Steve Earle Pays Tribute To Guy Clark, His Songwriting Hero ~ NPR

Set List

  • “Texas 1947”
  • “Rita Ballou”
  • “Desperados Waiting For A Train”
  • “L. A. Freeway”

The guy who always calls it like he sees it pays tribute to his late friend, mentor, and outlaw music icon, Guy Clark. In this session, we welcome back Steve Earle for a live performance.

When Earle moved to Nashville in the 1970s to pursue music, Clark taught him a lot about the craft of songwriting. Clark always told him, “Songs are not finished until you play them for people.” Now, Earle has released a collection of Guy Clark covers, GUY, similar to the album he released dedicated to Townes Van Zandt in 2009. And, ever the storyteller, Earle will tell us the first thing Guy ever said to him — “Nice hat” — and the last thing — “Pork.”

Hear it all in the player.

Episode Playlist

“My Soul Is Satisfied”: An Intimate New Documentary Explores the Source of Aretha Franklin’s Power ~ The New Yorker

By

“We are on our way. . . . We’re on our journey home!” So declares the silver-clad choir, in buoyant triplets, upon entering the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in Watts, Los Angeles. Theirs is the first lyric in “Amazing Grace”—the Aretha Franklin documentary that will return to theatres on April 7th and open in wide release on Easter weekend—and, though the song overtly charts a pilgrimage to Heaven, it also speaks to how Franklin’s recording of her 1972 gospel album, which the film documents, has long been considered a homecoming. In some ways, of course, it was: for two nights in January, the twenty-nine-year-old pop star revisited the religious songs that were her earliest training ground, accompanied by a family friend, the Reverend James Cleveland, and the Southern California Community Choir. Her father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin, was in attendance, as was her mentor, Clara Ward. But what the film reveals is more complex than a simple return to her roots. It is less about cominghome than about making a home—not a physical place or a heavenly afterlife but a feeling of easeful power born of belonging to and with other people.

Reviews of the film have described it as so transporting and transcendent that I was unprepared for the modesty of the director Sydney Pollack’s cinéma-vérité style, much less for how tired Franklin appears. She enters the church quickly and without fanfare. She’s done up beautifully—metallic-blue eye shadow, frosted lips, bunched pearl earrings beneath her neat Afro—but looks hesitant and fatigued, in that glassy-eyed way that marked her photographs for years. Seated at the piano, with the slightly stooped posture of someone who spent her childhood bent over the keys, she is not the iconic Queen of Soul but the woman Nikki Giovanni had protectively described, in her “Poem for Aretha,” from 1970, as “a mother with four children, having to hit the road”—a woman who, it seemed, had “to pass out before anyone recognizes she needs a rest.” By the time the cameras started rolling at New Temple Missionary, Franklin and the musicians had been rehearsing for days.

To see her up close is to see not just her vulnerability but also subtle pleasures: the expectant glint that she gets before delivering a potent phrase; her happy embarrassment at her father’s jokes; a quick smile back at the choir in the afterglow of a song. But, as Vinson Cunningham has noted, Franklin is clearly at work. She turns away from the microphone to clear her throat, asks for water, discusses the keys that songs are in, and placidly awaits the resolution of what Cleveland calls “technical difficulties.” She asks to re-start “Climbing Higher Mountains.” (“One more time,” she signals, polite yet no-nonsense.) Her whole face, in performance, is beaded with sweat. I wondered when someone would give her a towel.

At the same time, I realized, she might not have cared. Church was, in part, a place where she could be tired—where she had come to expect to be lifted up. Toward the end of “Never Grow Old,” the last song featured in the film, she sings quietly to herself, away from the mike, her face in shadow. The shot feels almost intrusive, like something we shouldn’t see. But it also reveals how much membership in a church community depends on a willingness to experience the deepest stirrings of the spirit alongside, in view of, others. What’s more, who wasn’t tired by 1972? In the thick of the Nixon years, in the fallout of riots that had detonated in Watts and other black cities across America, and in the wake of black deaths, of which Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s assassination was only the most visible—when even good-natured Stevie Wonder noted, in a song released later that year, “You’ve killed all our leaders / We don’t even have to do nothing to you / You cause your own country to fall”—black people continued to ask whether America could be a home. The black church continued to serve the function it has long served: as an alternative site in which to create one.

