I never will go back to Alabama, that is not the place for me
You know they killed my sister and my brother,
and the whole world let them peoples go down there free
I never will love Alabama, Alabama seem to never have loved poor me
Oh God I wish you would rise up one day,
lead my peoples to the land of pea'
My brother was taken up for my mother, and a police officer shot him down
I can't help but to sit down and cry sometime,
think about how my poor brother lost his life
Alabama, Alabama, why you want to be so mean
You got my people behind a barbwire fence,
now you tryin' to take my freedom away from me
The blues is about many things. Son House believed it was all about the relationship between a man and his woman. Blues have been sung about every contraption and every situation imaginable. The strain of the blues that I’ve always found the most powerful is the one that speaks of the singer’s experience. Whether that be poverty, love, injustice, politics or a favorite drink.
I spent a month, many years ago now, locked within a compound on the border of Afghanistan. A small clutch of cassette tapes kept me company through the long days and evenings. One of them was a C-90 with Memphis Slim on Side ‘A’ and Champion Jack Dupree on Side ‘B’. Both were good but Side ‘B’ was full of stories from Jack’s life. Ugly mothers-in-law, noisy neighbors, racist white people, the sun going down and his dream of being honored by JFK. He delivered each with humor and pathos. By the time I left that compound I felt like I knew who Jack Dupree was. All I really knew about Memphis Slim was that he played raunchy piano. And not only did I ‘know’ Jack’s life, I felt as if his blues had given me a glimpse into the everyday experience of black American man before the civil rights movement.
The blues of JB Lenoir, one of which opens this post, are similarly powerful. Considered by many to be one of the all time great bluesmen, the “bluesman’s bluesman”, he was born in the deep south but moved to Chicago, the terminus of the great northern migration, as a young man. Beginning in the mid 50’s JB wrote songs that stood apart for their frankness and clarity of vision. He didn’t pull any punches, though his record companies sometimes did, renaming Eisenhower Blues, to Tax Paying Blues, in an effort to not piss off the President.
He sang with a high, slightly fragile voice but of difficult subjects. The way he hated the south. The war, being poor. Like a prophet from the Old Testament he called upon God to wield his terrible swift sword. He is best remembered, though, for several fast paced songs that are part of the great American bar band songbook now: Mama Talk to Your Daughter, Mojo Blues and Voodoo Blues.
In 1967, he had an accident and died some weeks later, just a couple years short of 40.
Given my current location, I share this brilliant, brave music, compiled in an album called Vietnam Blues for your Sunday listening pleasure.
02 Mojo Boogie
03 God's Word
04 The Whale Has Swallowed Me
05 Move This Rope
06 I Feel So Good
07 Alabama March
08 Talk to Your Daughter
09 Mississippi Road
10 Good Advice
12 I Want to Go
13 Down in Mississippi
14 Slow Down
15 If I Get Lucky
16 Shot on James Meredith
17 Round and Round
18 Voodoo Music
19 Born Dead
20 Leavin' Here
21 Vietnam Blues
22 How Much More
23 Tax Payin' Blues
24 Feelin' Good