Category Archives: Blues Musicians

16 Essential Country Blues Recordings By 16 Essential Country Blues Artists

In which I list the 16 indisputably greatest country blues performances ever recorded.

Country Blues Music is aural American Haiku.

Country blues isn’t any of the things anyone says it is.

Country blues is these 16 songs. Rippled out in a funky pond …

These are recordings by Country Blues masters.

Anyone who says Country Blues isn’t poetry doesn’t know a damn thing about anything worth knowing …

How does a song make this list? By bein’ juju-laden with groove and rawness and swamp funk and pathos and lyrical mystery and perfect mystery and perfect lyrics and transformative soul-crawl and rawness and wry gruffness and hair-raiser powers and grease and swamp and funk and weirdness and genius and earth-raw American Swamp Haiku funk soul mojo…

in alphabetical order

  1. Blind Lemon Jefferson: Matchbox Blues

Virtually every Blind Lemon Jefferson recording is a master class of Country Blues. But certain moments within certain songs vibrate your mind’s tuning fork in unprecedented ways. This is such a song. The lyrical pivot from “standin’ here wonderin’ will a matchbox hold my clothes” to “i ain’t got so many matches but I got so far to go” is just magisterial…(recommended recording, the JSP masters version)

  1. Blind Willie Johnson: God Moves On The Water

This’ll mess you up for gettin’ cocky with Mother Nature … dang. Not just the vengeance of the Lord, man, but God MOVES … on the water. As far as I’m concerned, the Country Blues has just a few truly genius slide guitar players. Willie Johnson is one of them. And the Country Blues has only 4 truly great voices, and they’re all on this list, and Willie Johnson is one of them.

  1. Blind Willie McTell: Dying Crapshooter’s Blues

It’s as good a story song as any ever written in the folk tradition. Sophisticated, narrative, compelling, moody, idiosyncratic, sly, somber, perfect. A total masterpiece, a tour de force. The guy was a bloody genius. The 1940 version, recorded in a hotel room, is so raw. The guitar out of tune, the voice creaked and ailing but still all suave and wry and hip, and the delivery so sly, so masterful. It’s incredible. Every version of this song is incredible, but if you get the chance, listen to the 1940 recording.

  1. Bukka White: When Can I Change My Clothes?

“I wonder how long, ‘fore I can change my clothes?”

It simply doesn’t get more powerful than this song. The riff, the taut growl wail, the lyric. Listen to the Takoma recording, by the way. Not the 1940 one. Takoma will put the hurt on ya…

  1. Charley Patton: High Water Everywhere

I can think of a thousand authors on book tours right now who can’t tell a story worth a shit, and here’s Charley Patton with a song about a flood that’s as good as anything Carson McCullers ever wrote, which makes it better than most anything ever written… People don’t talk enough about what a vocalist Charley Patton was, but this vocal is incredible … just urgency incarnate.

  1. Lightnin’ Hopkins: Mama And Papa Hopkins 

You just go listen to the opening verse of this tune, and then just don’t talk to me about Lightin’ Hopkins anymore, about anything, ever …Listen to this one on vinyl. From the album “Autobiography in Blues.” My grandpa gave me this recording on vinyl when I was 16. I’m many, many years older than that now, and it’s STILL changing my life…

  1. Mance Lipscomb: Freddie

He got mad. He got bad. With a gun. In his hand.

Yep.

You got a lyric like that, on a groove like this, you don’t need more than one chord. From Mance’s first album, released on Arhoolie. Get it on vinyl, man…

  1. Mississippi Fred McDowell: Levee Camp Blues

If you work on somethin’ until you go stone blind?  Yeah, man. Fred McDowell just makes the spooky. This song will haunt you. Just grease and dark and soulful and earthy and river-y stunk up and so much slide & vocal voodoo, it’s a masterpiece of unwound pathotic soul fable…

  1. Mississippi John Hurt: Stagolee

Mississippi John Hurt doesn’t sound much like anyone else on this list, but he’s Mississippi Blues, man, and this is canonical American folklore right here …personally, I’ll take one of the later recordings on Vanguard, but the 1928 Okeh version will sure do too…