We see this when, after Franklin takes respite in the shadows, Cleveland offers her the microphone and she, although seated, comes back in at full voice. The moment is startling, akin to the uncanny rise of crippled congregants moved by the Spirit. “I’m so glad I’ve got religion,” Franklin bellows. “My soul is satisfied.” Asserting her authority in the face of the evening’s patriarchs, Cleveland and her father, Franklin stands to face the choir and conducts a different kind of family affair: “Could I get you all to say, ‘I’m so glad I’ve got religion’ . . . We oughta say that one more time! I’m so glad! So glad! So glad . . . I’ve got religion. My soul is satisfied.”

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In New Orleans, ‘Indian Red’ Is The Anthemic Sound Of Tradition

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


For well more than a century, being in New Orleans for Carnival Day and other cultural events has meant at least two things: seeing groups of African-Americans parading in spectacular regalia inspired by Native American motifs, and hearing an anthemic song that brings them together in good times and bad. The first recording of “Indian Red,” sometimes called “My Indian Red,” dates back to the 1940s, but the song’s history goes far deeper.

“Indian Red” has as many variations as the Mardi Gras Indians themselves. Their tradition honors a friendship with Native Americans that some say dates back to slavery, when the two cultures are believed to have exchanged many kindnesses. After Reconstruction, the Mardi Gras Indian tradition became more representative of the African-Americans who take part each year: an expression of self-love and self-pride, with an emphasis on African religious and cultural origins.

Oliver Thomas, a former city councilman who now hosts a daily radio talk show in New Orleans, remembers following Mardi Gras Indian tribes as a child, each name as splendiferous as the next: The Yellow Pocahontas, the Ninth Ward Hunters, the Golden Eagles, Fi Yi Yi and many more.

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Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar, Dead at 81 ~ RollingStone

Pioneering guitarist and progenitor of surf rock with “Let’s Go Trippin’” and “Miserlou” inspired generation of musicians

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01:  Photo of Dick DALE  (Photo by Robert Knight Archive/Redferns)

Dick Dale, “the King of the Surf Guitar” and a pioneering guitarist that inspired a generation of musicians, has died at the age of 81.

Redferns

Dick Dale, “the King of the Surf Guitar,” has died at the age of 81.

California Rocker first reported that Dale died Sunday. His bassist Sam Bolle confirmed Dale’s death to the Guardian. No cause of death was revealed, but the guitarist suffered from health issues in recent years. In 2010, Dale said he was battling rectal cancer, and in an interview that went viral, Dale said in 2015 that “I can’t stop touring because I will die” due to medical expenses stemming from cancer treatment, diabetes and renal failure. “I have to raise $3,000 every month to pay for the medical supplies I need to stay alive, and that’s on top of the insurance that I pay for,” Dale said at the time.

Born Richard Monsour in Boston in 1937, Dale first played ukulele and then guitar as a child; Dale’s father, with Lebanese roots, taught his son the Middle Eastern scales that would later form the backbone of surf music.

After moving to Southern California as a senior in high school in 1954, Dale developed an obsession of surfing, ultimately combining his two passions and teaming with the Del-Tones to create tracks like 1961’s “Let’s Go Trippin’,” considered the first surf rock song, and the following year’s “Miserlou,” Dale’s take on an Eastern Mediterranean song; the Beach Boys would cover “Let’s Go Trippin’” two years later on their 1963 LP Surfin’ U.S.A.

Dale defined surf music as “that rumbling and all that stuff like that they associated the heavy Dick Dale staccato… it sounded like the barrel of a goddamn wave” in an interview with Surfer.

Dale was also recruited by the Fender company to test drive and help improve their instruments and amps; thanks to its association with Dale, the Fender Stratocaster became the go-to guitar for surf rock, with Dale’s signature golden Stratocaster dubbed “the Beast” a gift from Leo Fender, who custom-made the guitar for maximum volume.

