Tag Archives: Bukka White

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 6

Legends of Country Blues

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If you’ve been following along at all, you’ll have noted that I favor JSP remasters.

In case you don’t want to buy 5 CDs worth of any one artist, I’m recommending this lil’ package for ya. It’s as advertised, Legends of Country Blues. All done up in a JSP bow.

This is pretty much the textbook if you want to study the prewar recordings of some of the most important figures ever to be recorded. A vast amount of early Skip James, and all far better sonically than the Yazoo versions we used to have to rely on. (Don’t get me wrong, I am SO grateful to Yazoo for keeping me alive for so long! But, JSP has straight up outdone ’em here …).

Plus, pre-war Son House (which, in my opinion, isn’t actually as mesmerizing as his later recordings, but still, it’s fucking Son House!), pre-war Bukka White (ditto vis-à-vis mesmerizing, ditto vis-à-vis it’s fucking Bukka White!), the eerie, eerie, eerie magic of Tommy Johnson, and even a slew of Ishman Bracey.

In short, legends of country blues, indeed.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 25

Bukka White – Mississippi Blues

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It is essentially impossible to stress how important this record was and is to me. Virtually everything I understand about the country blues, and just about every little success I’ve achieved in my career, can likely be traced to something on this album.

Here is where I learned to sing. Here is where I learned to play. Here is where I learned to write. Here is where I learned what it was I wanted to be when I grew up.

I remember buying a vinyl edition; my first copy, and I still have it. I will always have it.

His version of Shake ‘Em On Down deeply, deeply informs the version I started playing some 30 years ago, and still play to this day. It’s on my 2016 album “The Country Blues.” My version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” which is wholly and totally dependent on Bukka White for it’s style and sound, is on “The National Blues,” also from 2016. The point being, these Bukka White recordings have been shaping my life for three decades now, and show no signs of stopping.

Q: How powerful does music need to be, to completely change a man’s life?
A: This powerful.

These recordings were made almost immediately upon Bukka White’s “rediscovery” in the 60s, for John Fahey’s crucial and seminal Takoma label.

I’ve said it with regards to many other country blues legends as well, but for a confluence of reasons, I find that often, these first “re-emergence” recordings are often the strongest of a country blues artist’s whole career. I think this can be said not just about Bukka White here, but also about Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt.

Please, please do yourself a favor, and if you haven’t yet done so, find these recordings, and give yourself over to them. They will change you.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Feb 1

Bukka White – Sky Songs

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Is it the best country blues album ever? Nope. Is it the best Bukka White album ever? Nope. Is it a good album? Probably not, honestly, by any conventional standard.

Is it incredible?

It is.

This is incredible. This is what happens when you just let the tape run. This is Haiku. This is Abstract Expressionism. This is Free Jazz. This is Beat.

This is straight up Zen Blues. This is the ordinary magic of extraordinary genius. This is the extraordinary genius of ordinary magic.

People ask me all the time—what kind of music don’t you like? I don’t like transparently commercial music. Do I like craft? You bet I do. Do I like music made by artists with career aspirations? Who are professionals? Yep. I respect professionals. Do I like totally out there shit, just fuckin’ nordic math-noise atonality bullshit prog-angular electronica soundscape shit? No. I don’t. I like verses and choruses and 4/4 time. But I DON’T like explicitly commercial music.

And THAT … is why I like this. Because here is a very talented artist. A very talented artist with the chops and the vision to make 4 minutes magic when he wants to. But here he is, unloosed. This is a Zen-look into a present brain. Maybe it made its money back. Probably it did. Maybe not. Who knows. But it certainly isn’t either commercial, or non-commercial. That’s why it’s Zen. Because it transcends the duality of commercial and non-commercial.

This is an incredible listening experience.

Recommended track to begin with: the whole thing. Just put the headphones on, and listen.


Answer: Charley Patton, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Dave Van Ronk

Question: Who are your Top 5 Most Influential Vocalists?

 

5MostInfluentialVocalists

Depending on whether you’re at all familiar with my musical career, this may or may not be a surprising list.

