T:-)M's Night Shift

Walkin' T:-)M's Diggin' the Blues

The Blues a `state of mind': I came home with the blues, felt very lonesome and pitied myself. (1862) - The Blues a `musical idiom': Many times Carl
Spitzweg ,Der arme Poet', www.spitzweg.de Ma Rainey was asked what kind of song it was, and one day she replied, in a moment of inspiration, `It's the Blues'. (1902) - Let's take in the words of the singer:

Everybody wants to know why I sing the blues ...
When I first got the blues, they brought me over on a ship,
Men was standin' over me, and a lot more with a whip.
I've laid in the ghetto flats, cold and numb,
I heard the rats tell the bedbugs to give the roaches some.
I walk through the city, people, on my bare feet,
I had a fill of catfish and chitlins up and down Beale Street.
Blind man on the corner, beggin' for a dime,
The roller come and caught him and threw him in jail for a crime.
That's why I got the blues. (B.B. King)

Paul Oliver's Story of the Blues is not only the story of the music and its performers, it is also the story of its writer:

In 1964 I was invited to prepare an Exhibition entitled The Story of the Blues which occupied the ground floor of the American Embassy [London]. As the first comprehensive history of the subject it seemed necessary to place blues in its cultural context; now, after the passing of so many years and with the original milieu of the blues forgotten, simplified or largely unknown to many enthusiasts of its later forms and influences, it seems desirable to do so again.
The Post Civil-War era still meant segregation, depression and exploitation for the African American people. In America he was classed as a chattel, he had no rights and his sole function was to work. His culture was rigorously suppressed - unless it happened to aid his labour. Their cultural expression were the leader-and-response form of work songs on plantations and penitentiaries, the spirituals at Sunday Mass, representing life as full of sorrow, and the frolics and shuffles on Saturday nights. The astonishing boom in ragtime music was bringing syncopated dance to the St Louis World's Fair, the first sounds of jazz were emerging. We are talking about the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.
It was this period of social upheaval which seems to have inspired a revolution www.randomhouse.co.uk in the culture of African Americans and which gave rise to the gospel songs of the Sanctified and Pentecostal churches, the piano syncopations of ragtime, the polyphonic collective improvisation of the New Orleans jazz band and the narrative ballad of the black hero. It was also the period which inspired, from the fusion of a number of elements both traditional and innovatory, the beginnings of the blues.
We don't know when or how the blues emerged, but Oliver found its poetical expression:
When the blues began, the countryside was quiet. Left to himself, a man would sing to his mules at daybreak, urge on his team with a yelling instruction to each animal, chant to the beat of his own hoe. Gang labour was largely obsolete. Now the field hand did not have to co-ordinate exactly with his companions; he sang to his own speed.
Blues is a late phase in processes of enculturation and acculturation: The distant African heritage was still maintained through the work song to the field hollers, while the adoption of European harmonic structures led to the definition of the blues form. Black songsters developed an original ballad tradition. "
Po' Lazarus," the opener of the O Brother movie (-> FW#23), already had the typical twelve-bar form of the blues.
Generally they employed the simple chord progression of the English popular ballads: tonic, subdominant, dominant - in E, a much favoured key, the basic progression E, A, B7. But black singers and musicians favoured the 7th chords and a progression of E, E7, A7, B7, E would be used.
The popularity of the guitar grew, and the World War played a large part in spreading the music, throwing men from different states and regions into close association and giving cause to sing the blues. The medicine and minstrel road shows swept the high- and byways; pianists worked the sawmill and levee camps; and the race records of the 1920's finally brought it from coast to coast. In the late 30's mechanical players were set up at every crossing cafe, and in very joint and juke - juke-boxes began to replace live musicians everywhere. Guitars and harps had to be amplified. A band or singer could only be heard live by playing with the volume, and even the distorted amplification, that the juke-boxes produced.

With the advent of electricity, eventually `rhythm'n'blues' emerged. A growing white teen-age audience was buying records, though the screaming, idiotic words, and savage music was denounced of undermining the morals of our white youth. DJ Alan Freed coined the term `rock'n'roll' for the rhythm'n'blues/country amalgam which became popular. At the same time `soul' music - the blend of gospel techniques of exaggerated mannerisms and screaming, passionate entreaties with blues instrumental techniques and commercial `pop' words - replaced the blues as the music that spoke for the younger generation of Blacks. Then the `blues boom' swept Europe in the 1960's and white imitators extended the blues form into rock and pop. - But that's a different story altogether.

