Tour Dates
Latest News
Song Index
MP3 Page
Sheet Music
Press Kit Online
Folk Alliance
Join Email List
Joel Speaks
Tip Jar
or send    
to Joel

A Bird In This World
Joel Mabus

fossil 2415


[click here to return to A Bird In This World page]

Here’s 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…


The 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 tried ‘em.


There is 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 ballad.

3    HILLBILLY SINGER      5:11

A 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.  So there.  


Before 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.


At 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.

6    HEMINGWAY’S BEARD      2:58

The tune came first. I wrote it on Halloween between trick-or-treaters visiting our door.  The parade of dead authors arrived later.

7    HOOSIER BLUES   2:50

Some 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.


Look 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 DESIRE  2:54

In 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.


Indeed, 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

All songs, words and music, written by Joel Mabus & published by Fingerboard Music, BMI ©2015

Visit JOELMABUS.COM for complete lyrics and more information on this and other recordings.


[click here to return to A Bird In This World page]