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Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James

27 Aug 17 - 03:42 AM (#3873820)
Subject: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

Only recently I've got into the singing and guitar playing of Skip James.

Naturally I started looking for a biography of this amazing artist.

Stephen Calt's biography is universally acknowledged as the best researched.

However many of the people who have read and reviewed it on Amazon, describe Calt as a spiteful, malicious man with no good word to say for anyone.
Has anyone read this book and formed an opinion?


27 Aug 17 - 04:36 AM (#3873828)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,jackaroodave

As I recall, he did have some good words for Snooks Eaglin, by way of sneering at B B King. Otherwise, I'd agree with both those evaluations.


27 Aug 17 - 07:09 AM (#3873845)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Tunesmith

Big Al, only recently got in to Skip? That's amazing!
I thought anybody who was aware of Robert Johnson and Son House would have been aware of the amazing Skip James since his "rediscovery" in the 60s. ( if you go back that far!)


27 Aug 17 - 07:53 AM (#3873849)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: gillymor

In his biography of Charley Patton (written with Gayle Dean Wardlow) Stephen Cal(t) and Wardlow constantly dissed blues artists and Patton contemporaries Willie Brown (the one who did Future Blues and M&O Blues) and Son House in an attempt to elevate Patton, I suppose. Patton is my favorite Delta Bluesman but this seemed odd coming from what you hoped would be at least a fairly objective biography. With all that I immensely enjoyed the book and go back to it now and then.
I'm looking forward to reading the Skip James bio, thanks for the heads-up.


27 Aug 17 - 08:20 AM (#3873852)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Tunesmith

Patton was far too over the top for me.
I know that he was Bob Brozman's favourite, and that makes sense because, vocally, Bob was over the top, as well.
Skip and Son are my two favourites.
I love Son's barely controlled intensity and Skip is just so amazingly different and any other blues singer.


27 Aug 17 - 08:33 AM (#3873857)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

well i was aware of Skip as a songwriter. i knew the Cream's I'm so glad. I knew Joanna Kelly's version of Hard Time Killing Floor.

i've never really got Son House - although Mick Stewart, Coventry blues singer said he was the best he'd ever seen.

I think I got into blues from an anglicised direction - albeit American anglicanisation - THe Blues Project album was my bible!


27 Aug 17 - 10:14 AM (#3873876)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST

Well, yet another of those wonderful threads where you hear about an artist that you have heard of but have never heard. So I was off on you tube listening to skip James..wow. Thank you Bill Al, this thread opened my ears to some great stuff.


27 Aug 17 - 04:11 PM (#3873941)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Tunesmith

Big Al mentioned the Blues Project album and. I assume he is referring to the Electra album.
In retrospect, too many of those white boys " singing black" is difficult for me to take.
Strangely, Mark Spoelstra is possibly the only singer who comes across as his own man.
But! I really loved the album as a kid and in particular Dave Ray's contribution.
Oh, wasn't there a great cover of Skip's "Devil got my woman" on the album?


27 Aug 17 - 05:41 PM (#3873955)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

yes Geof Muldaur did i'd rather be the devil.

there wasn't much i didn't like....Bad Dream Blues by Dave Van Ronk. France Blues by Spoelstra, Winding Boy by Ian Buchanan, Southbound Train and My Little Woman by Spider John Koerner.


27 Aug 17 - 08:19 PM (#3873966)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

The late Mr. Calt's biography of Skip James is a truly appalling piece of work, among the most off-putting books I've ever read, certainly on the subject of blues and blues artists. It reads like an endless settling of scores, a fevered effort to detail how many people are inferior, intellectually and morally, to Calt. One has the impression of a deeply unhappy man. It could not have been easy being him.

At least I survived the experience and still listen to James with pleasure. Not so with Barry Mazor's tediously quarrelsome Meeting Jimmie Rodgers, which is nearly as charm-deficient as Calt's effort. Arguably worse, since while purporting to celebrate Rodgers it made me never want to hear him again, and I haven't.


28 Aug 17 - 02:55 AM (#3873985)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,CJ

Another vote here for leaving Calt's book on the shelf. I found it bitter and unreadable. Listen to the music though, oh yes. Skip's piano songs are worth hunting down too, although a curiosity, his timing is perculiar.


30 Aug 17 - 06:29 AM (#3874276)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

its very interesting really.

i'm really consumed with interest.
i started off with the 1960's recordings.
on hearing the 1931 recording -cleaned up version - you have to be struck by the similarities.

was he pressured to reproduce the 1931 recordings.

put this into perspective.

Bix Beiderbecke to The Beatles. you're a musician. nothing changes.
doesn't that seem odd?


30 Aug 17 - 07:03 AM (#3874285)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: gillymor

A lot of the posters at Goodreads seem to share CJ's and Jerome's attitude toward Calt but the book does rate a 3.8 there which is respectable. Judging from his articles on country blues and his Patton bio Calt does his research and writes pretty well if you can live with the snark.


30 Aug 17 - 04:09 PM (#3874371)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

I take it you haven't read the book yourself.

Having spent my professional life as writer and editor, I don't think of "writes pretty well" as any particular recommendation. Yes, Calt was able to frame more or less coherent sentences and get his punctuation marks mostly in the right places. He did possess some musical knowledge (albeit largely squandered in personal vendettas).

The problem is twofold: (1) Calt's manifest loathing of his ostensible subject, Skip James, and (2) the distressing truth that the book actually is about Calt, not about James. It turns out, in other words, to be more autobiography than biography, and not an interesting one at that. There are plenty of excellent books on American blues, folk, and country musicians, written by informed, balanced scholars, critics, and journalists. Names like Paul Oliver, Ted Gioia, Robert Palmer, David Evans, Peter Guralnick, Jeff Todd Tilton, and others come to mind, just off the top of my head. Colin Escott (more concerned with country than blues) delivers his abundant snark with wit and humor. Nobody would ever say that of Calt, who had all the nuance and comic sense of a sledgehammer.


30 Aug 17 - 04:29 PM (#3874373)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST

Er, that's Jeff Todd Titon, not "Tilton," as a slip of the typing fingers has it.

And while I'm here, I might mention two outstanding blues biographies, very much in contrast to Calt's: Robert Gordon's Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters and Bob Riesman's I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Bronnzy, They're not the only ones, of course, just two that I happen to have in my personal library and enjoyed when I read them.

Maybe one day a more temperamentally suited writer will provide us with the biography that Skip James deserves.


30 Aug 17 - 04:43 PM (#3874374)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

Okay, one last time. Lest there be any confusion, I wrote the follow-up to the posting about blues writers, correcting my misspelling of a last name. I managed to forget to type my own name in the box. Sorry.


31 Aug 17 - 07:39 AM (#3874461)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,matt milton

I've read it. Well, I stopped about 3/4 of the way through.

It is a truly bizarre book. The best reason I can give for buying it would be for the parts of the book that are direct quotes from Skip James. They do at least give an insight. And, to be fair, it becomes pretty clear that Skip James is an unpleasant guy: a misogynistic, narcissistic, self-centred and rather lazy man.

But, really, the main reason it's a car-crash of a book is that Calt, having realised he doesn't like his subject, doesn't just... stop writing the book!

What's most weird about the book is Calt doesn't even seem to like Skip James' music?! He's always dismissing it and putting it down. Just seems a bit pointless. If someone could just somehow extract all the direct quotes from Skip James and place them in a book, that would be a much better read.


31 Aug 17 - 07:53 AM (#3874464)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,matt milton

Whoops, noticed I called him Calt above, meant to say Calf obvs...


...one other bizarre thing about the book I remember is that Calf is quick to call Skip James a liar and a fantasist (which he probably was) but at the same time is perfectly happy to accept all the nasty things Skip James says he has done completely at face value.

So Skip James is a liar, and a fantasist who likes to self-mythologise himself as a Big Bad Man. Except when he says he's murdered someone or hit someone or stolen something. Then he is a violent murdering criminal. Now he may well have been, but the fact that Skip James may simply be talking bollocks doesn't seem to have occurred to Calf, because Calf is determined to think the worst of everybody.


31 Aug 17 - 08:12 AM (#3874470)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: gillymor

Calf? We're talking about Stephen Calt, right?

Reading opinions here and reviews at Goodreads I'm starting to think Calt went around the bend since the time I used to enjoy his writing on country blues. I've got the ebook in my reading queue but fortunately it's a loaner.


