Way Over Yonder: What Happened to the Minor in Blues Music?

Way Over Yonder

It CANNOT yet be said (fortunately!) that the very people who were purporting to preserve the blues, were in fact those who strangled it to death.

However, it CAN be said, that this WILL be the case, if certain things don’t change.

The preservationist ethos. It’s a dangerous thing. Potentially fatal. That whole, “This is how Muddy did it, that’s how I’m doin’ it, and that settles it” attitude. It’s scary.

Muddy Waters almost single-handedly architected an astonishing artistic transformation by connecting the dots between the country and the city. There was no precedent for him. His music was revolutionary. So if you truly want to stand on the shoulders of giants, walk in the footsteps of the masters, and embody the spirit of the greats, shouldn’t you be engaged in revolution?

Instead, to put it bluntly, we just get the same old shit.

Which brings us to the core of the question posed in the title of this post: What Happened?

We can ask this question about many things in the blues music tradition. Today, the question is about minor chords, and minor keys. Where’d they go? Robert Pete Williams and Skip James—two of country blues music’s most transcendent, visionary talents—regularly worked in minor keys. Robert Johnson, arguably one of the most influential blues musicians of them all, gave us perhaps his greatest creation when he recorded “Hellhound on my Trail”; a straight-up homage to his minor-key master, Skip James. Tommy Johnson, another legendary figure in the annals of blues music history, derived much of his sound from the tension created by moving back-and-forth between major and minor tonalities.

It’s not as simple as just having a token song in G minor on an album. Great blues music IS NOT simple. It’s about COMPOSING. It’s about tonalities, and colors, and feels, and imagination, and creativity. It’s about the raw, and the beautiful.

Preservationist be damned. Let’s have the weird back. Way over yonder in the minor key, something special is still happening. Go find it. Quick.

What Great Blues Music Is NOT: A Lil’ Somethin’ From The Wee Bully Bulpit

“The point is, if you hear Blues Musicians writing and singing about the same old thing over and over, that’s not universal truth, that’s just willful mediocrity.”


As an old acquaintance used to say, here’s a lil’ somethin’ from the wee bully pulpit:

Great Blues Music is NOT about the things we ALL share and experience. To borrow a concept from the late, great Cultural Anthropologist Alan Dundes, Great Blues Music is not some sort of catalog of jump rope rhymes that transcend geography to express a kind of universal unconsciousness.

Rather, Blues Music is about the totally unique, personalized, rough-hewn translation of immediate experience into an almost haiku-esque poetic form. Put another way, it’s about musician’s turning their lives, and the lives around them, into song, with a Haiku master’s flair for capturing direct and immediate experience.

Think of Charley Patton’s “High Water Everywhere.” Sleepy John Estes’ “Fire Department Blues.” Skip James’ “Washington D.C. Hospital Bed Blues.” These songs represent the very best of what Blues Music is capable of.

Robert Pete Williams once said his songs came to him on the wind. Bukka White famously called his songs “Sky Songs” because they came to him from out of the sky.

The point is, if you hear Blues Musicians writing and singing about the same old thing over and over, that’s not universal truth, that’s just willful mediocrity.

Coming Soon: Black Market Crow

Preacher Boy - Black Market Crow - Cover 2

Release Date: 2.1.18

“Black Market Crow” is a legacy edition offering from Coast Road Records, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original release of Preacher Boy’s groundbreaking album “Crow.” This special collection features eight remastered tracks from the original album, plus seven never-before-available outtakes.

Originally released in the UK in 1998, “Crow” was by every measure the most ambitious album of Preacher Boy’s career. Featuring the virtuoso talents of The Backyard Funeral Band (Daniel Andrews, Brendan Rush Dance, Paul Johnson, and Danny Uzilevsky), the album offered a multi-instrumental soundscape that pulled together elements of blues, folk, jazz, and rock to provide a darkly textured complement to Preacher Boy’s rough-edged vocal delivery. The songs featured lyrically brooding narratives, with a dark theatricality that lent a junkyard noir effect to album as a whole. Famed music publication Melody Maker perhaps captured the album’s eclecticism best when they published the following review of “Crow”: “Country blues that marry Nick Cave, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie and Tom Waits, honeymoon in the barroom with accordions and banjos and line the wedding bed with sheets of mutant folk, deviant campfire country and beatnik jazz.”

Despite earning some of the best reviews of Preacher Boy’s career, the album ultimately got lost in an unfortunate series of record label shuffles. It was never released beyond a small geographic circle, and ultimately went out of print. Not only would the songs on the official release disappear into the past, but so too would a number of outstanding outtakes.

The release of this legacy edition marks the first opportunity for Preacher Boy fans to finally acquire remastered tracks from the original release, as well as a selection of never-before-released outtakes.

The original artwork that graces the cover is by artist Amy Marinelli.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 31

Dylan Thomas – Reading His Complete Recorded Poetry


For 364 days, I have been writing about albums that have moved me in my life. And today, finally, it comes to an end. Day 365.

I have been thinking for a long time about how I should end this series.

Ultimately, I realized that this whole effort has been one long celebration of beauty; the beauty of artistic creation, and the sharing of it with others who will hopefully be moved, as I have been moved.

I am still stunned by how many have followed along as this series has progressed—literally thousands of you. Thank you to each and every one of you.

I can think of no better way to distill down the essence of what this effort has been all about, than to present as a final recommendation, an album that is in itself a distillation, down to the bare essentials of artistic creation.

Here, we have just a poet, and his words. No adornment of any kind.

