By Brian Arsenault
There has been a darker side of the blues from the earliest Delta days right up till now with the hard driving electric stuff. I don’t mean just hard times like no job, no money, not much hope. That’s integral. But I’m talking the disappointed, disillusioned, pissed off, miserable state of human affairs. Especially when it comes to relationships.
Take a trip with Louisiana Red, the latest “last” of the early bluesmen, on When My Mama Was Living and on to Honky’s (ZZ Top on steroids, really) 421 to feel that, shit, it may not be worth it all. It’s a bit like reading Daniel Woodrell.
But you can’t deny the legitimacy of that sentiment in the blues. Or life. “Been down so long it looks like up to me,” the beat poet Ferlinghetti wrote.
“I’m lost and I ain’t comin’ back,” Honky’s “Handful of Nails”.
“Better keep your coat hung by the door,” Louisiana Red’s “Bad Case of the Blues.”
There’s a time in life, and it can be a whole life, when nobody is happy here for long and with good reason.
Right up front let me say I know this album isn’t for me. It’s mostly for 24 year old hard drinking, hard driving, hard all the time guys. The bass is turned way up and the car radio is blasting. I understand.
“He came home, he passed out. She got up and tried to kick him out.”
After all, I had to ask what “WFO” means but I needn’t have. Fast, fast, fast. Loud, loud, loud. Damn, these boys can play — guitar, bass, neck hole (I had to ask about that too) and “drummage.”
You maybe can’t breathe at times. The CD holder is a speedometer, after all.
What is it about Texas rockers — Stevie Ray, ZZ Top and these guys — it’s just frenetic, a state of mind where the speed limit can reach 80. I mean, Buddy was so sweet. Is that all gone?
If ZZ Top’s “just looking for some tush” was considered inappropriate in its day in some circles, how must “Black Joe’s Bitch” be viewed by many in this hyper-politically correct era.
“Bitch you know I love you.
“Bitch you know I need you.”
Don’t try that at home. Still, it may be the best rocker on the album. I don’t know what that means.
When My Mama Was Living (Labor Records)
You can kind of wrap yourself in the singing and playing on this album and absorb the core of the blues. If Red wasn’t ever as big as John Lee or Muddy before passing on earlier this year, it wasn’t his fault. He was that good.
Plain spoken, plain sung and all the more plaintive for that.
“Go ahead with your man,” aches for the woman of another.
The harmonica work by primarily Red and Peg Leg Sam, whew. My goodness, it becomes a horn, a harp, an instrument of glory at their lips. Guitar playing throughout is alternately playful, joyful, mournful. Amplifiers not needed.
These songs were primarily recorded in the 70s when Louisiana Red had been at it for decades (born in 1932) and was at the height of his powers. Kent Cooper wrote and co-wrote a number of the songs herein and some great notes about Red.
From blues classics like “King Bee” and a truly remarkable “You Got to Move” to his own dark vision of “Cold, Cold Feeling” and the regret of “When My Mamma Was Living I never had a hungry day. . .” you learn again why it is called the blues.
“She’ll still sneak out for more.”
Life goes on, tough or not. And somehow as you listen to Louisiana Red, Peg Leg Sam, Lefty Dizz and the rest you feel better. (Tell me you’re not happy when you hear Red play guitar on “Got A Girl With A Dog Won’t Bark”.) I don’t know what that means either, but I’m thankful.To read more posts, reviews and Short Takes columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.