Steve Earle’s “Tennessee Blues”

Steve Earle

Steve Earle was born in Virginia but spent his childhood in San Antonio, Texas. A rebel by nature, Earle ran away from home at the age of 14 and went looking for his idol, American songwriter Townes Van Zandt. He dropped out of school at 16 and eventually moved to Nashville, the musical dominion of the American South-West.

Nashville’s brand of sugary, trite music geared towards profit incited many artists to rebel and put out their own acetic songs, songs about failed relationships wrapped in lyrics of barbed wire. They came to be known as “outlaw” songwriters, all of them greatly influenced by the high, lonesome sound and grim lyrics of Hank Williams. Their music was folk and bluegrass, blues and rock, country and R&B and the music industry, always comfortable with labels, simply called it American music. Steve Earle became of the best of these new songwriters, following a long line of luminaries like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clarke, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt and many others.

As a performer, Earle burst on the scene in 1986 with his first album, “Guitar Town.” Two of the songs from this collection (“Guitar Town” and “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left”) reached the Top Ten. Since then Earle has released 15 studio albums and received three Grammy Awards. His songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Bob Seger and Emmylou Harris, among others. He has appeared in film and television, and has written a novel, a play, and a book of short stories.

Kris Kristofferson describes the life of a Nashville songwriter as the opposite of a 9 to 5 job, where you’re constantly at someone’s place and on the way to someone else’s place, a life full of abuse and without sleep. In 1993 Earle was arrested for possession of heroin and again in 1994, for cocaine and weapons possession. Earle was sentenced to a year in jail but only served 60 days of his sentence. He then completed an outpatient drug treatment program, reformed his band The Dukes and went on a North-American tour, stopping in Ottawa at Barrymore’s where I saw them play. It was a triumphant show, highlighted by the popular “Guitar Town”, his harsh composition “The Devil’s Right Hand” and a devastating performance of The Rolling Stones’ composition, “Dead Flowers.”

Although Earle never openly stated it, “Guitar Town” refers to Nashville, the capital of Tennessee and the so-called “country music capital of the world.” “Tennessee Blues” is a farewell to Nashville, again referred to in the song as “Guitar Town.”

 

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, mandolin

 

Tennessee Blues

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Bobby Charles’ “The Jealous Kind”

Bobby Charles

Robert Charles Guidry (1938-2010), forever known as Bobby Charles, was an ethnic Cajun who grew up in the small town of Abbeville, Louisiana listening to Cajun music and the country and western music of Hank Williams. The son of a gas company truckdriver, his life changed forever when he heard Fats Domino on the radio and he started writing songs at an early age. He led a local group, the Cardinals, and he always had the songwriter’s gift. One night as he left his friends, Charles said “See you later, alligator,” and someone yelled back, “In a while, crocodile.” Charles stopped dead in his tracks. At that moment, as would happen countless times in the future, the song “See You Later, Alligator” came to him, fully formed. He was 14 years old. Later, Fats Domino played Abbeville, and he invited Charles to a show in New Orleans. The young singer said he had no way to get there. “Well,” the fat man said, “you’d better start walking.” And sure enough, a song popped into Charles’ head: “Walking To New Orleans.” It was recorded by Fats Domino in 1960 and became his signature song.

The popularity of “See You Later, Alligator” led a local record-store owner to recommend Charles to Leonard Chess of the famous Chicago-based Chess Records label. After Charles sang the song over the phone, Leonard Chess signed him on the spot. On his first visit to Chicago, he surprised the label’s owners, who were convinced from the sound of his voice that Charles was black! They had arranged a promotional tour of the African-American venues in the “chitlin circuit” for him, which had to be cancelled.

Chess issued Charles’s song under the title “Later Alligator” in January 1956, but it was soon recorded as “See You Later, Alligator” by Bill Haley & His Comets, whose version sold 1 million copies in the U.S. Although Charles performed alongside big names such as Little Richard, The Platters and Chuck Berry on tours in the late 1950s, his own records for Chess, Imperial and Jewel did not sell that well. However, as a songwriter he was pure gold. For example, he wrote “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do” which was a smash for Clarence “Frogman” Henry in 1961, the biggest hit of his career.