  1. Reverend Gary Davis: Death Don’t Have No Mercy

What can you say about a song like this? This version, from Newport, is quite simply one of the greatest recordings of American Song ever preserved. Period. And don’t fall for the staged Newport video version, by the way. Gary Davis still kills it, but the version you want to listen to is the concert one. Get it from the “Great Bluesmen at Newport” collection on Vanguard …

  1. Robert Johnson: Love In Vain

Maybe oddly enough, I don’t actually listen to Robert Johnson that much. He’s almost too good. And this song is almost too sophisticated. But this is genuine weird America, man, because how do you craft up so hard on a song like this, and have it end up so perfectly, weirdly, rawly excellent? It’s just a bloody weird blues song, is what it is, and it’s a must-listen…

When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind
Well, the blue light was my blues
and the red light was my mind
All my love’s in vain

That’s just weird, man. What happened to weird in the blues? Gimme some more weird…

  1. Robert Pete Williams: Ugly

Mama, why I gotta be so ugly in this world?
Son, that’s just a mark that God put on your face.

A mark that God put on your face.

Take that, every other writer of anything.

And here’s a secret for you that I’m gonna let you in on. This was recorded on Fahey’s Takoma album, but it’s seemingly impossible–literally impossible–to find. Except it’s not. You can actually hear it on Spotify. But you’d never know it. It’s one of those horrible albums-without-an-album-cover album covers. But don’t be fooled. Click this link, and go listen to this whole dang album. It’s funky as hell, and very, very, very, very true.

Spotify has the album listed as “Freight Train Blues.” And it says all the songs are “live.” Which is actually right, just not how they mean it…

  1. Skip James: Hard Time Killing Floor Blues

How do you pick one Skip James song? Simple. You pick the best one. And for my money, the first “post-rediscovery” version of this is actually better than the original 1930 version… There’s nothing in the world like Skip James. He’s like the VanGogh of Country Blues, you just wonder, where on earth did this come from? And that voice? I didn’t put it as one of the 4 great country blues voices, because it’s not. It one of the one great Skip James voices. Of which there is no other…

You know that people are driftin’ from door to door
Can’t find no heaven, don’t care where they go

And that ghosty hum after? I been listenin’ to this song for 30 years, I still get chills…

  1. Sleepy John Estes: Mailman Blues

Sleepy John Estes is Country Blues’ greatest short story writer, and one of its greatest voices. He is in fact one of Country Blues’ four great singers. The others being Son House, Tommy Johnson, and Willie Johnson. His is the great broken, cracking plaintive sound that the country blues always wants when it’s not busy gravelin’ itself up. But as a writer, man, Sleepy John just wrote the daily history of his life, and just made it so damn beautiful and compelling and simple in a haiku-simple –read, not simple—way. Just a blues about a drunk mailman. Except it’s fully existential and about death. Sartre in A. I coulda put Lawyer Clark, or Martha Hardin, or Floating Bridge, or Fire Department. But I chose this one, cuz it’s the best.

  1. Son House: Death Letter Blues

The king high motherf&%$er of all Country Blues songs. And you want the 1965 Columbia Records version. Just trust me.

  1. Tommy Johnson: Cool Drink Of Water Blues

Honestly, he could be singin’ about anything, and when that yodel-howl-falsetto thing comes on, man, I just faint. And so what if the lyric is a tossed-around shared couplet. You sing it like this, it’s all yours, man. I asked for water, she gave me gasoline. He sings it better than Howlin’ Wolf, and nobody sings anything better than Howlin’ Wolf. Except Tommy Johnson does. So there.

 


Live Recording! Country Blues w/ Virgil Thrasher

PreacherBoy_VirgilThrasher

I had the great pleasure of bein’ joined on stage last night at Aptos St. BBQ w/ blues harmonica legend Virgil Thrasher (you may recall him from decades of mojo-laden music w/ country blues icon Robert Lowery). We did about 2 hours straight, and amongst other things, hit on some lovely ol’ country blues songs that have been real close to my heart for a real long time … Here’s some raw, guerrilla audio of two of those tracks (recorded last night); hope you dig:

Maggie Campbell

Motherless Children

The first is a tune by Delta man Tommy Johnson, and it’s worth noting that it opens with what I think is one of the great haiku-spirit blues couplets of all time:

Who’s that yonder, comin’ down the road?
Lord, it look like Maggie, but she walkin’ slow

That’s a whole lot of pathos right there … so simple, but I get chills even typin’ it out … so much meaning writ into those few words …

The next song is a staple of a kind, and this arrangement is a bit of a modge podge worth of versions, drawin’ mainly on a cocktail of Blind Willie Johnson, Mance Lipscomb, and Dave Van Ronk …

Anyhow, hope you dig, and thanks as always fer listenin’…

~Preach


If I MUST Concede Defeat, There Is No One I’d Rather Concede To Than…

Big Bones.

