Born in Mississippi and immersed in the sounds of the delta, the legendary Elmore James (1918-1963) learned to play both acoustic and electric guitar at an early age. After the war, he began a professional career in music that brought him to Chicago by the early 50s. There he participated in the birth of some of the most enduring electric blues music ever, earning the title “King of the Slide Guitar” and recording classics like 1959’s “The Sky is Crying.”
Eddie James “Son” House (1902-1988) grew up around the Mississippi Delta, one of the homes of blues music. By his own account, as a “churchified” young man, he held the blues and other secular music in low regard. At the age of 25, he experienced a blues-related conversion and began a musical career.
His career was characteristic of bluesman of the time, which is to say not very lucrative. He served time in jail. He made a few recordings during the Depression. He was also recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941 and 1942. But much of his time can’t even be reconstructed with the historical record. The 1960s resurgence of interest in the blues, in particular the interest of white teenagers in Europe, made a lasting difference for the last quarter of his life and career.
Here he is singing his legendary “Death Letter Blues” in 1967, as part of the touring ensemble billed as “The American Folk Blues Festival.” This performance is preserved from its original broadcast on German television.
Muddy Waters (Mississippi to Chicago, 1913-1983) performing “Champagne & Reefer” from his final album, King Bee (1981). The song was a standard for Waters during his decades of live performances but for obvious reasons was not pressed onto vinyl, at least not until his collaboration with Johnny Winter (who produced the legend’s final three albums).
Big Bill Broonzy (Arkansas and Mississippi; 1898-1958) singing “Just a Dream” (from the 1939 recording, a bit more swing to it than the original).
I don’t have the words to say what needs to be said about Son House (c. 1902-1988, Mississippi). Fortunate for us, he does just fine on his own.
Here is the master performing “Downhearted Blues,” sometime near the end of his performance career in the early 1970s.
Blues god Albert King (Mississippi, 1923-1992) and the prophet Stevie Ray Vaughan (Texas, 1954-1990) performing King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” in 1983. (King made the tune famous, but it was penned by William Bell and Booker T. Jones.)
Ladies and Gentlemens, may I present to you the legendary Chicago blues band, The Aces. Founded and led by Dave and Louis Myers, two brothers from Mississippi, the band is perhaps most widely known for having been an early stomping ground for Junior Wells. Here, your eyes and soul will easily see that, even past their prime, this claim to fame is an under-estimation of their greatness.
Son House (Mississippi and Louisiana, c. 1902-1988), performing his version of the classic “Downhearted Blues” (by Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin), sometime in the 60s or 70s I would guess.
I don’t normally same much about these songs or the performers but I will say I’ve always thought of Sun House as a kind of deity. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical sense, or in a way to communicate his place in the blues. I mean that in my mind, there are blues greats who were human and, for some reason, people I don’t think of as human but as powerful forces acting on the rest. Don’t know why, though I suspect it says more about how I learned (or didn’t learn) about certain figures growing up.
The “Border Beat” is back with all the news that manages to sneak into my browser, despite tall firewalls and a bunch of crazy retired people keeping watch.
• “‘Poli-Migra’: New Spanish Word for Blurred Line Between Police and ICE” (New America Media)
New tactics and a new culture of fear bring with them many changes in the daily lives of brown people. This article spotlights some of them, in addition to the linguistic reflection of this new era in the policing of brown bodies.
• “Immigrant raid divides a Mississippi town” (Los Angeles Times)
The “Black vs. Brown” quagmire–a growing favorite of the national print media–is spotlighted here in the recent account of ICE raids in Mississippi. Sad when a growing number of poor and working class people of all colors start to blame each other for their lot instead of the decades-old and government-endorsed exportation of manufacturing, cuts in wages and benefits, and death of union jobs.
• “Immigration is factor in global warming” (Statesman Journal)
Some crazy white guy in Oregon finds something else to blame Mexican for. Okay…and I guess all the non-immigrants were somehow forced to drive polluting vehicles and support corporations emitting harmful greenhouse gases? Right.
• “White to Lose Majority Status in U.S. by 2042” (Wall Street Journal)
Listen, I don’t want you to worry. We’re going to treat you all just like everybody else, like the human beings that you are. That said, bet right about now you wish you hadn’t systematically dismantled affirmative action, huh?
• “Border First: Regain Control of Immigration” (Washington Times)
Bob Barr–former “Contract with America” Republican who voted for all four counts in the impeachment indictment against Clinton–is the presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party. Between you and me, he doesn’t sound very libertarian. [“Federal law requires hospitals to provide care irrespective of ability to pay, so emergency rooms across the American southwest are filled with Mexican citizens. Pregnant women come to have their children born in American hospitals.”] He just sounds loco.
Plausible deniability and the further criminalization of the Latino worker. That’s a credible and accurate way to describe the recent legislation signed into law by Mississippi Republican Governor Hayley Barbour. It represents, in the words of alternative journalist David Bacon, “the farthest-reaching employer sanctions law of any on the books in the US.”
At its heart what the legislation does is force employers to verify their worker’s legality using a system called “E Verify,” an untested system which is not even a complete database of the needed information. Of course, had the State required the use of the Social Security System records (which federal law uses) they would have required the use of a system with provable errors and inconsistencies.
The tragic thing is, employers are free from sanction if they use this flawed system but the employee, if found to be working without documentation, can now be charged with a felony.
See David Bacon’s thoughtful piece here.
Plausible deniability. That’s what this law provides employers. While, at the same time, it protects their interests to hire undocumented workers and shifts the blame from them and their desired manipulation of people’s precarious legal status to maximize profits to the worker, struggling for survival.