Alrick Huebener

In 1956, when Elvis Presley played the Paramount Theater in New York City, Bobby Charles met him backstage and had the chance to spend a little time with him. Elvis told hin “Whatever you do, don’t get as big as me. I can’t go to a movie. I can’t do anything. It’s terrible. Money’s good but it’s just a terrible life.” Charles took this to heart and, for the rest of his life, his songs were much more famous than he ever was.

Charles disappeared from the music scene in the mid-1960s and he became a member of the Woodstock community of artists in residence, appearing on later recordings by Paul Butterfield and making a rare live appearance at The Last Waltz, the 1976 farewell concert of The Band. He sang and played with Dr. John on the Louisiana classic “Down South in New Orleans.”

Roch Tassé

Charles lived for some years in quiet seclusion at Holly Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. After his house was destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005, he returned to Abbeville. His contribution to the music of his home state was recognized when he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Bobby Charles collapsed near his home in Abbeville in 2010, a victim of long years of poor health. He is survived by four sons.

His songs have always attracted the very best singers in the business and “The Jealous Kind” is certainly no exception. It was recorded by Joe Cocker, Delbert McClinton, Ray Charles and Etta James, among others.

Much of the music on this site would not be possible without the exceptional contributions of Alrick Huebener (upright bass) and Roch Tassé (drums and percussion).

 

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, electric guitars, MIDI guitar (electric piano)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

The Jealous Kind

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Dave Van Ronk’s “Green Green Rocky Road”

Dave Van Ronk

In the mid 1950s, several intellectuals congregated to create their art in New York City’s Greenwich Village : its colleges, universities, book stores and coffee shops. The first were the storytellers, the beat poets who shaped their words to the cadence and rhythms of jazz, often reciting their poetry to the sound of an upright bass or a drum kit. The musicians followed and the instrument of choice was the acoustic guitar, usually fingerpicked. From this cultural hub, what came to be known as the folk revival spread across the United States.

The Reverend Gary Davis (and dancer)

I learned about the folk revival from Canadian television. Both CTV and CBC aired “Let’s Sing Out”, filmed on location from a different Canadian University each week. Several prominent artists were featured, including Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell, the pride of Saskatchewan. The American show “Hootenanny”, plagued by political differences between the producers and artists, only lasted two years but was rebroadcast on CBC. It was through “Hootenanny” that I learned about guitarists like Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966), the Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972) and Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002). Van Ronk was a pupil of the Reverend Gary Davis, who saw the guitar as a piano worn around the neck. Van Ronk took this pianistic approach and added the harmonic sophistications of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. He also introduced the folk world to the complex harmonies of Kurt Weill.

Scott Joplin

I remember Van Ronk playing Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and I couldn’t believe that such sophisticated piano music could be played on a guitar. I rushed out and eventually found a few guitar transcription books on the music of Scott Joplin (1868-1917). I still have these books to this day. Van Ronk was also a mentor to many artists who came to Greenwich Village from far and wide, most notably Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

“Green Green Rocky Road” comes from the beat poet Bob Kaufman, who simply gave it to Van Ronk, who in turn completed it with the help of fellow folk musician Len Chandler. The song quickly became a fan favourite and Van Ronk’s signature piece for his entire career.

Bob Kaufman

Bob (Robert Garnell) Kaufman (1925-1986) once famously said “I want to be anonymous. My ambition is to be completely forgotten.” I hope he will forgive me for disregarding his wishes but he is too important an artist to forget. A resident of San Francisco, Bob Kaufman founded and edited Beatitude, a magazine dedicated to poetry and the source of the word “beatnik”, which Kaufman coined. He usually didn’t write down his poems, and much of his published work survives by way of his wife Eileen, who wrote his poems down as he conceived them. He named one of his poetry books “Cranial Guitar”, a sublime concept. Kaufman often incurred the wrath of the San Francisco police simply for reciting his poetry in public. In 1959 alone, at the height of the beatnik era, he was arrested 39 times by the San Francisco police on disorderly charges (i.e., reading poetry in public).

