Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 23, 2014

Struck out from Como and drove south on 55 to deep accompaniment of Alan Lomax’s late-Fifties/early-Sixties field recordings from the same area (McDowell, the Hemphills, Parchman Farm worksongs, a couple of Tyro church chants). SOUTHERN JOURNEY: 61 HIGHWAY, it’s called. You need to listen to it some day, though it should be called 51 HIGHWAY. As we drove down the pine-lined four-lane, the music threw us back into a crueler time–a wild goat perched under a bridge over the highway reinforced that feeling.

Then we visited that place where, as Sam Phillips once said, “the soul of man never dies”: the world of Chester Arthur Burnett, The Howlin’ Wolf, aided and abetted by Hubert Sumlin on wild guitar, Otis Spann on rolling 88s, and Willie Dixon, on bass and pen & paper. I sang along silently and mimed playing the solos the whole way. Top 10 record: the rockin’ chair cover/MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT twofer. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Wolf overload a mic or Sumlin cut the air with a note.

After we crossed over into Louisiana, it was time for ZYDECO STOMP DOWN (various live tracks, including Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas’ truth-telling “Everything on the Hog”) and ALLIGATOR STOMP, highlighted by Rockin’ Sidney’s paean to his daughter (not his lover) “My Toot-Toot,” Cleveland Crochet’s “Sugar Bee,” and a Cajun cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” This was designed to get us primed for the wind-up of Thibodaux, Louisiana’s Swamp Stomp, which we thoroughly enjoyed over beer, jambalaya, fried pickles, and a shrimp po-boy. Saw Cameron DuPuy’s band, which was OK, but the Pine Leaf Boys, mixing some Jerry Lee and George Jones into their Cajun stylings, took the prize. A tall black man in a cowboy hat and shirt with cut-off sleeves danced his Cajun/r&b fusion style with at least 10 different women, including an energetic 70+-year-old white woman. I thought to myself, “Would she have been out there with him in ’64?” Maybe so, but it IS a new world.

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Zoomed on to New Orleans, listening to ‘OZ along the way (we pledged $10 a month), inched up Rampart Street, which was flooded with deliriously happy people leaving the high school brass band competition at Armstrong Park, parked on Treme (just around the corner from St. Augustine church, from SHAKE THE DEVIL OFF!), and walked against a chilly breeze up to Congo Square to watch The Hot Eight Brass Band, who were smokin’, and augmented by a Mardi Gras Indian.

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Both of us are a little ailing: Nicole’s got a sore throat, my back’s whacked. We are applying a dose of Sidney Bechet as we fade out in the hotel room….

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