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Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen”

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

When Robert Johnson died in 1938, he left us a total of two photos and 29 compositions. His life was shrouded in mystery and dominated by myths of demonic possession. His body was never found after his death and three different markers have been erected for him in church cemeteries around Greenwood, Mississippi. It was only when his death certificate was discovered in 1967 that details of his life began to emerge.

Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi to Noah Johnson and Julia Dodds, whose husband Charles Dodds, a wealthy carpenter and farmer with whom Julia had had ten children, was forced to flee to Memphis to escape lynching at the hands of white landowners resentful of his success. Julia was left destitute and took up with a plantation worker who abused Robert for not working the fields while still a child. For a southern black man in the early part of the 20th century, there was little else to life but a boss and a plow. In spite of the theoretical emancipation of blacks achieved by the civil war, the real, jangling chains of slavery had gradually been replaced by poverty and racism. It was bondage by another name.

Musicians visited the plantations on weekends and offered men like Robert Johnson a view of what life without servitude could be like. However, to make money, musicians had to go to cities, where people had money. They travelled constantly, a very dangerous life for a black man in Mississippi, where killing or lynching happened regularly, often on no more than a whim. Musicians were also regarded as evil by most people because of the Church, which was extremely powerful among black Christian Americans. With the drinking, gambling, womanizing and blaspheming going on in every juke joint in the South, preachers and their fiery sermons quickly created the widely-held myth that the blues was the devil’s music.

When veteran bluesman (and ex-preacher) Son House moved to the Robinsonville area in 1930, he teamed up with local sideman Willie Brown, and young Robert Johnson was a fixture at their concerts ( Johnson mentions Willie Brown by name in his song “Cross Road Blues”, calling him “my good friend.”). Son House recalls that, at that time, Johnson was a horrible guitar player and people shouted him down whenever he tried to play.

It was at this time that Robert Johnson disappeared from the face of the Earth. No one knew where he went. On his return, he went back to the same juke joint where House and Brown were playing but this time, he completely bowled over the crowd when he made it up on stage. In a little more than a year, Robert Johnson had somehow become the greatest blues singer and guitarist anyone had ever heard. No one believed that he could have become that good in so little time. Rumours quickly spread that Johnson had gone to the crossroads to sell his soul to the devil in return for his incredible talents. A far more plausible explanation is that Johnson went back to Hazlehurst looking for his biological father, Noah Johnson, but instead found Isaiah “Ike” Zimmerman, the best guitarist in all of southern Mississippi at that time. Johnson stayed with Zimmerman’s family and the two practiced endlessly while sitting on tombstones in nearby Beauregard cemetery, no doubt adding fuel to the fire of Johnson’s rumoured dealings with the devil. His compositions also did nothing to dispel the myth, with titles like “Cross Road Blues”, “Hell Hound On My Trail” and “Me And The Devil.”

In addition to Robert Johnson’s remarkable new musicianship, he also came back a changed man. He was now that reckless, hard-drinking, womanizing bluesman endlessly admonished by the Church. Many point to his two failed attempts at a “normal” life, where his first wife, 15-year-old Virginia Travis, died in childbirth and, later on, Virgie Cain’s strict religious family would not tolerate their daughter associating with anyone playing “the devil’s music.” After these failures, Johnson’s life seems to have rushed head-on towards his fate: a juke joint called The Three Forks in Greenwood, Mississippi.

While playing there, Johnson had befriended the wife of a barman, who sought his revenge by giving Johnson a poisoned bottle of whiskey. Bluesmen David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Sonny Boy Williamson were both there that night and saw that the seal on the bottle had been broken. They tried to slap the bottle away from Johnson but he never said no to a bottle. He drank and was in agony for three days, dying on August 16, 1838, 81 years to this day. Robert Johnson was 27 years old.