In 1961, Kaufman was nominated for England’s Guinness Poetry Award, which was eventually won by T.S. Eliot. In 1963, he was arrested for walking on the grass of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. He was incarcerated on Rikers Island, then sent as a “behavioral problem” to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital where he underwent electro-shock treatments that greatly affected his already bleak outlook on society. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Kaufman, a Buddhist, took a vow of silence which lasted 10 years.

Even though Bob Kaufman’s life was filled with a great deal of suffering, many will remember him for his wonderful idea that became the musical butterfly we know as “Green Green Rocky Road.”

 

Richard Séguin – voice and acoustic guitar

 

Green Green Rocky Road

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Little Walter’s “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights”

Little Walter

When Little Walter (Marion Walter Jacobs, 1930-1968) arrived in Chicago in 1945, he was already a bandleader and a seasoned veteran of the so-called “Chitlin Circuit”, a collection of performance venues throughout the eastern, southern, and upper midwest that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for Afro-American musicians and other entertainers during the era of racial segregation in the Untited States. Chitlins are the fried small intestins of hogs, a southern delicacy.

In 1952, just as Little Walter was joining Muddy Waters’s band, the first take at his debut recording session was the instrumental “Juke”, the biggest hit to this date for any artist on Chess Records and its affiliated labels and one of the biggest national R&B hits of 1952, securing Walter’s position on the Chess artist roster for the next decade. Besides recording with Muddy Waters, Little Walter recorded a string of commercially successful songs under his own name, including 14 top ten hits on the R&B charts between 1952- and 1958.

Little Walter’s groundbreaking technique of amplifying the harmonica changed the sound of the instrument so much that it came to be known as a blues harp, or simply a harp. At Chess, Little Walter could use the talents of the most gifted musicians and songwriters in the country. In 1957, he recorded “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)”, another top ten hit which featured such stars as Willie Dixon on bass, Luther Tucker and Robert Lockwood Jr. on electric guitars and Fred Below on drums. Apart from Little Walter’s strong vocal and harp playing, the song showcases guitar playing which ventures into chords that are typically heard in jazz but definitely not in blues. In that more misogynistic era, the lyrics of the song didn’t raise many eyebrows but they wouldn’t pass so easily today.

“Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)” was written by Stan Lewis (1927-2018), one of the many great entrepreneurs who work in the sidelines of the music industry. Lewis set up Stan’s Record Shop in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1948, a tremendous success story whose early customers included the young Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan. As a producer, Stan Lewis is responsible for “Reconsider Baby”, a huge 1954 hit for Lowell Fulson (1921-1999) and for one of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs of all time, “Susie Q”, recorded in 1957 by Dale Hawkins (1936-2010), an employee of Stan’s Record Shop and a cousin of Ronnie Hawkins. A tribute to Stan Lewis’ daughter Susan, “Susie Q” features the great James Burton on guitar, one of the best players of all time.

To read more about Little Walter’s short and difficult life and to listen to our trio play another of his greatest hits, click on this link : « My Babe.»

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)

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Lead Belly’s “The Bourgeois Blues”

Lead Belly and his wife Martha

There was a very close relationship between Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter, 1888-1949), folklorist John Lomax (1867-1948) and his son Alan (1915-2002). The Lomaxes devoted their lives to preserving and publishing recordings of folk and blues musicians throughout the U.S. and Europe. The artists they are credited with discovering and bringing to a wider audience include blues great Robert Johnson, protest singer and primary influence of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, folk artist Pete Seeger and bluesman Lead Belly, among others.

In July 1933, John Lomax acquired a state-of-the-art, 315 pound disk recorder and installed it in the trunk of his car. Lomax used the new machine to record Lead Belly, then serving time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Stories surfaced that Lead Belly, separately incarcerated in Texas and in Louisiana, was granted early release both times because of his musical talents. Indeed, this was the focus of a vile and racist article in Life magazine (see photo above), dated April 19, 1937 and entitled “Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel.” In actual fact, his early releases had more to do with cost-cutting measures brought on by the Great Depression, and his exemplary conduct while incarcerated. Upon his release, Lead Belly was hired as the Lomaxes driver and assistant, travelling the South together collecting songs.

