Wednesday, January 18, 2006

When I get to Cairo...

My father called me this past fall and told me that I really needed to listen to some old blues recordings for inspiration, and I replied in such a way that it was pretty dismissive: "Oh yeah, I know a lot of that stuff." And I knew a fair amount. But I've taken it upon myself to learn a whole lot more lately.

In the past few years, Mississippi Fred McDowell has become one of my favorites. His guitar styling can become monotonous for one who just sort of has his music "on," instead of really focusing on it. Closer listens reveal a man shredding his guitar in his living room for the sheer thrill of it -- a bottleneck about to bust through the strings. There are family murmurings in the background, and the recording I have (a self-titled record from 1962 out on Rounder records) documents a day probably pretty similar to most days that McDowell played "out." By "out," I mean at weekend barbecues and little one-offs, as a semi-pro who never saw a limelight he absolutely deserved. Then again, there's that sheer thrill that makes one wonder whether the limelight was of any consequence for this musician. He toiled, or perhaps found joy, in obscurity for the 20s, 30s, 40s, and finally in the 50s people started noticing. I'd love to read a book on him. Or write one.

My dad was a little more persistent in bringing up the subject of "old blues" a couple of months later. I could tell that what he wanted was for me to put together a collection of recordings for him. I've long known there were a lot of other artists out there like McDowell, artists who preceded him, who did things differently, who were infinitely stranger, simpler, more and less talented, more and less documented. So as a gift to my dad I started collecting some of these recordings and relevant information on them. It's been a great journey and a real education, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of the documentation with my dad after having already given him the music.

Through this process I've had the pleasure of coming across tunes like Henry Spaulding's "Cairo Blues." It was easy work for me, given that John Fahey actually spent the time tracking down this recording and others like it for his American Primitive II collection (just released posthumously). It's a G-flat major tune that features a guitar line that sort of spirals up and down and then hits on a Major-major B7 chord off the beat. Primitive is the last word I'd use to describe it. The guitar, both alone and in its support of Spaulding's aching falsetto, evokes a time when "the blues" might have held meaning. By "meaning" I don't propose "that time when music was raw" or "authentic," though many have argued it before. What I mean is something in the vein of "feeling like crying your eyes out," which, for as good a musician as he was, Stevie Ray Vaughan has never made me want to do.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

MtR this week

Recording Idatel from Ithaca this weekend. Whiskey and accordions for all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Note to self:

1) Tune piano
2) Write more music
3) Play all instruments more

A MAX blog no more...

... just a regular old one. I may discuss MAX matters from time-to-time but I won't be relying on it exclusively for material...

...which should be kind of strange for me, considering I haven't done any of my own web publishing in ages, dating back to those days in high school with my own website (woohoo) and bbs messages when I was terribly self-centered and naive, and felt that what I had to say was [u]really important[/u]. Now I am just working at trying to make statements of importance or impact. A little less self-righteous, a lot more acknowledging of my own personal journey -- not a journey that screams "look at me," but rather, "check this out if you'd like and let's see if we can figure something out together."

I suppose that's partially why I've never been much of a businessman. I lack killer instinct or intense belief in self that accompanies such a profession. Rather, I just enjoy creating and sharing and hopefully this blog will be part of that cathartic process.