But it’s definitely the list. I will never, never, never forget the first moments when I heard each of these singers. Thank you Yazoo Records. Thank you Takoma Records. Thank you Chess Records. Thank you Folkways Records. Thank you to my parents for having a record player in the house. Thank you to Samuel Charters for writing The Country Blues.

And while I’m at it, thank you to my first grade teacher for making fun of my voice when I tried to sing “I Saw Her Standing There.” You set me on a whole different vocal path, lady. And I thank you.

The thing is, if you’ve ever read a review of a Preacher Boy album, you’re probably thinking, why isn’t Tom Waits on this list? After all, virtually every Preacher Boy review in the last 25+ years has managed to mention Tom Waits.

Well, he’s not on my Top 5 list, because he doesn’t belong there.

The thing is, I was intimately and obsessively familiar with the music of the five artists in the title of this post long before I had any idea who Tom Waits was. The reason someone hipped me to Tom Waits in the first place was because they knew the other stuff I was into. It was a former roommate of mine; a college radio DJ. He gave me a Memorex. One side was Mose Allison. On the other, Swordfishtrombones.

Now, was Waits an influence? Absolutely. But not because of his voice per se. He was an influence because THAT voice was writing THOSE songs. That was what made the difference for me.

See, I knew what my voice sounded like. It wasn’t pretty. But that was ok. I didn’t like pretty voices. Charley Patton’s voice made sense to me. Bukka White’s voice made sense to me. Blind Willie Johnson’s voice made sense to me. They were the right voices for their music. That made sense to me.

I knew what my voice sounded like. It wasn’t pretty. But that was ok. I didn’t like pretty voices.

And I knew how I was going to play guitar. I’d heard Mance Lipscomb. I’d heard Fred McDowell. I’d heard Robert Pete Williams. I’d heard Son House. I got it, man. I got it. Ever since I heard Mississippi John Hurt playing Sliding Delta, I knew what I was going to do as a guitarist.

And I knew I was going to be a songwriter.

But that was the problem. How to connect it all? I wasn’t going to write songs like Charley Patton. That wouldn’t have been honest. I knew who I was, and even at a young age, I expected authenticity of myself. So what to do? I didn’t know. I didn’t think I was going to do anything.

Then, I heard “16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six.” Vocally, I got it. The man had clearly listened to a lot of the same things I had. And the groove, the rawness, the hypnotic stomping drone-ness of it; I got that. Those were country blues ingredients. But the lyrics. The lyrics. Here was something different. A new sort of language, a new sort of poetry. A sort of rustic, sordid, gritty, earthen, American poetry that was both mystical and soiled. It was at once visionary and hallucinogenic, but also totally raw and present and real and folky and outlandish. A kind of literate and bent hobo prosody. It was Nelson Algren and Gary Snyder and James Wright and Tony Joe White and Jack Kerouac and Carson McCullers and Flannery O’ Connor and Raymond Chandler and Erksine Caldwell and Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley and Townes Van Zandt and Toni Morrison, all rolled into one. I got it. I dug it.

So that’s the Waits influence in a nutshell for me. His music—as represented by that blessed trio of Swordfishtrombones, Frank’s Wild Years, and Rain Dogs— made clear to me it was possible to weld voice and music and lyrics together in ways I hadn’t previously believed entirely possible.

But here’s the thing … and I’m probably gonna get some flack for sayin’ this … but the thing is, Tom Waits can’t play country blues. I can.

So back to my list. Charley Patton. The rawest of them all. Listen to Charley Patton’s vocals on High Water Everywhere. He sounds insane, and like he’s about to die. That’s what I strive for. Bukka White. You can’t get heavier than that. When he sings the line “When can I change my clothes?” you hear the whole history of masculinity and pain in his voice. That’s what I strive for. Blind Willie Johnson. Jesus, listen to my first record. It’s almost embarrassing to me now, how obviously derivative some of my songs are. The Cross Must Move? Please … Still, I’m really proud of that song! It’s still with me today. Derivative or not, it IS authentic to me. I’m still singin’ it and playin’ it today, 21 years after it was released. Howlin’ Wolf. Synonymous with nuanced ferocity. When I first heard the song “Who’s Been Talkin'” I thought, right. That. How do I do that? Dave Van Ronk. This should be obvious. Virtually the only white guy from the whole folk-blues thing in the sixties who could actually sing and play country blues. So yeah, when I heard him, I had hope, man. His approach still informs so much of what I do. But mainly, I just loved that he sung with total and complete full-throated abandon. No mic needed. That’s my barometer of true vocal authenticity. If you NEED a mic? Ain’t interested …

Listen to Charley Patton’s vocals on High Water Everywhere. He sounds insane, and like he’s about to die. That’s what I strive for.