In 1937, Alan Lomax was Assistant in Charge of the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He invited Lead Belly to Washington to record for the Library’s collection and the two men agreed to bring their wives, have some dinner, make some music and have a good time. On the first night that Lead Belly and his wife Martha spent in the city, none of the hotels would rent rooms to African-Americans. Lomax offered to let the couple stay for the night in his apartment. The next morning, Lead Belly awoke to Lomax arguing with his landlord about the presence of black people in the hotel, with the landlord threatening to call the police. When Lead Belly, Lomax, and their wives wanted to go out for dinner together, they discovered that it was impossible for the mixed race group to find a restaurant that would serve them.

When discussing these incidents with friends later on, someone commented that Washington was a “bourgeois town.” Lead Belly had never heard the word before and after its meaning was explained to him, things clicked and he wrote “The Bourgeois Blues” in a few hours. In my opinion, it is one of the most important and culturally significant songs of the 20th century.

Jump Jim Crow

To our “modern” ears, the song is shocking for its use of the word “nigger” but, in 1937, everyone spoke this way. Since the civil war, Southern legislations had systematically passed laws of racial segregation directed against blacks. The intent was to suppress the new freedom of emancipated African-American slaves brought on by the civil war. Originally called the Black Codes, these statutes later became known as Jim Crow laws. The origin of the phrase “Jim Crow” has been attributed to “Jump Jim Crow”, a song-and-dance caricature of blacks performed in blackface by white actor Thomas D. Rice in 1832. As a result of Rice’s fame, “Jim Crow” quickly became a pejorative expression aimed at blacks. The offensive and disrespectful practice of minstrelsy and blackface continued, though happily lessening, for the entire 20th century. The cover for an early edition of the song “Jump Jim Crow”, circa 1832, is shown at the right.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, 12-string guitar, acoustic slide guitar, mandolin, MIDI guitar (tuba)

 

The Bourgeois Blues

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Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me”

 

Bob Dylan in 1965

Bob Dylan in 1965

When I was 15, living in a small untroubled rural Ontario town, I had to come to terms with the vast external world, full of strife, dissent and wars. I remember that I was so disoriented that I desperately searched for some kind of handhold to keep me from falling. That stabilizer came in the form of Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic album, “Bringing It All Back Home.” Ironically, there was nothing at all reassuring anywhere on this album.

“Bringing It All Back Home” is divided into two distinctly different sides. On side one of the original LP, Dylan is backed by electric instruments and drums —a move that alienated him from the folk music community. Likewise, on the acoustic second side of the album, he distanced himself from the protest songs with which he had become closely identified, as his lyrics became more and more abstract and personal. One such song is the enigmatic love song, “She Belongs To Me.” It describes a woman who clearly belongs to no one.

“She Belongs To Me” was subsequently released on several Dylan compilations and live albums. It was also the “B Side” of a 1965 single featuring “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Dylan plays “She Belongs To Me” at a brisk tempo, which I have considerately slowed down here. I have also given Alrick the leeway to express himself through his wonderful bass playing, including his moving solo.

Richard Séguin – voice, 12-string guitar, classical guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass

She Belongs To Me

 

This is the 10th Dylan piece we play on this site and it certainly won’t be the last. To hear our versions of these songs, click on the following links:

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

Buckets of Rain

Highway 61

Subterranean Homesick Blues

From a Buick 6

Also, with vocals from my brother Bob:

Desolation Row

Girl From The North Country

My Back Pages

Oxford Town

 

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Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom”

As with many blues songs, “Dust My Broom” arrived in its present form through various other songs, the earliest of which has been identified as “I Believe I’ll Make a Change”, recorded in 1932 by identical twins Aaron and Marion Sparks under the names “Pinetop and Lindberg.” Aaron chose the name Pinetop in honour of Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, the famous boogie-woogie blues pianist, while Marion called himself Lindberg because he could really dance the Lindy Hop! This dance, named after the aviator Charles Lindberg, was a huge sensation during the “Big Band” era of the late thirties and early fourties.

