An Expat Life: Nicaragua Blues and Ruse
Monday, May 14, 2007
Monday Morning Blues.....It's Morning Somewhere
Well, this is a little late for Monday Morning Blues, but late is better than never....This week, I'm exploring the sound that came out of 'my neck of the woods', ......East Coast Blues 1927-1933. East Coast Blues, or the Piedmont Blues, was just as important as its more famous musical cousin, the Delta Blues, but remains on the periphery of mainstream acceptance as a shaping force of the American musical lexicon. In contrast to the hard-hitting monotonic tales of woe and misery on the Mississippi Delta, the Piedmont sound, at least musically speaking, tells a much happier tale. This is piano music.....'Raggin' the Blues'. One of the most prolific, if not most talented, bluesmen (Blind Gary Davis) of the early 20th century once mused that he'd play piano, but he couldn't carry one on his back....
So, you may have heard of some of the more famous bluesmen of this geographical and musical arena....in addition to Blind Gary Davis, there was Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake, and Blind Boy Fuller (alas...they weren't all blind I promise!). All four had extensive catalogs, were well chronicled, and much revered, on a layer of notoriety just a tad beneath the more famous Delta musicians, such as Son House and Robert Johnson. All one needs to do is listen to Davis or McTell a couple of times, before you start wondering what else there is out there that might be lurking underneath the surface. 'East Coast Blues 1927-1933' explores some of the less obscure artists that 'rag the blues' with their Stella guitars, zoot suits, and bootleg whiskey.
Getting back to Blind Gary Davis, a man that experienced the 1920s Race Record boom, the subsequent Great Depression, and the Blues Revival of the 1960s, becoming a bridge, of sorts, to burgeoning musicians....an inspiration and musical guide. He was once asked who he thought was the best bluesman he knew of, to which he replied without hesitation.....Willie Walker. Walker, blind at birth, died at only 37 years of age in 1933, was only rediscovered in the 1970s, yet still remains obscure to the modern listener. Here, we're treated to 2 of the 4 sides the Greenville, South Carolina native recorded for Columbia Records in 1930, 'South Carolina Rag' and 'Dupree Blues'. Davis knew what he was talking about. As I listen to the former, I openly wonder how many unknown legends there are/were.......Life's a mystery I say....
Additionally, there is Bo Weavil Jackson's 'Pistol Blues', a musical hybrid of the more popular 'Crow Jane', and Chicken Wilson & Skeeter Hinton playing a rollicking 'Myrtle Avenue Stomp', complete with washboard, spoons, and a rapid delivery guitar style that makes you want to do a jig right in front of your computer. William Moore shows up on several tracks, none better than the fitting 'Raggin' The Blues', where he captures the essence of a bygone era of bathtub gin and the cultural transformation of urban America.
If you think the Blues is only about the sound of Robert Johnson, Son House, and the Delta.....or it is best found in the Blues bars of Chicago and the feathered cap of Stevie Ray Vaughan, please do yourself a favor and pick up some Piedmont Blues. Alas, in Martin Scorcese's much heralded Blues documentary, he lists a map showing 'significant' blues regions and makes no mention of the Piedmont region!!!!! Personally, I think there's more soul and expression in the 'D.C. Rag' kazoo solo by Chicken Wilson & Skeeter Hinton than on all of the electric blues found today. Don't take it from me though, go out and listen to some Blind Willie McTell and Gary Davis, and you too, will soon be clamoring to find out about these more obscure masters on collections such as this one.