BigBones

Big Bones is going to Memphis because he won last night’s competition.

I think this is … fantastic.

Big Bones is my mentor. My inspiration. In many ways, he is my origin story.

We have gotten along, and we haven’t. He’s been successful, on top of the world. And then not. I too have had my ups and downs. We’ve gone years without speaking, and we’ve watched Bruce Lee movies together on a VCR plugged into a generator while shivering away in a 1968 Dodge Pace Arrow parked in a fog bank on the Grapevine in the middle of the night en route to a gig at B.B. King’s club.

It’s almost impossible to imagine, but I’ve known Bones almost 30 years.

As Bones pointed out to me in a late night text after midnight last night, the last time he was in Memphis was with a misfit blues band somewhere around 1996 or 1997.

That band was Preacher Boy and The Natural Blues.

Go back to Memphis Big Bones. It’s going to be wonderful!

Click the album cover below to hear a Preacher Boy and The Natural Blues song featuring Big Bones. And then wish Bones very well on his way back to Memphis!

GuttersAndPews

Special nods of appreciation and admiration to Coyote Slim, Chicken & Dumpling, John Maxwell, and Country Pete. More to come about you soon, but suffice it to say, I am humbled and honored.

~Preach

 


9 Reasons To Attend The Golden Gate Blues Society’s International Blues Competition Solo/Duo Round

preacherboy_gitcase_traintracks

Oakland. My former home. The Oakland of a long-gone Navy. The Oakland of Ken Stabler. The Oakland of Eli’s.

To misquote that English bluesman (for that is, in so many ways, what I think he really is) Billy Bragg, “I don’t want to change the world, I’m just looking for a new Oakland…”

I and you and we will find a new Oakland Thursday night. A blues Oakland. A solo Oakland. A duo Oakland.

(To find out more details about this event, please click here. You’ll be taken to a Facebook Events Page)

We will be the Oakland of Your Place Too and Flint’s. And we will be the Oakland of The Terrace Room.

What follows are 9 Reasons you should be in this Oakland/that Oakland Thursday night. These 9 reasons are an aggregation of what was once 7 reasons, then appended with an 8th, and now modified to include a 9th.

*Historical Note: The James Brown chord is a 9th.

Read on, and dig.

(and if you’re already familiar with reasons 1-8, then get on to the end of this post and dig Number 9. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9…)

REASON ONE:
Because, what is blues? Blues is not some chump in a designer suit in front of a wall of amps playing “tributes” to a huge crowd of $100 ticket holders in a theater. Blues is a person, and people. Blues is raw. Blues is an instrument with a sound, in hands with a feel, below a voice with a power. It is not whispered. It is music for all generations, played where there is food and drink and diapers and bottles and laughing and talking and dancing and silence and nothingness and just being present. It is not the cry of an oppressed people any more than it is formulaic entertainment. It is American Haiku with a thumb pick. It is slightly dangerous and very funny and a bit about fucking but also the strange intelligence of old people and the smell of swamps and the in-the-momentness of monks. This is REASON ONE to attend this event. Because you will hear boots stomp to the raw sound of American Mojo Haiku Swamp Songs.

REASON TWO:
Coyote Slim. Because of all the above. Because he’s the real deal. Because he plays farmers’ markets, and is grateful about it. Because he cares about his clothes because he respects his opportunities. Because his bio says he’s an arborist. Because he understands how to sing, and why it’s important. Because you should listen to Coyote Slim. Because he has R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Because when he plays and sings, the sound is alive. This is REASON TWO why you should attend this event.

REASON THREE:
John Maxwell. Because his latest album has him playing “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me.” Which is one of the greatest not-as-well-known performances Mississippi John Hurt ever recorded. Because he plays a slide guitar version of “St. James Infirmary.” Because CD Baby says he’s recommended if you like Leon Redbone. This is REASON THREE why you should attend this event.