And yet, the album is mysterious, ambitious, and so, so beautiful.

In less than 24 hours from now, in California, where I live, it will be 2018. Someone else will perhaps take up the challenge in the new year, and recommend 365 more wonderful albums. As for me, I am now done.

And so, with that, this series goes gentle into that good night.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 30

Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back


If you’ve been following this series at all, it will hopefully be clear to you that there are certain traits and characteristics I really admire in music. Among them: lyrical precision, vocal authenticity, and conceptual aspiration.

In addition, I admire those artists who are able to balance and reconcile the raw and the sophisticated. Who are able to be both incredible improvisers, and incredible craftspeople. I like rule-breakers with one foot in the past, and one in the future. I like music that’s a little bit scary, and a little bit smart.

When it comes to specific albums, I really prize completed circles; albums that are an entire world unto themselves, that are fully realized. I like artists who make actual albums, who understand narrative continuity, who think big and work small.

I like artists who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Who aren’t afraid to go deep within themselves, even if they risk overt melodrama to do so. I like artists who take being funny as seriously as they do being serious. I like artists who respect the right things, and disrespect the right things.

This album by Public Enemy achieves everything I’ve described above, and more.

From the moment Chuck D. said “Bass,” the world was no longer the same. This album is that profound, that powerful. Nothing has matched it. Not even “Fear of a Black Planet,” which is in some ways an ever more perfectly realized album. But nothing has the fire in its belly like this album has.

The album will be 30 years old next year. Very few albums age as well as this one has, particularly when the content is topical. But this is still as fresh and as powerful and as relevant today as it was when it was released. That may be sad commentary on our world today, but it’s also testament to just what an extraordinary achievement this album represents.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 29

Motorhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith


I’ve often heard it claimed that “Live at Leeds” by The Who is the greatest live album of all time.



365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 28

Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (Rock n’ Roll)


While I first SAW Elvis via the ’68 comeback special, I first HEARD Elvis via the songs on this album. And while that part of the ’68 special where they just sit down in the round and pick on some old blues could likely be marked as the origin story of my entire carer, it’s the on this album that hooked me on Elvis in my early years.

And by early years, mind you, I mean from the time I was about 3, up until the moment I discovered The Clash.

You can look at school photos from my elementary school years, and in every one, you’ll see me trying to do the Elvis lip curl.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times I got in trouble for slicking up my hair with vaseline to try and get my Elvis hair going.

And if there is one song I sang as a child more than Heartbreak Hotel, I don’t know what it is.

We all know early Elvis is the best Elvis—at least we SHOULD know it—and these songs are the proof. The kid could sing. That’s just all there is to it.

I realize there is a complicated storyline when it comes to Elvis. But just take a moment, and just forget about all of that, and just listen to the music. It’s just SO alive. It just bounces, and jumps, and pops. It’s buoyant, it’s percolating, it rocks, and it rolls. It’s sweet, and it’s innocent, and it’s sexy, and it’s mischievous. There’s just nothing else quite like it, and we owe too much to what’s good and fine about this music to lose it to the complications of history and context.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 27

The Bar-Kays – Soul Finger


Some of the most gleefully funky recordings ever made, bar none.

Sadly, the backstory isn’t so gleeful. This was the only album released by the original Bar-Kays line-up, prior to four of the original members being killed in the same plane clash that took Otis Redding away from us—he’d chosen them as his backing band, and they were all en route to a concert in Madison, WI when the plane went down.

The Bar-Kays were, like Booker T. & The M.G.s, essentially a session group, and also like Booker T. and co., they were part of the whole Stax thing in the 60s.

This album was in fact recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis, and as noted, it is indeed gleefully funky, with the title track being one of the great old-school funk instrumentals of all time. If you haven’t yet dug it, dig it.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 26

Neil Young – After The Gold Rush


In the boundaried ecosystem that is my music collection, this one gets filed as “the other Neil Young masterpiece.” Which is the same distinction afforded “Harvest,” making these two releases sort of the Cain and Abel of Young’s Old Testament.

It’s tempting to say that Harvest distinguishes itself within this duality on the strength of its songwriting, whereas After The Gold Rush rises above on sonic merits, but that’s too simplistic to really capture the respective achievements these albums ascend to.

Admittedly, other than Southern Man, there is no one song on After The Gold Rush that can really go toe-to-toe with the best tracks on Harvest, but it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges paradigm, to play that kind of game, because the After the Gold Rush tracks just aren’t the same kind of creations.

It’s sort of like trying to compare Van Gosh and Pollock. There is tremendous energy in the works of both—rich colors, striking forms, a certain angry garishness balanced against an indescribable sentimentality, but whereas in Van Gogh the stories are on the surface, the characters clearly defined, the elements simple and straightforward, the narratives of Pollock are submerged, open to interpretation, fractured, operating by implication, and depending on engagement from the viewer to detangle the thick webs of pastiche and collage.

The inscrutability of verses like these …

Blind man running through the light of the night
With an answer in his hand
Come on down to the river of sight
And you can really understand


Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones


When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over

… leave one blurrily reeling in the wake of an elegy for something lost we didn’t know we had, while simultaneously celebrating the achievement of something holy we didn’t know we were pursuing.

The album’s sonics support this daggered ambiguity perfectly, offering a consistently roiling tension between the sweet and the bitter. We’ve grown so familiar with this album over time, that it’s become easy to forget just how genuinely weird this record really is.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 25 [Christmas Edition]

Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song


My preferred Christmas singer.


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