Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Skip James performing his classic Devil Got My Woman.
The Blues, various artists, 4 CD set, Smithsonian Recording, 1993
Recently, in reviewing a 2CD compilations of blues honoring the 40th Anniversary of Alligator Records, I noted that the raucous, rock the house of blues house down, blue artists listed there, like Johnny Winters, Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, and Lonnie Brooks, learned their trade from listening to an earlier generation of blues artists. The earlier artists grace this four CD set from the Smithsonian Recording Collection, from old time Charley Patton and Son House to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Basically this one covers virtually every voice and rhythm you would ever need to work your way into blues aficionado-hood.
Of course in that review I also noted that while I “learned “ the artists collected in that Alligator compilation on my own I owed a debt of gratitude to my old friend Be-Bop Benny (real name, Peter Paul Markin)
for “teaching” me the devil’s music. See, when we met in the summer of love, 1967 version, out in the California hills and hollows, I had just graduated from Olde Saco High School up in Maine and while I had the wanderlust to learn more of the world I was clueless about blues, country or electrified. I think the closest that I came to the blues was thinking that some Buddy Holly slow one, or Brenda Lee was what it was all about. Silly me.
So Be-Bop Benny took me in tow and during that summer, and for a few years after too, tuned me into the old time blues from his scratchy collection of off-beat singles (some called “race” records in their day) and LPs on his cranky road-weary record player (look that last term up if you are not familiar with the implement) that he had grabbed from some cheapo record shops in Harvard Square or at Sandy’s down closer to Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So that is how I came to know of the legends like Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Skip James, Memphis Minnie, Sippy Wallace, Big Joe Williams, Big Bill Bronzy, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and all the rest in this collection. But think about it, wouldn’t it have been less work, much less work, indeed, if he could have “taught” me devil’s music 101 with this compilation? What I learned about what hell to raise with the devil’s music is a separate (and private) question that he can take no credit, or blame, for. But here is your primer on the music.