Thursday, July 15, 2010

Booker White - Memphis Hot Shots

Known colloquially as "Bukka White," Mr. Booker T. Washington "Big Daddy" White was a true original, a bluesman archetype. (I choose to refer to him by his given name, as he refuted the "Bukka" spelling his whole life, in vain.) He learned how to play guitar from Charley Patton, the same mystery figure who taught Robert Johnson. He sang about prison, women, booze, trains, and death, and not much else. When the market for the blues dried up in the forties he made a living in the boxing ring and as a pitcher in the Negro League. When hippies rediscovered and revitalized the blues in the sixties, he was one of the first on board - easily the first one out of the old guard to embrace playing with young white boys who may or may not have experimented with mind-altering substances. This weird lost gem from 1968 shows Booker in prime improvisatory form, pounding out old standards and his "hits" from the previous four decades with the band valiantly struggling (and ultimately failing) to keep up with him. As a result this record sounds cosmically askew, sliding in and out of proper time as if we can't quite grasp the fullness of it. Booker called his improvisations "sky songs" because of his habit of plucking them from thin air - perhaps on no other record has this been a more appropriate phrase.
Gimme an old, old lady.

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