Floyd Cramer’s slip-note piano style
Floyd Cramer was one of the architects of the Nashville sound. Born in Louisiana he worked for a while as a pianist on the Louisiana Hayride radio show and then in 1955 moved to Nashville, becoming a session musician and backing singers such as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold and Brenda Lee.
In 1960, during the recording of Hank Locklin’s “Please Help Me I’m Falling”, Cramer used a style of playing that had not been heard before on a piano. Described as a slip-note style, it was familiar to guitar and steel guitar players, who would slide a half tone. Cramer however was using a whole-tone slur, hitting a note and sliding almost simultaneously into the next. He explained it gave more of a lonesome cowboy sound.
What happened in 1960?
Late in 1960 he released his own single, “Last Date”, a haunting melody that featured the slip-note sound and which was kept from hitting the top spot in the national charts only by Elvis’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”which ironically featured Cramer himself on piano.
So how is it done?
Essentially it is a two- or three-part right-hand chord with the slipped note providing a melodic embellishment.
A slow grace note is added on the beat a whole step below the target note, yet slightly louder than the target, with the target note just past the beat. A third note is played above the target note at the same time as the grace note, and held through the target and at the same volume as the grace note.
Cramer’s own style is sparse yet sensitive. In the intro to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” he uses half-step blue notes, played softly in the upper register, adding an upper note to make the sound even bluer.
Other variations evolved with other players, but the sound is always unmistakably Nashville.