Saturday, June 26, 2010

A spoonful of the Blues

Tonight I am going walkabout.  Jazz is obviously my main thing, musically speaking.  But there was a brief period, back many years ago, when I listened to nothing but blues.  Real blues.  Chicago twenty proof.  I think that period did me some good as a jazz fan.  The blues is part of jazz the way iron is part of steel.  

I also like the blues because it incorporates the spookiness that I love in horror fiction and film.  Here again I come by this honestly.  I was born about fifty minutes by buss from the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil.  Every now and then I listen to The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson.  Was that ever a great moment in music!  

So many of Johnson's compositions have become standards in blues and jazz that he ranks as a founding father of both musics.  But my favorite Johnson recording has been resolutely ignored.  'Malted Milk' is an exquisite horror story with guitar.  I think that malted milk is a metaphor for whiskey, and that should raise the hairs on the back of your head.  According to legend, Johnson was poisoned by the husband of one of his lovers.  Listen to this one:
Robert Johnson/Malted Milk/Complete Recordings
 "Door knob keeps on turning, must be spooks around my bed..."  Wow.  

While I am at it, here is one more.  Muddy Waters did a couple of brilliant recordings with guitar great Johnny Winters.  One was published under Winter's name: Nothin' but the Blues.  It is superb.  Here is a cut from the other one, with Waters as leader.  
Muddy Waters/I Can't Be Satisfied/Hard Again
This is classic juke joint blues.  Stories stitched together that are all the same story: "I just can't be satisfied, and I just can't keep from cryin'."  

But good and fundamental as those samples are, my favorite blues recording is I am the Blues, by Willie Dixon.  Dixon's music was almost as influential as Johnson's.  Howlin' Wolf recording several Dixon compositions, and Led Zeppelin covered some of those.  'I Can't Quit You Babe,' and 'You Shook Me', for example.  The album is a bit of mystery.  I have never been able to figure out who played behind Dixon's bass.  It's pure Chicago to be sure.  Here is my favorite cut.  
Willie Dixon/Spoonful/I am the Blues
"It could be a spoonful of water, to save you from the desert sands.  One spoonful of led from my forty-five will save you from another man..."  The piano work on that number is superb, but the harmonica is pure hoodoo. Who are these guys? 

The blues had more than one baby.  One was rock and roll.  Another was jazz.  Get all of this stuff. 


  1. I've been neglecting listening to the blues lately. It has to be a year or so since I really played it. I'm like you, I got into the blues first, 3 or 4 years before jazz, but over the last 7 or 8 years I haven't really spent much time acquiring new blues and the amount of time spent listening to it has seriously dwindled. Time to remedy that.

  2. It is a well that one has to return to from time to time. I lost track of my Big Walter Horton discs. They're around here somewhere.