Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi Fred McDowell’

A Baker’s Dozen Of Rivers

April 24, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2007

Well, it happened again. An LP I had selected for the day turned out to have too many pops and scratches for me to want to share the entire thing. And that’s disappointing. The record was Through the Eyes of a Horn, a solo album by Jim Horn from 1972. It’s a fun record, on Leon Russell’s Shelter label with lots of familiar names on the credits.

A few of the tracks are clean enough for me to convert them to mp3s and put them in the player, so they may show up in a future Baker’s Dozen or two. And I’m likely to pull one of the tracks for something special this week.

But abandoning the LP as a full rip left me without a plan again, changing horses in mid-stream, as it were. And I thought about Tower of Power, of course, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream).” So I checked. I only have five songs with the word “stream” in their titles. So I thought about rivers, and my mind wandered as the final tracks of the Jim Horn album played through, and I thought about the Mississippi River, which has been a near-constant presence in my life.

I was born on its banks (in a hospital, not – unfortunately for my credentials as a bluesman – in a little shack). I grew up no more than three blocks from it, crossing it nearly daily through my childhood and college years. And my first job was at a newspaper whose offices were separated from the river by only a park and a street. The vast majority of my life has been lived within a few miles of the Mississippi. And now, since returning to St. Cloud about five years ago, I’m again within a mile of the river that’s called the Father of Waters.

When I was a kid, I never realized that the Mississippi was important or noteworthy. At least not until one day when I was crossing it on my bicycle, most likely heading to the library. As I neared the end of the bridge, a car with New York license plates passed me, and once off of the bridge, the driver took the first right and pulled over and parked. Four people – a mom, a dad and two kids – got out of the car and walked rapidly, almost trotting, back to the bridge and the river, cameras at the ready. I realized that what was an everyday occurrence for me – crossing the Mississippi – could be a major event for others, and I guess I began to give the big river a little more respect.

So I’ve realized in recent years that the river flows through my life just as it does through St. Cloud. And I long to see it in its wide and muddy glory in places much closer to the Gulf of Mexico than here. That will happen. The Texas Gal and I still plan to tour western Tennessee and Mississippi, but it won’t be this year. I can wait, and the river will wait for me.

But what should I do about music this morning, after such fluvial thoughts? Well, I thought I’d shift my normal pattern again and begin this week with a Baker’s Dozen of Rivers:

“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon from the Working Girl soundtrack, 1988

“Okolona River Bottom Band” by Bobbie Gentry, Capitol single 2044, 1967

“Many Rivers To Cross” by Joe Cocker from Sheffield Steel, 1982

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind, 1974

“River” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly, 1973

“River Theme” by Bob Dylan from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack, 1973

“If The River Was Whiskey” by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Newport Folk Festival, 1964

“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Be True To You, 1975

“Down By The River” by Buddy Miles from Buddy Miles Live, 1971

“Song From Platte River” by Brewer & Shipley from Tarkio, 1970

“Don’t Cross The River” by America from Homecoming, 1973

“Underground River” by Ellen McIlwaine from We The People, 1973

“Going To The River” by Fats Domino, Imperial single 5231, 1953

A few notes about some of the songs:

“Let the River Run,” which has a nice gospelly groove, won Carly Simon an Oscar for Best Song. Hearing it always reminds me that when I wanted to buy the album in early 1989, it took a special order and five weeks. I realized then, if I hadn’t already, that the LP was being swept away by the CD.

“Many Rivers To Cross” is some of the fruit of one of Joe Cocker’s many comebacks, this one coming when he went into a studio in the Bahamas with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and their pals. He came out with a record with lots of captivating tropical grooves. The record also had some fine vocals, and this is one of the best.

Fred McDowell was actually from Tennessee, not Mississippi, but someone gave him the name when he was discovered in the late 1950s, and he didn’t complain. McDowell was a rarity in the country blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s in that he’d never been recorded before, unlike many of his contemporaries who had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s before sliding back into anonymity. As a result, his performances on record and at venues like the Newport Folk Festival came off as fresh rather than as a recreation of long-ago efforts.

Eric Andersen’s Be True To You was posted here in the very early days of the blog. It’s a lovely folky album, and “Moonchild River Song,” the album’s opening track, is one of its best songs.

Ellen McIlwaine is a little-known slide guitarist and blues singer who’s been recording well-regarded albums at sporadic intervals for years. We the People, the 1973 album from which “Underground River” comes, might be her best effort, but all of her work, from 1971’s Honky Tonk Angel to 2007’s Mystic Bridge is worth seeking out.

Our closer is a lesser-known side by one of the earliest of rock ’n’ rollers, Fats Domino. Recorded in January 1953 – eight months before I made my riverside entrance – “Going To The River” still rocks, albeit in Fats’ own style of smiling in the face of all disasters.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1967

April 20, 2011

Originally posted May 11, 2007

Every once in a while, some of the music bloggers whose work I read – and I read far more than the few that are linked here – talk about the influences on their music listening. And among the chief influences for many of us, it seems, are older siblings. They brought records home and played them, and we younger sibs heard the music on a regular basis. We may not have always liked it, but eventually, that music – and I’ve read this on many a blog – becomes part of the soundtrack of the younger sib’s life and is cherished as such.

