A Bird In This World
LINER NOTES FROM ALBUM COVER
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the blues album I’ve been talking about: ten
original songs that spell the blues in my own peculiar way.
Now, some might want to call this the “blue side of folk” or the
“country side of blues” or just a new set from the old boy. But
it’s blues to me. My first
encounter with the real deal was as a wide-eyed child on the downtown streets of
St. Louis in the late 1950’s – large black men with metal guitars selling
pencils and wailing on the street corners. Later
on, as a teen I soaked up a lot from records, weaving my family’s hillbilly
music with country blues from the likes of Doc, Brownie, Lightning, and
Mississippi John. Some of those men
I eventually got to know in person, like one winter afternoon in my college dorm
in 1973. I was nineteen and Brownie
McGhee was staying in the guest suite. He heard me play guitar and invited me in
to pick, just the two of us playing
hillbilly songs and blues. It was
all one thing to that kind Tennessee gentleman.
Now I am older than Brownie was then.
Time to let this bird fly…
1 WELCOME BACK
TO THE BLUES 4:08
acoustic guitar I play on this album was built by Bryan Galloup in Michigan with
a spruce top and flame maple body. Makes
for a pretty fine blues box, punchy but mellow, especially when strung with the
old-fashioned monel strings now again available.
Arrow collars and Florsheim shoes? Never
2 SIMPLY LOST IN
THE BLUES 3:12
the blues as a musical form, with its compound rhythms, blue notes, and
dissonant harmonization. And then there is the blues as the hard knocks of a
cruel world. But there is also the
blues as alienation & despair. That’s
what this song gets at – the inner complaint set to the tune of a blues
story song like this seems to invite some listeners to assume “it really
happened that way.” As if all a songwriter has to do is listen closely and
transcribe. Nope, that would be
journalism, not songwriting. I’ve
had many insightful conversations with older performers, and lots of back-room
bull sessions with my peers about this sometimes sordid business. But no single
one of those palavers would make for a good song.
The cardinal rule of songwriting is this: never let mundane facts get in
the way of telling the truth. And
there is truth in this song. As for
the “H” word – my farm-raised parents proudly paid the bills by singing
hillbilly music on the road back in the 1930’s and 40’s, before Nashville
banned the word in favor of “country music” in the 1950’s.
KENTUCKY HAMBONE BLUES
Rockabilly, there was a distinct variant of 12-bar blues favored by rural white
musicians west of the Appalachian mountains. Featuring an exuberant downbeat and
a tendency to hold a note for an extra measure, I call it the 13-bar blues. I
wrote this one in that style from the usual chord progressions, and borrowed a
few motifs here and there. But that
is what the blues is all about – cooking up a new dish from a proven recipe.
5 BROWN COUNTY
one point this one had lyrics, but I tossed them out and made it a guitar piece.
The title references the bouncy Travis-style beat of the right thumb, and
the place is the wooded county in southern Indiana where Bill Monroe held his
famous bluegrass festival in the sleepy town of Bean Blossom.
I got tossed out of that festival in 1971 by Monroe’s fiddler, Kenny
Baker. Monroe always worked his
sidemen to the bone by giving them menial chores to do when they weren’t
onstage. Baker’s task was to go
tent to tent every morning and wake up campers – and sell them their daily
tickets. I was a feckless and naïve
17-year-old there to soak up the bluegrass, having hitch-hiked 250 miles with
nothing but a cheap sleeping bag and 5 bucks in my pocket.
I didn’t know there would be tickets!
I got in a couple days of great free music before Kenny told me and my
buddy we really had to hit the road. He
was actually a nice guy about it, and I was thrilled to meet him.
And that, my friend, is the Brown County Bounce.
tune came first. I wrote it on Halloween between trick-or-treaters visiting our
door. The parade of dead authors
7 HOOSIER BLUES
of my best friends are Hoosiers. Really.
Again, the tune here came to me first.
Then came the rhyme of “lose your Hoosier blues” and it just
wouldn’t let me go. I have always
envied Indiana their peculiar nickname. Most
of the Midwestern states adopt native flora or fauna for their totems and
football teams – Badgers, Wolverines, Buckeyes, etc..
My native Illinois long ago banished its early pioneer nickname – the
“Sucker” state. Only Missouri
had a nastier one – they were the “Pukes.”
In the early days on the river trade, many a keelboat card game turned
into a bloody fight when somebody declared “Well, I’d rather be a Sucker
than a no ‘count Puke!” It took
a sound thrashing from a ham-fisted “husher” (Hoosier) to restore peace.
8 EVERY BITTER
THING IS SWEET 2:58
it up – Proverbs 27:7. My
recitative is my own paraphrase. The
tune is a slow bluesy rag in a minor key. The old proverb was rattling around in
the attic the whole time I was crafting it.
9 A SPIN OF
my junior year of college back in 1974, I
was struck by a sudden illness that sent me to my bed for several weeks.
I had to take incompletes in most of my classes in fall term, including
my favorite elective that year: Philosophy 101 --“Introduction to
Epistemology.” After 40 years, here is my term paper, Dr. Benjamin.
The curious title comes from the mail room at Elderly Instruments
circa 1982, the now-fabled music store then in its formative years.
A customer from overseas had written them a fan letter in somewhat broken
English, saying “your music fills me with the spin of desire!”
Poetry is where you find it.
10 HOW ABOUT THE BLUES
how about it? A love letter to the
blues, its riverbed homeland and some of its paragons. Most of those gone now
except for the tracks they recorded. The title of this album is there at the end
of the last verse. I’ll admit it.
I am a bird in this world.
Joel Mabus, 2015
songs, words and music, written by Joel Mabus & published by Fingerboard
Music, BMI ©2015
JOELMABUS.COM for complete lyrics and more information on this and
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