Book review: Songs For Floyd

Book Review:

Songs For Floyd – Blues Poems and Other Things

by Joel Poluck

Text: Vincent Abbate / Photos courtesy of Amogla Records (except where otherwise noted)

Within the musical realm we call the blues, the formulaic offerings at the top of the sales charts often disappoint us. Frequently it’s the outside-the-box artists and releases hovering on the fringes of the genre that capture our imagination.

This was most certainly true of Floyd Lee, a well-travelled singer and guitar player from Lamar, Mississippi who gained a modicum of international notoriety during the first two decades of this century, at an age when most folks retire. Lee was already 68 years old when his debut record Mean Blues made some waves upon its release in 2001. He had been bringing his blues to the subways of New York City and working as a doorman on the Upper West Side in the decades prior. Only after Lee hooked up with young Canadian musician and New York transplant Joel Poluck did the eponymous Floyd Lee & His Mean Blues Band take shape; the quartet’s classic lineup often featured veteran bass player Brad Vickers and Mississippi drum legend Sam Carr. According to Poluck, he and Lee performed close to 1000 shows during their roughly fifteen years together.

Still, the music Floyd Lee recorded in the period prior to his passing in 2020 – most of it chilling, honest and imbibed with the spirit of the masters – surely remained hidden from the vast majority of blues audiences.

Joel Poluck’s self-published Songs For Floyd – Blues Poems and Other Things is valuable for precisely that reason. The guitarist, producer and songwriter’s fond remembrance of his long-time musical partner is the perfect introduction to Floyd Lee for those who may have missed him. And for those already familiar with Lee’s music, the 100-page book and ten-song companion CD form a lovingly created gateway to a deeper understanding.

Don’t expect a lot of frills here. Like the paperback’s plain two-tone cover and the sound of the Floyd Lee Band itself, the book’s content is pleasingly bare bones. Poluck keeps his preface brief and to the point: Where he might have expounded on how he and Floyd Lee met or shared stories from the road, the author limits himself to just a handful of essential facts. Nonetheless, his gratitude toward Lee and the sense of loss he feels now that his friend is no longer around come through loud and clear.

What follows is not a book of poetry per se, but by and large a collection of the song lyrics Poluck wrote for his Mississippi-born mentor. At the beginning of their partnership, he had heard comments claiming he was too young (or too white) to write songs for an older black man. Poluck was undeterred; despite his age, he had his own share of bad luck and trouble to digest and transform into songs.

Often his words express feelings of desolation and yearning or ponder upon his susceptibility to temptation. They are classic blues themes, done well. In singing them, Lee did more than make those lyrics his own; he added the full weight of his own experience.

Tucked in between the lyrics there are a handful of personal photos as well as beautiful reproductions of the artwork used to advertise Floyd Lee’s appearances in places like Milwaukee, Chicago, New York and at the 2004 Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, where his was – perhaps surprisingly – the biggest name on the bill.

The ten-song CD included with the book presents a cross-section of recorded work from between 2001 and 2013, the year Lee quit performing due to health issues. So investing a sawbuck (Songs For Floyd sells for around ten dollars online) gets you what you might otherwise find inside a pricey boxset: a CD, high-quality artwork and a comprehensive collection of song lyrics. Well worth the price.

In the book’s longest piece of poetry, and one of its more poignant, Poluck pointedly wonders “Who Cares About An Old Bluesman?” Many may not, but some of us certainly do. With Songs For Floyd – Blues Poems and Other Things, the author has found a noble way of preserving one bluesman’s legacy and of making sure he isn’t soon forgotten.

(c) JoJo Voigt

WIB Listening Party #64: Stingray


Kenny Brown, Stingray

🍺 Two Chefs Funky Falcon Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate


2003’s Stingray is a classic example of a really good album that slipped through the cracks.

Recorded at The Money Shot in Water Valley, Mississippi and released on Fat Possum, it’s the work of singer and guitarist Kenny Brown. Best known as the musical sidekick to R.L. Burnside until the latter’s demise in 2005, Brown grew up in the North Mississippi tradition, apprenticing with local legends like Joe Callicott and Johnny Woods before hooking up with Burnside for a partnership that lasted roughly three decades. More recently, his guitar featured on The Black Keys’ Delta Kream, Robert Finley’s Sharecropper’s Son and Hank Williams Jr.’s Rich White Honky Tonk Blues. So he’s out there, still doing his thing.

I scooped up my CD copy of Stingray for a measly $3.95 at a second-hand book outlet in Nashville, Tennessee, following a string of unforeseen circumstances. More on that in a bit.

What we got greasing the wheels this time around?

That would be Funky Falcon Pale Ale from Two Chefs Brewing. Founded in 2012 by a pair of now-former chefs (duh), Two Chefs calls itself “Amsterdam’s Finest Craft Beer Brewery” and adorns its beers with bold, brash colors and characters, like the Dia de los Muertos Mariachi gracing its Mexican-style lager or the gunslinging cowboy on its Green Bullet IPA. I admit I’m a sucker for creative names and designs – undoubtably they’re a part of what makes craft beer fun. But it’s what’s inside that counts, right?

We’ll see what the Funky Falcon has to offer and dive into the Kenny Brown album on the other side.

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WIB Listening Party #41: Doctors, Devils & Drugs


Floyd Lee Band, Doctors, Devils & Drugs

🍺 Kehrwieder Prototyp

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I was just looking at a Forbes article outlining the development of the American craft beer movement in the ten years between 2008 and 2018. The most striking figure: Whereas in 2008, there were roughly 1,500 brewpubs, micro and regional breweries operating, by 2018 that number had ballooned to over 7000. That same year, craft beer sales accounted for roughly a quarter of the overall beer market in the US.

Contrast that to where the country was thirty years ago, when I first settled in Europe. Back home, Budweiser, Pabst, Miller and Coors ruled the day and people here – perhaps rightly so – looked down their collective noses at the mere mention of American beer. The craft beer revolution had in fact already begun, but quietly. It didn’t make sense, at least not yet, to point out that there were beers being made on American soil and with American ingredients whose quality was at least as good as the Old World classics.

Today, that’s hardly a secret. You often hear about young, upstart European brewers educating themselves in the art of craft beer by spending time in the United States. Case in point: Oliver Wesseloh, co-founder and master brewer at Hamburg’s Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei. Before going out on his own in 2011, he spent eight years learning his craft abroad, part of that in Florida. Today he runs a thriving brewery in his hometown in northern Germany.

Prototyp – today’s Listening Party beverage of choice – was the very first beer he produced under the Kehrwieder flag.

Our featured record is Doctors, Devils & Drugs by the Floyd Lee Band, which surprised some people, including me, in 2008. We’ll dive into it after the jump.

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