Skip James, Mississippi Delta Blues and the shaping of my musical taste

Not sure when I got my first record, but I remember who it was by.  After seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show sing, “I want to hold your hand”, I got the first Beatles album and I played it over and over again on my parent’s phonograph until the record’s grooves were worn flat.

It was the mid 60’s and we were in the midst of the British Invasion.

After I had grown tired of listening to that Beatle album over and over again, I went through my parent’s record collection and came across a Newport Folk Festival album.  There wasn’t a person I had ever heard of on the record but I was drawn to one of the names……Muddy Waters and his song was “Hoochie Coochie Man”.  All I could think was……who was this Muddy Waters and what on earth is a “Hoochie Coochie Man.  I put it on the record player and what I heard could have just as easily been from Mars.  It certainly didn’t sound anything like the popish Beatles but it sounded a bit more like a primative Rolling Stones.  This was the first time I had ever listen to any blues and it changed what I listened to for the next ten years after that. While my friends collected Rock in Roll records, I started buying blues records.

First time I heard Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James’s “Cypress Grove Blues” it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Skip James was a contemporary of Mississippi Delta Blues men such as Charlie Patton and Son House.  I leaned in and strained to hear under the crackle of a pre-digital remastered piece of scratched vinyl …………..this haunting voice singing…..

I would rather be buried in some cypress grove
I would rather be buried in some cypress grove
To have some woman, Lord, that I can’t control

And I’m goin’ away now, I’m goin’ away to stay
And I’m goin’ away now, I’m goin’ away to stay
That’ll be all right, pretty mama, you gonna need my help someday

And the sun goin’ down, and you know what your promise means
And the sun goin’ down, you know what your promise means
And what’s the matter, baby, I can’t see

th
Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James

I would rather be dead and six feet in my grave
I would rather be dead and six feet in my grave
Than to be way up here, honey, treated this a-way

And the old people told me, baby, but I never did know
The old people told me, baby woman, but I never did know
“The good book declare you got to reap just what you sow”

When your knee bone’s achin’ and your body cold
When your knee bone’s achin’ and your body cold
Means you just gettin’ ready, honey, for the cypress grove

I remember playing this for a friend who just looked at me as if I was a bit crazy.  When my friends started buying electric guitars and learning the newest Creedence Clearwater Revival song I went out and bought a 1930 National Steel Duolian and started to learn Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton songs.

I was never cool like my friends who were always into the newest band or song.  Somehow my attention always looked back to the past and its been that way for a lot of the things in my life.  It’s been the voices of the past that have always spoken to me and resonated within me.

Here I am singing my rendition of Robert Johnson’s song, “Come on in my kitchen” and playing slide guitar on my 1930 National Steel Duolian.


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