Marion Sparks

The Sparks brothers only managed to record a handful of songs since Aaron was poisoned before he turned 30. Marion spent a lot of time running afoul of the law for bootlegging, gambling, fistfights and even manslaughter. The only available picture of the Sparks brothers is the one on the right, a 1934 mug shot of Marion, courtesy of the St Louis Police Department! In spite of their short stint with music, the Sparks brothers managed to give us the classic blues songs “61 Highway Blues”, made famous by Mississippi Fred McDowell, and “Every Day I Have The Blues”, forever linked with B.B. King and Count Basie vocalist Big Joe Williams.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

In 1936, Robert Johnson, one of the greatest bluesmen who ever lived, recorded “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”, a Delta Blues reworking of the Sparks brothers’ version that captured the drive and intensity of the song. Johnson added some new lyrics and introduced the repeated triplet guitar phrasing that Elmore James later transformed into the most recognizable guitar riff in the history of the blues. Johnson died in 1938 at the age of 27, supposedly poisoned by a jealous husband. He only had time to record 29 songs in his short life, all of them very influential in the development of the blues and Rock ‘n Roll.

Elmore James

Elmore James

Elmore James was born in Richland Mississippi on January 27, 1918, the son of 15-year old Leola Brooks, a field hand, taking the James name from Joe Willie James, a sharecropper and perhaps his father. A musician by the age of 12, James toured throughout rural Mississippi with Sonny Boy Williamson and encountered Robert Johnson, from whom he probably learned “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom.” After a stint in the U.S. Navy during the war, James joined Williamson on the famous King Biscuit radio show performances and, in 1951, the duo auditioned for the small Trumpet Records. James was signed to a recording contract but the only song he recorded at that time was “Dust My Broom.” The single, with a rendition of “Catfish Blues” by Bobo Thomas as the B-side, listed the performer of both pieces as “Elmo” James. The1951 recording of “Dust My Broom” happened when electric amplification was still in its infancy and is one of those rare recordings that changed the course of blues music. The driving dance rhythm, the overwhelming amplified slide guitar and James’ magnificent vocal make it pure lightning in a bottle. Regional record charts show that “Dust My Broom” gradually gained popularity across the U.S. It eventually entered Billboard magazine’s national Top R&B singles chart in April 1952 and peaked at number nine. The success of the single by the relatively small Trumpet Records led other record companies to pursue James in the hope of landing his follow-up hit. Thus, many re-workings of “Dust My Broom”, all with small variations, were recorded by James for different record labels during his career. My personal favourite is a 1959 recording for Fire/Fury records.

Beginning in 1952 James divided his time between Mississippi and Chicago. His backing musicians were known as The Broomdusters and featured his cousin, “Homesick” James. The band was so powerful that people often showered the stage with dollar bills. The Broomdusters rivalled the Muddy Waters group that included Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, and Otis Spann. While “Dust My Broom” remained James’ signature song on stage and on record, he also composed the enduring blues standards “The Sky Is Crying,” “Madison Blues,” and “Done Somebody Wrong.” Ever since the war, Elmore James knew he had a serious heart condition. He died of a heart attack in Chicago in 1963, as he was about to tour Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival. Elmore James was 45 years old.

NOTES: The expression “dust my broom” is understood to mean “move out” of a rented room, sweeping up before you go. Over the years, it has generally been used to mean leaving any unwanted situation behind. “No-good doney” is seldom heard these days and refers to a woman of low standards.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars
Alrick Huebener – electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Dust My Broom

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“In The Pines”, a simple song that lives beyond time

Leadbelly

Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) (1888-1949)

“In The Pines” is a traditional American folk song which dates back to at least the 1870s. It is generally believed to be Southern Appalachian in origin (Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia) but it might have an even older Irish history. Like numerous other folk songs, it was passed on from one generation and locale to the next by word of mouth.The first printed version of the lyrics was published in 1917 and a version was also recorded onto phonograph cylinder in 1925. Starting in 1926, commercial recordings of the song were made by various folk and bluegrass bands. In her 1970 Ph.D. dissertation, ethnomusicologist Judith McCulloh found 160 permutations of the song. It was recorded with titles as various as “Black Girl”, “My Girl”, “In The Pines”, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and “The Longest Train.”