Yonder Come the Blues is a series of short paperbacks from 1970, gone out of print for twenty years. Three updated articles examine the early development of the blues and the evolution of a genre: "Savannah Syncopators" (by Paul Oliver) investigates the significance of the African heritage and its retentions in blues music; "Blacks, Whites and Blues" (Tony Russell) discusses the mutuality of white country and black blues; and "Recording The Blues" (Robert Dixon and John Godrich) reviews the role of recording in consolidating the blues.

Oliver dismisses the wrong and patronizing view that blue notes resulted from the difficulty experienced by the Negro when the hymns taught him by the missionaries made him sing the third and seventh degrees of the scale used in European music, since these degrees do not occur in the primitive five-note scale. On the contrary, Thomas Jefferson observed that in music they are more generally gifted than the Whites, with accurate ears for a tune and time. Oliver argues:

Dense tropical forest yielding large-boled woods suitable for the making of big drums. Further north still, the savannah parklands give way to steppe and, eventually, to the desert. In the savannah regions the woods available for instruments are small-boled and they are more frequently fashioned into resonators for stringed instruments, or into strips for xylophones. www.cup.cam.ac.uk In contrast to the music of the drum-dominated tribes of the coastal regions, the music of the savannah Sudanic regions appears to have been of a kind that would have accorded well with the Scots and English folk forms and been acceptable enough to have survived among the slaves.
In the African countries where Islam has had a powerful influence and where chiefs exert considerable authority, much of the music-making is the province of the griots. These are traditional musicians who are employed as individuals, or in pairs, ore even in very large groups and orchestras. There is a frequently expressed opinion that the use of the answering guitar in some blues traditions is a retention from the custom of leader-and-chorus singing. This would suggest, however, that the answering phrase should be standardised in each performance, as is customary in choral responses. It would seem more likely that it is rather in the use of the stringed instruments by praise singers who use them imitatively to augment the content of their songs.
An African lute with a gourd bowl employed in Senegal has been considered to be the source of Jefferson's `banjar'. Known as the bania, not only its form but even its name may have been transported to North America. The banjo survived and flourished, while the skills of the players of `kukuma' or `goge' would soon have been adapted to the European fiddle under active encouragement. Negro musicians were encouraged to play for plantation dances and balls at the `Big House' and exercising their abilities gave them a chance to escape the drudgery of field work. They may have found themselves considerably at an advantage in a community where the playing of drums was largely discouraged.
This is even more striking when comparing certain native words with African American slang: juke (dzugu: wicked), jive (jev: talk disparagingly), hip (hipi: to open one's eyes), jam (jaam: slave). And there's certainly more.

Tony Russell argues that the only way to understand fully the various folk musics of America is to see them as units in a whole; as traditions with, to be sure, a certain degree of independence, but possessing an overall unity. In the 1840's songs like "Zip Coon" (which became "Turkey in the Straw") created a vogue for minstrel music, i.e. song and dance presented by white actors with blackened faces. Almost hundred years later in the recording era, separate `race' and `old-time' catalogues catered for its customers. However, the black Mississippi Sheiks turned up in the old-time and hillbilly listings, while the white Allen Brothers appeared in the race series. Furthermore, the black DeFord Bailey opened the first Grand Ole Opry broadcast when he blew the "Pan-American Blues" on his harp, the one exception to the programme's unwritten colour bar.

Jimmie Rodgers grew up in a black environment.

The blue yodels were a foundation upon which countless white country singers built. Their great strength lay partly in their similarity to, partly in their difference from, black blues. Black singers had a similar device, however, in the falsetto. The voice was raised an octave, generally in the last syllable of a word, often at the end of a line; the effect was rather of a whoop or howl than of the seesawing about the voice's breaking point which makes a yodel. David Evans has suggested that the blue yodel synthesised Swiss (yodelling) and African (falsetto) traditions; the falsetto `leap' was established among Blacks since the days of the field holler.
Jimmie Davis, composer of O Brother's "You Are My Sunshine", yodelled himself all the way to the governorship of Louisiana. How, his opponents asked, can you fight a song? Davis made a contribution to white blues by exploring the world of sexual symbolism with a wit and metaphorical command that were typically black. He was not best known for his liberal views, but had frequently to answer accusations of mixing with Blacks. Bill Monroe too showed a fondness for Rodgers and similar yodelled blues. Monroe had learned his trade from a black fiddler and guitarist, Arnold Schultz. His `choke' style of guitar picking also was to influence Merle Travis.