John Maxwell | Blues for Evangeline

REASON FOUR:
Chicken & Dumpling. Because they’re called Chicken & Dumpling. This is REASON FOUR why you should attend this event.

REASON FIVE:
Country Pete McGill. Because Holy Crap, check him out:

And THAT … is REASON FIVE to attend this event.

REASON SIX:
Preacher Boy. Yours truly. I’m writing this, so I can’t say anything about myself, but I’m a reason to come all the same. So I am REASON SIX to attend this event.

PB_ASBBQ

REASON SEVEN:
A reviewer once wrote of one of my albums that I sung every word as if I were about to expire. I was very proud of that review. I still try to sing that way, and some day, I’ll be right. Your life is a choice, too. Every moment of it. Is your past impacting your present right now? It is. So the past is here right now. And of course the present is here right now. And is what you’re doing right now going to impact the future? Of course it is. So the future is here too. Which means now really is the only moment. So I sing that way. And on the evening of September 10th, it will be your only moment, and you can do with that what you will, but I hope you choose to attend this event, because that will illustrate and exemplify what you care about. That you care about realness. That you care about hearing skin on brass. Boot on floor. That you care about the actual sound of a throat framing the word “down.” That you know all soulful people wear groovy shoes. It will show that you’re a Blues Monk Haiku Zen Blues Master with big mojo. And you want to be that don’t you? Because you want to be close enough to reach out and touch the musician, but you won’t, because you won’t need to.

THAT … is REASON SEVEN to attend this event.

REASON EIGHT: Big Bones

BigBones

Due largely to when and where I was born, I haven’t had too many flesh-and-blood musical teachers. My Grandpa certainly, from whom I received my Nationals. But that’s very nearly it. Certainly I’ve had friends, peers, fellow musicians that I’ve learned uncountable amounts from, but I like to think/hope those are give-and-take relationships.

By and large, my teachers have been recordings and books. Vinyl releases from Vanguard, Takoma, Arhoolie. Books by Samuel Charters, David Evans, Stefan Grossman. And of course, the music. This has been my true teacher. The music of Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes, Charley Patton, Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Pete Williams, and so, so, so many more.

There is one exception to the above, however. There is one teacher, one flesh-and-blood teacher, at whose knee I have genuinely studied. His name is Big Bones.

I’ve told the tale too many times to merit repeating here, but suffice it to say Big Bones looms large in my life. I played with him for the first time on a street corner in Berkeley, some 25 years ago. We’ve gone years in silence since, intermingled with long, strange, beautiful and hard hours, days, weeks, months on the road together. We’ve driven to Arkansas, flown to Amsterdam, sailed to Ireland.

Here is he and I together, from The Kitchen Set:

 

What I have learned from Big Bones is immeasurable. What you will experience in the presence of he and his music is inexpressible. Big Bones. He is REASON EIGHT to attend  The Golden Gate Blues Society’s International Blues Competition Solo/Duo Round.

Through the strange machinations of fate, I am not scheduled to play WITH Big Bones that night. Rather, I am scheduled to compete AGAINST him. This is of course ridiculous. I could sooner eat dinosaur marrow w/ mole sauce than compete with Bones.

The event is of course not a competition of any kind, really. It is a celebration of a raw, urgent, vital music. A music that lives fully within the boundaries of Big Bones.

Please CLICK HERE to attend this event.

IBC

Finally, REASON NINE: You.

You are the reason to attend this event. Because you DO want to change the world, and you ARE looking for a new Oakland.


The 8th Reason To Attend The Golden Gate Blues Society’s International Blues Competition Solo/Duo Round

REASON EIGHT:

Big Bones

BigBones

Due largely to when and where I was born, I haven’t had too many flesh-and-blood musical teachers. My Grandpa certainly, from whom I received my Nationals. But that’s very nearly it. Certainly I’ve had friends, peers, fellow musicians that I’ve learned uncountable amounts from, but I like to think/hope those are give-and-take relationships.

By and large, my teachers have been recordings and books. Vinyl releases from Vanguard, Takoma, Arhoolie. Books by Samuel Charters, David Evans, Stefan Grossman. And of course, the music. This has been my true teacher. The music of Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes, Charley Patton, Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Pete Williams, and so, so, so many more.

There is one exception to the above, however. There is one teacher, one flesh-and-blood teacher, at whose knee I have genuinely studied. His name is Big Bones.

