A little more about Blues History...can you stand it?
In case you haven't read my earlier bashing of Blues books, let me start this blog with a disclaimer: By definition, a Blues book is an attempt by some literary type to figure out someone else' culture....after that culture was uprooted, mangled, and mushed together with all kinds of other stuff in America....500 years ago! Sure, I'll take a shot....can't do any worse.
When we hijacked a whole lot of different people from West Africa, and threw them together in distinctly lesser conditions in America, what did we get, culturally? We got a rich oral tradition, kept alive by traveling musicians/storytellers called griots, who, while keeping the cultural traditions alive, were also the short-time stranger visiting the village (and viewed with both admiration and distrust, in the finest small-town tradition). Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because West African stories often have the element of trickery as an important component, the patron saint of the griots was Legba, god of music.....and deception! A little ol' trickster god who might put one over on you to satisfy some selfish desire of his own....what a choice for a musician deity! By the way, if you've heard the blues line “I'd rather drink muddy water, and sleep in a hollow log”, those images go all the way back to Africa, where the traveling griots would take shelter enroute in a baobab tree (and sometimes be found dead in there)....and muddy water indicated the Nile was getting ready to flood your farm (hence the association with bad luck). Oh, and you would, of course, meet the griot (or maybe Legba himself)... at the crossroads.
Well, as you might expect, it didn't take the white folks (who came to America partly to BE religious fanatics!) long to equate the mischievous Legba with the more sinister....wait for it....Satan! First of all, because they were suspicious of multiple deities anytime, and trickster gods (plus music and dancing...and keeping alive African traditions) were just too much! So, as we might also expect, the early, traveling bluesmen had an image problem......or was it an opportunity? Identifying themselves with the Devil tied them to the tradition, made them seem superhuman....and most importantly....defiant of the white man's rules! So Peetie Wheatstraw adverised himself as “The Devil's Son-in-law”, coated his cornrows with wax, and started shows with his hair on fire....way before Michael Jackson. Robert Johnson's obsession with the Devil has been well documented (maybe not ACCURATELY documented....was he poisoned? Stabbed? Both? Did he really spend his last hours barking like a dog?), but the question is: Was this Posturing, maybe with a little Marketing on the side? Or did life outside mainstream (read white) conventions convince these guys that they really WERE in league with the Father of Lies? Hard to really know, but I think the key words are: Life outside the mainstream (read: White) conventions.....fighting “the Man”, spurning the white hospital to consult a “root doctor”....living like an African griot.
One more note about the crossroads: I've been told this story very seriously by TWO different (white) blues fans....who don't know each other....after the tour, which includes a trip to the crossroads near the Stovall plantation, where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil, and after a few drinks, our tourist decides that he's going to take a guitar and go down to that crossroads at sunrise (this worries me, because I always thought it was supposed to be sunSET, but whatever)....qnd both guys were startled when a black man, all dressed in black, DID approach them...the amusing idea now turned a little more real than they had planned, and thinking not of the mischievous Legba, but rather of our more sinister Lucifer, they each asked hesitantly: “Are....you....who I....think....you are?” And the man answered …............”Absolutely! I'm Supa Chikan (bluesman who lives nearby....and talks to chickens)....Wanna buy a CD?”
speaking of Cd's...the new Wildcat CD Party Up In Heaven actually CHARTED this week (#13 on Blues Debut)...check web store to order yours!!!!