Segment 62

Anybody tuning in late for today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl might be confused and think they’d tuned in up at B.B. King’s Bluesville. Confused maybe, but they won’t be sorry. From the Way Back Studios, it’s Bluesville in the Deep Tracks. Where all that rock and roll came from in the first place. But of course there’s blues and then there’s blues. Right? I mean, in the beginning, it was all rural and acoustic. Field hollers and spirituals. Melismatic vocals rendered in twelve bars with flatted third, fifth, and seventh notes of the scale. Sexual metaphors riding in on bent notes. Get your mojo working and let me play with your poodle, if you know what I’m saying. But it was one thing to play an acoustic guitar and blow harmonica at a rent party or a levee camp with a small crowd of workers so tired they couldn’t make a peep. But after WWII and the great black exodus from the south, those rural acoustic blues had to adapt if they wanted to be heard in those big noisy cities. Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf showed the way. They plugged it in and turned it up. But even before that, you wanted to be heard in a crowded juke joint where the skin ball was letting the deal go down and men were throwing dice and hollering about the snake eyes, you had best go electric.

So it was born on the plantations and juke joints of the Mississippi Delta. Towns like Leland, Greenwood, and Clarksdale. But it grew up in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago where you couldn’t get away with that was slow, old, draggy stuff. Up there the jobs were better. Everybody had a few nickles to rub together and they wanted to dance. So you had to pick up the pace. Next thing you know, the jump blues showed up and brought some wailing saxophones with it. So we’ll do a little of that too. But for starters, let’s hear from one of the great new voices in the blues, a personal friend of mine, a guy I went to high school with back in Jackson, Mississippi. . .

Zac Harmon Yazoo City
Finis Tasby Mercy’s Blues (I Believe)
Eric Clapton Hideaway
William Clarke Complainer’s Boogie Woogie
Bob Dylan Summer Days
Big Joe Turner Shake, Rattle, and Roll
Howlin’ Wolf Highway 49

Never hurts to have a good nickname if you’re going to sing the blues. I mean, if you had to choose between hearing some guy named Chester Burnett or one named Howlin’ Wolf, who you gonna pick? We just heard old Chester doing “Highway 49.” That was from the infamous London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions with his admirers, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, and Eric Clapton who we heard earlier in the set covering Freddie King’s “Hideaway.” Now Highway 49 is the other highway cutting through the Mississippi Delta besides the one that gets revisited and resurfaced every now and then, Highway 61. 49 runs right in front of the old Hopson Plantation and takes you down to Jackson, by way of Yazoo City, which happens to be the title to the first song in the set. Written and performed by my friend Zac Harmon, a guy I went to high school with back in Jackson. Zac has earned a trophy case of music awards, including the Sirius-XM Nation’s Best new Blues Artist in 2005. Check his website for his schedule and get out to see him if he’s playing anywhere near you. You’ll be glad you did.

There were a couple other guys in the set you might not have heard of. Somewhere between Chicago Blues and California swing we had the late, great William Clarke blowing harp and singing the “Complainer’s Boogie Woogie.” And Finis Tasby, a man who traveled an awfully long road before recording his great record, Jump Children. We heard him doing “Mercy’s Blues (I Believe).” Elsewhere, Big Joe Turner, like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store doing the jump blues classic, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.” Before that, Blind Boy Grunt, also known as Bob Dylan, checked in with “Summer Days.” Sucking the blood out of the genius of generosity, I’m Bill Fitzhugh, wishing I’d written that one. Instead, I’ll be working on another batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl, satellite delivered sooner or later from the Way Back Studios to the Deep Tracks.

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