“Nobody played loud, because there was no reason for them to play loud, so Leo [Fender] gave me one of his amps and told me, ‘You go beat it to death, and tell me what you think of it.’ And I started blowing them up, and they would catch on fire. I blew up over 50 of his amps,” Dale told Surfer in 2010. “He would say, “Why do you have to play so loud?” but when I put it on stage, the people’s bodies would soak up the sound because I wanted my guitar to sound like Gene Krupa’s drums.”

Jimi Hendrix, like Dale, would play his Stratocaster left-handed. Eddie Van Halen would later cite Dale and surf music as one of his prime inspirations, with the Van Halen guitarist modeling his method on Dale’s quick-picking. Stevie Ray Vaughan, another disciple, would team with Dale on a cover of the Chantays’ surf classic “Pipeline” in 1986; the rendition would be nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 1987 Grammys.

 

~~~

Dick Dale, Surf Guitar Legend, Dead At 81~ NPR

Dick Dale, the surf rock pioneer who took reverb to new levels, died on Saturday night. He was 81. The guitarist’s health had declined over the past 20 years due to a number of illnesses, including diabetes, kidney disease and rectal cancer. The news was confirmed to NPR by Dusty Watson, a drummer who worked and toured with Dale between 1995 and 2006, who says he spoke with Dale’s wife, Lana Dale. No cause was given.

Dale, born Richard Anthony Monsour in 1937, changed the sound of rock and roll in the early 1960s when he upped the reverb on his guitar and applied the Arabic scales of his father’s native Lebanon. Born and originally raised in Massachusetts, he found his aesthetic when his family moved to Orange County, California in 1954 — where he took up surfing.

His high-energy interpretation of an old song from Asia Minor, “Misirlou” (Egyptian Girl), became the most famous song of surf rock: He had learned the tune from his Lebanese uncles, who played it on the oud.

“I started playing it,” Dale, who had started out as a drummer, told NPR in a 2010 interview, “and I said, ‘Oh no, that’s too slow.’ And I thought of Gene Krupa’s drumming, his staccato drumming… When we went to California, I got my first guitar, but I was using this rocket-attack, Gene Krupa rhythm on the guitar.”

Dale’s collaborations with guitar inventor Leo Fender also made sonic history. “I met a man called Leo Fender,” he told NPR, “who is the Einstein of the guitar and the amplifiers. He says, ‘Here, I just made a guitar, it’s a Stratocaster. You just beat it to death and tell me what you think. So when I started playing on that thing, I wanted to get it to be as loud as I could, like Gene Krupa drums. And as I was surfing, when the waves picked me up and took me through the tubes, I would get that rumble sound.”

Fender and Dale also worked together on amplifiers, Dale told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 1993. “I wanted to get a fat, thick, deep sound,” Dale remarked.

Fender kept trying options, but Dale still wasn’t satisfied. “We kept on making all these adjustments with output transformers, with speakers,” Dale told Fresh Air, “and that’s how I blew up over 48 speakers and amplifiers. They’d catch on fire, the speakers would freeze, the speakers would tear from the coils … So he went back to the drawing board came up and invented the Dick Dale Showman amplifier, and the dual Showman amplifier with the 15 inch Lansing speaker. That was the end result … along with the creations that we did on the Stratocaster guitar, making it a real thick body because the thicker the wood, the purer the sound.”

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At 83, Mary Lane Upholds The Blues Tradition: ‘I Still Got It’

When blues legend Buddy Guy calls you the real deal, that’s no small compliment. Recently, Guy bestowed that honor on Mary Lane. After years of flying under the national radar, Lane has released a new album and is getting a well-deserved burst of recognition.

The 83-year-old singer began performing as a kid on the street corners of Clarendon, Ark. before making her way north to Chicago as part of the Great Migration. There, Lane developed a local following playing in clubs, alongside members of the blues pantheon including Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Magic Sam and Junior Wells. Along the way, she recorded just one album more than 20 years ago. Now, Lane is back with a new collection called Travelin’ Woman, out now.

Lane remembers her earliest days performing in Arkansas, where she would sing for the workers in the cotton fields. “I used to go to the field and all the people were out there picking cotton and everything. I’d always be behind. I’d be back there just singing and everybody say, ‘Come and sing, Mary. Go on and sing.’ And I kept on doing it for years and years as I came up.”

