Whatever happened to the WEIRD in blues music?


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.

2 responses to “Whatever happened to the WEIRD in blues music?

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