Here’s my recommendations, if you’re not familiar with these voices. Start with these songs:

  • Charley Patton: High Water Everywhere, Parts 1 & 2
  • Bukka White: When Can I Change My Clothes
  • Blind Willie Johnson: God Moves On The Water
  • Howlin’ Wolf: I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)
  • Dave Van Ronk: Po’ Lazarus

Such beautiful music, man.


Setlist Chronicles -or- The Strange Bird Songs I Played Tonight

Preacher Boy, Mission St. BBQ, photo by Jake J. Thomas

(Preacher Boy, live at Mission St. BBQ. Photo by Jake J. Thomas.)

Kind of an intriguing set tonight, if I do say so myself. I certainly bookended with a pair of the usual suspects, and there were a few other familiar chirps throughout as well, but all in all, quite a lot of strange birds making sonic appearances tonight. Lots of country blues in here. Here’s the full list of what I ran down:

  1. If I Had Possession Over My Judgement Day (Robert Johnson, arr. PB)
  2. Preachin’ Blues (Son House, arr. PB)
  3. Levee Camp Blues (Mississippi Fred McDowell, arr. PB)
  4. Old Jim Granger (from the Preacher Boy album “The Tenderloin EP”)
  5. Diving Duck Blues (Sleepy John Estes, arr. PB)
  6. Evil Blues (Mance Lipscomb, arr. PB)
  7. A Little More Evil (from the Preacher Boy album “The National Blues”)
  8. Revenue Man Blues (Charley Patton, arr. PB)
  9. Milk Cow Blues (Mississippi Fred McDowell, arr. PB)
  10. Catfish Blues (Willie Doss, arr. PB)
  11. The Dogs (from the Preacher Boy album “The Devil’s Buttermilk”)
  12. Spoonful Blues (Charley Patton, arr. PB)
  13. Down And Out In This Town (from the Preacher Boy album “Gutters & Pews”)
  14. Sliding Delta (Mississippi John Hurt, arr. PB)
  15. Stagolee (Mississippi John Hurt, arr. PB)
  16. A Person’s Mind (from the Preacher Boy album “The National Blues”)
  17. Down South Blues (Sleepy John Estes, arr. PB)
  18. Coal Black Dirt Sky (from the Preacher Boy album “Crow”)
  19. Black Crow (from the Preacher Boy album “Crow”)
  20. Railroad (from the Preacher Boy album “Gutters & Pews”)
  21. Motherless Children (Blind Willie Johnson,/Mance Lipscomb/Dave Van Ronk, arr. PB)
  22. Shake ‘Em On Down (Bukka White)

And for your listening pleasure, two straight-from-the-stage-to-yer-ear-buds guerrilla-live tracks:

Preacher Boy – Sliding Delta [LIVE]


(arrangement based on the Mississippi John Hurt version)

Preacher Boy – Levee Camp Blues [LIVE]


(arrangement based on a recorded performance by Mississippi Fred McDowell)

For the guitar heads amongst ye, this version of Sliding Delta is performed on a ’36 National (Grandpa’s National), which is set up for standard tuning. This chords are based on Key of E forms, but the guitar is capo’d at the 4th fret. Levee Camp Blues is performed on a different ’36 National (THE National), and the guitar is tuned to an Open G tuning, then capo’d at the 2nd fret.

For the footwear fanatics amongst ye, the stomps come courtesy of my cowboy boots, which are a Size 13.

