So my father-in-law, who is a big fan of the blues, apparently read my confused gibbering on the subject a few weeks ago and decided to help me out by getting me a nice introductory book. Thanks, Mike!
I’m enjoying it so far; I love reading about music, and the early bluesmen and -women were a colourful crew. The one fly in the ointment, as you can probably guess – and as I discovered while writing Seraphina – is that words can only approach music obliquely. I still needed to hear it for myself.
So I went to YouTube and poked around, starting with Robert Johnson and proceeding in a haphazard manner through Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leadbelly and I can’t even remember who. I can’t remember because none of it was sticking with me, alas. This is usually the case with me and new (to me) music: it slides right off my Teflon brain.
Then all of a sudden I hit one that made some kind of sense to me: Robert Petway’s Catfish Blues. Go listen. I’ll wait.
Now listen in close succession: Rolling Stone by Muddy Waters, which was supposedly inspired by Catfish Blues. I can hear it, but it’s subtle
OK, you’ve got those? Well then, ta-daa! The piece de resistance: Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. Don’t quite hear the lineage? Go back and listen to that Petway again.
Aha! I say. AHA! I have successfully connected dots in my brain.
So what was different in “Catfish Blues” that let me connect with it where I was having trouble with the earlier stuff? I have to say it was the livelier guitar line. (My husband was making fun of me just a little bit because I was like, “Oh, this one’s kind of jolly!” There’s a reason it’s called The Blues, he claims, and I suppose he has a point.)
That said, my favourite of the Robert Johnson songs – “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” – had some pretty impressive guitar. Maybe that’s a way in. Tune in, uh, next time to find out!