he had been told that his father was shot by the Birmingham sheriff.

Davis starting teaching himself the guitar at age 6 and developed a unique multivoice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing gospel, ragtime, and blues tunes along with traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony. In the mid-1920s, Davis migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center of African-American culture at the time. There he taught Blind Boy Fuller and collaborated with a number of other artists in the Piedmont blues scene, including Bull City Red. In 1935, J. B. Long, a store manager with a reputation for supporting local artists, introduced Davis, Fuller, and Red to the American Record Company. The subsequent recording sessions marked the real beginning of Davis’ career. During his time in Durham, he became a Christian, and in 1933, Davis was ordained as a Baptist minister in Washington, North Carolina. Following his conversion and especially his ordination, Davis preferred to play gospel music.

In the 1940s, the blues scene in Durham began to decline, and Davis moved to New York. In 1951, he recorded an oral history for the folklorist Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold (the wife of Alan Lomax).

The folk revival of the 1960s invigorated Davis’s career. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his version of “Samson and Delilah”, also known as “If I Had My Way”, a song by Blind Willie Johnson, which Davis had popularized. “Samson and Delilah” was also covered and credited to Davis by the Grateful Dead on the album Terrapin Station. The Dead also covered Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. Eric Von Schmidt credited Davis with three-quarters of Schmidt’s “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, covered by Bob Dylan on his debut album for Columbia Records.

Davis died of a heart attack in May 1972, in Hammonton, New Jersey. He is buried in plot 68 of Rockville Cemetery, in Lynbrook, Long Island, New York.

Dinner-on-the-grounds, a potluck dinner after the last Sunday service or on a special occasion, is bedrock in North Carolina, Southern Baptist tradition. In every town and village there are renowned cooks, and someone’s potato salad will be talk of the town.  Potatoes, mayonnaise, and eggs are the normal key ingredients with any number of additional possibilities.  Here’s one of a thousand varieties:

Southern Potato Salad


3 ½ lb potatoes
6 hard-boiled large eggs, peeled
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup evaporated milk
3 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp prepared mustard
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper


Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and cool. Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites, and set the yolks aside. Chop the whites and mix them with the potatoes and onion in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mash the yolks, then stir in the mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the potatoes, and toss well to mix. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Spoon into a serving bowl and chill until ready to serve. Garnish with a little paprika.

Dec 032016


Today is Flamenco Guitar Day. I don’t know who invented the holiday or what it really means, but seems like a good thing to celebrate. Let’s be clear, though. It’s Flamenco Guitar Day, not Flamenco Day. Flamenco is an art form that has a number of components — cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping). This post will focus exclusively on toque.

Traditionally, luthiers made guitars to sell at a wide ranges of prices, largely based on the materials used and the amount of decorations, to cater to the popularity of the instrument across all classes of people in Spain. The cheapest guitars were often simple, basic instruments made from the less expensive woods such as cypress. Antonio de Torres, one of the most renowned luthiers, did not differentiate between flamenco and classical guitars. Only after Andrés Segovia and others popularized classical guitar music, did this distinction emerge.


The traditional flamenco guitar is made of Spanish cypress, sycamore, or rosewood for the back and sides, and spruce for the top. This (in the case of cypress and sycamore) accounts for its characteristic body color. Flamenco guitars are built lighter with thinner tops than classical guitars, which produces a “brighter” and more percussive sound quality. Builders also use less internal bracing to keep the top more percussively resonant. The top is typically made of either spruce or cedar, though other tone woods are used today. Volume has traditionally been very important for flamenco guitarists, as they must be heard over the sound of the dancers’ nailed shoes. To increase volume, harder woods, such as rosewood, can be used for the back and sides, with softer woods for the top.

In contrast to the classical guitar, the flamenco guitar is often equipped with a tap plate (a golpeador), commonly made of plastic, similar to a pick guard, whose function is to protect the body of the guitar from the rhythmic finger taps, or golpes.  Originally, all guitars were made with wooden tuning pegs, that pass straight through the head stock, similar to those found on a lute, a violin or oud, as opposed to the modern classical-style guitars’ geared tuning mechanisms.

“Flamenco negra” guitars are called “negra” after the darker of the harder woods used in their construction, similar materials to those of high-end classical guitars, such as rosewood or other dense tone woods. The harder materials increase volume and tonal range. A typical cypress flamenco guitar produces more treble and louder percussion than the more sonorous negra. These guitars strive to capture some of the sustain achieved by concert caliber classical guitars while retaining the volume and attack associated with flamenco.

A well-made flamenco guitar responds quickly, and typically has less sustain than a classical. This is desirable, since the flurry of notes that a good flamenco player can produce might sound muddy on a guitar with a big, lush, sustaining sound. The flamenco guitar’s sound is often described as percussive; it tends to be brighter, drier and more austere than a classical guitar.


