Harri3tspy has been good enough to post detailed comments about a mix I recently sent her called “Rhythm and Blooze”. As a part of the musical conversation she and I are having, I’m going to quote liberally from her entry on the subject, offering my own comments where appropriate. If you haven’t already, you should check out her blog. She’s an awesome blogger, a “gentlewoman and a scholar” as my dissertation adviser used to say, and lately putting my own meager diary output to shame.
Without further ado, here goes:
Alvin Youngblood Hart : Big Mama’s Door.
Alvin Youngblood Hart
is a contemporary artist performing here in a traditional style. I believe that Dr. Geek introduced me to Hart in a previous mix, but I can’t seem to locate the disk. … I’d have thought it was a Lomax recording. I still wonder if he’s replicating an older recording. His voice is amazing.
Alvin Youngblood Hart is a living encyclopedia of the blues. I first heard him over 10 years ago when I saw him live, opening for Taj Mahal. The CD including this track, “Big Mama’s Door”, has been a favorite ever since. My goal for the first few tracks of this mix was to explore the oft-overlooked roots of Delta Blues. I chose this track because its banjo-picking underlines links with folk and old-time music that the racially segregated commercial music industry would rather forget, even 75 years later.
Mississippi John Hurt: Avalon Blues.
This is an actual vintage recording – 1928. … Listen in particular for the way the guitar plays both strummed chords and picked out melody and counterpoint, all in highly repetitive rhythms.
From a modern blues revivalist, we jump back to the original stuff: Mississippi John Hurt influenced generations of later players who grew up in and around the Delta. I chose this particular public domain recording (the Mississippi John Hurt catalog fell out of copyright when OKeh records went under during the Depression) because of its clarity and accessibility, and because of the upbeat energy of Hurt’s playing.
Rev Robert Wilkins : O Lord I Want You To Help Me.
… I’m not sure when this recording was made. The disk it comes from, Takoma Blues, came out in the late 80s, but it’s a multi-artist disk, most likely made with earlier recordings.
Takoma Blues is a compilation CD reissued in the 90’s based on two earlier out of print vinyl LP’s from the 1970’s. All the tracks were recorded in and around Chicago in clubs and halls by Chicago blues producer Norman Dayron. There’s another CD from the same tape library called “Rare Chicago Blues, 1962-1968” on the Bullseye Blues label. If you want a couple thick slices of the 1960’s Chicago blues scene, get both these discs. There are tracks by everyone from Elvin Bishop and Paul Butterfield to Son House to really obscure folks like Maxwell Street Jimmy. I chose this track because it shows the links between blues and gospel. As B.B. King has said (and I paraphrase) “the only difference between the blues and gospel is that you may find yourself singing ‘baby, please don’t go’ on Saturday night and ‘Lord, help me please’ on Sunday morning.”
Son House : Death Letter.
I can’t remember when I first heard Son House, but I’ve always loved his particular version of the Delta sound.
Son House is a crossroads of the blues. I can’t put together a “Delta Blues” mix without including him somewhere. Of the generation of Mississippi John Hurt, Son House was the one who taught Robert Johnson to play… and unlike Johnson was famous and influenced a generation of blues players (including Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf) who were the godfathers of rock’n’roll. This recording is taken from a 1960’s revival set… and one of the most powerful recordings of the bunch.
The Asylum Street Spankers : If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day.
I am so happy that Dr. Geek has introduced me to the Asylum Street Spankers. … The miking is interesting; the fuzzy sound of the cymbals and snare is front and center and the voice sounds like it’s coming from the back of a smoky bar at the end of a long night. It’s a great and evocative sound, the kind of thing that conjures up an invisible narrative that I like.
The Spankers are an incredible band… who love to quote liberally from all sorts of 1930’s music. This particular recording was made in the living room of a house in Austin, completely live and acoustic, with the Spankers clustered around a single microphone in the center of the room. I love this particular track because Pops Bayless’s vocals completely overpower the track… and the arrangement is not the overly-reverent interpretation that so many artists make of Robert Johnson songs.
Martin Simpson : Broke Down Engine.
Great virtuosic acoustic guitar-playing on this track.
Yeah he’s a white English guy with massive guitar chops, but this whole CD (“Smoke & Mirrors”) is infused with blues that cut to the bone.
Buddy Guy & Junior Wells : I’m In The Mood.
This is a great tune performed by two legends (Guy on acoustic guitar, Wells on vocals). A classic.
I’ve seen Buddy Guy live three times. I had to include a track off of the “Alone & Acoustic” CD because it’s a stripped down sampling of vintage blues, informed by later developments, but not particularly influenced by them.
Muddy Waters : I Can’t Be Satisfied.
I’m a huge Muddy Waters fan and this is a great tune. The Delta-style guitar playing is terrific.