 


Rollin’ the PreachSongs Dice

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Tonight, Virgil and I, we gon’ jus’ roll the dice, and see what songs come up. Recent “set lists” (in quotes of course, cuz they’re not exactly planned!) have included songs from just about every Preacher Boy album over the last 20 years (including some I’ve NEVER played live before), plus a whole slew of groovy ol’ country blues gems and other Preachorum Obscurata. Here’s just a sampling:

 

The Cross Must Move & Dead, Boy (from Preacher Boy and the Natural Blues, Blind Pig Records)

Ugly & In The Darkened Night (from Gutters & Pews, Blind Pig Records)

Old Jim Granger & Rollin’ Stone (from The Tenderloin EP, Blind Pig Records, Wah Tup Records)

Black Crow & Coal Black Dirt Sky (from Crow, Wah Tup Records)

The Dogs & At The Corner Of The Top And The Bottom (from The Devil’s Buttermilk, Manifesto Records)

A Little Better When It Rains & One-Way Turnstile (from Demanding To Be Next, Coast Road Records)

A Person’s Mind & A Little More Evil (from The National Blues, Coast Road Records)

 

-plus-

 

Mama, Let Me Play With Your Yo-Yo (Blind Willie McTell)

Stagolee (Mississippi John Hurt)

Levee Camp Blues (Mississippi Fred McDowell)

Milk Cow Blues (Kokomo Arnold)

I Just Hang Down My Head And I Cry (Mance Lipscomb)

Diving Duck Blues (Sleepy John Estes)

Fixin’ To Die (Bukka White)

Preachin’ Blues (Son House)

Spoonful (Charley Patton)

Maggie Campbell (Tommy Johnson)

 

And more, and more, and more!

 

#DIG

 


Everytime I hear “Preachin’ Blues” I think of Will Scott

From the moment I heard Will Scott play, I have esteemed him greatly. I have for him a love that is brotherly, and a competitor’s admiration. I have been both his student and his teacher, and I remain the former forever more. I am proud to call him friend, and put simply, as a musicianer, he is a motherf&*#er.

We got to do an album together. It’s called Gnawbone, and it’s an incredible bloody record. If you don’t own it, own it.

Will Scott: Gnawbone

His next album is Keystone Crossing. It’s essential listening.

Will Scott: Keystone Crossing

Here’s the thing about Will and I. When I heard him sing, I knew I was f&#*ed. He came from a RL Burnside, Johnny Shines kind of thing, whereas I was more Bukka White and Blind Willie Johnson. We met in the middle at Son House. He could sing like Son House, and that was hard for me, cuz I couldn’t. But, I could PLAY like Son House, and that helped.

We started doin’ shows together, and it was one night in some weird place in Williamsburg (of 15 years ago, mind you), and here he comes out with the slide lick from “Preachin’ Blues” and I about fell about the place. Cuz now he was singin’ like Son, and playin’ like Son, and everytime I hear that lick I think of Will. Everytime I hear “Preachin’ Blues” I think of Will Scott.

So this song, really, is several notes of appreciation for Will Scott, because when I play it, I think of him. He’s a couple thousand miles away from me right now, but I’m thinkin’ on him. This is a brand-new song called “Obituary Writer Blues.” And if you know your Son House, you might think I copped a lick from him to build this song on top of, but honestly, I stole it from Will Scott.

Obituary Writer Blues

I’m gon’ quite writin’, gon’ lay down this pen I use
Oh, now I’m gon’ quit writin’ gon’ lay down this pen I use
And you know by that I got the obituary blues

I been at the typer, lord, honey, ’til my fingers sore
Honey, I been at the typer, lord, ’til my fingers sore
I ain’t gon’ write no obituary anymore

Black was the color, one after another
They lay down on sheets of white
Time may erase me, but I ain’t so crazy
That I don’t know my wrong from right

Oh, sweet mama don’t ‘low me to stay out all night long
I may act like I’m crazy, but I do know right from wrong

It was rock, paper, scissors ’til the sword get the better of the pen
Oh, it was rock, paper, scissors, ’til the sword got the best of the pen
I seen it printed in the paper, somebody shot up some poor kids again

Black was the color, one after another
They lay down on sheets of white
Time may erase me, but I ain’t so crazy
That I don’t know my wrong from right

Oh, sweet mama don’t ‘low me to stay out all night long
I may act like I’m crazy, but I do know right from wrong

~

On the subject of thievery, I owe nods to Sleepy John Estes and Nina Simone as well. Dig.

 


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

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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

 


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.


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