Lane’s talent and drive took her from the countryside of Arkansas to the city of Chicago in 1957, where she became known in the city for her showmanship, her spontaneous songwriting — “I just sing what I feel” — and working solely off the inspiration blues music gives her.

“The music got to be right. You know, I gotta feel it,” Lane says. “A lot of musicians out here, they play and they sound good. But you got to have that feel for the blues.”

On, Travelin’ Woman, produced by Jim Tullio, Lane sings of migration, heartbreak and country troubles, all delivered with the signature expression and spirit of traditional blues greats. Lane says she still sings the blues because it upholds the tradition of what the blues meant to her generation. The younger generation of blues artists coming up now, she explains, just don’t play it the same.

“For real, they haven’t experienced the things that I have,” Lane says. “Most of the older musicians, they singing about life and the things they feel, and that’s how they play the blues and sing the blues. So the younger guys, what they got to sing about? A lot of them don’t even know what the blues is.”

Lane was the subject of the documentary I Can Only Be Mary Lane and released Travelin’ Woman under the new Women of The Blues record label as the label’s first artist. Lane is taking the recent accolades in stride. “Until I can’t do it no more, I’ll be out here,” she says. “I still got it.”

Maybe the Greatest Photo in Jazz History

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By Peter Facini

 

A friend gave Bob Parent a tip: be at the Open Door on West 3rd Street on Sunday.

Mr. Parent, a photographer with a knack for showing up at the right time and place, didn’t need much encouragement. He arrived at the jazz club early in the evening of Sept. 13, 1953. It was unseasonably cool for late summer. The New York Times front page detailed the marriage of Senator John F. Kennedy and the glamorous Jacqueline Bouvier in Newport, R.I. The Brooklyn Dodgers had just clinched the pennant in Milwaukee.

The show that night was billed as the Thelonious Monk Trio. Monk, 35, was already a prolific composer and piano innovator, yet it would take a decade for his brilliance to be fully appreciated by mainstream America. The trio was rounded out by Charles Mingus, 31, on standup bass and the youngster Roy Haynes, a 28-year-old hotshot drummer everyone called “Snap Crackle.”

The Open Door was a dark little joint that Mr. Haynes would later characterize as “a dump.” The jazz historian Dan Morgenstern was slightly more generous in his description: “It was a strange place but had great music.” There was an out-of-tune piano in the front room that was presided over on most nights by a woman known as Broadway Rose. She sang popular songs of the day.

 

The Open Door jazz club. Credit Bob Parent

 

Mr. Parent set up in the back room where the bands played. Then 30 years old, he had been making good side money shooting photos for magazines like Downbeat and Life; record companies sometimes bought his pictures for album covers. “Bobby was a terrific guy,” Mr. Morgenstern recalled. “He had a job at the United Nations doing press stuff. He was always around.”

There was nothing about the Open Door to signal that magic was about to happen or that jazz history was about to be made. The place was half-empty, and Sunday was a dark night at many of the big nightclubs in New York City. Bob Reisner, a part-time jazz critic for The Village Voice, was also a promoter, and he booked minor clubs. Reisner knew he could get great musicians on Sunday, even at a second-rate venue like the Open Door.

With Monk, Mingus and Haynes, he had certainly booked a top-shelf trio, reason enough to make the trip downtown. The word on the street that afternoon — and what a savvy Bob Parent already knew — was that there was a good chance Charlie Parker would sit in with the trio.

Charlie ParkerCredit Bob Parent

 

Parker, the saxophone bebop pioneer, still only 33, had been trying to shake off a bad stretch in his tumultuous career. For reasons unclear, possibly drug- related, Parker had his cabaret license pulled. Without that card he was not allowed to perform in New York clubs where alcohol was served. This ban forced him on the road for some time. Now he was back in the city and living in a rowhouse in Alphabet City with his longtime girlfriend Chan Richardson and their three children. He was eager to get his card back.

Monk was also working without his cabaret card. It would be four more years before he was able to recover his. The cabaret laws were a biased and punitive system that capriciously caused financial suffering for scores of musicians. Any police officer in the city could pull a musician’s card, and there was little they could do about it. On this night, Parker and Monk were taking a chance.

