Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bawdy Songs: the women


Bawdy songs are not the exclusive domain of the male. Contrary to the evangelist's view of women as demure and subservient, women think about, talk about, and want a little lovin' equally as much as any man.
After all, "It takes two to Tango!"


Kristina Olsen - Live Man in the Dead of Night.mp3

Kris Delmhorst - Honeyed Out.mp3

Saffire-the Uppity Blues Women - There's Lightning In These Thunder Thighs.mp3

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bawdy Songs: the blues

Along with the sailor and lumberjack, blues musicians are some of the most prolific composers of bawdy songs. Because the blues enjoy such popularity, most listeners are familliar with the more lewd side of the genre. Blues musicians revived the ages old tradition of the bawdy song, often times getting around censorship with thinly veiled lyrics.

There are countless examples of the seedy side of the blues, enough to post several songs a day for at least a year.
I've chosen but a few.

Blind Boy Fuller - I Want Some of Your Pie.mp3

Kansas Joe - What's that Smells like Fish?.mp3

Big Bill Broonzy - How You Want It Done.mp3

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bawdy Songs: the double-entendre

As long as men have been singing songs they, being men, have made songs of their exploits, both real and imagined. The lyrics of today's rap and hip-hop that warrant the "Warning: Explicit Lyrics" label are nothing new. Once saved for the alehouse, cathouse and backroom, lewd lyrics now boom from the car next to you at the traffic light.

Bawdy songs were popular with the common folk of Europe, especially the British Isles as far back as the 16th century, and no doubt much earlier. Playwrights, poets and musicians such as Thomas D'Urfey (1653-1723), whose Wit and Mirth: or, Pills to Purge Melancholy, were using language that would make a whore blush. Even Scotland's favourite son, Robbie Burns (1759-1796), enjoyed off-color ballads such as his own composition titled "Nine Inches Will Please a Lady".

In the 1930s and 40s, with the recording industry well established, performers such as Benny Bell recorded somewhat cleaned-up novelty songs full of innuendo and double-entendres to entice snickers and nervous giggles from listeners.

WWII Europe, and American GIs on furlough were drinking in the brothels and singing lewd songs such as "Cemetary Sue" and a host of others.

The prosperous good-times after the war and into the 1960s, produced the great Baby Boom. And sure enough, folks weren't just doin' in the back seat of a '54 Buick on Lover's Lane, they were singing about it! Cliff Edwards (the voice of Walt Disney's Jiminy Cricket in the film Pinocchio, and singing "When You Wish upon a Star,") produced several risque novelty records. Then there was Oscar Brand and David Sear's Bawdy Hootenanny (which included such endearing tunes as "Charlotte the Harlot") and Sid "Hardrock" Gunther's Songs They Censored in the Hills.

Pour yourself a strong pint of ale and chase the young'uns from the room, this week the Old Blue Bus is headed for the seedy side of town.

Let's ease on in with a few double-entendres.

Benny Bell - Everybody Wants My Fanny.mp3

Cliff Edwards - I'm A Bear In A Lady's Boudoir.mp3

Piano Red - Right String, But the Wrong Yo-Yo.mp3

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Classic 'Grass

Friday, and those of us in the States are looking at a three-day holiday weekend. Barbecues, picnics, road trips, and cold beer, it's the unofficial start of the summer vacation season!

The Bus seems to have made it's way into Bluegrass country this week. And a pleasant trip it has been. It's only fitting to end the week with a few classic Bluegrass tunes.

Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys - Sunny Side of the Mountain.mp3

Stanley Brothers - Molly And Tenbrooks.mp3

Bill Monroe - Bluegrass Stomp.mp3

Osbourne Brothers - Ruby Are You Mad.mp3

Flatt & Scruggs - Foggy Mountain Breakdown.mp3

Osbourne Brothers - Rocky Top.mp3


Y'all come back now, ya hear!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Real Virginia Country

I've always imagined that the homemade country music that the Carter Family documented for us all, if left unadulterated, possibly would have evolved into something very much like the music that Robin & Linda Willaims play.

Robin & Linda Williams and Their Fine Group (an appropriate name, by the way) gained worldwide recognition from their regular appearances on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio program. The musical couple live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley here in Virginia and host the annual Fortune Williams Music Festival in Staunton, Virginia.