This is off “Hard Again” a Johnny Winter-produced album from the 70’s. Muddy Water’s songwriting pen had dried up by this point, but Johnny Winter did a great, GREAT live-in-the-studio album that re-introduced white Baby Boomers to the Muddy Waters catalog. A real favorite in my collection… the version of Mannish Boy on this record is not the original, but is seminal. I included Mannish Boy on the original Harri3t Mix, and wanted to include a track here that fit in more with the folk blues feel of the first half of the mix. At the same time, Muddy Waters was a heavy influence on the blues-rock artists of the 1960’s and 70’s. It seemed appropriate to include him here.
John Lee Hooker : Boom Boom.
This is one of those songs Ive heard a million times, but have never really listened to.
I’m a big John Lee Hooker fan and it would be a shame to do a blues mix without some John Lee in there somewhere. This track is off “Urban Blues”, one of his stronger efforts from the 1960’s. This is a stereo re-recording of “Boom Boom”, one of his classic hits from the 1950’s. As a member of the Rock’n’Rock Hall of Fame as an early influence, I am again stressing the transitional elements between blues and blues-rock.
Little Hatch : Rock Me Baby.
Little Hatch is another legend of the blues, but I don’t think I’ve actually ever heard him before…
Little Hatch is a pretty obscure harp player out of Kansas City. He’s one of those “nearly undiscovered” classic finds that I discovered in the liner notes of another audiophile blues recording. I chose this track because while the form is pure blues, the lyric vernacular is very much rock’n’roll… again emphasizing transition.
Here is where the mix turns a corner. Up until now, we’ve heard from historic blues artists or contemporary artists performing in an historic style. The rest of the mix is more about where the blues has taken us.
The Rolling Stones : Sweet Virginia.
Yes, the Stones, of the Exile on Main Street Album and sounding quite Dylanesque (at least until you hit the sax solo)…
You can’t discuss “blues-rock” without mentioning The Rolling Stones. I think that this is one of the most directly blues-influenced tracks from “Exile On St.”, which was the Stones at the peak of their powers.
The Black Crowes : Whoa Mule.
This song opens with another Dylan-inspired harmonica solo. I’ve heard of The Black Crowes for years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really heard them before…
The Black Crowes are the Stones modern musical descendant… or throwback musical imitator, depending on your point of view. They represent a logical next step for the mix. This track, released in March, represents the end of the 80 year period started with Avalon Blues. I think the a capella start to the track represents an interesting textural addition for the Crowes, and is one of the things that makes me like their new CD “Warpaint”.
John Hammond : 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six.
This has a mood similar to Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon” which I put on a mix for Dr. Geek…
This was the only direct musical response to the “Geek Mix” that Harri3t sent me. She sent me the original version of “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and I responded with a track also appearing on “Beautiful Maladies — The Island Years” I wanted Harri3t to hear what the Hammond re-interpretations on “Wicked Grin” (with Waits himself producing) could sound like.
Alvin Youngblood Hart : Will I Ever Get Back Home?
Hart is back, this time electrified. His vocals rock my world… I can’t exactly why that is exciting, but it is. I think I need Hart by the albumful.
Both the track starting this mix and “Sallie, Queen Of The Pines” on the “Longing and Crooning” mix were both basically acoustic tracks. I wanted to showcase what Hart can be like in a more modern, electrified idiom. It also made a great companion to the John Hammond. Harri3t, all his albums are awesome.
Tarbox Ramblers : Country Blues.
This is another band that is new to me. I love the rhythmic drive of this song and the rough, scratchy sound – a buzz on the electric guitar and also in the vocals.
A cover of an old Dock Boggs track from the 1930’s, the Tarbox Ramblers are a modern band with a cowpunk-blues-alt country sensibility. It seemed appropriate as the mix starts to wind down.
North Mississippi Allstars : Po Black Maddie.
I am so happy to have a recording by the North Mississippi Allstars. I heard them a while back on NPR, but couldn’t remember the name. This song is what happens when Delta blues meets a jam band.
These boys are the real thing, straight to you from the modern Mississippi Delta. Here, they are referencing the past… but they drive and drive hard toward the future. Their guitarist, Luther Allison, is now also playing for the Black Crowes.
Eric Clapton : Reconsider Baby.
It would be hard to have a mix about blues revival without including Mr. Slow Hand… It sounds disingenuous. But still, a rocking song and a solid conclusion to this fantastic group of tunes.
You can’t say it any better than that. Yes, it’s not his best effort… his vocals don’t cut at you with the grit of many of the other recordings in this mix, but that guitar moans and cries with the best of them. The call is good; the response is better. This seemed like the best track on “From The Cradle” (a blues-roots-rock record if there ever was one) to round out the mix.
Well, that’s it. I can’t wait to see what Harri3t’s musical response to this mix will be… unless I send her another one first.