Bill Monroe (1911-1996)

Bill Monroe (1911-1996)

Writing in the New York Times in 1994, Eric Weisbard called “In The Pines” “a simple song that lives beyond time.” It also lives beyond styles. Over the years, the song was recorded as blues (Leadbelly, Leroy Carr), bluegrass (Bill Monroe, Doc Watson), country (Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys), rock (Link Wray, The Grateful Dead), traditional (Roscoe Holcomb, Ralph Stanley), folk (Pete Seeger, Odetta), even grunge (Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Manson) and pop (Connie Francis and Tiny Tim). Also dear to my heart is a Cajun version recorded by Nathan Abshire, sung in French and released under the separate titles of “Pine Grove Blues” and “Ma négresse” (My Black Girl). It was Abshire’s greatest hit.

Nathan Abshire (1913-1981(

Nathan Abshire (1913-1981)

Of all these different versions, three elements are common to most if not all : the train, the unfaithful girl and the pines themselves, variously seen as sexuality, loneliness or death. In the song, the “longest train” is said to come from Georgia, where Joseph Emerson Brown, a former governor, operated coal mines in the 1870’s, using prisoners as labourers. It is often suggested that the captain throwing his watch away indicates that the train is an eternal passage from life to death. The “decapitation verse” that I’ve included is often omitted.

Doc Watson (1923-2012) & David Grisman

Doc Watson (1923-2012) & David Grisman

These days, “In The Pines” is mainly associated with Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) and Bill Monroe, who both recorded several highly influential versions of the song in the 1940s. For my recording, I relied heavily on Leadbelly’s haunting recordings and decided to include a mandolin as a tribute to Bill Monroe. I also listened ceaselessly to the live recording of the song played by Doc Watson and David Grisman, one of the best mandolin players in the world, in concert in Watsonville, California, in 1998. It is an arresting example of human artistry of the very highest order.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, 12-string guitar, mandolin

 

In The Pines

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Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s “Kidney Stew Blues”

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson

Edward Vinson Jr (1917-1988) was a blues, jazz, bebop and R&B saxophonist and singer from Houston, Texas. He was nicknamed “Cleanhead” after an incident where his hair was accidently destroyed by a lye-based hair straightening product. Hair straightening continues to be very popular among black people of both sexes.

Taking up the alto saxophone as a child, his proficiency at the instrument attracted local Houston bandleaders even while he was still at school, and he began touring with Chester Boone’s band during school holidays. Upon his graduation in 1935, Vinson joined the band full-time, remaining when the outfit was taken over by Milton Larkins the following year. During his five-year tenure with Larkins’ band, he met the very influential guitarist T-Bone Walker, as well as sax greats Arnett Cobb, and Illinois Jacquet, who all played with Larkins in the late 30s.

Even as a teenaged singer and saxophonist, Cleanhead had his own way with the blues. He was good enough to tour with artists like Big Bill Broonzy, who taught him how to shout the blues. He later played with trumpeter Cootie Williams’s band and Jay McShann’s Orchestra, whose innovative young alto player, Charlie Parker, taught Vinsom his pioneering sax technique.

In the 1940’s he infused his alto with bebop and led his own big band. At one time, his sextet included John Coltrane, a giant of the saxophone. His recording of “Cherry Red” in 1944 with Cootie Williams made him popular, but his first recording under his own name was “Kidney Stew Blues” in 1947, which was a huge hit and remained his signature song for his whole career. Reflecting the casual misogyny of the times, most of Vinson’s no-holds-barred songs of this period were simply too raunchy for radio airplay.