Buy their CDs at Red House Records.


Robin & Linda Williams - Clarkfield.mp3

Robin & Linda Williams - I'm Just Glad You're Gone.mp3

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bayou Bluegrass, part 2

My friend Walt called to tell me that if I was going to go on about Louisiana bluegrass, I should be sure not to forget about the Cox Family. So, here goes..

The Cox family are from Cotton Valley, Louisiana, where father Willard, son Sidney, and daughters Evelyn and Suzanne have been performing at local fairs and festivals since the mid 1970s. But it was in the early 1990s that their popularity really took off. Alison Krauss heard them perform and took the family under her wing. Krauss has produced their albums for Rounder Records ever since.

Cox Family - Little Birdie.mp3

Cox Family - I Feel the Blues Moving In.mp3

The Cox Family CDs are available from; Rounder Records, Rounder in Europe, County Sales, amazon.com, Plan 9, and your local record store.


Thanks again, Walt. Say, I just may have found someone to keep the Bus on the road while I take a little vacation time next month. What do you say, Walt?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bayou Bluegrass


Louisiana is known for great music and great food. In Louisiana you can be sitting at a table on Bourbon Street's Preservation Hall listening to some of the best Dixieland Jazz. Or you could be quaffing a few beers with some crawfish etouffee and listening to the best Cajun music at the Festivals Acadiens in Lafayette. Then you could head back to New Orleans for some dirty rice and the best Zydeco bands at Tipitina's.

Yep, Louisiana has a lot to offer in the way of entertainment, but the bayous are one of the last places you'd expect to find great bluegrass. That is, if you are not familiar with Jim Smoak.

Jim Smoak is a helluva banjo player from Louisiana. He must have had a hard time finding a bluegrass audience in the bayous and moved north to Indiana to play banjo with Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys around 1952. In the late '50s, he left Monroe to join up with Hylo Brown & the Timberliners (with Tater Tate on fiddle). Missing the bayous, he moved back to Louisiana in 1960 and formed the Louisiana Honeydrippers.

The time he had spent with classic masters Bill Monroe and Hylo Brown is evident in the accompaniment on these recordings. To my ears this sounds more like the early days of bluegrass, say the late 40s or early 50s, than the more polished sounds of the 1960s. Then there is the cajun influence. Listen to the fiddle of Dewey Edwards on "The Lakes of Ponchartrain".

Great bluegrass with a touch of the bayou.

The Lakes of Ponchartrain - Jim Smoak & the Louisiana Honeydrippers.mp3

Raisin' a Ruckus Tonight - Jim Smoak & the Louisiana Honeydrippers.mp3

A special thanks to Walt for sharing his musical treasures.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bumin' Monday


Another Monday and back to work.

The weather has been beautiful. Everything is green and the wildflowers are starting to bloom. The rivers are full and rushing along their long journey to the sea. It's times like these that I wish I didn't have to get up and head off to the daily grind.

My grandfather had only two paintings in his house. Both were of hobos. One pictured a man sitting in the shade of a large tree along a river bank reading a book. The other was two fellows, their knapsacks on their shoulders, dancing in a lovely meadow while a third man plays his fiddle. My grandfather believed that those pictures represented how life should be lived, a celebration of simple pleasures. He lived his life by that philosophy and I believe he passed it on to me along with those paintings.

Fred Holstein, a legend of the Chicago folk scene, performed quite a few hobo songs in his time. Fred died January of 2004 at the age of 61.
This one is one of my favorites of his.

Fred Holstein - Hobo Songs.mp3

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cruisin' Tunes

This past weekend my son and I checked out a salvage yard that we hadn't been to before. It was a pleasant drive through the counrtyside, just one county to the east of here. We had been told this yard had several antique cars just like ours. Sure enough, there were all sorts wonderful, rare, old cars. We found two like mine and three like his. Unfortunatley, the cars had all been parked in a field twenty or thirty years ago and nature had been allowed to take it's course. We spent an hour hacking our way through the dense briars and brush to find our treasures overgrown with honeysuckle and vines. We emerged from the woods bloody from the briars and covered in chiggers and ticks.

On the ride through the country roads back to the house, my son asked me to put on some cruisin' music. That was all we needed to top off a great afternoon.

