Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

June 13, 2011

Springtime Country Blues Explosion, Part Three

Filed under: music — Tags: , , — paragardener @ 5:19 pm

It’s the cusp of summer and the world is filled with possibility. Kick back on the front porch with a mint julep. Or take a moment to appreciate the local big box store standing proud in the sunlight, a stylishly molded brick bloc overflowing with brand-new “shiny” and surrounded by heat-hazed asphalt desert. Contemplate the scale of the Airbus-380 or the July 8th final launch of the Space Shuttle. This is the grandeur of a civilization just about peaking.

A big plane.

by Xeper, shared under a share & share alike license.

Our way of life is built on compounding interest, speculation, and the systematic exploitation of nature without regard for any physical limitations of our world. This system worked really well for about 400 years, helping Europe and her diaspora to dominate the globe, inflict the blues and achieve unheard-of levels of wealth. Poverty sucks, and poor people generally live with instability, harder jobs and more stress. Still, many poor folks in our civilization have multi-room dwellings, indoor plumbing, 4-burner stoves, a hypnotic flashing light box, and a chariot of cheetah-like speed. Lots of people, across the big human picture, have lived in huts or longhouses with grandparents and aunts and uncles all together in one room! No power tools, no frivolous plastic doodads…

Parts of that life look kind of nice to me, sort of like camping all the time. Still, it reminds me that I have a lot to lose.

world oil production -- leveling off?

Thanks to Their sources: 1950-1964 compiled by Worldwatch Institute from U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy data; 1965-2009 data from BP, "Statistical Review of World Energy June 2010." You're welcome to create your own projection of the future.

Obama was on TV the other day, assuring me that there will be no double-dip recession. Supposedly we have entered recovery and it’s onward and upwards, baby! Realists, such as army intelligence and combat coordinators, understand that world petroleum production is peaking. The curve of world oil production should resemble the curve of oil production from any given oil field, or from any oil-bearing region — it’s always a rough bell curve. Natural gas and quality coal are on the same track. Even copper and uranium are near their peak production (the point on top of the bell where production briefly “levels out”), and it takes more energy to extract the last of these depleted resources from feeble ores and “tar sands.” Meanwhile, populations keep increasing, interest keeps on compounding and the Federal Reserve keeps creating dollars at an ever-increasing rate… how can the masters of politics and finance hope to create the vast new growth it would require to pay off our debts and put value behind our currency? In this depleted world?

The economy is not going to get better. Not for long, and not in any big way. The physical resources to underpin exponential economic growth just aren’t there. Consider downsizing to a shotgun shack, trading your Cadillac for a black mare, and quitting your at-will employment for the stability of operating your own stillhouse. This is going to be a good century for the blues.

(NOTE: long post! feel free to flip through the videos)

Mississippi John Hurt

John Hurt was a sharecropper who played largely for his own enjoyment. In the 1920’s, he played for square dances in an integrated combo and laid down 12 tracks in two recording sessions. Then he returned to sharecropper anonymity for about 30 years, before blazing into glory once more during the 1960’s folk revival.

Ain’t No Tellin’ (aka Pallet on Your Floor)

Candy Man Blues

Charlie Patton

Patton made his name as a dance-hall performer in Mississippi, where he inspired musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker and generally was an early apostle of the blues. He recorded from 1929 to 1934, up to 41 tracks in a year. He then died of heart disease, which wasn’t even reported in the local newspaper.

Green River Blues

Screamin’ and Hollerin’ The Blues

Blind Willie Johnson

Willie Johnson was born sighted. According to legend, one night his father accused his stepmother of cheating and beat her badly. To get back, she grabbed a handful of lye and threw it in Willie’s face, blinding him! From a young age, Johnson wanted to be a preacher and guitar player. His music combines spirituals, blues, and some kind of early gospel. He lived and worked in Texas throughout his life.

God Moves on the Water

John the Revelator — like about half of Johnson’s songs, this one is a duet with his wife. Unfortunately, no one is sure which wife!

Blind Blake

Blind Blake epitomizes ragtime guitar. Although he recorded 80 tracks from 1926 to 1932, almost nothing is known about him — not even his real name!

Georgia Bound

Police Dog Blues

Willie Walker

Though he played with Rev. Gary Davis and had a strong reputation in the South Carolina of almost 100 years ago, Willie Walker only recorded two tracks! Sam Brook is on backing guitar.

South Carolina Rag, Take Two

Memphis Minnie

Minnie ran away and became an itinerant street singer at age 13. She started in the Delta, but meandered to Memphis where she made her permanent home. She recorded well over 100 tracks before and after The War, with failing health the ultimate killer of her 40+ year career. She’s the only old-time blues woman remembered as the type of guitar genius who makes other guitarists just sick.

Drunken Barrelhouse Blues

There is a Memphis Minnie collection of restored wax at

Blind Boy Fuller

The Old South must’ve been full of blind black men, just milling about blindly and playing instruments on every street corner. Fuller was already making a living playing on the street when Rev. Gary Davis (blind) tutored him, contributing to his rapid commercial success. He died in his 30’s. About a year after getting a stomata put into his bladder (related to drinking?), the hole in him attracted a fatal infection.

