Voltarol - related music

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Woke up this morning...

Although I ran into a brick wall with Rock and Roll (see Pop and me), Blues was a very different kettle of fish altogether. My friend Barry (see Wonderful round, black, shiny things) is a year older than me, which meant that he got a job before I did and had some spending money of his own. Muff - as he was known - had equally catholic tastes to my own and figured that if we were to investigate the second-hand shops for 'sennyeights', we were bound to find some interesting stuff. Every weekend we would head into Uxbridge (our nearest town) and visit all the record shops, including Tommy Barnard's second hand books and records emporium in Uxbridge High Street (the others being Barnard and Warren, which sold new books and records and was located behind Uxbridge Underground Station, and Woolworth's, which sold the top twenty in four formats - original 45's and 78's of the hits of the day and Embassy label copies of same - also as 78's and 45's and a bit cheaper. I should point out that we didn't go to Woolworth's record department to look at the records because we were not really interested in anything they had for sale, but they did sell coffee in there and it was cheaper than the Aero Milk Bar).

Muff was particularly interested in anything old, and we came home from some of these jaunts with an extraordinary selection of stuff - some of which was to form the basis of our subsequent musical careers (Muff was later to metamorphose into The Reverend B. Sprules Murfet of the Jugular Vein - see Mutt and Jeff). 'Christmas in Kitchener's Camp' was not one of these, but 'Me and Jane in a Plane' by Harry Bidgood and the Broadcasters certainly was (Ironically this was itself a Woolworth's cover version of the original which, I think, was by one Debroy Summers. But the great find was a Bessie Smith recording of 'St Louis Blues'. We were familiar with the tune through a recording of the U.S. 7th Army band (or some such unit) performing a drill routine to it, but had never registered the true nature of blues at this point. The Bessie Smith version was a revelation. Unfortunately I have been unable to trace a version of the original version on the web, but this clip of Bessie in the 1929 film 'St Louis Blues' will give you some idea.

We still weren't quite sure what 'blues' was - apart from it being the music of black Americans - but our interest was aroused and Muff soon found an LP of black Southern convicts recorded on a prison farm. This was a real eye-opener (or should that be 'ear-opener'?). There was an authenticity to this stuff that was a million miles away from the pop that we were being bombarded with. Both of us being readers as well as listeners, the next move was to find a book about blues. A visit to the library unearthed 'Blues Fell This Morning: The meaning of the blues" by Paul Oliver. This had a companion LP on the Philips label and I somehow scrambled the money together to buy it. Suddenly the world of blues opened up for us: artists like Barbecue Bob, Peg Leg Howell and especially Memphis Minnie (whose 'When the Levee Breaks' we were later to record with The Jugular Vein) really caught our imagination. Soon we had tapped into the ragtime side of blues, with artists like Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller, and realised that the performances of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey were closely related to jazz. We also heard the music of Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Lonnie Johnson ( a find that was to lead us back to jazz again). But the greatest of our discoveries was the music of Robert Johnson, which was to have probably more influence on the world of Rock than that of almost any other artist except Muddy Waters - but the story of how we followed blues into the electric music world is one for another day.