Flamenco is played somewhat differently from classical guitar. Players use different posture, strumming patterns, and techniques. Flamenco guitarists are known as tocaores (from an Andalusian pronunciation of tocadores, “players”) and flamenco guitar technique is known as toque. Flamenco players tend to play the guitar between the sound hole and the bridge, but as closely as possible to the bridge, to produce a harsher, rasping sound quality. Unlike classical tirando, where the strings are pulled parallel to the soundboard, in flamenco apoyando strings are struck towards the soundboard in such way that the striking finger is caught and supported by the next string, hence the name apoyando (from Spanish apoyar meaning “to support”). At times, this style of playing causes the vibrating string to gently touch the frets along its length, causing a more percussive sound.

Flamenco guitar is commonly played using a cejilla (capo) which raises the pitch and causes the guitar to sound sharper and more percussive. However, the main purpose in using a cejilla is to change the key of the guitar to match the singer’s vocal range. Because Flamenco is an improvisational musical form that uses common structures and chord sequences, the capo makes it easier for players who have never played together before to do so. Rather than transcribe to another key each time the singer changes, the player can move the capo and use the same chord positions. Flamenco uses a lot of highly modified and open chord forms to create a solid drone effect and leave at least one finger free to add melodic notes and movement. Very little traditional Flamenco music is written, but is mostly passed on hand to hand. Books, however are becoming more available.

Both accompaniment and solo flamenco guitar are based as much on modal as tonal harmonies –  most often, both are combined. There have been many guitarists who have become a part of the popularized Flamenco scene, such as Paco Peña, Paco De Lucia, Ramon Montoya, Pepe Romero, and Pepe Martinez. My suspicion, based on what I know about Argentine tango, is that there is a world of Flamenco that the general public does not see, and gets only a little taste from what becomes popular and, hence, mainstream.

Flamenco music uses the Flamenco mode which is a harmonic version of the Phyrgian scale with a major 3rd degree. If you can read music, below is a descending E Phrygian scale in flamenco style, with common alterations in parentheses.


A typical chord sequence, usually called the “Andalusian cadence,” in E is Am–G–F–E. Of course, guitarists play with the “rules” a great deal, and there’s a great deal of variation anyway.

The compás is fundamental to flamenco. Compás is most often translated as rhythm but it demands far more precise interpretation than any other Western style of music. If there is no guitarist available, the compás is rendered through hand clapping (palmas) or by hitting a table with the knuckles. The guitarist uses techniques like strumming (rasgueado) or tapping the soundboard (golpe). Changes of chords emphasize the most important downbeats.

Flamenco uses three basic counts or measures: Binary, Ternary and a form of a twelve-beat cycle that is unique to flamenco. There are also free-form styles including, among others, the tonás, saetas, malagueñas, tarantos, and some types of fandangos. The 12-beat cycle is the most common in flamenco, differentiated by the accentuation of the beats in different palos. The accents do not correspond to the classic concept of the downbeat. The alternating of groups of 2 and 3 beats is also common in Spanish dances of the 16th century such as the zarabanda, jácara and canarios.

The Bulerías is the emblematic palo of flamenco: today its 12-beat cycle is most often played with accents on the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th beats. The accompanying palmas are played in groups of 6 beats, giving rise to a multitude of counter-rhythms and percussive voices within the 12 beat compás. Here’s a video presentation of the beats for Flamenco Bulerías with emphasis [12] 1 2 [3] 4 5 [6] 7 [8] 9 [10] 11 – also the rhythm for the song “America” from  West Side Story.

Enough of theory. Here’s Flamenco master Sabicas:

To celebrate Flamenco let’s make eggs Flamenco, a classic Andalusian dish. You’ll need ovenproof ramekins.


Eggs Flamenco


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 red peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g fresh tomatoes grated on a cheese grater
1 tsp smoked paprika
8 eggs
8 slices of serrano ham
8 thin slices of chorizo
1 cup of peas frozen/defrosted or fresh
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper


Sauté the onion and peppers slowly over medium-low heat in the olive oil until they are soft.  Add the garlic. Sauté for a minute or two and then add the tomatoes and smoked paprika. Sauté gently for an additional 10 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the vegetables into 4 ramekins, break 2 eggs on top of each and place 2 slices of ham, 2 slices of chorizo and a handful of peas on top.

Preheat the oven to 395°F/200°C and bake the ramekins for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are set but still runny.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4

Feb 212014


Today is the birthday of Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña, usually known simply as Segovia, a virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist from Linares in Andalusia. He is often considered the father of modern classical guitar although that title should probably go to Francisco Tárrega. Nonetheless his influence was profound in re-establishing the importance of the guitar as a classical instrument, in advancing technique, and in spreading the popularity of classical guitar through performance and teaching. Practically all professional classical guitarists today are students of Segovia, or students of his students. Segovia’s contribution to the modern repertoire included not only commissions but also his own transcriptions of classical and baroque works. He is remembered for his expressive performances, his wide palette of tone, and his distinctive phrasing and style.

