Tres Songs

I rarely, if ever, do two posts of the same type in a row. I like to mix it up. But I felt lately like I was neglecting the ladies. And as every guy knows, you do so at your own peril. 😂 So here are three great songs by three great singers and players. 

Lucinda Williams is from Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is quite a bit closer to Port Arthur, Texas than it is to New Orleans. If you look the place up, the word ‘bayou’ crops up a lot. Lake Charles is where the character in The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” is headed. It is hot and steamy, with a high crime rate, four libraries, Creole music and a symphony orchestra. It is that kind of place, a place of contradictions. They need to make one of those lazy Matthew McConaughey movies there.

Lucinda kicked around the South and out in LA and back to Nashville for years, way under the radar, known primarily to other musicians who appreciated her songwriting and singing skills. “She is an example,” Emmylou Harris once said, “of the best of what country at least says it is, but, for some reason, she’s completely out of the loop and I feel strongly that that’s country music’s loss.”

And. BTW, not just country but folk, blues and that lost Americana of which we sing. Her 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road changed all that. Country or no, they played her stuff on what was left of FM radio. It was good. It was tough. It had balls.

She didn’t write “Can’t Let Go.” But she makes it her own:

Spotify link

Ever heard of Janiva Magness? Maybe you have, I hadn’t. Her name showed up on the list of performers booked at a blues club I frequent. I noted the name and the club’s blurb about her and figured I would check her out one day. As these things sometimes go, I forgot about that. And then lo and behold, they played her on one of the satellite channels the other day.

Magness is from the tough town of Detroit, Michigan. She says that she saw bluesman Otis Rush play and it changed her life. She sings soul and blues and has a good reason to sing the latter. Think you have it rough because your favorite sushi place just closed? Her parents both committed suicide and she kicked around foster homes during her childhood. (She is not shy about this. It says this right on her web page.)

Like Williams, she traveled under the radar for years and I think still very much does. However, she has by no means gone unrecognized. Wikipedia: The Blues Foundation named Magness the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2009, becoming only the second woman, after Koko Taylor to be so honored. The award was presented by B.B. King himself and Bonnie Raitt. Like I said, under the radar. 

This song is called “I Won’t Be Around.” I guess it’s what you might call a torch song. Or maybe it’s just damn good and damn soulful. You will feel this:

Spotify link

Now, believe it or not, before I knew about the Koko Taylor connection I had planned on making one of her tunes part of this three-song mini-set. Koko, (pictured on top of post) who passed away in 2009 at age 80, hailed from Memphis, Tennessee. I was in Memphis once a few years back. It’s quite the place. I visited Graceland. I saw Sun Studios. I walked down Beale Street. All that tourist shit. I’ll tell you about that some other time. Remind me.

Janiva started singing in Chicago at a most fervent and productive time for the blues. Muddy Waters was king of the blues back then and Buddy Guy had arrived in town not too long before that. B.B. passed through frequently.

They all ran around and played cards together and cheated on their women and pulled knives on each other in back alleys (usually over a woman) and then wrote songs about it. All that stuff that the white boys in England would pick up on and throw back in our faces a few years later was being created right then and there.

Koko was a regional wonder at first, then with the blues explosion of the ’60’s eventually recording for the legendary Alligator Records.

In one of those you-had-to-be-there events, we went years ago to see both Koko and bluesman J.B.Hutto play in what I recall being something like a high school auditorium or cafeteria in Cambridge, MA. Yeah, I know it seems crazy but it made sense at the time. I remember Koko belting the blues and Hutto standing on top of tables wailing slide guitar to a small but rabid crowd. It was that kind of scene.

The first time I ever heard the song “Wang Dang Doodle” was from the Pointer Sisters‘ debut album. But it was actually a Willie Dixon song, originally done by Howlin’ Wolf. Koko recorded it in 1965 with Buddy Guy as one of the guitarists and Dixon singing along.

Now I don’t know if wang dang doodle is fun. Or dangerous. Maybe a little bit of both. Like Lake Charles. Memphis. Detroit. I don’t know. Your call:

Tell automatic slim
Tell razor totin’ Jim
Tell butcher knife totin’ Annie
Tell fast talkin’ Fanny
Tonite we’re gonna pitch a ball

Down to that union hall
Gonna romp and tromp ’till midnite
We’re gonna fuss and fight ’till daylight
We’re gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long

Spotify link

 

21 thoughts on “Tres Songs

  1. Good one Doc. I’ve been listening to Williams for a long time. (She’ll pop up on my next take, part of a compilation). What a story on Janiva. Never heard her but she sounds good. Koko’s version of ‘Wang Dang’ is a classic. When she can keep up with Wolf’s original that’s saying something.

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    1. I was telling the stoney guy in comments that I think I want to go see Janiva. She’s one of those singers that I don’t think it matters if you know her repertoire. And Koko was a force of nature for sure

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      1. I’ll meet you when you go see her. I was listening to Koko on one of my “Alligator” records a while back. Amazing how much of the same music we dig. You have your foot in the “roots/country” music with Lucinda.

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  2. ‘Damn’ is what first comes to my mind after listening to these tunes – they are all outstanding!

    Other than having heard her name before, sadly, I didn’t know about Lucinda Williams. The “Car Wheels On The Gravel Road” album sounds just as brilliant as its title. Thanks in part to John Mellencamp, who as you know is one of my favorite artists, I’ve gotten more into roots music, so Williams definitely is right up my alley.

    And Koko Taylor? Wow, pretty intense lady!

    I’m going to further explore all of these three artists – thanks for pointing them out!

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  3. I’ve never been much of a fan of Williams’ voice to be honest. Just a little too twangy for my taste. Maybe I should give her a proper listen. Perhaps she can change my mind.
    Janiva sounds interesting.

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  4. As previously noted, each of these three artists is absolutely outstanding. It also appears they each deserve much broader recognition.

    I’ve been listening to some of Koko Taylor’s work – holy macro!

    I mean, I love Clapton, the Allman Brothers and the Stones, to throw out a few of the great white blues rockers, but Koko really puts things into perspective – it almost feels like you just entered a new universe or something. This lady is blowing me away! No wonder they called her the “Queen of the Blues!”

    It’s just another humble reminder that the more I get into music blogging, the more I realize my knowledge of music is even more limited than what I thought it would be.

    As one of my (white) rock & roll heroes once wisely sang, “The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows”

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    1. Yeah, man, she was great. Funny but I assumed everybody knew who she was. A couple of commenters have said pretty much the same as you so I guess not. Easily on a level with B.B. King in the blues community. BTW, it’s holy mackerel. 🙂

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        1. Yep, we got the first snow of the season. Luckily, it’s not too bad. In fact, it didn’t prevent me from driving for some 40 minutes to see another gig from this cool Neil Young tribute band, Decade. They are playing in a small pub tonight. Should be fun!

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