Friday, May 29, 2009

On the Road Again

I assumed my friend would have stayed on-line by going to Internet cafes. That's how I stay in touch when I'm "on the road again."

I travel back in time by memory. Sometimes I travel via Sue Grafton novels. I think of music, like Fever Tree, as I revisit my life back then.

Which reminds me of Canned Heat. I recall that my friend is not deeply into music but you might like some 60's blues. The band Canned Heat, who performed at Woodstock, take the name from a blues song by a Mississippi Delta drunk, Tommy Johnson. I'll start with his bio. and then include the lyrics that the band took the title of for their group name, and I'll finish with some on Canned Heat themselves. Here's a bit of background noise:

Tommy Johnson (1896 – November 1, 1956) was an influential American delta blues musician who recorded in the late 1920s, known for his eerie falsetto voice and intricate guitar playing.

Johnson was born near Terry, Mississippi, and moved around 1910 to Crystal Springs where he lived for most of his life. He learned to play the guitar and, by 1914, was supplementing his income by playing at local parties with his brothers Mager and LeDell. In 1916 he married and moved to Webb Jennings' Plantation near Drew, Mississippi, close to the Dockery Plantation. There he met other musicians including Charlie Patton and Willie Brown[1].

By 1920 he had become an alcoholic and itinerant musician, based in Crystal Springs but travelling widely around the South, sometimes accompanied by Papa Charlie McCoy. In 1928 he made his first recordings with McCoy for Victor Records. The recordings included "Canned Heat Blues", in which he sang of drinking methanol from the cooking fuel Sterno. The song features the refrain "canned heat, mama, sure, Lord, killing me." The blues group Canned Heat took their name from this song. Johnson's "Big Road Blues" inspired Canned Heat's song, "On the Road Again". A significantly different version of the song appears as "Canned Heat" on the Big Road Blues album by K. C. Douglas.

He recorded two further sessions, in August 1928 and for Paramount Records in December 1929. He did not record again, mistakenly believing that he had signed away his right to record . This resulted on a legal settlement with The Mississippi Sheiks who had used Johnson's 'Big Road Blues' melody in their enormously successful "[Stop and Listen]". Johnson was party to the copyright settlement, but was too drunk at the time to understand what he had signed to.[2]

Johnson's recordings established him as the premier Delta blues vocalist of his day, with a powerful voice that could go from a growl to a falsetto. He was also an accomplished guitarist. His style influenced later blues singers such as Robert Nighthawk and Howlin' Wolf[1], whose song "I Asked for Water (She Brought Me Gasoline)" was based on Johnson's "Cool Water Blues". He was a talented composer, blending fragments of folk poetry and personalized lyrics into set guitar accompaniments to craft striking blues compositions such as "Maggie Campbell".[3]

To enhance his fame, Johnson cultivated a sinister persona. According to his brother LeDell, he claimed to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his mastery of the guitar[1][4]. This story was later also associated with Robert Johnson, to whom he was unrelated. Tommy Johnson also played tricks with his guitar, playing it between his legs and behind his head, and throwing it in the air while playing[5].

Johnson remained a popular performer in the Jackson area through the 1930s and 1940s, sometimes performing with Ishman Bracey. He was highly influential on other performers, partly because he was willing to teach his style and his repertoire. Tommy Johnson's influence on local traditions is discussed by David Evans in 'Tommy Johnson' and 'Big Road Blues. [6]

He died of a heart attack after playing a party in 1956. He is buried in the Warm Springs Methodist Church Cemetery outside of Crystal Springs, Mississippi. In 2001 a headstone was commissioned through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, a Mississippi non-profit corporation, by the family of Tommy Johnson and paid for by musician Bonnie Raitt. The large, granite memorial engraved with Johnson's portrait has not been placed on Johnson's grave, however, due to a bitter, ongoing dispute between Tommy Johnson's family, led by his niece, Vera Johnson Collins, the owners of farm property encircling the cemetery, and the Copiah County Board of Supervisors. The headstone has remained on public display in the Crystal Springs, Mississippi Public Library since being unveiled on October 20, 2001. An annual Tommy Johnson Blues Festival is now held in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, on every third weekend in October.

Here are the lyrics to Tommy Johnson, "Canned Heat Blues."