I’ve told the tale too many times to merit repeating here, but suffice it to say Big Bones looms large in my life. I played with him for the first time on a street corner in Berkeley, some 25 years ago. We’ve gone years in silence since, intermingled with long, strange, beautiful and hard hours, days, weeks, months on the road together. We’ve driven to Arkansas, flown to Amsterdam, sailed to Ireland.

Here is he and I together, from The Kitchen Set:

 

What I have learned from Big Bones is immeasurable. What you will experience in the presence of he and his music is inexpressible. Big Bones. He is REASON EIGHT to attend  The Golden Gate Blues Society’s International Blues Competition Solo/Duo Round.

Through the strange machinations of fate, I am not scheduled to play WITH Big Bones that night. Rather, I am scheduled to compete AGAINST him. This is of course ridiculous. I could sooner eat dinosaur marrow w/ mole sauce than compete with Bones.

The event is of course not a competition of any kind, really. It is a celebration of a raw, urgent, vital music. A music that lives fully within the boundaries of Big Bones.

I invite you to join me for this extraordinary event. It will be memorable.

Please CLICK HERE to attend.

SoloDuo_New

 


7 Reasons To Attend The Golden Gate Blues Society’s International Blues Competition Solo/Duo Round

ThisMachinePlaysBlues

REASON ONE:
Because, what is blues? Blues is not some chump in a designer suit in front of a wall of amps playing “tributes” to a huge crowd of $100 ticket holders in a theater. Blues is a person, and people. Blues is raw. Blues is an instrument with a sound, in hands with a feel, below a voice with a power. It is not whispered. It is music for all generations, played where there is food and drink and diapers and bottles and laughing and talking and dancing and silence and nothingness and just being present. It is not the cry of an oppressed people any more than it is formulaic entertainment. It is American Haiku with a thumb pick. It is slightly dangerous and very funny and a bit about fucking but also the strange intelligence of old people and the smell of swamps and the in-the-momentness of monks. This is REASON ONE to attend this event. Because you will hear boots stomp to the raw sound of American Mojo Haiku Swamp Songs.

REASON TWO:
Coyote Slim. Because of all the above. Because he’s the real deal. Because he plays farmers’ markets, and is grateful about it. Because he cares about his clothes because he respects his opportunities. Because his bio says he’s an arborist. Because he understands how to sing, and why it’s important. Because you should listen to Coyote Slim. Because he has R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Because when he plays and sings, the sound is alive. This is REASON TWO why you should attend this event.

REASON THREE:
John Maxwell. Because his latest album has him playing “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me.” Which is one of the greatest not-as-well-known performances Mississippi John Hurt ever recorded. Because he plays a slide guitar version of “St. James Infirmary.” Because CD Baby says he’s recommended if you like Leon Redbone. This is REASON THREE why you should attend this event.

John Maxwell | Blues for Evangeline

REASON FOUR:
Chicken & Dumpling. Because they’re called Chicken & Dumpling. This is REASON FOUR why you should attend this event.

REASON FIVE:
Country Pete McGill. Because Holy Crap, check him out:

And THAT … is REASON FIVE to attend this event.

REASON SIX:
Preacher Boy. Yours truly. I’m writing this, so I can’t say anything about myself, but I’m a reason to come all the same. So I am REASON SIX to attend this event.

PB_ASBBQ

REASON SEVEN:
A reviewer once wrote of one of my albums that I sung every word as if I were about to expire. I was very proud of that review. I still try to sing that way, and some day, I’ll be right. Your life is a choice, too. Every moment of it. Is your past impacting your present right now? It is. So the past is here right now. And of course the present is here right now. And is what you’re doing right now going to impact the future? Of course it is. So the future is here too. Which means now really is the only moment. So I sing that way. And on the evening of September 10th, it will be your only moment, and you can do with that what you will, but I hope you choose to attend this event, because that will illustrate and exemplify what you care about. That you care about realness. That you care about hearing skin on brass. Boot on floor. That you care about the actual sound of a throat framing the word “down.” That you know all soulful people wear groovy shoes. It will show that you’re a Blues Monk Haiku Zen Blues Master with big mojo. And you want to be that don’t you? Because you want to be close enough to reach out and touch the musician, but you won’t, because you won’t need to.

