An old liking resurrected… and an apt song for it

It was one of my favourite music genres when I was young, as it even at that age, its melancholy tenor well complimenting my sombre spirit…. But over the years, I got distanced from it, since the bulk of my collection was on audio-cassettes and now it is the age of the CDs. And then, CDs of most of the performers I used to like are not available.  

However, today (Nov 25, 2010), I chanced across a book dealing with the  subject, and it seemed someone had waved a wand, sweeping across the intervening years and taking me back to that time of life again…… Yes, ladies and gentlemen, books do have that power, when allied to strong memories.

The book is part of the Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introductions – a series I am strongly addicted too, as I seek to know more and more about various fields, and in case, a title deals with a subject that I do already know about, well, I welcome the opportunity to acquaint myself with an account that may offer new insights, or information. 

The author of the book I bought is Elijah Wald, who has been praised as “suave, soulful, ebullient” (Tom Waits) and “a meticulous researcher, a graceful writer, and a committed contrarian” (New York Times Book Review). He is also hailed one of the leading popular music critics of his generation…. so I consider him to be a fit person for the task he has undertaken. 

In The Blues, Wald surveys a genre at the heart of American culture – one which is not easy to define, unless quite very superficially.

As the book blurb says, tt (Blues) is not an easy thing to pin down. As Howlin’ Wolf once described it, “When you ain’t got no money and can’t pay your house rent and can’t buy you no food, you’ve damn sure got the blues.”

Blues has been defined by lyrical structure, or as a progression of chords, or as a set of practices reflecting West African “tonal and rhythmic approaches,” using a five-note “blues scale.” Wald sees blues less as a style than as a broad musical tradition within a constantly evolving pop culture. He traces its roots in work and praise songs, and shows how it was transformed by such professional performers as W. C. Handy, who first popularized the blues a century ago. He follows its evolution from Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith through Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix; identifies the impact of rural field recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton and others; explores the role of blues in the development of both country music and jazz; and looks at the popular rhythm and blues trends of the 1940s and 1950s, from the uptown West Coast style of T-Bone Walker to the “down home” Chicago sound of Muddy Waters. Wald brings the story up to the present, touching on the effects of blues on American poetry, and its connection to modern styles such as rap.

Well, that seems a handful….. and I am quite excited and can’t wait till I reach home and begin reading. But what the book did else was to make the make some long forgotten rhythms again waft through my mind, and as the song is richly evocative of the topic and my state of mind, I’ll share it with you.

It is by J.J. Cale,one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound, which draws on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz influences. Here it goes…. I still remember the first time I heard it, after his more famous, the twilight melody, Cajun Moon in his trademark slightly gruff voice.. Ah, the sweet memories of youth….

Have you heard that rumour that’s going around
You got it made, way across town
It’s the same old story, tell me where does it end
Yes, I heard the news, it’s the same old blues again
When I wrote you a letter, you must have read it wrong
I stood at your doorway, but you was gone
I took a lot of courage and let the telephone ring
It’s the same old blues, same old blues again
When you give me the business, you know I get a mind
’cause I’ve got a lot of patience and I’ve got a lot of time
It’s the same old story, tell me where does it end
It’s the same old blues, same old blues again
I’m gonna find me a mountain, I’m gonna hide out
I ain’t talking to you and I ain’t coming out
Yeah, I heard that rumour, tell me where does it end
It’s the same old blues, same old blues again 

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