A guy who was significant for me in my youth died last week, his name was Samuel Charters, he was a blues and jazz historian. There’s an interesting daily interview program on the radio here, it’s ‘Fresh Air'; a couple of days ago they played an interview with him from the archives.
He, along with Alan Lomax, was researching southern country blues in the ’40’s, recording totally unknown blues artists on primitive tape recorders long before Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and John Mayall et. al. were out of short pants. One memorable album was ‘Blues in the Mississippi Night’ by Lomax, used copies are now going for close to $100 at Amazon, it was my first blues album and it went the way of all the others come the divorce. I hope my ex wife is still computer illiterate.
During the interview he mentioned getting a contract with Folkways records, one of my early favorites, this prompted me to pull several early blues from my collection to see if his name was on any of them. One of them was ‘Big Bill Broonzy sings Country Blues’ on Folkways from 1957, he’s also interviewed on the record by Studs Terkel.
I’ve mentioned meeting Big Bill hereabouts and this LP relates directly to that.
I’ve mentioned my recent obsession with listening to the air checks of my 1990’s radio show, such an interesting new late night interest. But, I’ve just started a new obsession, I’m reviewing my VHS collection; I have close to 600 tapes recorded throughout my working life and mostly related to music. This week I’ve watched 2 one hour documentaries about Duke Ellington and two about Bob. Today I pulled one from 1982 titled ‘Black Wax’, a documentary and performance by and about Gil Scott Heron and as I sat watching it I kept thinking ”I must find a way to share this with the Spill”, but the process of transferring and digitizing the tape was very off-putting so I checked youtube on the off chance that they’d have it and sure enough they do. My suggestion is that if you know how to record from youtube you should, this never went to commercial DVD and it’s invaluable to anyone who appreciates Gil. It’s a great piece, well worth watching, you see Gil at his peak in many aspects, if you can’t watch the entire thing at least watch from 1.04.30 ’til the end credits, about 12 minutes. He’s great.
There’s a couple of extras after the credits and I was present at the last one, it’s shot at Sunsplash in Jamaica and I was right in front of the stage, I remember it well.
So here’s a special treat, Black Wax by Gil Scott Heron with the Midnight band, enjoy.
Soon after arriving in Calfornia in 1958 I bought a book on impulse, I’d never bought a book of poetry before but something attracted me to this book. It’s title was ‘Poets Choice’ and it was a collection of about 100 poems chosen by their authors as their favorites, one poem stood out and grabbed me, it was by someone I’d never heard of, Philip Levine, the poem was ‘For Fran’, dedicated to his wife. Here it is, I’ve had it on my wall or my desktop all my life. It almost brought me to tears.
This led me to Philip Levine’s poetry which I discovered was based in large part on his experiences working in the Ford plant in Detroit, Michigan and in Spain where he went to study the antifascist side of the Spanish Civil War and to write about it. He was perhaps the only American poet devoted to the industrial workers and their conditions. He became the poet laureate of the United States and NPR-TV devoted this piece to him. The second piece is a bit longer and he reads several of his poems. He will definitely be missed, thanks Phillip.
This last year I’ve found myself watching a fair bit of TV on Netflix, mostly BBC, which is quite unusual for me. Initially I was drawn to Last Tango in Halifax, primarily because I hadn’t heard adult males begin sentences with ‘Happen’ or actually ‘appen’ as in ‘appen I might go to t’spill for a minute love’, and I hadn’t seen the countryside of my childhood since I’d lived there, it was a real pleasure. Another program was Happy Valley which I enjoyed for similar reasons plus the excellent Sarah Lancashire who was also in Last Tango. Peaky Blinders was definitely different, but even though it was set in Birmingham it absolutely brought back for me so many memories of the slums of Sheffield during WW2, the filth, the smoke, the canals, the depression, it was all there. Plus the stories of the Irish gangs, we had ‘em also; I started out on Solly Street in 1936 and Wiki will tell you about the Irish Solly Street gangs of the 30’s. Many industrial northern cities were inundated with Irish immigrants due to the famine and the social conditions there.
I was sorting through a stack of mini discs and I came across one that wasn’t clearly labeled but I remembered it from the 80’s. The key phrase was ‘Praise the Lord’, so I did a search at youtube and sure enough, there it was . A Nigerian reggae musician who turned to gospel. Sonny Okosun, I don’t know where I got this piece but it’s worth a listen just for the energy, a bit of African reggae/gospel. You don’t have to watch the entire piece unless the spirit moves you.
This week I was listening to a cassette of one of my radio shows from about 20 odd years ago, the title of the program was ‘Long Cuts’. I’d previously played a program devoted to the sort of music that was frequently heard here on the West coast in the 60’s/70’s but radio stations were reluctant to play anything longer than 4-5 minutes, the record companies even issued edited short versions to radio stations so the effect was that many listeners often didn’t even know that what they were hearing was an edited version. And of course the long cuts were often the best things on an album but they went unheard except for those who bought the albums. I’ve always had a soft spot for the longer cuts so I decided to devote a 2hr program to them.