Meat Shakin’ Woman

Weeping Willow

Elmore James

James began making music at the age of twelve, with a one-string slide guitar aka diddley bow. He was a moonshiner, and various bandmates dropped dead from their heavy drinking routine. He created a signature guitar sound tinkering in his adoptive brother’s electronics workshop. By the time “Dust My Broom” made him a star, James already knew of the heart condition which would kill him…

Dust My Broom

Mance Lipscomb

That’s Mance as in “emancipation!” Lipscomb was a sharecropper playing for weekend parties, until the folk revival of the 1960’s swept him up. Here is his song Sugar Babe.

Jimmy Reed

Reed started out as a street singer, was drafted into the Navy through World War II, moved back to Mississippi and married, and moved to Gary, Indiana where he worked as a meatpacker. It was in Gary that Reed established himself as a great musician and landed a recording contract. Like Blind Willie Johnson’s wife, Mama Reed appears on many tracks as the uncredited backup singer.

Baby What You Want Me to Do

Skip James

After building roads and levees on “the lonesome road” of labor camp work, Skip James settled down to hold the distilling concession on a sharecropping plantation. He recorded an album’s worth of material in 1931, but then the Great Depression took full effect and no one could afford to buy cylinders down at the furniture store anymore. He lived on in obscurity, preaching and perhaps bootlegging. In 1964, folkie blues enthusiasts found James in a hospital and set him up touring in the folk revival. He was known for disdaining folkies and music lessons and guarding his playing techniques closely (hint: 3-finger picking, open D-minor tuning).

Devil Got My Woman

Hard Time Killing Floor Blues: bringing it all back around to the theme of the post.

BTW — the ongoing bottomless slide of the economy? It wasn’t caused by market over-regulation or high taxes. It wasn’t caused by a lack of health care or education or even the terrible Drug War. Liberals and conservatives stand united behind Wall Street-oriented policies for the fastest possible exploitation of Earth’s resources (including its people) and assume that magical new technologies will get us out of any corner. Their compromise in the 80’s and again in the 00’s has been to cut taxes and simultaneously spend more. When the media talks about the economy, they are sharing the Wall Street / Washington happy talk delusion (debt will never outrun growth) and causing most people to consider it as a sane worldview. In the face of this inane and suicidal optimism, somebody has to carry the negativity and talk/sing about what is happening.

The questions I’m asking myself are, how can I hold on to my quality of life? And: what can I do to shift the hurt onto the assholes who created it, instead of students, teachers, retirees, and (sometimes unemployed) workers?



  1. No argument here on your assessment of the economy and its underpinnings. Very few people are really looking reality in the face. The politicians all want to say what people want to hear, and in that respect Americans are like children–please tell me a happy story. The house of cards can’t stand forever.

    I will never get through all of the music videos! You’ve put together a great selection.

    Comment by estraven — June 13, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  2. Apologies in advance for these non sequiturs:

    Man, I hope you’re sending these blues posts to some worthy blues / folk forums, websites, etc. They’re pretty amazing.

    Seems to me that folks who have a sense of entitlement prior to falling on hard times tend to go in for angry music (e.g. British punk) rather than folk / blues. So I’d think that America would see an explosion of garage band growling for a while first, even though the blues is definitely better in terms of coping with a shitty lot in life.

    Regarding today’s shiny technology vs. the old extended family in one longhouse / village: I once said to Grandma D that I’d been thinking about how she didn’t have the baby swing and the musical toys and the vibrating bouncy seat when she had kids, and I didn’t know how she’d done it. She said “Well yes, but I had relatives next door who’d come over whenever I needed help.” At which point I felt pretty stupid! And that’s why we need the baby swings: there ain’t nobody else there.

    On a positive note: the benefits of mass production are exaggerated, and the “benefits” of mass agriculture are a fantasy. And I can’t wait till somebody tells the dipshits in southern California that they don’t get to grow rice in the desert anymore because the water subsidy has been revoked. Bwahahaha! And say goodbye to the Arizona corn and soybean farmers. I respect farmers if they respect reasonable farming… and if they don’t have a lobbyist in DC.

    Yep, the future is a mixed bag.

    (P.S. Shouldn’t the date be June 13, not May?)

    Comment by freelearner — June 14, 2011 @ 3:54 am

    • Allow me to respond to some of the non sequiturs:
      No idea why the date showed up as May.
      No thought in my mind that the blues is really going to come back, at least not in the same old format. Man, I could go for some angry rock, too. There seems to be lots of angry rock around but then when you listen to the words it’s saying something pretty empty like “my girlfriend is getting on my nerves.” We are at a level of cheesy pop saturation that usually comes before a Beatles or Nirvana shakes everything up.
      Good point on agriculture… drives me nuts to hear about how saving labor in agriculture “frees” people to do other jobs: prison guard, gossip columnist, sweatshop laborer… In fact, nothing is better on a yield-per-acre basis than organic-style, small-tools farming, which also happens to employ the most people. This growing corn in AZ for energy is a total farce, like a tale of Soviet inefficiency. Food-wise, we can actually look forward to a future of growth and prosperity, though we might also see some food riots as the old system breaks down.
      Farmers doing “traditional” industrial farming are really sharecroppers. They often have an exclusive buyer and a seed company who, between them, determine everything significant about how the crop is going to be grown. The farmer then reads “Successful Farming” magazine to learn how to squeeze out an extra $0.05 per acre and hopefully keep “ownership” of the land.

      Comment by paragardener — June 16, 2011 @ 6:43 am

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