In the 19th century there was a common stock of songs (e.g. "John Henry") and tunes ("Arkansas Traveler").

The traditional music of the countryman was a repertoire shared by black and white; a common stock. The great quality of the common stock was adaptability; it's great power, assimilation; it was neither black nor white, but a hundred shades of grey. The divergent paths of the traditions speak to us not of the past but of the new century and its new mood. As the black man sought rights and equality, the tidily stratified society of the South was disrupted and the races drew apart. The black and white musical traditions took different roads as well.
Blues took shape in the Mississippi Delta, but shifted with the migration to the North into a new center - Chicago! The blues also changed its face - Going Electric! One of its biggest names is - Muddy Waters (1913-83)!
Muddy became emblematic for so much - not just the blues generally, but also the twentieth-century migration from a southern rural culture to a northern urban one, the evolution from acoustic music to electric music, and the acceptance of African American culture into American society.
Can't Be Satisfied follows Muddy through scores of women, hits, bottles of booze and moments of divine grace. McKinley A. Morganfield aka `Muddy Mississippi Water' was born and raised in Issaquena county in the lower quarter of the Mississippi Delta, the poorest region in the nation's poorest state. Like his family and friends he picked cotton: Sharecropping - getting less than half of what you've got coming to you - was a good training for a life in the music business. Muddy started playing guitar at parties, using the bottle neck like Son House. www.randomhouse.co.uk And he made extra money bootlegging whiskey.
Muddy Waters was barefoot when he got word a white man was looking for him. It was Sunday, the last day of August, 1941. Uh-oh! This is it. They done found out I'm selling whiskey. [It turned out to be Alan Lomax -> FW#23 on a field recording trip for the Library of Congress.] He brought his machine and he said, I heard Robert Johnson's dead and I heard you's just as good. Will you let me record some of your songs? [Muddy Waters] had no pictures made with either of his wives, but when his record arrived, he put on his best suit and carried it to a photographer's studio, where he was photographed holding the love of his life.
In 1942 Muddy went to Chicago working at the factory. His arrival coincided with a ban on all new recordings decreed by the American Federation of Musicians (Petrillo ban) trying to protect musicians who were losing live gigs to recordings, plus a reduction in the nonmilitary use of shellac in general. Again he was playing the house parties. But whereas the acoustics were fine in the country where there were no sounds at night but the shallow breathing of God rest, this was not true for Chicago. Muddy got himself a pickup and a little amplifier, and finally a full electric guitar. the Delta Bluesman's answer to the mechanical cotton picker. But he still played the slow country blues, even as he modernized it.

In 1946 he got his first chance to record. Soon after, "I Can't Be Satisfied" became his first hit, followed by others. Bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon wrote "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Manish Boy" with its stop-time rhythm: Muddy was giving his blues a little pep, and I began trying to think of things in a peppier form.

When Muddy hit England in 1958, he triggered an avalanche. The jazz fans here had something like racial prejudice in reverse - if he was black, he could do no wrong. Eric Burdon and Alexis Korner took up the blues. A band featuring David Bowie called themselves the Manish Boys. Muddy's song "Rolling Stone" inspired a band name and a magazine, and the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was directly inspired by "Can't Be Satisfied". Connor/Neff The lyrics of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" have been copied from "You Need Love" (which resulted in a lawsuit). Last but surely not least, "I'm Ready" was used in a commercial for the male stimulant Viagra in 2001.

For two years in the early 70's, author Anthony Connor and photographer Robert Neff followed the blues, talking to musicians and doing some sort of undramatic and understated black-and-white photographs. The result was The Blues in Images and Interviews. (From Cooper Square Press are two more titles in the pipeline which we will be introduced in the next issue.)