Cryin', canned, canned heat, mama
Cryin', Dear Lord, killin' me
Cryin', canned heat, mama
Sho', Lord, killin' me
Take alco-rub to
Take these canned heat blues

Cryin' mama, mama mama
Know canned heat killin' me
Cryin' mama, mama, mama
Cryin' canned heat is killin' me
Canned heat don't kill me
Cryin', babe I never would die

I woked up a-this mo'nin
With canned heat on my mind
Woke just this mo'nin'
Canned heat was on my mind
Woke up this mo'nin
With the canned heat, Lord
On my mind

Cried, Lord
Lord, I wonder
Canned heat, Lord, killing me
Think alco-rub is
Tearing apart my soul
Because brown-skin woman
Don't do the easy roll

I woke up, a-this mo'nin'
Cryin', canned heat 'round my bed
Run in here, somebody
Take these canned heat blues
Run here, somebody
An take these canned heat blue-ooos.

Cryin', mama, mama, mama
Cryin', canned heat killin' me
Plead to my soul, Lord
They gon' kill me dead. "
[Link has video here:]

Canned Heat did a number of albums when I was a kid, on of which had a double sided masterpiece of the time, "Refried Boogie, Parts 1 & 2." The blurb below has me pining for the days when music meant John Mayall's Blues Breakers, with 30 minute album sides of "Laurel Canyon Blues" on tenor and alto sax.

Living the Blues is a 1968 double album by Canned Heat. It was one of the first double albums to place well on album charts. It features Canned Heat's signature song, "Going Up the Country," which would later be used in the Woodstock film. John Mayall appears on piano on "Walking by Myself" and "Bear Wires." Dr. John appears on "Boogie Music". The 20-minute trippy suite "Parthenogenesis" is dwarfed by the album-length "Refried Boogie," recorded live.

Canned Heat is a blues-rock/boogie band that formed in Los Angeles in 1965. The group has been noted for its own interpretations of blues material as well as for efforts to promote the interest in this type of music and its original artists. It was launched by two blues enthusiasts, Alan Wilson and Bob Hite, who took the name from Tommy Johnson's 1928 "Canned Heat Blues", a song about an alcoholic who had desperately turned to drinking Sterno, generically called "canned heat". After appearances at Monterey and Woodstock, at the end of the '60s the band acquired worldwide fame with a lineup consisting of Bob Hite, vocals, Alan Wilson guitar, harmonica and vocals, Henry Vestine (or Harvey Mandel) on lead guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, and Adolfo ('Fito') de la Parra on drums. The music and attitude of Canned Heat afforded them a large following and established the band as one of the popular acts of the hippie era. Canned Heat appeared at most major musical events at the end of the '60s and they were able to deliver on stage electrifying performances of blues standards and their own material and occasionally to indulge into lengthier 'psychedelic' solos. Two of their songs - "Going up the Country" and "On the Road Again" - became international hits; both were re-workings of obscure blues.


I saw them in concert, and I went to John Mayall concerts too. Lots of good music those days.

I recall Hendrix and Joplin and the days they died. Alan Wilson too. Funny that. A friend stopped in to tell me the new. Soon after, news of the others.

Shortly after the original Hooker N' Heat sessions, the eccentric Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, who had always suffered from depression, was said by some to have attempted suicide by driving his van off the road near Bob Hite's home in Topanga Canyon. Unlike other members of the band, Wilson did not have much success with women and was deeply upset and frustrated by this. His depression also worsened with his increasing environmental concern over the deteriorating health of the earth; all themes which were often reflected in his lyrics[16]. On September 3, 1970, just prior to leaving for a festival in Berlin, the band was shattered when they learned of Alan Wilson's death by barbiturate overdose; found on a hillside behind Bob Hite’s Topanga home. Believed by Fito de la Parra and other members of the band to have been a suicide, Wilson died at the age of 27, just weeks before the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.[17]

"On the Road Again" " a song by the blues group Canned Heat, was released as a single in August 1968. It reached the top ten on the Top 40 popular music charts and appeared on their 1968 album Boogie with Canned Heat as well as the 1969 compilation The Canned Heat Cookbook.

"On the Road Again" was adapted by Alan Wilson from a song of the same name recorded in 1953 by Floyd Jones (July 21, 1917 - December 19, 1989), a Chicago blues musician.[1] Jones' song was itself an adaptation of "Big Road Blues," recorded in 1928 by Delta blues musician Tommy Johnson.

With his knowledge of Eastern music, Wilson used a tambura drone to give the song a hypnotic effect and a psychedelic edge. The song features Wilson as the lead singer and harmonica player. The B-side of the single was entitled "World in a Jug."

The song also appears in the 1998 movie Hideous Kinky.


