New Release! “Country Blues” is here!

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“Country Blues” is the brand-new release from Preacher Boy! Purchase direct from CDBaby (digital download or CD) between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and pay only $4.99!

“Raw, powerful, foot-stomping interpretations of country blues classics as only Preacher Boy can deliver them. Accompanied solely by his 1936 National Resophonics, the Alt Blues pioneer pounds out songs by Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson, Charley Patton, and more.”

“A devious storm of gothic Americana and gritty country blues.” 

Get your copy TODAY!


The World Is Going Wrong

Feel bad this mornin’
Ain’t got no home
No use a-worryin’
‘Cause the world gone wrong

I can’t be good no more
Once like I did before
I can’t be good, baby
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong

—from The World Is Going Wrong, by The Mississippi Sheiks

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In order to get a new side project off the ground, I’ve been listening to a LOT of The Mississippi Sheiks. Tremendous songwriters (“Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” anybody? Yeah, that was them …), great and powerful instrumentalists (Delta Blues fiddle? Yep, and tough as fu*k to boot …), and genuine Delta royalty, countin’ Sam Chatmon and Charley Patton amongst their kin …

And as you can tell from the lyric above … prophets. Cuz that’s just about how I feel …

This new project is called The Westside Sheiks. It’s gon’ be real, real cool. We’re on to somethin’ … see if you agree … Here’s the very first song we ever performed together …

video link: https://youtu.be/ZK2X0u99Om8

The takeaway tho, is DO be good. You must. No matter how wrong the world feels, you must be good.


Rest in Peace, Robert Lowery

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Robert Lowery’s boots no longer walk the streets of Santa Cruz. Robert Lowery’s fingers no longer pluck and slide on a resonator guitar. Robert Lowery’s voice no longer tells us the stories we need to hear. Robert Lowery’s ears no longer hear the sky songs. Robert Lowery’s eyes no longer watch us as we absorb his lesson. But Robert Lowery’s spirit is still with us, and for this, we are grateful.

Robert Lowery represents a critical thread in the fabric of our musical history and heritage. As I am still sad for myself for having been born too late to have met Mississippi John Hurt in person or seen him play live, I am sad for everyone today who will miss the same experience with Robert Lowery.

I am fortunate. I did meet him in person. I did hear him play live. When he was presented a lifetime achievement award from Santa Clara University, I played with him. Just a few weeks before Robert passed, I was able to play for him, an honor I am all the more grateful for now. With me on stage that night was Virgil Thrasher.

Virgil and Robert occupied a very special world together. This was more than music. They embodied and enacted a story of nobility, humanity, artistry—one that transcended time and place. If history is behaving itself, it is right now dipping its quill into the black ink of time, to write the names Robert Lowery and Virgil Thrasher alongside Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; alongside Hammie Nixon and Sleepy John Estes; alongside Carey Bell and Louisiana Red; alongside Little Walter and Muddy Waters.

That night but a few weeks ago, when Robert Lowery came to see Virgil and I perform, I asked Robert how he was doing. He said, “not very well.” Honest, straightforward, raw. Just like his music. When he left that night, I spoke from the microphone, and told the small crowd that they had a legend in their midst. The room applauded as he left the building.

“Country bluesman Robert Lowery died today at 85-years-old. His music touched many in Santa Cruz and throughout the blues world. He could tap into the core of Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Big Bill Broonzy, and Lightnin’ Hopkins with great authenticity. He was a real treasure. Here is a poster of his last appearance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, his very favorite event. RIP, Robert.” —Virgil Thrasher

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Whatever happened to the WEIRD in blues music?

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Man, I mean, have you LISTENED to Robert Pete Williams, Skip James, or Charley Patton? Or Dock Boggs, or Joseph Spence for that matter? This is STRANGE, creepy, weird, unsettling, amazing, bent, odd, utterly and completely compelling music!

What happened?

How the f&*k did we get from all of the glorious, insane, angular, spooky, mischievous, malevolent, inspired, desperate, sly madness of what Greil Marcus called the “weird old America” to … well, you know who and what I mean.

Or maybe you don’t.

Have you LISTENED to the original “Rollin’ Stone” by Robert Wilkins? Parts 1 & 2? That s&*t is creepy!

So what happened? Where is the ghost of Sleepy John Estes? Where is the ghost of Junior Kimbrough? Where is the ghost of Howlin’ Wolf?