His request got me to thinking about cruisin' tunes in the early days of recordings. The Ford Motor Company made the Model T from 1908 through 1927, so affordable cars had been around for twenty years or so by the time the record companies were sending scouts to rural comunities. Of course, automobiles didn't have radios much less CDs or tape players, and lugging around that big ol' Victrola was out of the question. I suppose folks had to enjoy their cruisin' tunes while looking out their parlor window instead of a windshield.

I'd like to believe they replayed the songs in their memories as they tooled along in their automobile.

The Dixie Ramblers - Ridin' In An Old Model T.mp3

The Dixie Ramblers hailed from Russellville in northwestern Alabama. The four-piece band recorded in Birmingham in 1937. Not sure how they got there, could well have been an old Model T.

Ya'll have a good wekend!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sittin' on top of the world, part 3


The composition of "Sittin' On Top Of The World" is a common thread in the blues. The structure, or basic melody, of the song has been used by many other musicians in songs of their own. Folks with book-learnin' about such things call it a "song family". The song's tune is borrowed by succeeding musicians in a song of their own. In fact, it is very likely that the Mississippi Sheiks may have borrowed the tune themselves.

I've tried to tap my memory for some other songs that use the same basic tune. I was a little surprised at the number of songs that use the same chord progression and basic melody, regardless of key. The common chord progression I hear in each of these songs (with small variations) is: I-I7-IV-iv(or bVI)-I-V7-I-I(or V7).

Here are a few of the songs that I have found. Give each a listen and compare them with the original by the Mississippi Sheiks. A simple comparison can be done by singing the lyrics to "Sittin' On Top Of The World" to yourself while you listen to each of these songs. I'd be willing to bet that some of the astute riders on the Bus can add to my findings.

Robert Johnson - Come On In My Kitchen.mp3
1936

Big Bill Broonzy - Worrying You Out Of My Mind.mp3
1932

Tampa Red - It Hurts Me Too.mp3
1949

Sittin' on top of the world, part 2

Some songs just seem to have a universal appeal. "Sittin' On Top Of The World" is one of the songs that quickly spread amongst musicians of all regions and styles.

The lyrics are simple and have the most common subject of all music around the world, an abandoned lover (in this case, a thankfully abandoned one). The unique, yet simple chord progression of the melody flows pleasantly to the ear. It's no wonder that this song would find it's way into the repertoire of musicians of just about all American musical styles. Not only did it make the transition to a variety of styles, it became a classic, a standard to be included in many musicians playlists.

Bent Hickory Bluegrass Band - Sittin' On Top Of The World.mp3

Doc Watson & David Holt - Sittin' on Top of the World.mp3

Jimmy Martin, et al - I'm Sittin' On Top Of The World.mp3

In fact, there are so many versions of this song that I had a difficult time selecting examples to post here. If I missed your favorite, I apologize. I could not find my copy of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys (sorry Greg), nor the Seldom Scene (sorry Lucy). We've had a bit of computer/network trouble on the Bus.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sittin' on top of the world

Around 1930 the Mississippi Sheiks recorded "Sittin' On Top Of The World". It has become a classic and has been recorded by a diverse group of musicians in many styles. Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, the Double Decker String Band, Mac Wiseman, Sam & Kirk McGee, and countless others have recorded the song in a miriad of styles and a wide array of instruments.

Mississippi Sheiks - Sittin' on Top of the World.mp3
One of my favorite cover versions of "Sittin' On Top Of The World" is played on an out-of-the-ordinary instrument by a wonderful musician and luthier. Ken Bloom is now a member of Mappamundi, a band that plays "traditional ethnic" music. He is a master of the zither and regular riders here on the Bus know how much I enjoy not-so-common instruments. In fact I own a zither like the one pictured here, but the sounds I manage to coax out of it are not fit for human ears. I have heard a fair number of zither players, but Ken Bloom is the only one I've ever heard use a slide.
This cut is from his self-titled album on Flying Fish Records, I believe it is now out-of-print.

Ken Bloom - Sittin' on Top of the World.mp3

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Old Blue

While I was growing up we had a dog. He was nothing fancy, just a big ol' mutt. But he was the best friend a young boy could have.

Dogs are a common subject of song. "Old Blue" is a simple song about a dog. It's been done countless times in countless styles. With each version the song changes to suit the performer. It was a popular song with the medicine shows and got passed between musicians and regions, and as it passed it evolved, taking on the local flavor at each stop.

