Quotes of the Day:
“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”
“To the man who loves art for its own sake, it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived.” –Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My brother sent me a book about the Mississippi blues masters earlier this summer and I’ve learned a lot from reading it about things I knew before only in passing.
Some of you probably know I haven’t seen my brother in a lot of years. He’s a semi-recluse, a writer, a music aficionado and record collector, and from the accounts of at least four people who have known him, probably some kind of genius. In my imagination, he’s a real life Mycroft Holmes. Lately, I’ve been lucky to learn a little about him and some of the events that shaped him, for better and worse, thanks to his best friend Carl. Anyway, we have a tenuous line of communication nowadays. I send him an occasional email through his wife and a letter when I want to make sure he pays attention, and he responds with a box of Napa cheese or a book on the blues, only once sending an actual note. I’d prefer a note, but the packages are enlightening. Hopefully, my choices below will pass a bit of enlightenment on to you. They were chosen based on some of what I learned reading Delta Blues; The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music by Ted Gioia, selected for TB by my brother Bill. I’ve never really listened much to a lot of these old guys so I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible their tunes are on You Tube. If you have the time and the interest, check out some of the songs below. If there is one thing Mississippi has to be proud of more than anything, even more than our state’s contributions to literature and athletics, its the fact that American music was born and raised right here.
Skip James–watch his fingers; also it is immediately apparent that Clapton borrowed heavily from James. I did a quick Google search and immediately found that Cream covered James’ “I’m So Glad” in 1967.
Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson
Muddy Waters–Baby Please Don’t Go
Old school AC/DC Baby Please Don’t Go
Howlin Wolf–How Many More Years; chose this one mainly for his spoken intro, Gioia says Wolfman Jack’s schtick was a mimicry of HW by the way, but also listen to the guitar work starting at the 2.32 mark and hear what Chuck Berry used; Hat tip to Mr. Wolf for his missin “g”
Son House–Death Letter Blues
White Stripes–Death Letter Blues
Guess that’s enough. I could go on and on. A few months ago I visited the BB King Blues Museum in Indianola, Mississippi. Museums usually hold little interest for me, but this one is really good, and if you are ever within driving distance of Indianola you ought to check it out. My favorite exhibit is a computer panel that is set up where you can search an artist, either a contemporary rocker or a roots bluesman, and trace their lineage going back or forward. There are headphones for your use and not only can you see which bluesman influenced your favorite current bands, you can listen to the songs that illustrate the musical family tree. One could spend days going through just that.
It’s funny you posted this, this morning. I’m currently listening to a Muddy Waters show from 1978 in Washington, D.C.
I had originally planned to get my doctorate in Blues Culture, so I’ve got far too much to say on this subject, except that one should always keep in mind that the Blues is not just music, but literature, living, poetry, painting. It tells us so much about our own heritage and past, and a lot about who we are now as a people, both black and white.
A couple of those videos appear to be from some folk festivals which were much more common in the early sixties, and a major reason why these great musicians were re-introduced to the public at large. Also in the video with Muddy and Sonny Boy doing Got My Mojo Workin’, playing the bass is Willie Dixon, perhaps the greatest blues song writer of all time. Check out his wikipedia page and you can see a decent list of his songs and bands that have covered them.
Also I have Gioia’s book, The History of Jazz which is pretty good.
You should also check out Deep Blues by Robert Palmer, which is almost entirely based in Mississippi and is a pretty good read about blues history, and plus it takes you all around Mississippi. Also, check out some of the hill country blues folks on Fat Possum Records, which thank god for them because they have reintroduced the hill country blues, which has far too often been ignored in favor of Delta blues.
Also B.B. King plays every year in Indianola, you should go.
Good info Irv. There’s a bit about Fat Possum in Gioia’s blues book, enough to make you wish you could hang out with those dudes. I’d like to make it to the Hill Country Revue one of these years too. Glad I got to see Burnside and Kimbrough during their “rediscovery” period that Gioia attributes to Fat Possum back in the early 90’s.
One quick story from BB King from a video at his museum–seems his big red bus took a lot of fuel to operate. They pulled over one day back in the 60’s and got quick service. King asked where the restroom was and the man said “sorry, out of order”. King said, take out the pump. They drove down the road 100 yards and King gets out. Tells the new gas station guy, “they said their bathrooms are out of order so we came down here.” Man takes a look at the bus and says “we got some mighty nice restrooms sir, working just fine.” King–“then fill ‘er up.”
If you’ve ever got extra time and you’re hanging around Oxford, you should check out the blues archives. There is a ridiculous amount of stuff there. Also, B.B. Kings record collection is there, I believe, because he donated it to them.
I wish you could have gotten that ph.d in this – you would have been great on TV and you could have had TB as a guest and Libby Rae too.
Mmmm, hmmm…. lay it on! If you ain’t got no money – you still got the blues! Isn’t that the truth!
I love some old-style jazz and blues. It’s a genre that nearly everyone can identify with. And it’s no wonder that so many modern artists have looked to it for inspiration. Great stuff!
He sends you cheese? Can I tell you how awesome I think that is?
And I loved the story about BB King at the gas station. Brilliant!
Can’t wait to watch some videos after Sam goes to bed.
I found the DVDs on Amazon. The American Folk Blues Festival. There are a few volumes of it. It’s pretty good stuff.
Also, a good young player, who I saw in Oxford around 3 years ago when he was still 18 I think, is a guy named Slick Ballinger. You can find him on myspace. He lived with Othar Turner, the great drum and fife band leader, for awhile. At the time Turner was in his 90s and still lived in a house without electricty or running water. What’s funny about Slick is that if you just listen to him, you probably wouldn’t realize he’s a white kid. He puts on a hell of a show. I saw him at Parrish’s in Oxford, and at one point he was walking on the bar dancing, while stepping over people’s drinks, and still playing guitar. He is quite good. He’s played with King, actually, and several other pretty legendary players.
Obviously, everyone here probably already knows this, but if you haven’t listened to any Bonnie Rait shows from the 70s you are missing out. She is nasty!