Now, I like Brother Dege. He’s got the weird. I like Johnny Azari. He’s got the weird. I like Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris, Will Scott, Dave Arcari, they got the weird. I heard these cats the other day, Hillfolk Noir. They’re gettin’ a bit of that weird. They’re from Boise, for God’s sake. That’s weird. 16 Horsepower had the weird, and Munly and Slim Cessna still have the weird. Kelly Joe Phelps? Weird! Bob Log? Yeah man. That’s the weird. Chris Whitley? Oh, Chris Whitley had the weird. What a loss …

Where is the ghost of Bessie Smith? Where is the ghost of Big Mama Thornton? Where is the ghost of Victoria Spivey, singing “Bloodthirsty Blues?” I mean, my God, the first lines of the song are “Blood, look at all that blood!”

Where is the ghost of Memphis Minnie?

I’m tellin’ you, man, go listen to Dock Boggs and Joseph Spence. It’ll blow yer mind. Listen to Tommy Johnson’s voice on “Cool Drink of Water” and tell me yer damn skin doesn’t crawl.

Here you go, this is your 15-song critical listening homework on the Old Weird America:

  1. Robert Wilkins: Rollin’ Stone, Parts 1 & 2
  2. Skip James: Hardtime Killin’ Floor Blues
  3. Joseph Spence: Sloop John B
  4. Dock Boggs: Sugar Baby
  5. Charley Patton: High Water Everywhere
  6. Robert Pete Williams: Ugly
  7. Robert Johnson: Hellhound on my Trail
  8. Tommy Johnson: Cool Drink of Water
  9. Sleepy John Estes: Sixty-One and Sixty-Two Rats
  10. Junior Kimbrough: Sad Days, Lonely Nights
  11. Howlin’ Wolf: I Asked for Water (she gave me gasoline)
  12. Bukka White: When Can I Change My Clothes?
  13. Fred McDowell: Will Me Your Watch & Chain
  14. Blind Lemon Jefferson: Matchbox Blues
  15. Blind Willie McTell: Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues

That’s just a start. Just go on and keep listenin’. It’s out there. It ain’t lost. In this day and age, in this country—and you know what I mean—we NEED this. We need the magic of this realness. The real, deep, weird soul of America. We need it, man.


A Taste of The Devil’s Buttermilk

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If you’ve heard The Devil’s Buttermilk before, you know it’s a bit of a different record in the Preacher Boy canon. In my mind, it’s almost a sort of collection of shorts, combined into a larger, longer film.  Every song was really recorded to be its own self-contained universe, it’s own completed circle. The songs seemed to ask for that, and so that’s what I did. There is very little sonic continuity from song to song; this one is lighting fast and loaded with electric guitars, that one is soft, quiet, acoustic. This one is whispery and spooky and moody, that one is full bore and monstrous.

The album is populated with a lot of different characters. The destructive, white -trash-noir anti-hero of “On and on it goes,” the cracked Wiseblood-ian preacher of “Glory Man,” Patrick Jones, whose white bones close “The Dogs,” the neighborhood drunk in “Spaceman,” and more.

The theatricality and comparatively complicated instrumentation has meant that these songs don’t get played live very often—some of them I’ve never played live. But recently, I’ve committed to working out arrangements of a great many songs that I haven’t given much stage time to, and songs from The Devil’s Buttermilk are looming large on that list. Last night I played “On and on it goes,” “Rust,” and “Spaceman.” Two of those I’ve NEVER played live before, and “Spaceman” I haven’t performed live in over a decade. It was an adventurous evening.

Here’s a raw and straight-from-the-stage recording of “Spaceman” from last night:

if you don’t see the embedded media player above, please click below to stream:
Preacher Boy – Spaceman [LIVE]

(lyrics are at the bottom of this post)

The whole show was a bit of a journey song-wise … a pretty diverse mix of country blues workouts, and a great many album tracks I don’t often play. Here’s the whole set list:

  1. if i had possession over my judgement day (robert johnson)
  2. rollin’ stone (rev. robert wilkins)
  3. evil blues (mance lipscomb)
  4. rust (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  5. levee camp blues (fred mcdowell)
  6. my gold canoe (from “demanding to be next”)
  7. black crow (from “crow”)
  8. gun (from “gutters & pews”)
  9. jake j. thomas’ ol’ mission st blues (new)
  10. catfish (willie doss)
  11. chop wood, carry water (new)
  12. that’s no way to get along (rev. robert wilkins)
  13. down south blues (sleepy john estes)
  14. my car walks on water (from “the national blues”)
  15. nehemiah james (from “demanding to be next”)
  16. down and out in this town (from “gutters & pews”)
  17. spaceman (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  18. on and on it goes (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  19. change (from “demanding to be next”)
  20. setting sun (from “the national blues”)
  21. motherless children (blind willie johnson/mance lipscomb/dave van ronk)
  22. a little better when it rains (from “demanding to be next”)

~

Finally, here are the lyrics to Spaceman, if you want to read along!

spaceman

god knows where they go, i only know his name was bob
he had a job somewhere, some office that paid him well
he spent his science fiction days dreaming up
all the things that he’d invent, but never sell
i used to see him whenever i was down at “george & walt’s”
and he’d tell me again, like i didn’t already know
that he preferred to start his nights out with three brandy twists
and then finish two beers before he had to go
the bartender, dave, gave bob his nickname
they’d yell out “spaceman!” whenever he walked in
but he confessed to me, in that weary voice that only drunkards get,
that he was pretty sure they were making fun of him
making fun of him
well, they’ve always been
give him half the chance, and bob could talk for half the year
with a mouth full of nothing but an overbite
he was so far past alone not even pity helped
so i’d just sit with him and drink away the nights
the money he earned would have loved to burn his pocket full of holes
but he had no one to spend it upon
for him, love had become some magic instance that never lasts
like the moment when the street lights first come on
sometimes, if bob got a little too drunk
my friend and i, we’d drive him to his house
and we’d talk and sit, and i’d play a bit on his little guitar
and then we’d leave whenever he passed out
whenever he passed out
we’d just let ourselves out
i haven’t been back to “george & walt’s” for so many years
maybe bob doesn’t mean too much to me now
but i’ve always kept that little guitar he insisted that i take
so i guess he still matters somehow
and if you see him, buy him a brandy for me
tell him the kid that took his guitar says hello
and do me a favor, sit and listen to his stories for a while
he’ll appreciate it more than you know
more than you could know
and i ought to know

 


Cornbread: The Story Behind The Song

Preacher Boy - The National Blues - Lyrics

We’ve just published an enhanced lyric booklet for “The National Blues!” It features lyrics, stories behind the songs, insider guitar tips, and more.

You can download a free copy in either PDF (multi-use) or EPUB (iBooks) format here, or, if you’d like to enjoy the book on your Kindle/Kindle app, you can get it in the Kindle store on Amazon for just .99¢!

Here is an excerpt from the text; a short essay about the origins of the second track on the album:

Cornbread

The seeds of this song have been with me for probably decades at this point; I think I first hazarded a demo of it when we were living in Brooklyn, though I believe the first time I tried to play a version of it was with Colin Brooks, during a songwriter’s conference in Durango, Colorado that my missus and I drove down to from Denver.

Lyrically, the song has changed little over the years, and it’s the stories of the families in the verses that have kept the song with me across the miles. What finally clicked was the music. I wish I could claim it was a magical, revelatory moment, or the result of years of diligence and experimentation, but in fact, the click was a simple one. I changed the tuning on my guitar from Open D to Open G. That was it.

The characters are largely based on real people from my childhood; the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but I left the real names in for the guilty


The #DisruptiveCountryBlues Tour

The #DisruptiveCountryBlues Tour

I had a dream about this tour last night. It was called the #DisruptiveCountryBlues Tour. We played all 50 states in the US. Brother Dege, Dave Arcari, Johnny Azari, Will Scott, and Preacher Boy. Before the tour started, we invited artists from every state to enter our competition: write an essay about “Disruptive Country Blues”—what it means, what it means to them, and why the term applies to their music. We also asked them to submit a video of their music. We then picked one artist from every state to join us on the bill. So, a 6-artist show in every state. Plus, we got to help support the careers of 50 MORE Disruptive Country Blues artists. It was really beautiful. I didn’t want to wake up.

Brother Dege

Dave Arcari

Johnny Azari

Will Scott

Preacher Boy

 

 

 


The Story Behind The Song: Obituary Writer Blues

Preacher Boy - The National Blues - Lyrics

I am very happy to announce that we’ve just published an enhanced lyric booklet for “The National Blues.” It features lyrics, stories behind the songs, insider guitar tips, and more.