There are no known audio recordings of this gig. The only record of the occurrence of this particular quartet was captured by Bob Parent’s Pressman Speed Graphic camera. Mr. Parent developed a signature technique that allowed him to work without flashbulbs, which performers found distracting. It gave his work a dark and intimate feel.

Roy Haynes. Credit Bob Parent

 

One photo from the Open Door that night has since become a jazz icon. It shows Parker standing out front, wearing a light suit, two-toned loafers, his arms thrust forward, blowing what appears to be his famous King brass alto saxophone. To Parker’s left is Monk on upright piano, microphone slung over the instrument. Two drinking glasses and a dinner plate perched on top. At Monk’s right is Mingus, slouched over his bass. Along the back wall is Mr. Haynes, his eyes fixed on his bandmates, himself under the gaze of the two mysterious mermaids painted on the wall behind him.

It has since been called by many “the greatest photo in jazz.”

Bob Parent died in 1987, and his photo archive is curated by his nephew Dale Parent. “We refer to it as ‘the Photo,” said Dale. “It’s a monument to his craft and we take great pride in its appreciation.”

Charlie Parker’s stepdaughter Kim, who is now 75, has a copy of the picture that she keeps in her home in Pennsylvania. “I am thankful for all the photos,” Ms. Parker said. “I live with the ghosts.” For her, the photo is priceless. “I’m looking at it now,” she said when reached on the phone. “Roy Haynes had a crush on me at one point,” she recalled. “Monk was my favorite, loved Monk. I wish I was there that night.”

Mr. Haynes is now 93, the only living member of the quartet that night. He still has memories of that performance. “It was beautiful, man,” he said recently. “I was at a very young age. So I was enjoying it. Playing with great people. “

“It’s a terrific band, a pity no one recorded it,” said Mr. Morgenstern. There is no set list. It’s a fair bet that the Thelonious Monk composition “52nd Street Theme” was performed, but we can only speculate.

Though the club was far from packed, for those who were there it undoubtedly was a memorable night. Four legends of the great American art form, together for an all-too-brief moment.

 

A photograph thought to show Jack Kerouac in the audience. Credit Bob Parent

 

That brings up an interesting question. A lesser-known photograph shows a glimpse of some audience members. In the background, at a front table, there sits a dark-haired man in a dark shirt smoking a cigarette. It has been speculated over the years he may very well be Jack Kerouac.

 

It was at this time that Kerouac was researching the underground jazz scene for a book that would later become “The Subterraneans.” And according to Joy Johnson, the author of a Beat scene book, “Minor Characters,” and Kerouac’s girlfriend for a time in the late 1950s, it would have made sense for Kerouac to have been at the Open Door. His devotion to Charlie Parker was well known.

“It’s certainly possible,” she said. “He was in New York at the time the photo was taken.” She has seen the photograph, and she said it looks enough like him. “There is no way of knowing for sure,” she added. “Also I question whether he would have been sitting at a front table, given how broke he was at the time.”

The moment when New York was the jazz capital of the world has passed. Mingus, Monk and Bird are all dead, and their brief intersection was marked only by a few people, an otherwise unremarkable night in the city captured on film. Even the Open Door is a memory, torn down to make way for the Bobst Library at New York University.

 

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Roy Haynes 93rd Birthday Celebration @ the Blue Note

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Buddy Guy Is Keeping the Blues Alive ~ The New Yorker

Is the legendary guitarist and singer the last of his kind?

In spite of his accolades, Guy has always been burdened with insecurity. “I’ve never made a record I liked,” he says.

Photograph by Stefan Ruiz for The New Yorker

 

It’s a winter night in Chicago. Buddy Guy is sitting at the bar of Legends, the spacious blues emporium on South Wabash Avenue. He hangs out at the bar because he owns the place and his presence is good for business. The tourists who want a “blues experience” as part of their trip to the city come to hear the music and to buy a T-shirt or a mug at the souvenir shop near the door. If they’re nervy, they sidle up to Guy and ask to take a picture. Night after night, he poses with customers—from Helsinki, Madrid, Tokyo—who inform him, not meaning to offend, that he is “an icon.”

“Thank you,” he says. “Now, let’s smile!”