The Texas Gal says she can easily trace some of her preferences to her older sisters, who are ten and five years older than she. And I can trace some of mine to my sister, who is three years older than I. It wasn’t that she bought a lot of music. I don’t think listening to records was ever as large a part of my sister’s life as it became in mine. I do recall her on occasion in the early to mid-1960s spending a relative pittance for a grab bag of ten or so 45s; you usually got one or two hits and lot of misses in those bags.

(All the 45s in the house of our youth eventually came to me, and I think those grab bags were the sources of my copies of Lesley Gore’s  “It’s My Party,” Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock” and a few other well-known songs. On the other hand, one of those grab bags also provided “You’d Better Keep Runnin’” by Frank Gari. Who? Exactly.)

It was my sister’s albums, however, that became part of my soundtrack. Again, she didn’t have a lot of them, but I heard those she did have as she played them and then when I played them during my senior year of high school and my first year of college. That next summer, she got married and took her records away with her. I’ve found most of them over the years since, on vinyl mostly, and now a few on CD: Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, Judy Collins’ Wildflowers, Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat, a unique record titled Traditional Jewish Memories and more. The one record I’ve missed from her collection and have not been able to find is John Denver’s Whose Garden Was This, but only this week, an on-line friend provided me with the album in mp3 format, so I at least have the music.*

But the two records of my sister’s that I likely played most often were two by Glenn Yarbrough, given to her by a boyfriend. They were The Lonely Things, which is a collection of Rod McKuen songs, and For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, a 1967 album on which Yarbrough covers current folk and folk-rock tunes. I have a CD of the latter album, and I love it still. But it does remind me of the first time that I recall my life colliding with adult realities.

My sister spent a portion of the summer of 1968 studying in France. About midway through her absence, that boyfriend stopped by and took me out for a Coke. As we sat, he told me that when my sister came home, he would not be in town. He and a buddy had joined the Army, and he asked me to inform my sister of that when she came home from France. I was not quite fifteen, and here was this young man – whom I liked very much – entrusting me with such an important task, such an unhappy message. I don’t recall when I told my sister, or how I told her, but I imagine I did it quite artlessly.

(Within a year, the boyfriend came home from Vietnam badly wounded, and his role as my sister’s boyfriend ended sometime after that. His buddy died in Vietnam, one of fourteen men from St. Cloud to die there. Sometime in this past year, I saw in our local paper that the former boyfriend had passed away. I called my sister and told her; she was glad I did.)

Anyway, today’s Baker’s Dozen is from 1967, and it starts with “Crucifixion,” the closer to one of those Glen Yarbrough records, a song that always makes me think of a message delivered in 1968.

“Crucifixion” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Cannonball Adderly, Capitol single 5798

“Shake ’Em On Down” by Mississippi Fred McDowell from Mama Says I’m Crazy

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by the Buckinghams, Columbia single 44182

“People Are Strange” by the Doors from Strange Days

“To Sir With Love” by Lulu, Epic single 10187

“Red Balloon” by Tim Hardin from Tim Hardin 2

“Smokestack Lightning” by John Hammond from I Can Tell

“Rollin’ & Tumblin’” by Canned Heat from Canned Heat

“Sit Down I Think I Love You” by Buffalo Springfield from Buffalo Springfield

“Lonely Man” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 330

“This Wheel’s On Fire” by Bob Dylan & The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Statesboro Blues” by the Youngbloods from The Youngbloods

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Crucifixion” was written by Phil Ochs, one of the leading talents of the protest-song era in the early 1960s. Supposedly a parable of assassination, it’s a frightening tale that asks, of course: Do we ever really learn anything? I fear I know what the answer is. Ochs’ version, on his Pleasures of the Harbor album, is good, but probably because of familiarity, I prefer Yarbrough’s take.

It struck me as funny that both hit versions of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” popped up on the RealPlayer. At least it shows that it truly is a random selection.

Mississippi Fred McDowell – who actually was from Tennessee, and who knows how that happened? – was one of the rarities of the blues boom of the early 1960s: a performer of traditional music who had not been recorded during the 1920s and 1930s. His stuff was new and vibrant when he was discovered working on his farm in the 1960s. He was also a rarity in that he at times played electric guitar, a fact that severely displeased some blues purists.

John Hammond is actually John Hammond, Jr., the son of the legendary talent scout and executive for Columbia Records. Hammond’s album I Can Tell was recorded at Muscle Shoals with the backing of the famed sessions musicians there. Also lending a hand on the record – though not necessarily on “Smokestack Lightning” – were Duane Allman and Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of The Band.

Spencer Wiggins was a Memphis native who recorded a series of powerful deep soul singles during the 1960s but never got the hit – and the attention – he deserved. Much of his work is available on CD and is well worth seeking out.

As always, bit rates will vary. Enjoy!

*I was in error here. There was a fairly good copy of Whose Garden Was This sitting in the stacks as I wrote, but I either didn’t check the stacks or it was misfiled. In any event, it was nice to get the digital files without having to go through the minor drudgery of ripping the album myself. [Note added April 20, 2011.]