It is a mingling of the voices of scores of blues musicians, who talk about their music, their pasts and their futures, hopes and fears, failures and ideas. The stories span, roughly, four generations, from the Depression through the early seventies, and follow a general geographical path from the cotton fields of the South to the industrial North.
55 blues men and women stood the questioning. It's a story of heritage,
My daddy was a blues singer. His singing was mostly about his everyday life--his hard work and his pay and how he disliked the boss. After a meal he'd lean back in his chair and start picking his guitar. His blues sounded mostly just like talking. He didn't rhyme his lyrics. He just sat there and sang about what happened that day. (Brownie McGhee)
crime,
When I was twelve years old living in Chicago, I went down to a pawnshop, and I told the man I wanted to buy a Marine Band harmonica. When he brought it out, he said, That's two-fifty. I asked him would he let me owe a dollar til the next day, and he said, No, we don't give credit. Somebody else came into the store and he went to waiting on them, so I just left the dollar and a half on the counter, took the Marine Band, and walked out. He called the police and they put me in jail. The judge asked me, did I steal it? I told him, No, I didn't steal it. I told the man I'd bring in another dollar. Then he asked me could I play it. And I played it for him. So the judge paid the dollar, and he told me, If you ever get into anything--make a record or something--I want you to make sure I get one. (Junior Wells)
machismo,
I love women. But women'll make you drink. A woman can make anybody sing the blues. If it wasn't for women, there would be no blues. (John Lee Hooker)
In the beginning, Adam had the blues, cause he was lonesome. So God helped him and created a woman. Now everybody's got the blues. (Willie Dixon)
Everytime I'd get lucky and get me a wife, [Sleepy] John'd come along and say, I got me a trailer and I want somebody to travel with me and play music. I been married ten times. We'd take off together and walk them dusty roads. I got seventeen other kids, too, but I didn't have no kids by any of my wives but the last one. (Hammie Nixon)
I was married to a mean broad once. I woke up one night and that chick was sitting up in the bed looking at me, picking her fingernails with a brand new switchblade. Four thirty in the morning. I asked her what she was doing. She said, I'm looking at you. I had whupped her about two nights before that. I divorced her. Damn right! I knowed why she was watching me: she was trying to figure out where to start cutting. (Bo Diddley)
and religion.
I was raised up on blues and spirituals; but after you wake up to a lot of facts about life, you know, the spiritual thing starts to look kind of phony in places. The blues gives you a chance to express your feelings. And it's wrote on facts. The white slave owners wanted the Black people to believe praying was going to help them in the next world. They was brainwashing the Black people with spiritual ideas. They figured if they cross the River of Jordan, that was their homeland and heaven. - I went to Israel with a music tour. I told mama, There really is a Jerusalem and a River of Jordan. And they have more gambling in Jerusalem than in the United States; and most of the crooks they can't find in the States, they're over there! (Willie Dixon)
Meanwhile, it's 2003. The golden era of jazz and blues is over, writes Christiane Bird, but in every major American city, the music is being kept very much alive. If you ever wanted to know where's Muddy's home, favourite haunt and burial place; what happened to the remains of his plantation cabin; where does his cousin Reverend Willie Morganfield, a recording artist in his own right, still preach.

Some of those answers can be found in The Da Capo Jazz And Blues Lover's Guide To The U.S. www.dacapopress.com Christiane Bird first travelled the blues highway in the early 90's, from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., visting 25 cities and the Mississippi Delta.

There is New Orleans.

Congo Square, now Beauregard Square, in [Louis] Armstrong Park. Nowadays the square is usually completely silent. Congo Square is the place before the place, the actual spot where jazz was born. Back in the 1800s the square was the Sunday-afternoon gathering place for African slaves and one of the only spots in the New World where blacks could legally play and dance to the complex polyrhythms of Africa (drum playing was against the law in most parts of the United States, as slave owners felt it led to rioting).
You can walk Beale Street, Memphis, where W.C. Handy wrote the first commercially successful blues, a campaign tune for the mayoral candidate. The `Beale Street Blues Boy' Riley King shortened his name to B.B. King. At No.143 `B.B. King's Blues Club & Restaurant' is waiting for customers.