31 Aug 17 - 08:28 AM (#3874475)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,matt milton

Oh yes, my mistake (and others')...

Stephen CALT not Calf.

I've no doubt he's written some worthwhile stuff in his time, but this one is almost like a nervous breakdown of sorts. It's not a hatchet job exactly, because Skip James is enough of a git not to need one, but it's just not a book that Calt really should have persisted with.


31 Aug 17 - 01:22 PM (#3874520)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Hootenanny

Yes it is CALT as I guess you should know if you have read his book(s).
He contributed sleeve notes to a number of Belzona/Yazoo albums over the years mostly not of great ineterest if you did not play a guitar. I believe his last book before his demise was the very useful reference book "Barrelhouse Words". He also c0-authered a book on Charlie Patton.

Re the man Skip James I had the pleasure of meeting him very briefly and found him to be a pleasant and polite man.

If Skip was "talking bollocks" it is not surprising. The man during his "rediscovery" period was suffering from cancer and often in great discomfort. How do you think he felt when he was constantly pestered by young guys wanting to interrogate him about his life and music. I have met a number of bluesmen over the years and I am sure that many of them enjoyed having a quiet laugh at our expense. I remember in conversation with Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim at one time Slim turned to Willie and laughingly said "You know all blues men are liars except you and me, and sometimes I ain't so sure about you".

If Skip had been a violent man then he was not alone among blues men. Trying to survive down south was never easy believe it or not.


01 Sep 17 - 03:39 AM (#3874622)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Mike Yates

I have always found Calt's book "Barrelhouse Words" to be very valuable. And I enjoyed reading "King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton", a book which annoyed at least one academic! As to his Skip James book - it is a very odd tome indeed.


01 Sep 17 - 04:20 AM (#3874633)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: Will Fly

"You know all blues men are liars except you and me, and sometimes I ain't so sure about you".

Reminds me of the old northern saying, "All the world's queer, save thee and me - and I'm none so sure about thee."

I do think that biographers should start at least with a basic sympathy for the person whose life they're describing. There may be discreditable aspects to a person, but there's a big difference between showing all sides of someone fairly and doing a hatchet job.

I recall buying Albert Grossman's book "Elvis" - which was full of sneers and jibes - and thinking, "Why did you bother?"


01 Sep 17 - 04:51 AM (#3874638)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Mike Yates

I should have said that Calt co-wrote "King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton" with Gayle Wardlow.


01 Sep 17 - 08:27 AM (#3874680)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

could one of the moderators correct my stupid title mistake?

The man's name is Calt , not Calf.

Moo! And thanks!


Got it. Thanks gillymor! --mudelf


01 Sep 17 - 02:06 PM (#3874717)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: Will Fly - PM
Date: 01 Sep 17 - 04:20 AM

"You know all blues men are liars except you and me, and sometimes I ain't so sure about you".
not so, missippi john hurt


01 Sep 17 - 03:49 PM (#3874725)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Hootenanny

Sandman,

You appear to be a little confused. I think you are referring to my posting.

If that is the case how can you correct a conversation which I had in my office a number of years ago when you could not have been present in any of your guises.


01 Sep 17 - 05:20 PM (#3874736)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Hootenanny

Sandman,

I think you have confused me. Can you clarify what you meant by the phrase "not so Mississippi John Hurt" ?

Not that it is particularly important.


01 Sep 17 - 07:51 PM (#3874758)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

Who is Stephen Calf? Never heard of him. I thought we were discussing Stephen Calt.


02 Sep 17 - 07:34 AM (#3874811)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calf's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

Hoot,I ws trying to say that John HURT who was a blues man was not a liar, and that The statement was a generalisation and stereo typing, even if it was meant as some sort of joke.


02 Sep 17 - 11:57 AM (#3874845)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

i've sent for the book - got it on my kindle. however - first Inspector Morse has to solve a murder, and he and Lewis are puzzled at the time of reading!

Sorry but I HAVE to find out what I can about this man and his incredible music.

I will bear your words of caution in mind.


02 Sep 17 - 06:21 PM (#3874895)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: meself

" ... even if it was meant as some sort of joke"

Is there any question that it was meant as some sort of a joke? In fact, I'd say it is some sort of a joke, and a pretty innocuous sort at that, made by someone who presumably has the right to make it.