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson enjoyed a very long and successful career, playing with some of the best musicians on the planet. He was able to capitalize on the blues revival of the 60s, gaining a new and younger audience at home and overseas. Towards the end of his career, he performed in revue style tours with the likes of Count Basie, Johnny Otis and Jay McShann. He died in 1988 at the age of 70, from a heart attack while undergoing chemotherapy.

Thanks to my brother Gabriel, I was lucky to know the first wave of Rock ‘n Roll in the 50s. I was a teenager when the Beatles initiated the second wave in the 60s. Later on, I wanted to know everything about the music that preceded that of my early years. I discovered the music of the post-war decade, the period from 1945 to 1954 where, in my opinion, the best music of the 20th century was created. This was an exuberant and joyful music (the war was over), a dance music livened by musical arrangements written by the best musicians in the world, a music driven by ferocious vocalists shouting very salty lyrics and musicians who were equally comfortable with jazz, bebop and the extravagant arrangements of the “Big Band Era.” People started calling this new music “Jump Blues” but it soon fell under the newly-named umbrella of “Rhythm & Blues.” Completely addicted by this irresistible music, I drove my car to Ottawa (the internet didn’t exist) and bought every R&B CD I could find. Not satisfied, I drove to Montréal and Toronto, amassing an impressive and costly R&B collection! Around 1954, with the arrival of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, they had to give their music a different name.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, MIDI guitar (piano)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Kidney Stew Blues

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Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)”

Bob Dylan in the early 60s

There are landmark achievements in anyone’s life that define his or her self-worth. I had two – taking that first ride on my bike without anyone’s help and learning how to fingerpick a guitar. That last one was really hard because I didn’t have a guitar and I couldn’t afford lessons. I taught myself how to play on borrowed guitars and in the late 60s, I saw Mississippi John Hurt on TV, the camera blissfully zooming in on his fingers so I could see what he was doing. I bought Mississippi John’s records and kept trying and trying to play like him, just like I did with my bike. Finally, I could do it on my own.

In the 60’s, every folk artist, almost without exception, had to fingerpick. The popular TV shows about the folk revival featured several fine fingerpickers like Dave Van Ronk, Doc Watson, Pete Seeger and, of course, Bob Dylan.
Much more than the music, the 60s were about the lyrics – for the first time in pop music history, songs were meaningful and addressed serious issues. I vividly remember Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (war), “If I Had a Hammer” (civil rights), “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (world peace) and “Little Boxes” (conformity). When Dylan left Minnesota and reached New York City, it didn’t take him long to dominate the coffee house/college music scene and when he wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” in 1962, an anthem for the civil rights movement, he became larger than life. There followed several compositions termed “protest songs” where the ills of the day were laid bare, such as “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, “Masters of War” and “Oxford Town”, which we recorded in September of 2015 (see Archives).

I couldn’t help but notice at the time that there was another element insinuating itself into the fabric of contemporary music – a loveless, cold and nomadic value system that was completely against everything I believed in. Certainly, “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” was at the forefront of this disturbing social shift, as was almost everything written and recorded by the Rolling Stones, but this kind of social angst went much further back and also had a Canadian connection. Nova-Scotian Hank Snow had a huge hit in 1950 with “I’m Movin” On.” and B.C. native Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds”, which he wrote in the early 60s, is certainly one of the most iconic Canadian songs ever written. It was recorded by everyone from Neil Young to Johnny Cash and was a huge success in Scandinavia. In Sweden, the song was a hit for 60s pop band Hep Stars, whose keyboard player, Benny Andersson, went on to world fame as a member of ABBA. In Norway, the song was recorded by The Vanguards, another 60s pop band which featured guitarist Terje Rypdal, who became one of most influential artists in the Scandinavian Jazz field.

Anyone interested in the nomadic, restless 60s should see “Inside Llewyn Davis”, the masterful 2013 film by the Coen brothers. The film follows one turbulent week in the life of a struggling folk singer in 1961. It was nominated for 90 awards world-wide and won 27.

Here is my fingerpicking version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright).”

 

Richard Séguin – voice and guitar

 

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

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