Friday, September 1, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Four

For this week's selection, we selected a tune from one of my all-time favorite blues albums......the original soundtrack to Deep Blues, Robert Mugge's 1992 incredible documentary that looked at the early 90's blues scene in the Mississippi Delta that introduced a lot of blues fans to R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Booba Barnes, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Lonnie Pitchford, Frank Frost, and Big Jack Johnson.  Well, it introduced me to several of them anyway.  I wasn't that familiar with Burnside or Kimbrough at the time.  I had heard or seen the other ones.....Frost on the movie Crossroads, Hemphill and Pitchford on a couple of documentaries shown on Mississippi Public Television, and Barnes from my recently-purchased copy of his Rooster Blues release, The Heartbroken Man.

I found out about Big Jack Johnson via his Earwig debut release, The Oil Man in the late 80's.  His guitar playing cut to the bone and just sent shivers down my spine.  I really enjoyed his songwriting, too.  It was so down-to-earth and covered situations that you could relate to.  Backtracking, I found out that he and Frank Frost and Sam Carr were renowned in the Delta as the Jelly Roll Kings, which led me to their self-titled album, also on Earwig and another one of my favorites.

I had heard about Deep Blues via Living Blues, but of course, the actual documentary didn't get within 150 miles of where I lived, so it was much later when I had the opportunity to actually watch it, but I was hoping that I could get my hands on the soundtrack.....which wasn't as easy as you might think.  Though it was on a subsidiary of a major label (Atlantic Records), it took a bit of time to track it down, but I managed to finally grab a cassette copy at a newly-opened record store nearby.  It was a wonderful collection, just bursting at the seams with energy and excitement, with sound that was so clear, you could hear the bottles clanking on the tables near the stage.  It would be impossible to pick a single favorite song, but I loved two of Big Jack Johnson's selections......."Catfish Blues" (coming in a future post) and "Big Boy Now," Track Four of our Blues Fix Mix CD.

Big Jack Johnson in a scene from Deep Blues
"Big Boy Now" is an autobiographical track about Johnson's childhood infatuation with the country singers he heard on the radio.....Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry.  Johnson used to want to yodel like those country singers, but his mom told him, "You can't do like them white folks on that radio," to which Johnson replied that oh yes, he could, "'cause I'm a big boy now and I can do what I please!" at which point he launches into a blue yodel that would rival his childhood favorites and then launches into a guitar solo that sounds like his instrument is strung with barbed wire.  It's a wild experience to hear on the CD and I can only imagine how it was to hear it in person.

One thing the song does make clear is how closely related blues and country music actually are.  Both originated in the same regions and both are similar in their delivery and subject matter, though the instrumentation and rhythms are different.  That wasn't always the case, though, because in their beginnings, at least their earliest recordings, both employed guitars, fiddles, piano, and harmonica, though they began to go their separate ways after electric instruments became the fashion.  Johnson, like a lot of his contemporaries (and some of his predecessors) grew up listening to what he could hear on the radio and in Mississippi, and most of them played both kinds of and western.  There were a lot of country music stations blaring away at night at maximum wattage, so that's what most people, regardless of race, listened to at night.  

Anyway, hope you enjoyed Track Four of our Ultimate Blues Fix Mix CD, and we hope you come back next week for Track Five.

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