The first recording of "Old Blue" that I am aware of was a blues version by Jim Jackson. Recorded for Victor in Memphis, Tennessee on February 2, 1928, but it was a standard on many musician's playlists by then.

Here are two different takes on the theme.

Brooks Williams - Old Blue.mp3

Ian and Sylvia - Old Blue.mp3

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Howlin' at the moon

Perhaps it's the spring weather. Maybe it's the beginning of the outdoor concert and festival season. Whatever it is that's bringing it on, I've been in need of some special time. Good music, good drink, and good friends. Cuttin' loose. Highballin' it. Howlin' at the moon. Call it what you may, I'm ready!

Tonight is the first of the weekly free concerts on Brown's Island on the James River here in Richmond. The series is called Friday Cheers, and it's one of many such series in the area. I plan on being under the waxing Gibbous moon (full moon on Saturday) on Brown's Island tonight, listening to Sam Bush and Jackass Flats. If you're in the area, stop by. And be ready to party!

Sam Bush - Howlin' At The Moon.mp3

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bluegrass music's golden tenor

Very few bluegrass artists have been able to make the switch to country music and been successful. Mac Wiseman is the exception.

Malcom B. Wiseman was born on May 23, 1925, in the town of Crimora, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. (For local riders on the Bus, the small town of Crimora is just north of Waynesboro.) Mac Wiseman left the family farm to study music theory, piano, and radio broadcasting at the Conservatory of Music in Dayton, Virginia, making him one of the few classically trained bluegrass musicians. In 1946 Wiseman joined Molly O'Day's band and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1947 he left the Molly O'Day band and played on WCYB's "Farm and Fun Time" in Bristol, Tennessee.

After Flatt and Scruggs split from Bill Monroe's band, they asked Wiseman to join their new Foggy Mountain Boys in 1948. Wiseman must have been born with itchy feet, by 1949 he left the Foggy Mountain Boys to join up with Bill Monroe. A couple years later and he was off again, this time to form his own band. Mac Wiseman and the Country Boys became regulars on the Louisiana Hayride.

In 1956, Wiseman moved to California to became A&R director for Dot Records. He had a few country hits with songs such as the classic "Jimmy Brown, The News Boy" and "'Tis Sweet To Be Remembered". He was a founding member of that evil organization, the Country Music Association. (I'll refrain from my usual speech about this Chamber of Commerce for country music and it's detrimental effect on the music it represents, turning country music into nothing more than "pop music with a twang".)

Here a couple live cuts from the 1963 Newport Festival. Mac Wiseman's wonderful tenor shining on each one.

Mac Wiseman & The Country Boys - I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home.mp3

Mac Wiseman & The Country Boys - Love Letters In The Sand.mp3

Mac Wiseman & The Country Boys - Little Footsteps In The Snow.mp3

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mountain dance tunes


Saturday night in most rural mountain communities was time for cuttin' loose at the local dance.

In the late 1920s around Danville, Virginia they were dancing to the music of the Blue Ridge Highballers. Band leader, Charley La Prade was born on November 17, 1888 in Franklin County Virginia. After spending his first thirty years in Spray, North Carolina, he moved to Danville. La Prade had played stringed instruments most of his life. The Blue Ridge Highballers were Charley La Prade on fiddle, Lonnie Griffith on guitar and Arthur Wells on the banjo. In 1926 they cut 16 sides for Columbia, of which 14 were released.

If you are not familiar with the term, Highballer, listen up. Perhaps you've noticed the signal lights along railroad tracks. In the days of steam locomotives some railroads used a large red or orange ball on a pivoting arm to let the engineer know if the tracks ahead were clear. If another train was on the tracks, the ball would be at it's lowest point, warning the engineer to stop the train and wait for a clear signal. When the tracks ahead were clear, the ball was raised, letting the engineer know to put on the steam. "Highballing" became synonymous with pulling out the stops and cuttin' loose.

Blue Ridge Highballers - Flop Eared Mule.mp3

Blue Ridge Highballers - Fourteen Days In Georgia.mp3

Monday, May 08, 2006

Johnson Mountain Boys

It was the 1980s. Bluegrass music had taken a turn to the more progressive side thanks to bands like the Seldom Scene expanding the genre's repertoire with folk and pop songs. And then there were those folks in Colorado, Sam Bush, David Grisman and friends blending in some jazz, ragtime, and who knows what all.

