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Thursday, 9 August 2018

Fixin' to Die Blues; Lament from Epirus

I was much amused to read this section (p.66-67) in "Lament from Epirus, An Odyssey into Europe's Oldest Surviving Folk Music", by Christopher C. King, 2018:

"Jim slid a CD into his car player.  I was in the passenger seat and we were booking it toward the city of Ioannina. Emanating from the car speakers was "Fixin' to Die Blues", not the Bukka White side that we had heard in my record room a few months earlier but a rollicking, syncopated version by a much younger Jim Potts- "Memphis Jim" from the late 1960s. Jim's slide guitar mirrored the funky figures played by White, Instead of the gravelly Mississippi voice percussively stressing the vowels as they elided to the next verse, Jim's polished English accent distinctly emphasised the consonants:

Look over ̄Yonder, on the Burying Ground, on the Burying Ground
Look over ̄Yonder, on the Burying Ground
Yonder stand Ten Thousand, standing still to let me Down

I looked over yonder as his station wagon left a haze of dust. We were steadily ascending the mountain passes out of Igoumenitsa

Over yonder were burying grounds."

Well, you can judge for yourselves! Here's that same version, on YouTube, by the same "Memphis Jim", alias MrHighway49.  Play it loud!

Although I first started singing and performing this blues in the early 60's (at about the same time as Bob Dylan), this version was actually recorded by a not-so-young Jim in a studio at Potamos, Corfu, in July 2004 (I had recorded another CD at the Sun Studios, Memphis).

I am reminded of a comment by Michael Rosen, on BBC Radio 4 "Home Truths", 19 February, 2005:

"At the touch of a plectrum Jim could transform himself into a Mississippi Delta blues-singer".

They always get something wrong: I never use a plectrum!

Maybe I did here, it was a beat-up, borrowed guitar with a warped finger-board:

Juke-Joint Blues: Live in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Two more critics on my blues CD containing "Fixin' to Die":

"Perfect command of the genre...a magnificent job" - Bernd Kratochwil, "Rockin' Fifties" magazine, December 2004.

"A hell of a feeling for the blues...delightfully authentic album" - Bryan Chalker, "Music Maker" magazine, June/July 2005.

On the Memphis CD:

"Music to listen to at home, late at night with a bottle of whisky" - The Black Cat, Rockabilly Europe

How many more years (pour yourself a glass of whisky first)

More music to accompany Christopher King's tremendous book

Another playlist, from The Wire.

On Epirot Music (eKathimerini, 11.5. 2006)

I'd missed this mention of an article I once wrote for the Anglo-Hellenic Review:

"A wholly different turn comes with Jim Potts's look at Epirot folk music - «deeper than the deepest blues, more profoundly moving and full of yearning than the rebetika» - but for whom «my first instinct was to turn it off» upon first hearing it. It may be an acquired taste, but he has certainly acquired it, by visiting Epirot villages while with the British Council in northern Greece, and later scouting out (often surprisingly good) recordings and searching for long-lost clarinet players and other musicians of that genre".

Also from 2006, eKathimerini, 22.06.2006

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