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Bottoms Up: Breaking Down Paul Chambers’ “Mopp Shoe Blues”

Paul ChambersToday I’d like to talk about another historical great who I’m sure is familiar to many, Mr. Paul Chambers (1935-1969). I think I have a treat for some folks who already know about him: a transcription of a tune called “Mopp Shoe Blues” off the record First Bassman.

“P.C.”, as he is commonly known in many circles, was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in Detroit and is one of the first bassists to extensively use both Arco and Pizzicato when playing a solo. Detroit, even in the pre-Motown era produced a number of top musicians including multi-reedsman Yusef Lateef, the author of “Mopp Shoe Blues”, pianist Tommy Flanagan, Hank Thad, Elvin Jones, Milt Jackson, Lucky Thompson and quite a few more great players.

Not only are P.C.’s solos a great study, his walking lines are too. He is, simply put, one of the finest bass players to have played the instrument.

Take a look at “Mopp Shoe Blues” (PDF download), which is a good example of a Minor Blues. As you can see and hear, the harmonic and melodic content don’t necessarily contain anything which you wouldn’t normally see in a minor blues tune. But, there are several elements that make the tune hold together well.

One of the elements that makes this melody work well is the use of call and response, and in particular the fact that all three phrases are answered by the same ‘response’ phrase. You can see the repeated phrase in bar 3, 7 and 11.

The other element that makes this tune hold together is the use of the blues throughout the melody of the tune and of course the healthy dose of soul that seems to be inherent from playing it.

Also, take a look at the chorus of Paul Chambers solo on the tune (PDF download). There are a few more choruses which I haven’t gotten to yet, if anyone wants a challenge.

In the next installment, we’ll take a look at “Tale of The Fingers”, written by Mr. P.C.