Friday, January 8, 2010
Friday Blues Jukebox #1
Happy Friday, folks, & time to kick off a new series that will run for some indefinite period of time on alternate Fridays: the Friday Blues Jukebox!
Over the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about slide playing—more details on why that’s the case to follow, possibly as early as Monday morning. But because that is the case, I thought I’d dedicate our inaugural Friday Blues Jukebox to some great slide playing. Don’t reach for your change—the quarter is on me!
Blind Willie McTell: Mama, ‘Tain’t Long Fo’ Day
This Blind Willie McTell tune has been a long time favorite. Besides the wonderful lyrics, the unusual sound of a 12-string being played with a slide makes “Mama ‘Tain’t Long Fo’ Day” really stand out. McTell’s main instrument was a 12-string—a reasonable choice for a musician who’s main livelihood was street performing, both because the 12-string has more volume & also because the doubled strings can give something like a “chorus” effect that enhances the “one-man band.” Playing it with a slide is interesting, however, because there are certain slide effects (like playing octave notes with intermediate notes muted) that even make a regular 6-string sound like a 12-string, so using a slide on the doubled strings just heightens that effect.
You can find this tune on: Blind Willie McTell: The Best of Blind Willie McTell (Yazoo), which is pretty essential for those interested in acoustic blues, & also on Rory Block: Gone Woman Blues (Rounder)—as “Daddy, ‘Tain’t Long Fo’ Day.
Bukka White: Aberdeen Mississippi Blues
Eberle isn’t as big a fan of blues as I am, but there are some performers & performances she likes quite well—one such performer is Bukka White, & her reason for liking his music can be summed up in one word: rhythm. White’s guitar playing can unleash some complex rhythms, as is certainly the case in his wild celebration of Aberdeen, Mississippi. There’s an interesting story about this song—guitarist extraordinaire John Fahey, who had a passionate interest in the old acoustic blues, wanted to contact White & wrote him a letter addressed to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." This is similar to the story about revivalists finding Mississippi John Hurt thru his song, “Avalon Blues,” which contains the line “Avalon, my home town,” just as this song contains the line “Aberdeen is my home.” The difference is that White wasn’t living in Aberdeen by the time Fahey wrote the letter; he was working in a factory in Memphis. However, the letter was forwarded to him, & he & Fahey met & became friends. White went on to have a successful second career in the 60s & 70s.
You can find this tune on: Bukka White: Fixin' to Die (Snapper UK)
Rory Block: If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day
Here’s a great way to round out our set for today: the great Rory Block covering a great Robert Johnson song. Block plays some scorching slide guitar here & sings this song with great passion—she has a remarkable capacity for inhabiting a song. Also, as I mentioned with Bukka White, Block is skilled at producing all sort of rhythmic variation on top of a blues song’s basic 4/4 structure.
Johnson’s tune is a re-working of the old Mississippi blues standard “Rollin’ & Tumblin” by medicine-show performer Willie Newbern, but as usual with Johnson, his re-worked material becomes a completely individual statement. Interestingly, this song wasn’t released in Johnson’s lifetime—musician & writer Elijah Wald has theorized that the song, despite Johnson’s new treatment, sounded old fashioned to the Brunswick record label!
You can find this tune on: Rory Block: The Lady and Mr. Johnson (Rykodisc); & of course the great original on: Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (Sony), which is an essential blues album.