Yesterday was the first of the year, but my year really didn’t get started until today.
You see, i made black-eyed peas with hog jowl (the jim jewell version includes tomatoes, onion, and a whole bunch of stuff that sounds good to me at the moment) and my mother’s version of cornbread, which never includes sugar – and someday, i will get brave enough to fry it like my mother sometimes did or make cornpone, two distinctly different things. If i ever tell Maureen the Southern tradition of making turnip greens because of the belief it will bring you money in the coming year, then i will probably add that to the New Year’s Day menu…by request. But for now, it’s enough to do what i do.
Then there were other things to attend to yesterday, mostly getting organized to start the year one day late.
So here it is, my first day of the year. This morning, i made my walk/run, for now walk only. Through an unintended selection from my normal “shuffle all” due to fat fingers, i ended up listening to Tom Waits’ album “Closing Time.”
It occurred to me there are about a half dozen singers who have had a significant impact on me and are my favorites to whom i listen most of the time. I decided to add Waits (a second cousin to my shipmate, apartment sharer in bachelor heaven, and friend, JD Waits) to the list. i identify with the thoughts in Waits’ songs, especially on this album, even the rough parts. i’m adding him to my list because the same is true of the others.
Jimmy Reed was the first to resonate with me. i listened to and watched Snooky Lanson and Dinah Shore on “Hit Parade” in the early fifties after hearing Fred Waring on his television. Before that, it was nearly all old country and Dennis Day on our 78-RPM album “Johnny Appleseed.” i’m sure there were others but those and of course, the inimitable Spike Jones struck in my head.
But Jimmy Reed impressed me, something new; no, not new, radically different from rock ‘n roll, bubblegum rock. He sang the blues. i do not know how i first started listening to WLAC at night. The news, talk, and easy listening Nashville station went to the dark side at night, nine o’clock to be exact. i loved it. Big John R, Gene Nobles, and Hoss Allen introduced me to blues, called “rhythm and blues” back then – and it was so much more rhythm and blues than the genre label today. The dark side went until way into the midnight hour and beyond, the ending time still unknown by me as i don’t think i ever stayed up that late, with the small radio under the covers thrown over my head so my parents would not hear how late i was staying up. Of all of the great blues singers, all gone now, Jimmy Reed was my first favorite. Then at Castle Heights in the spring, the track team when practicing boomed Jimmy Reed albums on the football field press box speaker system. Coming back from baseball practice down Hill Street, i envied the track guys. Jimmy Reed’s “Live at Carnegie Hall” still gets played frequently on my turntable.
Then came Vanderbilt where my Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers introduced me to Nina Simone and “Nina’s Choice,” still my favorite album of hers, perhaps because it was the first. I learned more about her and learned to appreciate her demand for equality and felt i understood, as much as a boy my age from my culture could understand, her anger. She taught me a lot. i’m pretty sure i have more CD’s of Nina’s than any other artist, but i still listen to “Nina’s Choice” the most.
Sonny Boy Williamson was added to my list much later. i loved much of Sonny Boy’s songs as i did Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Eddie Floyd, Slim Harpo, John Lee Hooker, and the more popular with the general population Bobby Blue Bland as well as others that blurred the line between blues and rock ‘n roll. But the four CD album, “The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson” laid it on the line. It is raw and it is the blues. i listen and i am back in the deep South where someone like me shouldn’t be, and i identify.
Of course, i was raised thirty miles from the capital of country music. Growing up, even though i liked listening to a lot of it, i rejected it as hick. i didn’t want to be labeled as a hick. But bluegrass captured me. It seemed to be genuine country, and Flatt and Scruggs were the icons of Bluegrass for me. Oh sure, there was Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, but i loved Lester’s smooth voice, the unequaled banjo of Earl, and the dobro, oh yes, the dobro of the Foggy Mountain Boys. i play their albums often, especially “Folk Songs of Our Land.” My fraternity brothers, Alan Hicks and Cy Fraser, are much more informed than me but we have enjoyed Flatt and Scruggs and other Bluegrass bands together for years.
Somewhere in there, i am not sure exactly when but it was during my MTSU years, 1965-67, because i was at our home on Castle Heights Avenue when i heard a Carter Family song on the radio. It was “Heaven’s Radio.” I was enthralled. After all, the Everly Brothers in “I Wonder If I Care As Much” are the only singers i’ve ever heard with an equally evocative pronunciation. The Everly’s sang the title line as “I wonder if I keer as much.” The Carter’s did them one better because they made a rhyme of “If there’s static in the air, and you can hardly hyar, you better turn on the radio of the Lord.” i have their album “Clinch Mountain Treasures” and often put on it on my CD player and go back to my roots.
Then, there is Hamper McBee. At Vanderbilt, my fraternity brother Billy Parsons – i think i’m going to drop “fraternity” from my descriptions because all of those guys are truly “brothers” to me – introduced me to Hamper McBee. He was close to a ne’er do well up in the hills of Monteagle Mountain. He bootlegged whiskey, occasionally got thrown in jail, and he sang a bit. If i remember correctly, Tubby’s Tavern was just a bit south of US 41 as you rolled into Monteagle about halfway from the town to Sewanee, the University of the South. If you took a detour to Tubby’s and there was a white mule tethered outside, you knew Hamper was in there singing songs. When i detoured from a trip to or from Chattanooga, the mule was never there. But others made that stop. Some Nashville dentist (i believe he was a dentist and i think he later became a politician) went up in the mountains and interviewed Hamper in his natural habitat: the woods, not the jail or Tubby’s. The result was some hilarious interviews, but the music was superb Southern hill folk music.
In the early 1980’s, i spotted an old record store on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego. Maureen, whom i was dating, went in with me. There were some great treasures in LP’s in the rows and rows of records, but i couldn’t find that album. Finally i asked the owner, an older man on the heavy side with a white wispy beard if he had anything by Hamper McBee. The man went into orbit. Not only did he have about thirty songs on a cassette, he was a fanatic fan of Hamper. i couldn’t believe it. Hamper is another who takes me back to my roots. Soon i hope to digitize my cassette.
Judy Collins came into my awareness while i was on my first ship, the U.S.S. Hawkins. She had an incredible voice, was one of the leaders of the folk movement in the late 1960’s, and i think i loved her. Someday i will relate how the staff officers of COMPHIBRON Five would relate to that song when sung by “Baby” at the Subic O’Club. Only Nina’s albums are greater in number in my collection.
So i sit by our fire with the new year upon me. i have given up on Facebook for a while so it is truly a new year.
To usher it in there is nothing much better to express my eldnerness and hopefully, my approach to the world for the rest of my life than Mose’s song, “Ever Since the World Ended:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbSR0z8uMME.
Now if you hit the link and listen to that song, you may stay on and hear a marvelous interview and collaboration between Mose and Van Morrison.
i hope you too have a wonderful New Year.