A few young fellows from the suburbs of Washington, D.C. got together to play "traditional" bluegrass. They even performed wearing their identical western uniforms complete with cowboy hats, in the style of Monroe and the Stanleys.

Dudley Connell on guitar, banjo and vocals, banjoist Richie Underwood, mandolinist David McLaughlin, fiddler Eddie Stubbs, and Larry Robbins on bass. The Johnson Mountain Boys were loyal to a sound and stage presence from a couple of decades earlier. Their return to a style that was fast fading, won them a loyal following. They became big draws on the festival circuit. The band's personnel changed a few times over the decade, but the sound remained true and consistent.


Johnson Mountain Boys - Carolina Mountain Home.mp3

Johnson Mountain Boys - Goodbye To The Blues.mp3

All of the Johnson Mountain Boys recordings are available from Rounder Records

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Festival Season is just around the corner

We sure have been catching a bunch of good concerts lately. In just the past few weeks we've managed to enjoy Cheryl Wheeler, John Prine, John McCutcheon, Carrie Newcomer, and a host of local bands. This promises to be a good year for concerts in the Richmond, Virginia area. And to top it all off Richmond will host the second of three annual National Folk Festivals.

I hope you all are finding and enjoying good music where ever you are.

Doin' What I Like To Do - Sons of the Never Wrong.mp3

Thursday, May 04, 2006

American Indian Polka

Continuing yesterday's thought on the blending of musical styles in North America, I have a most unlikely blend for you today.

The Tohono O'odham Native Americans of southern Arizona and New Mexico used to be known as the Papago Indians. During the early 1600s their lands were part of Mexico under the Vice Royalty of New Spain. Jesuit missionaries introduced them to the fiddle for use in their Mass. The arrival of German and Polish settlers in the 1850s introduced them to new musical styles which they adopted and adapted to make their own exciting dances and songs.

Elliott Johnson, a Tohono O'odham Native American living in the village of Cababi, wrote this song. It is typical of the unique style of music found in this part of the desert southwest.

Squash Fields - O-A-Machetah & Bayou Eclectico.mp3

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Delta vs Piedmont

Several folks have asked the difference between the Delta and the Piedmont style of country blues. Both are generally performed by a solo artist and usually guitar driven. Both are named for the region of the southeast United States where the individual sound took shape. The Delta blues takes it name from the plains of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, and the Piedmont blues developed along the Piedmont Plateau of the southeast coastal states. The Piedmont Plain separates the Appalachian Mountains from the Atlantic Coastal Plain and runs through Virginia, North and South Carolina and into Georgia.

Without getting into a technical discussion of polyrhythmic syncopation and music theory, let's see if there is a simpler explanation of the differences between the two styles. Neither one is older than the other, as both developed around the turn of the century. Perhaps the biggest influence that created the two distinct styles is the population of the regions in which they developed.

The population of central Mississippi around 1910 was nearly all black farmers and sharecroppers. With very little social interaction with the sparse white population, the music that would become the Delta Blues was heavily based on the polyrhythmic syncopation (oops, said I wouldn't go there) of western Africa, field hollers, and early African-American gospel. The Delta style is derived almost entirley from African influences.

On the other hand, the population along the Piedmont was a mixture of races and backgrounds. In the cities along the Piedmont; Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, and Washington, D.C., blacks, whites, and recent immigrants lived and worked side by side. The interaction in the mills and factories, as well as the traveling medicine shows and Vaudeville troupes, exposed black musicians to the jigs and reels of Scottish and Irish descendants and the polka, schottische, and mazurka from east European descendants. As a result the Piedmont Blues took on a more melodic sound. Influences went both directions. If not for the African influence on string band and hillbilly music we'd have no bluegrass, country, or rock music today.

This blending of music from around the world to create the music North America is something I have written about in this space many times. Nowhere else on this little planet is made up of such a diverse group of people from all corners of the world. The United States and Canada truly are a melting pot of people, traditions and music. There literally is a whole world of music right here in our hemisphere, and the blending of those traditions and musics have given the whole world a host of wonderful music in return.