This isn't the work of Shakespeare, but it goes just right with the music:

(Floyd Jones / Alan Wilson)

Well, I'm so tired of crying,
But I'm out on the road again
I'm on the road again.
Well, I'm so tired of crying,
But I'm out on the road again
I'm on the road again
I ain't got no woman
Just to call my special friend

You know the first time I traveled
Out in the rain and snow
In the rain and snow
You know the first time I traveled
Out in the rain and snow
In the rain and snow
I didn't have no payroll,
Not even no place to go

And my dear mother left me
When I was quite young
When I was quite young
And my dear mother left me
When I was quite young
When I was quite young
She said "Lord, have mercy
On my wicked son"

Take a hint from me, mama,
Please don't you cry no more
Don't you cry no more.
Take a hint from me, mama,
Please don't you cry no more
Don't you cry no more.
'Cause it's soon one morning
Down the road I'm going

But I aint going down
That long old lonesome road
All by myself
But I aint going down
That long old lonesome road
All by myself
I can't carry you, baby,
Gonna carry somebody else

I can't carry you, baby,
Gonna carry somebody else
I can't carry you, baby,
Gonna carry somebody else
On the road again

On the road again
On the road again....

When you're on the road again maybe this will perk you up

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Death be not Proud

The dead are laying down in morgues, and in their graves forever. I see some too who walk and talk and put in waiting-time. I see the light of day and I breathe. Death be not proud, though some think it so. Not so. It's too banal. It's common, as one might say of shop-keepers and lorry drivers. The uncommon, the bred, take my mind to far away places. Stepping over, or in one case around, the dead these recent days, I step into realms beyond, and I live in a state of awe and amusement. Five down, face down. The living, should they so choose, gaze like God to the end of infinity: Hubble shows us All. Or we find the same gazing Sphinx looking no further than Hell, ourselves made. Not dead nor lifeless but Hell-living. And Eternity just around every corner.

Bio-mechanical medicine will save us all forever and we will never die again. No dead, no babies-- money, brain power, and fetal tissue keeping us alive for all of time.

Neil Postman quotes Freud's Civilization and its Discontents:

"And finally, what good to us is a long life if it is difficult and barren of joys, and if it is so full of misery that we can only welcome death as a deliverer?"

Quoted from Covenant Zone, " Past is Prologue." 18 May 2006.

Yes, Freud had cancer and had seen the Jews of Europe destroyed in their millions. Why would he want to carry on living? Forever.

John Donne (1572-1631) "Death Be Not Proud"

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

First we must live, and living isn't enough. I see the dead lie down, and I walk around them. I walk around. I see. I lie down. I sleep. I wake up each day. I see the dying walking in their sleep, driven to Hell by the sight of what they see. I sit by the fire in this cold place and listen to music sometimes. I think it's living.

Don't know if Savoy Brown will turn out well here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Light Leaves Ground

Summer is upon us weather-wise, and the days draw me out to stand in the warm and the light and to be as content as I can be in this life. I can hope for better, like standing on the creekside with the elm and maybe some pine boughs above holding robins nesting with baby-blue specked eggs waiting to hatch, rainbow trout rising from deep eddies to snap at flies, a doe across the bank flitting silently through the brush with a bellyful of wild rose blooms, the leafy forest floor shadow-dappled from high morning sun. I can almost hear in the wild-flower scented breeze the soft music of long-lost times.

Softly, As I Leave You

Softly (Softly)
I will leave you softly (I will leave you softly)
For my heart would break (For my heart would break)
If you should wake (If you should wake)
And see me go (And see me go)
So I leave you (So I leave you)
Softly (Softly)
Long before you miss me (Long before you miss me)
Long before your arms (Long before your arms)
Can beg me stay (Can beg me stay)
For one more hour (For one more hour)
For one more day (For one more day)
After all the years (After all the years)
I can't bare the tears (I can't bare the tears)
To fall (To fall)
So softly, (So softly)
So softly (I will leave you there)

I will leave you there

Composed by Antonio De Vita (1932-1998), with original Italian lyrics by Giorgio Calabrese. It was originally an Italian success in 1960 by Mina, at the Sanremo Music Festival, entitled "Piano" ("Softly").

English songwriter Hal Shaper, noticed the song and in November 1961 wrote English lyrics to the melody, calling it "Softly, as I Leave You".,_as_I_Leave_You_(song)

Maybe you can listen to it here:

The pictures are of the Moyie River. My mom is buried down south of where these come from. That was long ago in the last century. Life keeps on going. I hope it goes on for us. I hope we can meet again next year too; but if not, then I'll wish you the best and leave you softly now.