From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

December 22, 1999*: on looking for an Albert King guitar solo

One of the topics that most interests me is the ways in which we build something new out of previously available materials. Or at least that's one way of putting it. Another is simply to say that I'm fascinated by the extent to which the basic computer based function of copy and paste permeates our culture. I collect examples, mostly musical examples, that highlight the various aspects of this phenomenon. One particular example that I've been trying to get my hands on is a guitar solo by the master blues guitarist Albert King. Why that particular solo? I remember, from almost thirty years ago, the first time I heard it on the radio (or maybe it was from a record?) and I was struck by the fact that it was the same solo as that played by Eric Clapton on Sunshine of Your Love from the second Cream album. Here was, to my mind, an excellent example of someone lifting a solo in its entirety and placing it into a new (or at least somewhat new) context. What's more, that particular solo opened with an obvious quote from the popular song Blue Moon, and thus carried within it an additional example of the process of copy and paste.

I've devoted more than a bit of time to trying to find that solo, and this column is a review of my attempts to find it. If the blues isn't your sort of music, should you still read this column? Well, most of what's discussed here deals with the blues, but frankly, it's not my favorite music either. But that's hardly the point of the column. Rather than dealing with the blues, I hope that this column gives a picture of what it's like to actually search for something on the web, and the various paths along which such a search leads us, if we let it. So this is, if you will, a sort of case study.

How does one go about finding a guitar solo on the internet? It would help to know the name of the song that contains the solo, or perhaps the name of the album on which it appeared. But thirty years is a long time ago, and all I had to go on as my starting point was a very distinct memory without any other identifying information. Before I entered upon an internet search I asked numerous friends who were more avid blues listeners than myself. Nobody had an answer for me. So I turned to the internet.

My search was what might be called a free-time search. Every so often I'd run a search on the terms Albert King and Eric Clapton, and hope that just maybe something would turn up. But as was to be expected, what turned up wasn't specific enough for my needs. Countless pages praising the virtuosity of a particular guitarist wasn't exactly what I was looking for. So my next move was from passive sifter of available information to active seeker of expert advice. This meant approaching the problem from two different angles: seeking out a discussion group whose members might have the information I wanted, and sending e-mail to people whose web site content suggested that they might be able to help me.

The vast majority of web pages have e-mail links to the people who wrote them. On the whole we know that they're there, and we even know that they've been put there because whoever wrote the page we're reading actually wants us to contact him or her, but very few of us actually make any use of them. Sending off a letter is only a click away, but few people seem to take the click. And neither do I, or at least not as often as I should. But in my quest for that long lost solo I made the leap. I found a number of pages written by people who definitely seemed well versed in electric blues and especially in Albert King and Eric Clapton, and I sent off personal queries to these people, describing what I was looking for, and why. I'd also clicked over to where I thought I might find a hint about what I wanted in their pages devoted to Albert King discs. And in a way I did, because in the reviews sections of the albums that I checked a few people related to the similarities in King's and Clapton's playing. I sent off e-letters to these people as well. The letters to the people I found via bounced back or simply didn't get a response, but I had better luck with the personal queries.

Though the responses I received weren't overwhelming, they were definitely encouraging. Even when someone didn't have any precise information for me, they were happy to try and be helpful. One person wrote, for instance:

I'll check my old Albert records when I get home at the end of the week, but I doubt if I have it.  I think I would have noticed, as "Sunshine of Your Love" was one of my favorite songs.
and he then even added a thought about how to illustrate the idea of copy and paste.

A number of people gave me leads to other solos that I wasn't aware of, and a bit of a discussion/argument evolved around this. As I knew even before my search began, stealing, or copying and pasting into a new framework, was a very common practice, but I had numerous examples from western classical music and from rap, but almost nothing from the blues. It turned out that this was a very rich source of examples. One very helpful response read:

I'm no expert but I do know this answer. The Albert King song is "Oh Pretty Woman" to which Clapton played the lead phrase in "Strange Brew".
Believe it or not there's a web page that showcases the 2 leads and blends them together. Something I'm sure you'll be interested in:
As well I was. This site, devoted to the music of Jimi Hendrix, offered numerous short examples of how white blues musicians borrowed freely (that's a nice euphemism, isn't it?) from black blues musicians. These examples were just the sort of thing I needed as part of my copy and paste presentations, and the site owners responded to my e-mail queries about the sound files on the site by graciously permitting me to use them. They even sent some of them to me via e-mail.

On a couple of occasions a certain sort of camaraderie developed. I'm not sure just why this was, but I'm certainly not complaining. My guess is that it's a result of the convergence of a few factors: a common musical interest, the novelty of being approached via e-mail by a total stranger, and simply a basic affinity for being pleasant. This same sort of camaraderie can also develop in "non-virtual" situations (and undoubtedly does), and perhaps the fact that I'm still somewhat surprised when it does is a sign that even for me there's something extraordinary in "virtual" friendships. Whatever, it's especially pleasing when it does.

Another letter, a response from someone who'd been identified to me as an expert in the blues and who might have the answer to my quest for the solo, solved a puzzle I'd long wondered about. Along with growing set of musical examples of copy and paste, I've also developed a rather extensive collection of quotes about plagiarism. One of these quotes always struck me as a bit strange. Laurendo Almeida is a well known Brazilian composer and musician. Though the following quote is a rather common one, I couldn't find any reason why it might be attributed to him, as it was on a web page a came across:

     Stealing from one source is plagiarism. Stealing from many sources is research.

But the letter I received from this expert pretty much cleared up the riddle:

Laurino Almeida demonstrates "the difference between plagiarism and research" on a live LA Four (Jazz) album (on the Concord Jazz label circa mid 80's), where he shows the transition from a Chopin Etude to the Antonio Carlos Jobim song Insensatez ( I think that's the song) which became a famous Samba-Jazz tune.
And now, of course, I want to get my hands on that album as well.

The fitting ending for this column, is of course an audio file of the Albert King solo I've been searching for. Sadly, however, I still haven't found it. The hunt has been great fun, and it's led me off on numerous enjoyable tangents, but as I approach the finish line I have to admit that I still haven't caught the prey. It may be that the precise solo that I want to find is particularly elusive, but after rubbing shoulders with a number of experts I've got to admit that the problem may not be with the solo. Perhaps it's my memory that's playing a trick on me, presenting me with such a vivid image that despite its clarity simply isn't true. At the least I can be thankful that the search has led me down so many enticing paths.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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