Buddy Guy is eighty-two and a master of the blues. What weighs on him is the idea that he may be the last. Several years ago, after the funeral of B. B. King, he was overcome not only with grief for a friend but also with a suffocating sense of responsibility. Late into his eighties, King went on touring incessantly with his band. It was only at the end that his wandering mind led him to play the same song multiple times in a single set. With King gone, Guy says, he suddenly “felt all alone in this world.”

The way Guy sees it, he is like one of those aging souls who find themselves the last fluent speaker of an obscure regional language. In conversation, he has a habit of recalling the names of all the blues players who have died in recent years: Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Etta James, James Cotton, Bobby Bland, and many others. “All of ’em gone.”

Guy admits that no matter how many Grammys he’s collected (eight) or invitations he’s had to the White House (four), no matter how many hours he has spent onstage and in recording studios (countless), he has always been burdened with insecurity. Before he steps onstage, he has a couple of shots of Cognac. The depth of the blues tradition makes him feel unworthy. “I’ve never made a record I liked,” he says. As far as his greater burden is concerned, he radiates no certainty that the blues will outlast him as anything other than a source of curatorial interest. Will the blues go the way of Dixieland or epic poetry, achievements firmly sealed in the past? “How can you ever know?” he says.


Listen: *David Remnick highlights some of his favorite Buddy Guy recordings.*


As he talks, he keeps his eyes fixed on the stage, where a young guitar player is strenuously performing an overstuffed solo on “Sweet Home Chicago.” In this club, you are as likely to hear that song as you are to hear “When the Saints Go Marching In” at Preservation Hall. The youngster is a reverent preservationist, playing the familiar licks and enacting the familiar exertions: the scrunched face, the eyes squeezed shut, the neck craned back, all the better to advertise emotional transport and the demands of technical virtuosity. It’s fair to say that Buddy Guy, having done much to invent these licks and these moves, is not impressed. The homage being paid seems only to embarrass him. He is generous to young musicians who earn his notice—he even brings them up onstage, giving them a chance to shine in his reflected prestige—but he does not grade on a curve. The tradition will not allow it. Guy turns away from the stage and takes another sip of his drink, Heineken diluted by a glass full of ice.

“The young man might consider another song,” he says.

Guy has always been a handsome presence: slick, fitted suits in the nineteen-sixties; Jheri curls in the eighties. These days, he is bald, twinkly, and preternaturally cool. He wears a powder-blue fedora and a long black leather jacket, a gift from Carlos Santana. He flashes two blocky rings, one with his initials and the other with the word “blues,” each spelled out in diamonds.

His influence over time has been as outsized as his current sense of responsibility. In the sixties, when Jimi Hendrix went to hear him play at a blues workshop, Hendrix brought along a reel-to-reel recorder and shyly asked Guy if he could tape him; anyone with ears could hear Buddy Guy’s influence in Hendrix’s playing—in the overdrive distortion, the frenetic riffs high up on the neck of the guitar.

Guy can mimic any of his forerunners and sometimes he will emulate B. B. King, interrupting a prolonged silence with a single heartbreaking note sustained with a vibrato as singular as a human voice. But more often he throws in as much as the listener can take: Guy is a putter-inner, not a taker-outer. His solos are a rich stew of everything-at-once-ness—all the groceries, all the spices thrown into the pot, notes and riffs smashing together and producing the combined effect of pain, endurance, ecstasy. All blues guitar players bend notes, altering the pitch by stretching the string across the fretboard; Guy will bend a note so far that he produces a feeling of uneasy disorientation, and then, when he has decided the moment is right, he’ll let the string settle into pitch and relieve the tension.

Even on a night when he is coasting through a routine set list, it is hard to leave his show without a sense of joy. He cuts an extravagant figure onstage, wearing polka-dot shirts to match his polka-dot Fender Stratocaster. He is a superb singer, too, with a falsetto scream as expressive as James Brown’s. Joking around between songs, he can be as bawdy as his favorite comedians, Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor. This is not Miles Davis; he does not turn his back to the audience. He is eager to entertain. The unschooled think of blues as sad music, but it is the opposite. “The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy, but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.” That’s how Ralph Ellisondefined it. Guy puts it more simply: “Funny thing about the blues—you play ’em ’cause you got ’em. But, when you play ’em, you lose ’em.”

 

