Friday, February 10, 2012

“Old Rub Alcohol Blues”

Happy Friday, friends! The Banjo Friday is pulling into the station a bit behind its time.

It’s been a busy time for me of late—have been involved in proofreading jobs up to my eyebrows (a good thing, but time-consuming!), had a music show last Friday—again at the Bare Bones Café—very happy about that, as it seems to be turning into a semi-regular gig, plus I had a nice turnout of friends on a lovely day & evening here; & then managed to come down with a nagging cold over the weekend, which has been an energy drain this week.

All that is to say I’m a bit behind on everything right now! But as the Banjo Friday is a feature that’s near to my heart, I wanted to check in with a little music for you today—& since last week’s Dock Boggs feature got a nice response, I thought I’d post another of his songs; he is after all, one of my very favorite banjoists & musicians in general.

“Old Rub Alcohol Blues” is credited to one W.E. Myer, but beyond that I know little of the song other than Boggs’ amazing version.  Boggs recorded it in Chicago in 1929 for the Lonesome Ace label; it was the A side, backed with “False Hearted Lover's Blues.”  Eight of Boggs’ 1920s recordings were made for Brunswick, but he also made four sides for the more obscure Lonesome Ace label.   In the CD era, those had been available on the Revenant Records label (a John Fahey project), but that has been out of print for some time, & as of this morning a new condition copy is selling on Amazon for a cool $283.34; used copies start at $35. However, Smithsonian/Folkways recently released Dock Boggs-His Twelve Original Recordings.

Songs about drinking rubbing alcohol & similarly nasty concotions were not uncommon in the 20s—Prohibition was in force of course; another example from the blues side of things is Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues.” In Johnson’s case, per both friends & family members who were later interviewed by the folkies, he really did drink canned heat (Sterno, typically soaked thru bread to remove at least some of the impurities.)  Boggs himself was known to be involved in the “moonshine” trade.

Old Rub Alcohol is played in another of Boggs’ odd D-modal tunings—actually just one note different from either the “Country Blues” tuning or the “Graveyard” tuning—here the banjo is tuned f#DGAD.


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