Segovia was born in Linares, in the province of Jaén in Andalusia. He was sent at a very young age to live with his uncle Eduardo and his wife Maria. Eduardo arranged for Segovia’s first music lessons with a violin teacher after recognizing that Segovia had an aptitude for music. This proved to be an unhappy introduction to music for the young Segovia because of the teacher’s strict methods, and Eduardo stopped the lessons. His uncle decided to move to Granada to allow Segovia to obtain a better education, and after arriving in Granada Segovia recommenced his musical studies, largely on his own. Segovia was aware of flamenco during his formative years as a beginning guitarist, but did not have a desire to learn the style. Instead he was more drawn to classical guitar that was undergoing a revival, especially under Francisco Tárrega. Tárrega agreed to give the self-taught Segovia some lessons but died before they could meet. Instead he continued to develop his own style without teachers.

Francisco Tárrega

Francisco Tárrega

Segovia’s first public performance was in Granada at the age of 16 in 1909. A few years later he played his first professional concert in Madrid which included works by Tárrega and his own guitar transcriptions of J.S. Bach. Despite the discouragement of his family, who wanted him to become a lawyer, and criticism by some of Tárrega’s pupils for his idiosyncratic technique, he continued to develop his own style.

He played again in Madrid in 1912, at the Paris Conservatory in 1915, in Barcelona in 1916, and made a successful tour of South America in 1919. Segovia’s arrival on the international stage coincided with a time when the guitar’s fortunes as a concert instrument were being revived, largely through the efforts of Miguel Llobet. It was in this changing milieu that Segovia, whose personal drive and artistry coupled with new technological advances such as recording, radio, and air travel, succeeded in making classical guitar much more widely popular.

Here is Segovia playing Asturias (Leyenda), a work written by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz, and which is probably one of Segovia’s most widely known pieces. It was originally written for the piano, and set in the key of G minor. It was first published in Barcelona in 1892 as the prelude of a three-movement set entitled Chants d’Espagne. Despite the name (given to it by a German publisher) this piece is not considered suggestive of the folk music of the northern Spanish region of Asturias, but rather of Andalusian flamenco traditions. The original piano score clearly mimics guitar style.  During the piece you hear passages suggestive of the bulería, malagueña and copla from the flamenco repertoire. I’ve put the original piano version after the recipe if you are interested.

Because the piano piece was so evocative of guitar it was an obvious move to transcribe it for guitar.  It was transcribed several times, shifting it to E minor. This is Segovia’s transcription.

Andalusian cuisine is not especially well known outside of Spain, although gazpacho (in rather limited varieties) can be found widely.  Olive oil features heavily in the cuisine because the provinces of Jaén (where Segovia was born), Córdoba, Seville, and Granada are major producers.  Typically olive oil is used in all frying including deep frying giving the dishes a distinctive savor.  Here’s my recipe for puntillitas – baby squid deep fried.  As ever, I’ll give you the general idea and you can play with quantities. This method is typically Andalusian, and you can use it for any small fish.  It is simplicity itself.



You really should use baby squid for this rather than adults, but you can make a version with larger squid (you just have to cut them into small pieces).  To begin let me explain how to clean squid.  Typically when you buy baby squid they are uncleaned.  Big or small, I always clean my own squid; it saves a lot of money.

Pull off the head and tentacles; they will separate easily and most of the innards will come out too. Cut off the tentacles and discard the eyes and innards. Squeeze firmly on the base of the tentacles and the beak should pop out. Discard it.  Reach into the body with a finger and you will locate a long cartilage (thin and clear).  Discard it.  The body is covered in a mottled membrane which is edible, but most people prefer to remove it.  It easily peels away. Wash the bodies and tentacles well, giving each body a squeeze to make sure everything is out. If you are using large squid cut the tentacles and bodies into small bite-sized pieces.

Pat the squid pieces dry well with paper towels.

Place the squid in a plastic bag with enough flour to coat them.  Do not worry about using too much; the excess will remain in the bag.  Close the bag tightly and vigorously shake it until you can see that all the pieces have a good coating of flour.  Reserve them on a plate.

Heat olive oil in a deep fryer or in a heavy skillet (deep enough for deep frying) to 350°F/175°C.  Fry the pieces in batches until they are golden brown.  Use a slotted spoon to toss them to ensure they are evenly browned.  Drain on wire racks.  You will notice that with this method of cooking the pieces are not evenly coated as with a batter.

Serve hot with lemon wedges.