05 Sep 17 - 12:28 PM (#3875359)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

well so far - can't see what all the fuss is about. pages of speculation about the song models that Skip used.

speculation. speculation. where are the facts?


05 Sep 17 - 04:33 PM (#3875386)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"Judging from his articles on country blues and his Patton bio Calt does his research" Gayle Dean Wardlow, coauthor of the Patton book, is a respected researcher. Calt wasn't a reliable source of information. E.g., it's Calt we have to thank for the myth of recent years that professional artists helped invent blues music, which has been taken up by other writers, none of whom can actually point to the supposed professional artists in question (including Abbott and Seroff whose recent book is less good on that issue than their earlier ones). Blues music was around among black folk musicians by 1905 as heard by e.g. Elbert Bowman ("K.C. ..." in TN) and Emmet Kennedy ("Poor Boy Long..." in LA), and none of the writers who pass on this myth of Calt's can point to any credible evidence of professional musicians helping invent blues music by 1905. Any. Abbott and Seroff telling us about professionals who were making blues music in e.g. _1910_, which they were, is not somehow that evidence at all. In Calt's case the psychology re folk musicians (who in this case were black) was that he had a huge axe to grind with folkies. At one point in the James book he claims folk music doesn't even exist, and elsewhere in the book he writes about folk music. That seems like a crazy contradiction because it is.

Skip James happened not to be a very reasonable or pleasant person, and he was a musical genius, and born too late to be historically interesting as the primal anything, and he didn't mind if his lyrics weren't personal, or whether he lifted them from non-folk sources. He's one of those artists you might as well not read a book about, just listen to as much '60s stuff as you can get and enjoy the song and singing and playing for how great they are.


05 Sep 17 - 04:47 PM (#3875388)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

My amazon two-out-of-five star review of the Calt/James book:

"There are many possible objections to this book. For instance, Calt called Skip James a 'darkey' in this book, without quotes.

Calt's real qualifications for writing this book were that he knew Skip James personally and, that's about it. (His liner notes were as erratic factually as this book is.) As the title says, the book has two subjects, Skip James and the blues. Calt had a lot of theories about blues music on offer in this book. He didn't bother to make sure they were historical. If he liked the idea that Leadbelly was the first black person presented to the public as a folk artist, then that's what you get, and you get to never mind that the artists The Afro-American Folk Song Singers were performing under that name in the 1910s. If on Calt's planet _no_ folklorists (in Calt's black-or-white world, exaggerations were more impressive than shades of gray) considered blues music to be folk music, then that's what you get, and you get to never mind that actually they routinely did, on our planet (e.g. Howard Odum did as of 1911 and John Lomax did as of 1912). And on and on it goes like that. I would have loved to see Calt try to tell Little Walter (fourteen top ten R&B hits between 1952 and 1958) or John Lee Hooker or B.B. King that actually blues _wasn't_ selling very well in the '50s, according to whatever angle Calt had in mind at the moment.

If he couldn't get the history of blues in general right -- and he literally could not accurately paraphrase what an individual folklorist had written when he was pointing right at it -- then when can we have confidence that his attempts to paraphrase what Skip James and others had supposedly said in the '60s are accurate either? On the plus side, he recorded some of his conversations with James, and on occasion we get to read actual direct quotes from those recordings. (Mostly they're uninteresting because James wasn't very interested in talking about music with Calt.)"


05 Sep 17 - 09:30 PM (#3875414)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

I don't believe much of anything Calt says. He seemed to dwell in a universe of rage and resentment, with enough prejudices of various kinds to cause a normal human's brain to explode. Ultimately, he was a crashing bore.

In most contexts the term "greatest" is just so much empty hyperbole and subjective judgment, so I lay no claim to knowing who the greatest blues artist was. Still, I would not hesitate to place Charlie Patton close to the top of the heap. His recordings, while eminently moving and worth hearing, must be only a shadow of what he sounded like in person. Those who heard him live, both black and white, would recall him in awe. If only I had access to a time machine...


06 Sep 17 - 01:28 PM (#3875525)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

I can think of a very good point Calt made imo (remembered roughly): the black folk blues songs with lyrics about I don't have a mother I don't have a sister what am I going to do were correlated with begging for money from white people on the street in contrast to the lyrics of a huge number of other black folk blues songs that had different topics, such as bragging that your woman would go your bail whenever you wanted. He was being cynical as usual, but in this case I think that cynicism led him to the wise, historical conclusion.