All of Johnson’s compositions are a true reflection of life in the US south for a black man during the Great Depression. His lyrics are suffused with references to Hoodoo, the spiritual practices carried to the United States by West Africans as the result of the transatlantic slave trade. Hoodoo teaches that human well-being is governed by spiritual balance, by devotion to a supreme creator (and other lesser deities), by the respect of ancestors, and by the use of talismans to embody spiritual power. These talismans are called mojos. The nation sack (short for donation) that Johnson mentions in “Come On In My Kitchen” is just such a mojo but only worn by women. Its basic use is to keep a man faithful and to make him prosperous. The nation sack is ceremoniously prepared and generally contains some coins (for prosperity) and the woman’s partner’s identification, such as a photo (very rare at the time) or simply the man’s name written on a piece of paper. The sack also contains the man’s identity – nail clippings, hair, and bits of cloth soiled by sweat, phlegm, urine, feces or semen. Interestingly, these are all absolutely positive DNA identifiers, used in nation sacks long before DNA was even discovered. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when women always wore skirts or dresses, the nation sack was hung from a belt worn at the waist, under the skirt. This placed it and its contents near to the woman’s private parts, assuring her man’s fidelity. Also, a nation sack was never discarded. If it became worn or frayed, the old sack was simply sewn into a new one. Men were never to touch a nation sack and most men ignored its existence since women took it off at night and locked it away until they dressed in the morning. In the lyrics to “Come On In My Kitchen”, by taking the last nickel from his woman’s nation sack, Robert Johnson violated three taboos – he touched the sack, he stole some of its contents and, by doing so, destroyed its magical powers. Also of interest, the song lyrics qualify the coming of winter as “dry long so.” This expression, seldom heard these days, means inevitable, or even fated.

1965 Dobro resonator guitar

1965 Dobro resonator guitar

I recorded my arrangement of “Come On In My Kitchen” with my 1965 Dobro resonator guitar. Johnson plays the song in open tuning with a slide while I play it in standard tuning with a slide. From the 1920s onward, Mississippi Delta bluesmen have used resonator guitars for their metallic sound. To me, it is the sound of the Great Depression.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, Dobro resonator guitar

 

Come On In My Kitchen

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Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather”

In early 1961, Bob Dylan left Hibbing, Minnesota for New York City to find the singers he’d heard on records – Dave Van Ronk, the duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Josh White, the Reverend Gary Davis but most of all to find Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), his musical idol whom he referred to as “the true voice of the American spirit.” Dylan settled into the New York suburb of Greenwich Village and began making a name for himself as a singer of traditional folk songs, featured on his self-titled debut album in 1962. Of folk music, Dylan said “I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”

The Freewheelin` Bob Dylan 1963

By 1963, he was a songwriter whose compositions became anthems of his generation, songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, both featured on his second album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” This album is also memorable for its cover, a photo of Dylan smiling and walking down a Greenwich Village street with a beautiful young woman on his arm.

Her name was Suze (Susan) Rotolo (1943-2011), an American artist and political activist of Italian descent whose parents were Communist Party USA members during the McCarthy era. By all accounts, they were a devoted couple and a fixture around Greenwich Village. Dylan described her as “a Rodin sculpture come to life.” In the end, the romance could not survive the enormous adulation and scrutiny Dylan was to receive, the disapproval of the Rotolo family and Suze’s own artistic aspirations.

The Times They Are a-Changin` 1964

She left for Italy to study art in June 1962, returning after six months but the relationship did not survive. The cover photo for Dylan’s next album, “The Times They Are a-Changin’” (1964) shows him a changed man, pensive and aloof.

Dylan’s separation from Rotolo has been credited as the inspiration behind several of his finest love songs, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, “Tomorrow Is a Long Time”. “One Too Many Mornings” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.”

“Boots of Spanish Leather” is written as a dialogue, with the first six verses alternating between the two lovers and the last three verses all sung by the lover who has been left behind. Although the lyrics deal with Suze Rotolo’s departure for Italy, Dylan chose to hide this by using Spain as the destination country. The song is an adaptation of “Scarborough Fair”, a ballad that dates back to the Middle English period (1150-1500).

Dylan, Suze Rotolo, Dave Van Ronk

Folk music has now been absent from contemporary music for more than 50 years. People today would have a tough time listening to anyone singing deep lyrics for 6 minutes accompanied only by a single acoustic guitar. But that is exactly what I’m asking of you.

 

 

Richard Séguin – voice and acoustic guitar

Boots of Spanish Leather

 

To learn more about “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, another song written for Suze Rotolo, click here.

To learn more about the Greenwich Village scene in the early sixties, click here.

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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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