It is a travel guide that is centered on the basic question: where did blues (and jazz) once thrive and where it is still doing well. There's historical landmarks and legends to discover, clubs and juke joints, radio stations, museums, record stores, monuments, and festivals - places from the musicians' cradle to the grave. Well, if you find it:

Robert Johnson, one of the most enigmatic of blues singers, grew up on plantations [near Robinsonville]. He started playing the jukes as a young man and was a disaster on the guitar. Such a racket you never heard, Son House once said. It'd make people mad, you know. Johnson left Robinsonville at about 20, only to return a year later. Son House recounts the reunion: He sat down there and finally got started. And man! He was so good! When he finished, all our mouths were standing open. There was only one way he could have learned the guitar so quickly--by selling his soul to the Devil waiting by the crossroads.
[Johnson] recorded three of the only five sessions he ever did in a makeshift studio set up in the old Gunter Hotel [San Antonio]. Later that night there was trouble. A policeman had picked Johnson up on a vagrancy charge. [A&R man Don] Law hurried down to the jail, where with some difficulty he had Johnson released; he had been worked over by the cops. Law took him back to the boarding house, gave him 45 cents for breakfast and told him not to go out again. Then he returned to his dinner, only to have Johnson call him on the phone. I'm lonesome, Johnson said. Lonesome? Law asked. Johnson replied, I'm lonesome and there's a lady here. She wants fifty cents and I lacks a nickel...
The how, where, and why of Robert Johnson's death continues to fascinate. Some say he was stabbed, some say he was poisoned, some say he died on all fours, barking like a dog. The mystery has resulted in the erection of two different markers. Both purport to indicate Johnson's gravesite. Quito's `Robert Johnson tombstone' was donated by an Atlanta rock group, appropriately called the Tombstones. The `Robert Johnson Memorial Monument' at Morgan City was donated by Columbia Records.
Christiane Bird observed that to my delight, most of the venues that I wrote about seven or ten years ago are still in existence, and many of those that are not have been replaced with equivalent venues. But
for all the strides that have been taken in civil rights over the past three decades, very few music venues in this country are truly integrated. Every establishment that I visited was either white, or it was black, and though many did have a somewhat mixed audience, there was often depressingly little real interaction between the races. This black/white dichotomy seems especially true in the blues world, where most clubs are either trendy air-conditioned white establishments charging $10 to $20 a head, or poor cement-floored black juke joints with no cover charge. Many white audiences still have no real idea of where it comes from. I think of the strange irony of one enthusiastic club owner who told me in one proud breath that he featured nothing but the blues, and then, in another, whispered that I ought to skip the next stop on my list because it was, you know, black. Despite such muddled thinking, and our still ugly, much-segregated world, jazz and blues have probably done more to further integration than any other single art or entertainment form. I spent many amazing nights traveling from poor juke joints to plush hotel lounges to pretty yuppie-buppie clubs; and on some level, the audiences were always the same.

So let it be. T:-)M.


Bird, Christiane. The Da Capo Jazz And Blues Lover's Guide To The U.S. Da Capo, Cambridge, MA, 2001, ISBN 0-306-81034-4, Paperback, 486pp, US$17.50.
Connor, Anthony and Robert Neff. The Blues in Images and Interviews. Cooper Square, New York, 1999, ISBN 0-8154-1003-4, Paperback, 142pp, US$17,95.
Gordon, Robert. Can't Be Satisfied - The Life and Times of Muddy Waters. Jonathan Cape, London, 2002, ISBN 0-224-06314-6, Hardcover, 408pp, UKú18,99.
Oliver, Paul. The Story of the Blues - The Making of a Black Music. Pimlico, London, 1997, 212pp, ISBN 0-7126-7492-6, Paperback, UKú16,-.
Oliver, Paul and Tony Russel, Robert MW Dixon, John Godrich, Howard Rye. Yonder Come the Blues - The Evolution of a Genre. Cambridge University, 2001, 358pp, ISBN 0-521-78259-7, Hardcover, UKú40,- (ISBN 0-521-78777-7, Paperback, UKú14,95).

More Books on...

Americana: FW#22, FW#23, FW#24
Celtic: FW#19, FW#20, FW#24
Klezmer: FW#21, FW#22
Songbooks: FW#21, FW#22, FW#24

German titles


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