I can't think of a second one.

I love Patton's "Green River Blues," for instance, but I think Patton's overrated in general. I think Peg Leg Howell is one of the early-style greats, e.g. his '20s version of "Skin Game Blues."


06 Sep 17 - 01:51 PM (#3875532)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

I am a great fan of Blind Blake[I do not mean the hawaian player] what afantastic guitrist way ahead of his time.
I like skip james too


06 Sep 17 - 02:24 PM (#3875536)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

Wrong island, wrong ocean, I think.

Don't you mean Blind Blake, the Bahamian player?


06 Sep 17 - 04:37 PM (#3875549)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

no, the only Blind Blake, I am interested in is the one who recorded panther squall and early morning blues here
Arthur "Blind" Blake (1896 ? December 1, 1934) was an American blues and ragtime singer and guitarist. He is known for numerous recordings he made for Paramount Records between 1926 and 1932.
your blind blake called himself after arthur blind blake,and like you and other smart alecs of no interest to me, wherever he came from


06 Sep 17 - 05:59 PM (#3875556)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: meself

You brought up the "hawaian guitar player" - I believe Jerome Clark's point was that you meant, or so he thought, a certain Bahamian guitar player (did he play Hawai'ian guitar?). You did not clarify that aspect of the matter.


06 Sep 17 - 08:02 PM (#3875576)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

Yes, precisely, There are two Blind Blakes, one from Florida, the other from the Bahamas. I have never heard of a Hawaiian guitarist named Blind Blake..


06 Sep 17 - 10:56 PM (#3875583)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,guest

So the Sandman calls Mr. Clark a "smart alec" for correcting him about the second Blind Blake's geographic location. The fact that you have no interest in the other Blake?your loss, by the way, he was actually rather interesting; not as interesting as the Florida Blake, but certainly not worthy of being dismissed as worthless by someone who has heard so little of his music as to not even know where in the world he was from nor the kind of music he did (Calypso). According to Elijah Wald, the Bahamian Blind Blake was probably the source for Johnny Cash's version of "Delia," Dave Van Ronk's "Yas, Yas, Yas," Paul Geremia's "Jones (Oh Jones)," and "Run, Come See Jerusalem," a tune that was done by many artists. Now that Mr. Calt is no longer with us, Mr. Sandman, with a little bit of schooling in the art of punctuation, capitalization and sentence construction, might be able to fill those shoes.


07 Sep 17 - 01:18 AM (#3875591)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: meself

Well - that's a little harsh ....


07 Sep 17 - 03:21 AM (#3875593)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Will Fly

Blind Blake, in the opinion of the Rev. Gary Davis - himself a consummate guitarist - was "alright", i.e. a good player. Woody Mann, who studied with Davis as a teenager (like many another) quotes Davis as having a poor opinion of many of the older blues players, such as John Hurt. "Old fashioned" was his description.

Davis himself had a superb knowledge of the guitar - as I saw for myself at the old Free Trades Hall in Manchester in '64 or '65. (Can't remember the exact year, but he was top of a bill which included Jack Elliott, Buffy Sainte Marie, etc.) - where he demonstrated an astounding technique and stage presence.

Davis was right - Blake played guitar like a pianist, alternating bass runs with treble melodic lines in a very sophisticated manner. I like other players such as Hurt, Patton, James, etc., but Blake and Davis are - for me - the giants.


07 Sep 17 - 03:30 AM (#3875596)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

"but certainly not worthy of being dismissed as worthless by someone who has heard so little of his music as to not even know where in the world he was from nor the kind of music he did (Calypso)"
I have listened to quite a lot of his music, the fact that i was ina hurry typing and made a mistake as regards his location, does not mean i am not familiar with his music [mr smart alec] i did not describe it as worthless, i said the other blind blake interested me, that does not mean anyone is worthless.
now kindly, stop making assumptions.not only is your comment harsh it is inaccurate bollocks


07 Sep 17 - 03:40 AM (#3875597)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

what is also interesting about your comment, is that you claim i dismiss him as worthless [which i did not], however if i did claim he was worthless and you appear to get your knockers in a twist about this, and lose your rag, that might suggest that you value my[so called opinion], if you did not think that my comment that the original blind blake interested me more[ not the same as worthless]then why get your self in tiz was, why not just ignore the comment and treat my alleged comment with disdain, to respond in a hot headed manner that jumpss to inaccurate conclusions reflects your bad temper


07 Sep 17 - 07:50 AM (#3875628)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

i really wish you would just call yourself your name. Sandman ...its Dick isn't it?

