Sunday, January 25, 2009

Clarksdale Road Trip Music

On the way there...

Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited - Corny one to start with, I know, but going up the blues trail is a corny of an endeavor no matter how well intentioned. Plus this album always gets me going without fail. Take any three-second snippet of it and it sounds like a trainwreck but the whole of it is contained and revelatory.
Robert Cage - Can See What You're Doing (lala) Put this on when I hit his home town of Woodville, MS, just over the state line. This is the kind of wildness Bob Dylan was after, but his self-consciouness would not allow.
T-Model Ford - Jack Daniel Time - A largely acoustic affair thrown on when I got to the delta proper. Ford was actually playing at Red's, the club down the street from Ground Zero, and as things wound down there I sorta wanted to go, but also remembered falling asleep on a bench at the Maple Leaf at 3AM during his 40+ minute rendition of "Mannish Boy" only to perk up when he called the band to the stage to kick into the same song again. And it was freezing and raining outside. Fortunately, the Oxfordites in the party had borne witness to Ford many times to similar effect, so we skipped it and kicked it in one of the well-appointed rooms above the club.
Lucinda Williams - Little Honey (lala) I've been torn about this record. I like that it is a lot more raw and bar-band-ish than most of her records, and one has the feeling it is in smoky bars that her heart lies, but the downside was that it approached this aura with pained effort, see the roadhoused variant of AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top" that closes it. All these concerns are now dismissed. The only spot where the spell is broken is with Elvis Costello's buttinski croon on the duet "Tears of Joy" - it sounds like they are staging a Heartfelt-Off. But even that is still pretty good. Also, if I learned anything from the satellite radio on my last trip, it is you are thankful for AC/DC is always around when you need it.
Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues (lala) - If I had to pick a classic delta blues record to be my favorite, this would be it, though Hurt's blues is a more intricate missing link in the chain instead of yet another train whistle/rumble on the tracks. This played when I stopped for gas in Vicksburg. I asked a guy in the gas station how far it was to Clarksdale and he said "Oh 60-70 miles. I ran that route for years." I was shocked; I thought I had at least three more hours to go. I checked the Goggle Maps on my phone when I got back to the car: 147 miles.
NPR's All Things Considered. Twice. on three different stations as the signal faded. Mississippi has an enviable public radio system.

When I got to the Ground Zero Club

Bobby Rush (lala) was on the stage addressing the gathered and then playing a song. I didn't get a chance to speak to him, but I did brush against him just as Joey Lauren Adams took up the spot right next to me by the pool table. I looked around wondering if the owner Morgan Freeman was going to pop up any second and buy me a drink.
Wiley and the Checkmates (lala) took the stage shortly after. I get some uneasy minstrel-show feelings about the current spate of vintage soul revues where an old black man in a great suit fronts a band of white musicians playing airtight soul music to a white audience in which I am an eager participant, but that concern, like the ones about Lucinda, are quickly dismissed by how fucking awesome they are.
The night, however, belonged to rockabilly legend Dale Hawkins whose "Suzy Q" both opened and closed his extended set. During the backwood onslaught from Hawkins, silvered and dentured to look like the area's top John Deere sales rep, I got my picture taken with former U.S. Senator Ben Jones (D-GA), better known as Cooter from "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Fun fact: had Jones defeated his rival Newt Gingrich in a 1994 run for the House - Jones got a respectable 35% of the vote - it would have prevented then Minority Whip Gingrich from becoming Speaker of the House and would have shot a flaming dynamite arrow into the heart of the Republican agenda and sent the Boss Hogg's of the Nineties muttering about them dang ole Duke boys...

On the way back...

The Isley Brothers - Funky Family - I was ready to let the journey fold back up in reversal of how it unfolded, but as a friend pointed out about their absurdly hott version of CSNY's "Ohio", the Isely brothers can sex up anything, even a slightly hungover morning start on a six-hour drive home.
It seems like there was something bridging the Isley Brothers to Steve Reich besides an understanding of the power potential in extended rhythms, but whatever it was escapes me now. I do know I was listening to this when I passed through Panther Burn, MS because I searched through my phone and was disappointed that I had taken the Tav Falco's Panther Burns record (lala) off, probably to fit this Steve Reich record on it. I'm thinking that was for the best, there was already enough forced analogy going on with this trip.
Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding - I had a bunch of Dylan on my phone. I was planning on interspersing Dylan's albums up through Nashville Skyline with albums by artists whose hometowns were on my trail to come at some great revelation about white people and the blues, but thankfully that plan fell aside, partly because, er, I don't really like John Wesley Harding all that much and can really take only so much blues in a sitting. I cycled through a bunch of other things on my phone until I got to Natchez, the 90-minutes left mark, and spent that block singing songs of my own creation to myself. One of the songs isn't half-bad, but each verse ends with the word "deafening" and while it makes sense in the logic of the song, it also totally ruins it for half of them. And I suspect the melody is a Camper van Beethoven song I cannot readily identify because in my mind's ear I sound like David Lowery when I sing it. Fortunately for you, I am aware of the difference between my mind's ear and yours.

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