Book Review: Murder At The Crossroads
A blues mystery by Debra B. Schiff & Doug MacLeod
Text: Vincent Abbate
(Full disclosure: The reviewer is the author of Who Is Blues Vol. 1: Doug MacLeod – The Authorized Compact Biography.)
Let’s start with this: You needn’t be a devotee of blues musician Doug MacLeod or a blues fan at all to appreciate Murder At The Crossroads, a new novel MacLeod wrote in collaboration with author Debra B. Schiff. The book – billed on its cover as “a blues mystery” – stands on its own merits as a plainly told tale of a middle-aged man struggling with the guilt he has felt ever since witnessing a racially motivated killing as a young man in Mississippi. It’s also an unflinching portrayal of racism as it has existed at two different points in American history.
♫ Various Artists, Not The Same Old Blues Crap Vol. 1
🍺 La Quince CRYOBOT IPA
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
That time from the mid-1990s on into the current millennium when Fat Possum Records was shaking up the blues world was actually pretty significant. Who among us had heard of R.L. Burnside before then? Junior Kimbrough? T-Model Ford? How many of us even knew there was such as thing as the North Mississippi Hill Country blues and that it was different from anything we’d heard before? Not many, I’d venture to guess.
And then suddenly, there it was. A weird, edgy, hypnotic, punky, groove-oriented sound, propagated by a tiny indie label operating from Oxford, Mississippi – a college town. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the music appealed to a twenty-something alternative audience who didn’t really know or care what the blues was. It didn’t matter that most of the musicians on the Fat Possum label were two or three times as old as The White Stripes. All that mattered – as the name of the label’s sampler series provocatively stated – was that it was Not The Same Old Blues Crap.
Today we’re going to give the first entry in that series a listen – an eleven-track album with cuts by Kimbrough, Ford, Burnside and several others.
To wash it down, we’ve got La Quince’s CRYOBOT IPA, a seasonal brew named for the Cryo Hops used in production and the futuristic bot on the label. As the late great Mr. Kimbrough once sang: I gotta try you girl.
So come on in … meet me in the city … ehh, enough of that …
♫ Howlin’ Wolf, Back Door Man
🍺 Superfreunde Hang Loose Pale Ale
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
I’ve got a birthday coming up in … just a coupla hours. Yippie? I don’t know. At my age, I don’t get too excited about another tick on the calendar. Especially this year. The past twelve months feel very much like lost time I’ll never get back. No concerts, for one – aside for a couple of small, seated, socially distanced things. Live music sure, but not the same. A concert where you can’t hug your friends and can’t scream and fall down and go nuts can’t be anything better than OK.
I thought about cutting myself some birthday slack and not doing a Listening Party this week. Then again, one doesn’t get far in life by taking the day off. So here we are, sharing the time until midnight, when the “5” in my age becomes a “6”. Shooting the shit, as we do every week, about music, beer and life in general.
Today’s beer is called Hang Loose and I intend to crack it open shortly before the clock strikes twelve. If you’re expecting puns and wordplay related to surfing, I’ll have to disappoint you – I’ve never been near a surfboard let alone ridden one. (Does one even ride a surfboard?)
But hanging loose has other connotations and we’ll be doing just that with the great Howlin’ Wolf and his incomparable session bands from the 1950s and 60s.
Ready for a dose of some of the bitchinest blues ever recorded? I sure am …
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
Paul Thorn live @ Pitcher
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
So much truth. Soooo much truth.
If you leave a show with that phrase resonating in your head, you know something very good has just gone down.
Turnout for this club show on a drizzly Wednesday night in Germany was light – surely nothing any musician or concert promoter wants. Yet as far as vibe goes, the people attending the performance by Tupelo, Mississippi’s Paul Thorn were perfect, making the event more of a homey gathering of friends than some “us” versus “them” spectacle. Over the course of a glorious set that spanned roughly two decades of material, Thorn managed to make a personal connection with just about every one of the few dozen individuals in the room.
Terry Evans –
“I’ll Be Your Shelter (In The Time Of Storm)”
Terry Evans, who passed away on January 20th at the age of 80, had one of those phone book voices. You know: Open to any page in the phone book, hand it to Terry, have him sing it and wait for the goose bumps to come.
He was almost 70 years old when we spoke in 2005, coinciding with the release of his Fire In The Feeling album. At the time, he felt the voice he considered to be God-given growing gradually weaker.
“It’s not as strong now as it was 20 years ago,” said the man who’s first success came in the 1960s, backing singer Jewel Akens as a member of The Turnarounds. “Through experience, I know how to use my voice. But there are notes I can’t hit anymore that I used to hit effortlessly. Now it’s an effort.”
John Lee Hooker – “Tupelo Blues”
The dreary wet weather this morning has me thinking about rain songs. “Backwater Blues.” “Didn’t It Rain.” “When The Levee Breaks.” Flood songs.
There have been more than a few in the blues. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which took the lives of 246 people in seven states, is said to have inspired “When The Levee Breaks,” recorded by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe two years later. It may also have provided the backdrop for John Lee Hooker’s “Tupelo Blues.” Hooker would have been about 10 years old at the time. Old enough to remember. Some sources say he was recalling another catastrophic Mississippi flood in 1936.
Still Fierce and Free
An Interview with Watermelon Slim (Pt. 2)
Words by Vincent Abbate / Photos by Mike Latschislaw
(Click here for Part 1 of the interview.)
“Is any part of what you’re telling me off the record?”
I really had to ask, because Watermelon Slim wasn’t using a filter. He was sharing the most intimate details of his life – stuff you might tell your closest friend in confidence – though I’d never spoken with him before apart from a brief exchange at a blues festival ten years prior.
No. Every word of our interview was fit for print as far as Slim was concerned. When you have given up all hope of commercial success and accepted physical decline as a fact of life, you stop holding back.
“I’m an old man. I’m not in the greatest of health. I dance around it and put on a pretty good front, but…”