MAKE MINE PRE-WAR.....
Quite possibly the most hackneyed, overplayed form of music ever is the BLUES
. As popularly defined, and as played in American and European nightclubs, "the blues" is often reduced to the tiresome, grating closed-eyes guitar solo personified by BB King
or later-period John Lee Hooker
-- or far worse, the white boy bar band "party" style of blues often found in California beach town nightclubs. Blame the city of Chicago? Blame BB King? Blame the Stones
? I don't know, but my motto is "Make Mine Pre-War!"
-- i.e. World War II, the Mother of All Battles, the Good War, etc. That means pre-electric, pre-"party" blues, pre-influence-on-rock-music blues. (Note: there are obviously some exceptions to this maxim -- Lightning Hopkins, for example -- but it's a convenient hook for my story
). Remember the scene in the 2001 film "Ghost World"
when the Thora Birch character has a dumbstruck epiphany while listening to Skip James
' "Devil Got My Woman"? I loved that scene, because not only is that the perfect introductory track to the haunting mysteries of pre-World War II Mississippi delta blues, but I also had a similar reaction to that very song upon first hearing it on a compilation. It helped lead me into discovery of Charley Patton
, Robert Wilkins
, Mississippi John Hurt
, and a whole passel of other pre-WWII heroes who helped write 20th Century popular music as we now know it. I went through a period in which my rock-n-roll fandom declined precipitously, and this was pretty much all I listened to and spent my money on.
You know what's interesting, though? It really wasn't that difficult to collect all the truly great, 5-star pre-WWII stuff. I honestly think it has all been found, catalogued and released by the archivists, unless some new edition-of-100 scratchy 78s turn up somewhere in an attic and get plopped on a Document
CD. Sure, I experimented and stumbled upon some rotten stuff. Buying any of these guys' 1960s live material, recorded after they were found in near-fossilized states on their Mississippi front porches and paraded in front of East Coast college crowds, is a mistake not worth making -- or at least is for completists only. If you concentrated your CD buying efforts on two labels only
-- you'd likely find every godhead country/delta blues track every recorded, save for Robert Johnson's material. If an artist only released one or two 78s back in 1928, and didn't create enough material to merit a posthumous compilation CD, you can bet that Yazoo or Document have released his tracks on one of their many compilations. In fact, the last Document catalog I saw listed the pre-WWII blues they hadn't
released at the front of the catalog. It was a single column -- all the artists or records they couldn't get the rights to. All 20 of them.
I know you didn't ask, but if I could choose the ideal "starter kit" for pre-WWII blues, I'd get it going with the following CDs:
1. SKIP JAMES "1930 -- The Complete Recordings"
2. CHARLEY PATTON "King Of The Delta Blues"
and "Founder Of The Delta Blues"
3. BLIND WILLIE McTELL "1927-1933: The Early Years"
4. MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT "1928 Sessions"
5. ROBERT WILKINS "The Original Rolling Stone"
6. ROBERT JOHNSON
"Complete Recordings" (2-CD box set)
7. BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON "Sweeter As The Years Go By"
and "Praise God I'm Satisfied"
8. BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON
"King Of The Country Blues"
9. SON HOUSE "1928-1930"
10. VARIOUS ARTISTS "Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics"
I plan on dissecting this stuff artist by artist, CD by CD, in the not-too-distant future.