Jinx Blues - Corey Harris & Paul Kemnitz.mp3
in the Delta style

Blues Baby - Turner & Lynn Foddrell.mp3
in the Piedmont style

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

One of the first country superstars

Looking back over past entries here on the Bus, I noticed that while I have mentioned Uncle Dave Macon a few times, he has not made an appearance here as the main subject of a post. It's high time I rectify that oversight.

Uncle Dave Macon was born David Harrison Macon on October 7, 1870 in Smart Station, Tennessee. For the first fifty years of his life he was a farmer and teamster. That's when a teamster actually drove a team of mules and a wagon, not an 18-wheeler. He played banjo as a hobby and to entertain friends and family.

At the age of 50, he did something lot's of folks wish they could do. He ran away and joined a traveling vaudeville show, turning his hobby of banjo picking and comedy into a career. He traveled with several performing companies for several years before he teamed up with a fiddler and formed the core of his band. In 1923 he recorded the first of many records for Okeh in New York. The records were big sellers and Uncle Dave Macon and his Fruit Jar Drinkers were popular far and wide.

In 1926 he was invited to join the cast of the brand new Grand Ole Opry. He continued to play with the Opry until three weeks before his death at the age of 81, in 1952.

Uncle Dave Macon - Go Along Mule.mp3

Uncle Dave Macon - When The Train Comes Along.mp3

Uncle Dave Macon - Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line.mp3

Monday, May 01, 2006

It ain't country no more

I've been driving around a lot lately. I used to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon driving the backroads, just exploring and enjoying the countryside. Now with gas prices on the rise, I try to plan my errands and spend less time behind the wheel.

Something I've noticed recently is how much further I have to drive to get into the "country". In the short ten years since I've moved back to Virginia there's been a whole lot of other folks moved here too. When we first moved here we were on what the Postal Service calls a "rural route". Now our little backroad is lined with sub-divisions all the way to the fancy new Post Office in town.

We used to hire a good ol' boy with an old trash truck to haul our waste to the dump. A few years ago, he sold his route to a multi-national corporation that last week left a big square trash can at the end of our driveway. Taped to the lid were instructions on how to place it so the robotic arm on their new garbage trucks can snatch it up while the driver never leaves his seat.

I'm not sure what is causing this exodus from the suburbs to the country. Perhaps it's lower real estate costs. Maybe folks are getting tired of their manicured lawns and cookie-cutter houses. Trouble is, the suburbs seem to be following them. That nice stand of mixed hardwoods down the road has been bulldozed and replaced with over-sized, vinyl-clad McMansions.

Don't even get me started on traffic. I drive a little antique two-seater. I used to love the twisting little backroads that I take to work. This morning I got stuck following a mom, on a cell phone, piloting her Porsche SUV on her way to drop the little ones at school. A Porsche SUV? I suppose that's for when you're really, really late for soccer practice! It seems half the students get to school via mom's SUV. The county could save a bunch of money by selling off those school buses. Judging by the line of SUVs turning into the school, no one is riding the bus anymore!

I can understand the city folks wanting to move to the countyside. But if everyone moves out here, it ain't country no more!

Sure could use a couple of good ol' bluegrass tunes just about now...

Jim & Jesse - Ya'll Come.mp3

Don Reno & Red Smiley - Barefoot Nellie.mp3

Drawing from the past

The "folk tradition" of passing along a song and changing it to suit the artists needs or updating it to suit the times, is found in the blues as much as it is in other types of folk music. Typically, in the "blues tradition" an artist will borrow lyrics or tune from another song, and make it his own.

A prime example of this tradtion is Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues". Pettway was born about 1908 near Yazoo City, Mississippi. Like most of his contemporaries, he worked the fields during the week and played the juke joints on weekends. Considering his influence on the blues, little is known about Petway. He wasn't a great guitar player, his vocals were strong and gravely in the delta style, but he will always be remembered for his contribution to the blues and eventually to rock music.

Muddy Waters borrowed portions of the lyrics to "Catfish Blues", formulated and electrified it to become his classic "Rolling Stone". In fact, Waters later reworked that song a bit and released "Still a Fool".

In the late 1960s, Jimi Hendrix combined these two Muddy Waters songs to craft his appropriately titled "Muddy Water Blues", later changing the title to "Catfish Blues".

Catfish Blues - Robert Petway.mp3