THAT … is REASON SEVEN to attend this event.

Please CLICK HERE to attend this event.

IBC


Live & Raw: Preacher Boy & The National Blues at JJ’s

Need Mo’ Blues & Dead, Boy. Nasty …

Preacher Boy & The National Blues_2

 

From left to right: Jonathan “Captain Ahab” Dryden on the keys, Zack “The Olsen Twin” Olsen on the drums, Ben “Gentle Ben” Herod on the Baritone Saxophone, Virgil “Dr. V” Thrasher on the Harp, and yours truly on National and Vox. This was us at The Pocket (i.e. in the pic above), and this was the very same line-up we took over the hill to JJ’s one July 3rd in America.

~

cue: “I’m Goin’ Over The Hill” by Mississippi Fred McDowell

https://rd.io/i/Rl7WwEErHV2Q/

~

I’ve been very privileged to have assembled some of the nastiest, funkiest, grooviest, zennist ensembles imaginable over the years, but I’m hard put to recall one more spontaneously dangerous than this one … it’s a strange one, to be sure: keys, bari sax, harmonica, national, no bass … but damn, it grooves, and it’s just very, very, very nasty … diseasedly subversively mojo’d … It’s like Tony Joe White meets Morphine meets 16 Horsepower meets Bukka White meets Motorhead meets Captain Beefheart meets Blind Willie Johnson meets Joe Cocker meets … Whistleman.

So we took to JJ’s recently, and dropped down 2+ hours of completely raw swamp … and I invite you to bend an ear to it, if you would. Mind you, these are unmixed, unmastered, unedited … they’s just straight from the stage into yer ears … but I hope you dig!

First up, just a downright sleazed and brutal take on “Dead, Boy” and I mean wicked. Just 9 minutes of asphalt:

Preacher Boy & The National Blues: Dead, Boy, live from JJ’s
(
just click to dig the stream)

Hear a bit of squall & wail weavin’ in there? That’s Ryan “The Home Town Hero” Acosta on some git …

And fer yer second course, the National takes a ride on the Crybaby Train as the ensemble burns up a workout of Sleepy John Estes’ “Need Mo’ Blues.” Check it out:

Preacher Boy & The National Blues: Need Mo’ Blues, live from JJ’s
(just click to dig the stream)

I hope you dig, man! Let me know what ya think …

And for any of y’all that go WAY back, tell me the first time an iteration of Preacher Boy & Co recorded a live version of “Need Mo’ Blues.” Get it right, and I’ll buy you a bike!

PreacherBoy_JJs_FacebookPoster

 


Goin’ Down South

Sleepy John Estes. For my money, one of THE voices of country blues. The reason why we have the cliche “cryin’ the blues.” So plaintive, so heartbreaking, so present, so cool, so real, so powerful, so compelling. An almost laughably clumsy guitar player, and yet the perfect accompanist for himself. With Hammie Nixon and Yank Rachel of course. But really, who’d want a whole mess of guitar gettin’ in the way of that gorgeous voice?

As for myself, I can’t sing like that. And actually, I love guitar like that. Which essentially explains the arrangement of “Down South Blues” that I’ve landed on. And by landed on I mean played endlessly, over and over, year after year, stage after stage, night after night. I’ve been playin’ this song almost since the beginning of Preacher Boy. I’ve had the pleasure of playing this song with SO MANY great musicians: Jim Campilongo, Ralph Carney, David Immergluck, Big Bones, Jamie “Beatnik Beats” Moore, Tim Luntzel, Virgil Thrasher, and many, many others that I’m regretfully not name-checking here but am nonetheless very grateful to …

The point being, I love this song, and I always have, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to commit it to recorded posterity. And with that, a video to share; a wee bit o’ raw behind-the-scenes footage from a recent recording session in the wilds of the Santa Cruz Mountains:

By way of comparison, and if for no other reason than to hip you up to this beautiful song if ya don’t yet know it:

https://rd.io/i/Rl7WwEErTqco/

See ya Down South …

 


The Country Blues

In Memory of Samuel Charters

Samuel Charters passed away last week. A man to whom I owe an almost inexpressible debt.

As I read Mr. Charters’ obituary, I was stunned to realize that I first read his book “The Country Blues” 30 years ago. Because of his book, I have been playing this music for 30 years. 30 years! If I read that number in someone else’s bio, I’d immediately assume elder statesman; a grizzled veteran; a lifer. Strange to realize that number 30 applies to me now.

