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 #50: If The River Was Whiskey


Spin Doctors, If The River Was Whiskey

🍺 Welde Bourbon Barrel Bock

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

This particular Listening Party – number 50! – is going to be a music-heavy quickie. I do this whenever time gets tight. I’ve been stuck at 49 for a few weeks, burdened by my other work (yes, I do more than sit around and drink beer) and thus unable to reach that magical half-century mark. Now school is out, my kids are home and time is even tighter. It’s officially summer, some trips are planned, so the Listening Party will be on hiatus anyway.

But first – number 50.

We’ll toast this milestone with a really good and likely overlooked blues album, If The River Was Whiskey. Overlooked because Spin Doctors.

The record did peak at number five on the Billboard blues chart upon its release in 2013. Still for many, “Spin Doctors = blues” simply doesn’t equate. Doubters may think of the band as a one-hit wonder for their smash 1990s hit “Two Princes.” But years before that tune was blaring out of millions of car radios, the Doctors were indeed honing their chops at downtown Manhattan blues clubs.

While I have failed to dig up a whiskey-infused beer for the occasion (they most certainly exist), I have managed to get my hands on a bottle of Welde’s Bourbon Barrel Bock, which we’ll indulge in a bit later on. Let’s get to it …

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading