April 2009

Crossroads

MacAllister writing about the film Crossroads and the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, has already observed:

Crossroads figure prominently in blues mythology, because Robert Johnson—so it was said—sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads, in return for his talent. Son House said he must have done so, to play that way.

Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues" only added to the legend that he was part of an infernal bargain. In "Me and the Devil Blues" Johnson sings:

Early this mornin'
when you knocked upon my door
Early this mornin', ooh
when you knocked upon my door
And I said, "Hello, Satan,"
I believe it's time to go."

In Robert's Johnson's "Crossroads Blues," which you can hear him performing here

A Voice From Way Back

In 1920, Blues pioneer Lucille Hegamin (sometimes spelled "Hegimin") recorded the songs "Jazz Me Blues" and "Everybody's Blues" on her first record, backed by Harris' Blues and Jazz Seven, on the indie Arto/Bell label. Lucille Hegamin was one of the earliest black blues singers to release a record, following Mamie Smith's release of "Crazy Blues" earlier that same year. Born Lucille Nelson in 1884, she started singing as a child in church and at local events. As a young woman—about fifteen, in fact—she traveled the south as part of the Laurel Harper Minstrel Stock Company (I've also seen it called the Leonard Harper Review, in various archives.) Then sometime around 1909, she went to Chicago to sing the blues.

Goin' back

Blues means a lot of things, at this point in history. But we can generally agree on several shared factors. Blues came from the rural south, after the Civil War in America, an amalgam of spirituals, ballads, field chants, and jump-up dance tunes. The Mississippi Delta is credited by most as the birthplace of the Blues, and the music traveled to Memphis, then north to (primarily) Chicago. Largely improvisational, the music and techniques were originally taught person-to-person, and performed only live, rather than written down or recorded. Between 1910 and 1915, though, songwriter and composer W.C.

Stand By Me

There's an old saying about blues to the effect that, no matter how bad things get, singin' the blues makes it that little bit better, just enough that you can keep going one more day. It's music born straight from pain, hardship, poverty, and grief. And conversely, even when it isn't spelled out in the lyrics, music made to carry hope of a better tomorrow. With that in mind, here's a new video for you, found via matociqualafrom my LJ friendslist. It made the internet rounds a few months ago, and it's sweeping over blogs and LJs again this week, and deservedly so. It's part of a video project put together by redwire.com, check them out. They send you new music every week. Half of the $5/month subscription price goes to buying medicine for people with HIV in Africa. You can do a trial subscription first, for free, to see if it's for you.

Crossroads and Kumbaya

Anyone else remember a cheesy 80s Ralph Macchio movie called Crossroads? The movie pays homage to blues great, Robert Johnson. It was mostly forgettable, except for the music; Ry Cooder did the soundtrack. That movie was my introduction to blues. I was an impressionable teenager who played guitar with my local church youth-group, along with a couple of other kids who played piano and drums. I'd absolutely never heard anything like that. (I'd especially never heard anything like the Steve Vai guitar duel at the end.) I had no idea a guitar could sound like that—and once that genie is out of the bottle, there's no going back. It's a crossroads.

If you're here on Blues Talk, you very likely already know why hearing Ry Cooder was a big deal to a teenager with an acoustic guitar, who mostly just knew how to strum Kumbaya. But just in case you don't, you should definitely watch the video embedded below. Even if you do know, in fact, you should still watch the video. Nobody but a fool passes up a chance to hear amazing music, for free.