Three chords. The “one,” the “four,” and the “five.” Twelve bars, more or less. Guy’s devotion and sense of obligation to the blues form began long before the death of B. B. King. The story goes like this.

The son of sharecroppers, George (Buddy) Guy was born in 1936, in the town of Lettsworth, Louisiana, not far from the Mississippi River. On September 25, 1957, he boarded a train and arrived in Chicago, another addition to the Great Migration, the northward exodus of black Southerners that began four decades earlier. But Guy hadn’t come to Chicago to work in the slaughterhouses or the steel mills; he came to play guitar in the blues clubs on the South Side and the West Side. He was twenty-one. He had served his musical apprenticeship in juke joints and roadhouses in and around Baton Rouge and knew the real action was in Chicago, in smoke-choked bars so cramped that the stage was often not much bigger than a tabletop. If all went well, Guy hoped to get a contract at Chess Records, the hot independent label run by Leonard and Phil Chess, Jewish immigrants from Poland who were assembling an astonishing stable of artists, including Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry. Most important, for Guy, Chess was the record label of the king of the Chicago bluesmen, McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters.

In his first months in town, Guy found a place to crash, but he was hungry much of the time and he missed his family. He played as often as he could at blues hangouts like Theresa’s and the Squeeze Club, but it wasn’t easy to make an impression when there were so many topflight musicians around. And some nights could be scary. Guy was playing at the Squeeze when a man in the audience buried an icepick in a fellow-patron’s neck. “When the cops saw the dead man, they couldn’t have cared less,” Guy recalled years later. “Didn’t even investigate. To them it meant only one more dead nigger. In those days cops came around for their bribes and nothing else.”

 

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Death Letter blues

Son House      

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Casandra Wilson

     ~~~  LISTEN  ~~~

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“Death Letter,” is heard during True Detective Season 3 in the first few moments and was recorded by singer Cassandra Wilson in 1995. T Bone Burnett, who handles the soundtrack and writes the scores for each season of the HBO series, told Esquire  that Wilson “is the greatest living jazz singer, and maybe the greatest singer living right now in the United States.”

Wilson’s haunting version of the song actually isn’t the original. It was first written and performed by blues icon Son House during the 1960s.  The lyrics aren’t exactly upbeat. The original words — gender-flipped for Wilson’s cover — come from the perspective of a man who receives a letter in the mail telling him the women he loves is dead. The song follows him all the way through her funeral, and into the aftermath of life without her.

 

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Death Letter Blues ~ Son House

I got a letter this morning, how do you reckon it read?
Say, “Hurry, hurry! The gal you love is dead.”

I got a letter this morning, I say how you reckon it read?
It say, “Hurry, hurry! The gal you love is dead.”

You know I grabbed up my suitcase, took off down the road
When I got there, she was laying on the cooling board
I grabbed up my suitcase, I said I took off down the road
I said when I got there, she was laying on the cooling board

You know, I walked up close, looked down in her face
She’s a good old girl, and today had her Judgment Day
I say I walked up close, and I looked down in her face
I say she’s a good old girl and today had her Judgment Day

You know, looked like 10,000 people
Were standin’ around the buryin’ ground
I didn’t know I loved her, until I let her down
Looked like 10,000 standin’ around the buryin ground
You know I didn’t know that I loved her
UntiI I began to let her down

You know I didn’t feel so bad
Till the good Lord’s sun went down
I didn’t have a soul to throw my arms around
I didn’t feel so bad until the good Lord’s sun went down
I say I didn’t have a soul to throw my arms around

You know it’s so hard to love when someone don’t love you
Don’t look like satisfaction, don’t care what you do
It’s so hard to love someone that don’t love you
You know you don’t get no satisfaction
Don’t care what you do

You know love had a fault
Make you do things you don’t want to do
Love sometimes leave you feelin sad and blue
Love had a fault, make you do things you don’t want to do
Love sometimes leave you feelin sad and blue