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Issue 40 - Music'sdarkheart

Whisky Magazine Issue 40
June 2004

 

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Music'sdarkheart

Blues–fromitsrootsinblackruralpovertythrough60spsychedeliaandontothecollegerocksceneoftodayhasalwaysbeenaboutattitude.HereJeffersonChasetakesawalkonthewildside,whileonpage24,DaveBroommeetsthemastersofpsychedelicblues,Love.

EveryoneknowsthelegendofDeltabluesmanRobertJohnsongoingdowntothecrossroadsandsellinghissoulinreturnforbeingtaughthowtoplaytheguitar,butthestoryofJohnson'sdeathisequallydevilishandprobablyclosertothetruth.

OnAugust13th,1938,the27yearoldJohnsonwasplayingataclubwherehe'dbeencarryingonwiththeowner'swife.Hediedthreedayslaterafterdrinkingwhiskeypoisonedwitheitherstrychnineorlye.

HarmonicplayerSonnyBoyWilliamsclaimedthathe'dslappedafirstbottleofmoonshinefromJohnson'shand,warninghimthatthestuffwaslaced,butthatJohnsonguzzledasecondoneanyway.

ThetaleofJohnson'sdemiseisjustoneepisodeinthelong-runninglovestorybetweenthebluesandthewateroflife,or,inmanycases,death.Moonshinewhiskeywasasourceofinspiration,akillerofbothtimeandpain,andoneofthemainformsofcurrencyinwhichitinerantbluesmusiciansofthe1920san‘30swerepaid.Butmoreimportantly,whiskeywasanessentialingredientofwhatreallymakesthebluestheblues:attitude.

Countlesspeoplehavetriedandfailedtodefinetheblues.Eventhesnappyaxiom‘threechordsandthetruth'doesn'tfitthebillsincemanyDeltabluessongsarebuiltaroundasingleriff.Nonetheless,weallknowwhatthebluesare.Thebluesisatoughguyorgal,bothbemoaningandrevellinginlife'shardknocks.Abadasswhoknowsheorsheisgoingtohellanddoesn'treallycareaslongthere'sabottleofboozearound.

Caseinpoint:Leadbelly,a.k.a.HuddieWilliamLedbetter,bornin1888andoneofmostinfluentialexponentsofacoustic‘country'blues.Hedidfourstretchesinjailforoffencesrangingfromassaulttomurder.Smallwonder,then,withhisfondnessforfirewater,romani...

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