Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bukka White's Sky Songs

Man, I have wanted to hear this record for years, and I just discovered that Arhoolie has their whole catalog up on the Yahoo Unlimited service (again, not a paid commercial, but an enthusiastic endorsement)

On these recordings, they let Bukka White off the chain of the 3-minute limit and recorded him rattling out an endless train of acoustic guitar and piano with stories gushing out like a geiser. The words here are less lyrics than they are an informal oral history (or to be less precious about it - a bluesman talking shit like only a bluesman can) in tune with the music that courses through his veins.

When I listen to old blues recordings, I'm forced to remember that they were controlled, commercial ventures. Those old 78's were not captured for purely musicological or historical purposes, they were sold in black-owned shops. Robert Johnson trading his soul to the devil for guitar prowess was good marketing copy (swiped from that of Tommy Johnson in the 20's and 30's). In the gushing liner notes of these albums, I'd read about the songs rolling on forever at juke joints and Sunday barbeque jams, the musicians vamping and improvising for the crowd, and you see occasionally in the present day blues clubs, but I want to hear what it sounded like back then.

White recorded these loose extended sessions in the studio, but you can feel the crowd in his tales of drinking and gambling and womanizing as they push past blues cliches into the sphere of self-portraiture, or again, less preciously - he's doin his thing. Whatever it is he's doing, it is practically unique in recorded blues.

And if it isn't, I want to know what else is out there like it.


  1. I still haven't heard anything from this record and I'm VERY curious. I've been searching for a decent copy for a while and hope to find one soon.