Monday, 22 November 2010

Polvo Mi Escoba

It's been one of those weekends again. My brain still thinks it's Sunday night and wants to carry on. My body disagrees and wants to move as little as possible and eat stuff. Which is why I've just wolfed down an enormous, and extremely fucking delicious pile of rigatoni with gorgonzola and walnuts, and am thinking of having some more. When I can move again. In the meantime, I'm doing the sensible thing, sitting here with a spliff as large as a very large thing, an even bigger gin & tonic, and Elmore James* blaring, which is exactly what my brain needs to calm the fuck down. I've been simultaneously tired and wired all fucking day, and the only music that's going to work right now is the Blues, preferably served up with huge amounts of bottleneck guitar.

You might have noticed I'm quite keen on a bit of slide, in a similar way to William Burroughs was occasionally partial to the odd dab of smack, and you'd be on the money. It's a lifelong obsession, and my favourite sound in music, bar none. I grew up in a house surrounded by fucking great music, especially Chicago Blues, my dad having a seriously fucking amazing record collection, and the stereo being on a lot more than the telly, I was absorbing the sounds of Elmore, Muddy, Wolf and the rest from before I could fucking walk**, and I can never remember a time when the sound of the bottleneck didn't make my spine jellify. Especially if it's electrified. I mean, I love Country Blues, and count Son House and Bukka White as two of the greatest fucking musicians I've ever heard, I play a National for fucks sake and listening to those two taught me more than anyone, but it doesn't rip my fucking heart in two the way Elmore's guitar does.

People talk a lot of shit about guitars wailing. You want to know what a crying guitar sounds like? Listen to Elmore James. No one plays bottleneck like he did, no one. The fact he had a raw blowtorch of a voice didn't hurt none either, and The Broomdusters were a shitkicking backing band (when he remembered to pay 'em anyway), but when that slide hits those strings and that beautiful, treble heavy crystal scream comes slashing out, fuck, nothing quite comes close. Listen to this. If you don't like Elmore James, you are officially deaf.

For further proof, check here.

*The Complete Chess, Chief & Fire Sessions, if you were wondering. You don't get better than that. You just can't. Although, and I know this will be interpreted as heresy by some, Homesick's version of Crossroads (see previous post) just smokes Elmore's. More on Homesick James soon, he was erratic as fuck, but when he was good, he was fucking amazing, and he had a deeply odd guitar sound. Possibly because he used to tune down to B quite a lot. Which is lower than most doom bands.

**Not an exaggeration. My earliest memory is hearing The Sky Is Crying whilst lying in my cot.


  1. Not only is the selection lights out (although I agree about Dust My Broom...and Homesick does of version of Shake Your Money Maker that also puts Elmore's to shame) but the advice is very solid. There's a lot of James stuff out there that was cobbled together from anything they could find...the Orbit Sessions come to mind. An unispired recording session that James obviously doesn't want any part of while some yankee yells at him between songs to play it like the last one.

    You can't go wrong with the Fire Sessions. Blues After Midnight is a pretty good record too...well's more polished than a lot of the others which is not such a good thing, but it has a version of Goodbye Baby that may be my favorite James song of all.

    It's a shame that he's not a more prominent figure. Muddy Waters and them (and I do love 'em) were just playin the same stuff with an electric guitar (in the clubs it was necessary)...but Elmore James was doing something different all together. Him and his brother had an electronics repair shop around here and he monkeyed around with his amps...but it was the minimalist approach (is there anybody worse suited to present James to the world than Stevie Ray Vaughn??? ) ...he just didn't fit the Country Blues/Delta Blues ideal that the American Studies crowd wanted....the same crowd that got the vapors when Miss. Fred McDowell picked up an electric guitar and white bassist.

    Let me stop...while I've still got the will power.

  2. I couldn't agree more with everything you say, but three things in particular stand out; that version of Goodbye Baby is just sublime, and (damn this is so true) SRV covering Elmore was just... so wrong. All the economy, all the feel, just went out the window into whiteboyblueswank hell,but especially yr point about the AS lot loving Fred McDowell et al because they were somehow more "authentic", what a bunch of patronising, ignorant fucking condescending arseholes who thought they knew better than the musicians themselves. Fuck them, and their 19th century noble-savage, colonial-minded viewpoint, they wouldn't know the real thing if it bit 'em on the arse, and their narrow-minded attitude has always stunk of racism to my mind, they wanted the sound of the sharecroppers and just couldn't get their stupid heads round the idea that the forward thinking bluesmen were trying to get away from that particular hell as fast as possible. Elmore and Homesick were the way forward back then, pushing the form in a way that few others were, and much as I love Muddy, he did play what was basically country blues electrified, right up until the end, whereas the James' innovated rhythmically as well as sonically. Wolf's a weird one, his songs being pretty traditional, but he had Hubert Sumlin in tow, and no one has ever sounded like him, especially on the Rocking Chair album (Going Down Slow - what a fucking tune), and Festival of the Blues (Country Sugar Mama especially). Dunno if you've heard a band called Terraplane, but it's got Lee Renaldo and Elliot Sharp going head to head with Hubert on a few tracks, yet even the Sonic Youth groupies seem to have missed that.

    Also, just popped into my head, ever read The Devil's Music by Giles Oakley? Best damn book about the Blues I've ever read, and one day, if we're really fucking lucky, the BBC might just reissue the series they produced around the book, which is hands down the greatest Blues tv programme ever.

    God it's good to have someone else to rant about this stuff with. Hope yr having a fantastic Thanksgiving man.

  3. Another Elmore album I love is To Know A Man, a bugger to get hold of these days, but anything with Sunnyland Slim on piano's always worth a spin or twenty with a good whisky in hand.

  4. What you've done here is describe the essential problem of race-relations in done it so well, so precisely, that I suspect you might even have an indea of the geographic location of these trouble makers.

    Preach it...