TheCountryBlues_SamuelCharters_1

But that’s how important that book was to me. It literally changed my life. Dramatically. Who knew one seemingly innocuous trip to the library by my mother would result in a 30-year immersion in this music?

PreacherBoy_BlindPig

I signed my first record deal in 1994, with Blind Pig Records. This was approximately 10 years after I first read “The Country Blues.” If you look up my first bio on the Blind Pig Records website, you’ll find the story of the book right there:

“When he was 16, he stumbled upon Samuel Charter’s book entitled The Country Blues, which his mom had brought him from the library, knowing his current fascination with a Howlin’ Wolf record that he had found in the family record collection. Although he had never heard of any of the names in the book, their stories and personalities completely swept him away. He immediately ran to the record store and purchased a compilation album from the Newport Folk Festival, and thus began a lifetime of respect, love and devotion for the music of players like John Hurt, Son House, Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Mance Lipscomb and many others.”

GuttersAndPews

On my second Blind Pig album (Gutters & Pews), we did a version of Catfish Blues, based on a performance from the Newport Folk Festival by Willie Doss that I discovered on that Vanguard album noted above. The Vanguard album I bought because of Samuel Charters.

DemandingToBeNext_1

My album Demanding To Be Next was released in 2004. 20 years after I first read The Country Blues. On it, I did a version of “Death Letter Blues” by Son House. A song I first heard when I was 16 years old. Because of that book by Samuel Charters.

It’s early 2015 now. It is 30+ years since I read “The Country Blues.” And I am going to release a new album this year. (Actually, I’m going to release 3 new albums! But that’s another story …). And that album is going to contain performances of songs I first discovered because of Samuel Charters.

I won’t name names, but there are a lot of writers out there these days trying to make their names by debunking the idea of Country Blues. Writers who seem to think they’re awfully clever for “proving” that the whole story of Country Blues was “invented” by a bunch of misguided young white kids in the 60s who “rediscovered” Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, Fred McDowell, and more.

Well, listen. I’m not rendering judgement on the conduct of those individuals. Dick Waterman, Stephan Grossman, John Fahey, Dick Spottswood, et al. But what I will say is this: I don’t care how clever you think your book is, or how deep your research is, or how many myths you think you’ve debunked, or how much you think you know about race issues as they relate to this music. Nothing — I repeat, nothing — can change the truth of those recordings. They exist. They are real. Those performances happened. Those songs were written. Those voices were lifted. Those chords were played. And my life –and the lives of so many others — was changed. Not because of any myth. Not because of some false and over-romanticized narrative. Not because of some imagined and perpetuated legend.

We were changed by the music.

I read the book, and the book took me to the record store. (Tower Records, Seattle). And the book and I, we found that Vanguard Twofer full of names that were in the book. And so the book and I bought it. And then the book and I took ourselves home on the bus. And when we got home the book and I went to the living room and put the album on the record player. And the book and I sat back and listened as Mississipi John Hurt began to play “Sliding Delta.” And my life changed.

And that is a true story.

And I would not have experienced any of this truth if it wasn’t for Samuel Charters. So to him I offer deep bows. Very, very, very deep bows.

Samuel Charters, you changed my life. And I cannot thank you enough.


An 8-minute aural spelunk into the deep caverns of Blind Willie Johnson’s Gospel Delta Swamp Funk Slide

PBATNB_Hermitage_Still1See that article headline? That’s how that’s supposed to read. But when I first “wrote” the line, I actually spoke it. Into my iPhone. And here is what my iPhone actually created:

And eight minutes are all Spallone into the deep caverns of blind Willie Johnson’s delta gospel swamp donkey

And so with that, I give you some delta gospel swamp donkey:

What this actually is, is footage from a performance at the Hermitage Brewing Company, as part of their 6th annual MEET THE BREWERS CRAFT BEER FESTIVAL (you can read a brief review of the event here).

I adore playing this song; the melody line is just canonical, the groove is so insidious, the lyrics are just haiku-zen-blues perfect, and it’s transporting to perform it. I’ve been playing this song for 20+ years, and it moves me as much now as it ever did. God may or may not move on the water, but Blind Willie moves on me.

 


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