A Certain Degree of the Blues – Guest post by Samantha Gray


 

vinyl record

vinyl record (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Anyone who has been following my blog for a long time will know how much I love music and how there have been times when I have deluged my blog with music related posts. Music is something that touches many lives, today Samantha shares her music love with us.

Today I’d like to share a strange and personal obsession. I am addicted to feeling of being transported that I’ve been getting from listening to old blues records. There’s something eerie about them, and it’s not just the scratchy groove of the physical medium. As though they weren’t records at all, but ghosts. They whisper to us (or howl, as they case may be) of a lost time that we can never truly access, and yet which in another sense we can’t ever escape.

I’ve been obsessed lately with one in particular, “James Alley Blues” by Richard “Rabbit” Brown. Like many of the first wave of recorded bluesmen, Brown is a mystery; we know next to nothing about him. He seems to have born around 1880 in New Orleans. All his known recordings amount to six songs from one session on May 11th, 1927. They include “The Sinking of the Titanic” (Brown was apparently known for his story-ballads), but to my ear none of them have the unique aura of “James Alley Blues.”

Here are the lyrics, transcribed as I hear them, though they’re heavy on dialect and elision, so I could be “wrong,” if that concept is even salient here:

Times ain’t now nothing like they used to be

Oh times ain’t now nothing like they used to be

And I’m telling you all the truth, oh, take it for me

I done seen better days but I’m putting up with these

I done seen better days but I’m putting up with these

I been have a much better time with these girls now it’s so hard to please

Cause I was born in the country she thinks I’m easy to rule

Cause I was born in the country she thinks I’m easy to rule

She try to hitch me to her wagon, she wanna drive me like a mule

You know I bought some groceries and I paid the rent

Yes I buy some groceries and I pay the rent

She try to make me wash her clothes but I got good common sense

I said if you don’t want me why don’t you tell me so

You know it, if you don’t want me why don’t you tell me so

Because it ain’t like a man ain’t got nowhere to go

I’ve been giving you sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt

I’ll give you sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt

And if you can’t get along with me, well it’s your own fault

How you want me to love you and you treat me mean

How do you want me to love you, you keep a-treating me mean

You’re my daily thought and my nightly dream

Sometime I think that you too sweet to die

Sometime I think that you too sweet to die

And another time I think you oughta be buried alive

What a way to end, right? Brown captures the bittersweet ambivalence of male/female relations in a way that’s utterly true and piercing, yet mundane rather than melodramatic, despite how that last line reads. Song lyrics, of course, generally look like bad poetry on the page: there is a mystical fusion of words and music that tends to be lost. So by all means go find the song. It’s been covered by more modern folkies like Bob Dylan and Wilco, but I recommend the original “Rabbit” Brown version, which really does have that magic antique patina, like a message in a bottle from another sad and holy world.

Samantha Gray was born and raised in Houston, Texas, where she is now a writer for bachelorsdegreeonline.com. She loves receiving feedback from her readers at samanthagray024@gmail.com.

When was the last time you listened to vinyl records?

What music transports you?

 

Advertisements