Friday, May 23, 2008

Embarrassment of riches: Fred McDowell

I've often spoken about how fabulous YouTube is, but even I didn't expect this. I was leafing through my favorite blogs today and chanced across Doc 40's associated YouTube recommendations, Doctube. At the top of the list was a Mississippi Fred McDowell tune, Going Down to the River. A real video - not a rip of a CD with a video of tropical fish or stilll pictures of the uploader's cat, but a video of Fred, himself, playing his unbelievable delta blues guitar.

Magic. And - beside it, in the related videos, there are many, many more. Shake 'em on Down, of course. Led Zeppelin fans will recognize this one.

And even more improbably, Louise. I'm ashamed to say I've never heard Louise played by anyone except the Yardbirds. Imagine. It's actually a slow blues.

I was listening to a CD a friend sent me of a Trouser Press interview with Jimmy Page in 1977, where he talks about the difficulty of getting hold of decent records in London in the early 60's. You could catch about one rock record a day on the radio, he said, if you were lucky. People were record collectors, because it was the only way to hear things. And the collectors came to your gigs, because there was no other way to hear that sort of music. Rock was rationed, even as rationing ended for food and cloth.

Here's a couple of quotes:

JP: The numbers we were doing were really out of character for the audiences that were coming to hear us play, but there was always 5 or 10 per cent, mostly guys, who used to get off on what we were doing because they were into those things themselves: guitarists, record collectors. You'll find that nearly all the guitarists that came out of the 'sixties were record collectors and/or had friends that were collectors of either rock or blues. I used to collect rock and my friend collected blues.
TP: Did you swap?
JP: He wouldn't have any white records in his collection. He was a purist.

JP: I've read about many records which are supposed to have turned me on to want to play, but it was "Baby, Let's Play House" by Presley. You've got to understand that in those days "rock 'n' roll" was a dirty word. It wasn't even being played by the media. Maybe you'd hear one record a day during the period of Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. That's why you were forced to be a record collector if you wanted to be part of it.

Can you imagine that time - when music was rare? How much more it was treasured, but how much more boring the hours in between must have been.

YouTube, in the famous words of Dana Scully, keeps unfolding like a flower. It's an embarrassment of riches. I actually feel there's something wrong with being able to have every desire satisfied the moment I have it - it seems decadent.

I'm sure that my ancestors' granddad, five thousand years ago, probably said something similar. "This 'farming' crap will be the ruin of civilization. It's not natural to be able to eat food any time you feel hungry. It'll all come to grief, let me tell you!"

Well, until it does, there's some Mississippi Fred McDowell for you. Hello 21st Century.


Anupam said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Sis

2 of the Fred McDowell tracks you mention are on a live recording (1969)from the Mayfair Hotel when he was doing a UK tour, Louise and Shake em on Down. It was released originally as an album called "Standing at the burial ground", but is now available as a budget record called "London calling". All the tracks are brilliant and show his guitar style off at its best.



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