You can download a free copy in either PDF (multi-use) or EPUB (iBooks) format here, or, if you’d like to enjoy the book on your Kindle/Kindle app, you can get it in the Kindle store on Amazon for just .99¢!

Here is an excerpt from the text; a short essay about the origins of the lead track on the album:

Obituary Writer Blues

Obituary Writer Blues began with two things: a visual idea, and a musical one.

Visually, it was the parallel imagery of a murdered black body lying on a white sheet, and black letters being laid onto white paper by a writer at a typewriter, charged with drafting an obituary for the murdered.

Musically, the song began with a slide riff, borrowed fairly wholesale from Son House, but by way of Will Scott. The thing was then reshaped into a 15-bar cycle—a kind of country blues counting. Two other sections came together later; the 2-chord minor-major interlude, and the chorus, which also quotes from the country blues, borrowing from Sleepy John Estes about knowing right from wrong.

The “rock, paper, scissors” image in the final verse came from our daughter, who at the age of 7 has determined that this game is the solution to the problems of violence in the world. I put it in the song because she’s right.


The 8 Musical Influences Behind The Song “Down The Drain”

 

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“Down The Drain” is the first official video single off my new album “The National Blues” on Coast Road Records. And like virtually everything I write, its roots go deep, and it draws on a great many influences for its shape and sound.

The origins of the song are actually a little out of step with much of what I write, the bulk of which is largely inspired by the early country blues/delta blues canon. Probably the most important influence is actually a comparatively contemporary musical act, a band called Sixteen Horsepower. For my money, they’re likely the greatest band you’ve never heard of. They came out of Denver about the same time as my first album came out (1995), part of a small, localized, but very wonderful sort of Gothic Americana movement that included acts like The Denver Gentlemen, Slim Cessna, Tarantella, Munly, and more. (Full disclosure,  I later spent about two years in Denver, and shared bills at one time or another with most of these acts).

David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower was fond of using open minor tunings in what sounded to me like an Open Gm form, and while I’d already spent half my life in open tunings, and while I was also deeply fond of minor keys, I’d never really put the two together in an Open Gm form until I heard 16 Horsepower. But listen to South Pennsylvania Waltz, or Coal Black Horses, or I Seen What I Saw, or Prison Shoe Romp, and you’ll surely see the similarities! (The following playlist has a whole host of 16 Horsepower gems):

Another big influence on the sound of “Down The Drain” was actually a song I learned to love from hearing my Dad play it on the record player when I was a kid. It was a great guitar instrumental from an era full of great guitar instrumentals, and I used to just love it. I’m not even sure I was drawing on its influence as “Down The Drain” started to come together, but once I realized what I’d done, it was pretty obvious what I’d done! Give it a listen, and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean:

Duane Eddy did a killer version of this as well, which you can check out here, and which I also really love.

The semi-wordless chorus (depending on whether you think “sha” and “la” are words!) of “Down The Drain” is probably the other key component of this song that has clear sonic antecedents. I’ve always loved songs that use vocal “sound” as evocation … think of the “humming” part of Skip James’ magisterial “Hardtime Killing Floor Blues” as but one example (Skip’s melodies on this song are definitely an influence on “Down The Drain” as well!), or Adelaide Hall on Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” both of which are great examples of this kind of thing. Probably more specific to “Down The Drain” of course is something like Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl”—the sha-la-la’s tell the whole emotional story! Given the sound of my voice though, the comparison that probably leaps to mind sooner than Van Morrison is Tom Waits, from “Jersey Girl.” And yeah, I’ll confess that was in my mind when I first started toying with doing the chorus this way. But honestly, it’s not one of my favorite Waits songs, and truthfully, while “Down The Drain” may SOUND like “Jersey Girl” the effect I was actually after was more akin to Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” which somehow manages to make la-la-la sound somehow so … rueful.

So, where does that get us to so far? 16 Horsepower, Bill Justis, Skip James, and some combination of Van Morrison, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop. That’s the music!

