Essays On Mississippi

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Bromberg met Hooker in New York at folk clubs in Greenwich Village and used to perform some of the songs, though he said it is been a while and declined to do one at this point.

Instead, he decided to play a song by Big Bill Broonzy. I have known it as the “Mule Ridin’ Blues,” though Bromberg remembers it being called the “Hey Bub Blues” on one album. We discussed the folk revival and how exciting it was to meet some of the original blues musicians in and around New York in the 1960s and 70s, as well as some of the other blues players in the revival.

For Bromberg, the trick is to own the song yourself, at least while you are playing it.

We reminisced about another influence, someone who was actually around in the New York City area from whom Bromberg learned a lot, Reverend Gary Davis.

It was important to Bromberg not to try to cast Shines as someone straight out of the 1930s.

“I didn’t put him on a bale of hay, in dungarees with a straw hat on,” notes Bromberg.Artists such as Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, and Skip James, as well as Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell, frequently played at The Gaslight, a fabled club in Greenwich Village where Bromberg spent time as the regular opening act. Johnson’s distinct tone was the model for King’s sound, even though he played electric guitar and Johnson’s classic recordings had been on acoustic guitar.Bromberg notes the influence of Lonnie Johnson to B. Rory Block has told me how grateful she was, after being turned down by the Philadelphia Folk Festival one year, that Bromberg had invited her play on stage with him as a guest at the festival. Bromberg dug a little deeper into that tradition, talking about the fife and drum traditions found in the hill country, and remembering players such as Sid Hemphill, noting that some of these traditions seem to come right from Africa.Davis was from South Carolina and is usually classified as an “Piedmont style” artist, but his influence on the folk and blues revival artists such as Bromberg, as well as Rory Block and many others, was tremendous.I asked Bromberg who his favorite Mississippi artist was, expecting it would be Robert Johnson, but he named Skip James instead.When I mentioned that, Bromberg said he doesn’t actually remember it! We also talked about the “hill country” blues styles for Mississippi, exemplified in recent years by R. Bromberg played the “Big Road Blues,” a song he learned from the recording by Tommy Johnson, who also gave us the “Canned Heat Blues.” The walking bass line on it is very engaging – and those strong bass lines have always appealed to Bromberg.We ended our visit with some conversation about strumming (as opposed to picking) exemplified by Charley Patton, though Bromberg feels he isn’t really up to speed on the technique at this point.We talked about Skip, how unusual it was for a Mississippi artist to be very talented on both guitar and piano, and how eerie and distinct Skip James’s sound was on both instruments.When I asked Bromberg if he could play a song by Skip James, he essentially said that it is still on the “to do” list for him to learn a Skip James song!Bromberg remembered hearing a performer singing “Big Bill’s Blues,” and referring to himself in the song as “Bill.” Bromberg wondered why the performer didn’t use his own name in the places where Broonzy had used his name in the original.After all, the performer’s name wasn’t Bill Broonzy.


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