Friday, August 7, 2009

Ridin' 'Cross Mississippi Clean (and looking forward to it!)

Down in Mississippi
Cotton grows tall
On the other hand baby
Boll weevils wearing overalls

“Down in Mississippi,” by Jimmy Reed

The "Po' Boy" in "Promised Land" rides 'cross Mississippi clean, but next week I get to take a business trip to the Delta. I’ve never been, and I'm looking forward to it.

I start work in Richland, Mississippi, birthplace of Elmore James. Chuck Berry regularly plays the Elmore James song "It Hurts Me Too." Here's Elmore. Alas, no video.

One of my first Elmore James records begins with a song called “Canton, Mississippi Breakdown,” an instrumental done to the lick from “Dust My Broom.” (Chuck Berry used the “Dust My Broom” lick on at least a dozen songs, including “Bio.”) It was probably just something he knocked off to warm up with, but it got seared into my brain 35-40 years ago, so it’s part of me now. When I leave Richland, I'll drive north through Canton on my way to Clarksdale, where Robert Johnson used to play.

My Chuck Berry addiction took me pretty quickly to the blues of T-Bone Walker and Elmore James, and then to the older blues of Robert Johnson and Son House. House talks about Johnson on this tape.

If Chuck Berry is a “Father of Rock and Roll,” then Robert Johnson and his associates were its hip young granddads. A huge amount of the stuff Chuck needed was there in Johnson's music—the rhythm style, the double string guitar licks. You probably already know "Dust My Broom."

Robert Johnson ( recorded “Dust My Broom” in 1936, just 20 years (and several centuries) before Chuck Berry recorded “Roll Over Beethoven.”

Elmore James took Johnson’s most famous song north to Chicago. (According to Wikipedia, James may actually have written it.) James and Muddy Waters (and T-Bone Walker) electrified the blues. Chuck Berry took their hard core blues and worked it over for a younger crowd.

Anyway, much more when I get back.

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