Now, as to lyrics, that’s a little harder. I don’t entirely know WHERE they came from! I will certainly admit that the drink has played a lot of roles in my songs over the years, and Shane MacGowan has certainly been my patron saint in that regard, so the reference to “your Chardonnay sky will go black & tan” can probably be attributed in no small part to the influence of The Pogues. And I’m not sure one can write a song with rain as a central metaphor and not be thinking of Ann Peebles singing “Can’t Stand The Rain”:

There is actually a LOT of country blues in Peebles’ song, most notably in this verse:

Alone with the pillow
Where his head used to lay, yeah
I know you’ve got some sweet memories
But like a window you ain’t got nothin’ to say

Which definitely calls to mind these lyrics from Son House’s immortal Death Letter Blues:

Got up this mornin’, just about the break of day
A-huggin’ the pillow where she used to lay

I actually first discovered Ann Peebles’ song being sung by a band at Your Place Too in Oakland, back in the late eighties. (Check out my friend Pete Devine’s bio on the Howell Devine website for a nice little reference to Your Place Too). I don’t remember the band, but I’ve always remembered the song!

So, now we’re up to: 16 Horsepower, Bill Justis, Skip James, some combination of Van Morrison, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop, Shane MacGowan, and Ann Peebles.

And I think that’s where I’ll stop. Eight! And I tell you what, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to write songs, if for no other reason than you get to listen to so much music! Thanks for helpin’ me continue to get to do it! To borrow (and mutate!) a great quote from the world of creative writing, to be a good songwriter, you must be a good songlistener!

~

Buy “Preacher Boy – The National Blues” direct! Just click the image below:

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74 Songs in the Set

The Preacher Boy Trio

As I was getting ready for last Saturday night’s special Preacher Boy Trio show, it occurred to me I ought to sit down and try and recall how many songs I had available “in current circulation”; meaning, how many songs was I actively playing these days, that I could in theory call on for the show?

I don’t use set lists—preferring to make it up as I go—but it’s always good to refresh the memory every once in a while, because otherwise it’s too easy to start to fall into patterns of always relying on certain songs, while totally forgetting that I theoretically have other ones at my disposal as well.

Now, that said, certain songs I’m almost almost going to want to play. Songs from the new record, for example, or brand-new songs that I’m still working on. Or, that certain shortlist of songs that I’m just morally foresworn to keep playing until I die; those canonical life-blood songs that have kept me going through the good times and the bad: Death Letter Blues, Jesus Make Up By Dying Bed, Sliding Delta, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, etc.

Anyhow, I sat down and tried to write ’em all down from memory, and I ended up with 74 songs. To qualify for the list, it had to be a song that I’d played in the last year—if I hadn’t played it in that time frame, then I didn’t claim it as being “in circulation” (even if I COULD have played it if I’d wanted to!).

And so, presented in alphabetical order, here are the 74 in-circulation songs which could in theory show up at any given time in any given show:

  1. a golden thimble
  2. a little better when it rains
  3. a little more evil
  4. a person’s mind
  5. a thief for every bible
  6. at the corner of the top and the bottom
  7. baby, please don’t go
  8. black crow
  9. blister and a bottle cap
  10. broke and low
  11. casey bill weldon
  12. chop wood, carry water
  13. coal black dirt sky
  14. cold winter day
  15. come back, baby
  16. comin’ up aces
  17. cornbread
  18. de vamp
  19. dead, boy
  20. death don’t have no mercy
  21. death letter blues
  22. dip, dip, and swing
  23. divin’ duck blues
  24. down and out in this town
  25. down south blues
  26. down the drain
  27. evil blues
  28. fixin’ to die
  29. gun
  30. house of the rising sun
  31. i just hang down my head and i cry
  32. i shall not be moved
  33. if i had possession over my judgement day
  34. in the darkened night
  35. jackson street
  36. jesus, make up my dyin’ bed
  37. levee camp blues
  38. maggie campbell
  39. mama, let me play with your yo-yo
  40. milk cow blues
  41. motherless children
  42. my car walks on water
  43. my gold canoe
  44. need mo’ Blues
  45. nehemiah james
  46. new red cedar blues
  47. ninety-nine bottles
  48. obituary writer blues
  49. old jim granger
  50. one good reason
  51. one-way turnstile
  52. preachin’ blues
  53. railroad
  54. revenue man blues
  55. rock skipper
  56. rollin’ stone
  57. setting sun
  58. seven’s in the middle, son
  59. shake ’em on down
  60. shine on harvest moon
  61. sliding delta
  62. spoonful
  63. stagolee
  64. take me back
  65. that’s no way to get along
  66. the cross must move
  67. the dogs
  68. there go john
  69. ugly
  70. umbrella
  71. watered down
  72. whistleman
  73. you been a good ol’ wagon
  74. you rascal you

Something missing from that list you think I ought to work back in? Let me know!