Americans don't really understand English musicians. the way we talk. the way we live. the way we exist and sustain our integrity in an environment that is largely hostile, and in a society about half as affluent as your own.

we are cuckoos and magpies - what attracts us makes up our styles, and what we reject and kick out of the nest is as important as what take to our hearts.

those who insist there is a living tradition in an island that has been overrun more times than an ant hill usually have some axe to grind - some bailliewick to protect.

Dick wasn't casting aspersions on you friend somewhere in the Pacific. He was just saying that it hadn't attracted him sufficiently for his work to have resonances in his style.

The much despised Mr Calt. I haven't read all of the book yet. But one thing is sure. He is what historians call a primary source. He was there in the important places in the 1960's. He knew and talked with that tranche of musicians that captured the imagination of the great flowering of English guitarists in the 1960's - Jansch, Martyn, Renbourn, Wizz Jones, Ralph McTell, Efic Clapton.

i haven't come across the parts of the book that offend you. It reminds me a little of the album notes of the Blues Project album - the writer says these songs are like Notes from the Underworld. THey speak of a world almost beyond our comprehension. Skip James was a citizen of that world. And he survived - long enough to give us his music, which makes him some sort of an idealist in my book.


07 Sep 17 - 09:14 AM (#3875649)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

I have to say that I have not only enjoyed this thread but found vindication in it.

Till now, I hadn't encountered anybody else who'd read Calt's strange book, though I had some sense that among hard-core blues types his reputation was not exactly stellar. It's good to know that others found the James biography as hard to take as I did. Maybe it will encourage those curious about blues scholarship to seek out the more worthy books, of which there are many, and also to hope that a more able chronicler of James's life, times, and music surfaces eventually.

I remember, by the way, reading a piece some years ago in which a New York Times music critic expressed dismay on learning that Calt planned to write a Robert Johnson biography. Calt died (at the relatively young age of 62, as I recall) before that happened,

On another matter I think it is a mistake to think of Mississippi John Hurt as a blues performer. Rooted in pre-blues Southern folk music, he is more accurately characterized as a songster, and justly celebrated as a unique and interesting figure.


07 Sep 17 - 09:47 AM (#3875657)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

he may have been categorised as a songster as was mance lipscomb, it does not alter the fact he sang blues songs as did lipsccomb, if scholars wish to categorise people with pigeon holes that is their weakness,hurt sang blues and occasionally gospel songs, everyone who sings is a songster, what a misleading category.


07 Sep 17 - 09:48 AM (#3875658)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

Jerome, my love, what I can't understand is your urgent need to classify.

there is stuff in Mississippi John Hurt that anybody who wanted to be a blues musician would be proud to steal.


07 Sep 17 - 11:15 AM (#3875675)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Cj

The main debate here though Shirley is who would have won in a fight? Skip James or John Hurt. As younger men, I'd say Hurt, as he had those ten years on Skippy, but boy, those ten years would soon flip and Hurt would be no match for ol' one-ball, as Skippy was known.

The Calt biography was terribly written. A real struggle to get through.


07 Sep 17 - 11:29 AM (#3875681)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,guest

Interesting point. Years ago, Dave Van Ronk told me that, one night in the Village, they got into arm wrestling. John Hurt, over 70 years of age at the time, beat everyone handily. Dave would have been about 30 at the time.


07 Sep 17 - 11:34 AM (#3875686)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Guest

"no, the only Blind Blake, I am interested in is the one who recorded panther squall and early morning blues here
Arthur "Blind" Blake (1896 ? December 1, 1934) was an American blues and ragtime singer and guitarist. He is known for numerous recordings he made for Paramount Records between 1926 and 1932.
your blind blake called himself after arthur blind blake,and like you and other smart alecs of no interest to me, wherever he came from"

and

"what is also interesting about your comment, is that you claim i dismiss him as worthless [which i did not], however if i did claim he was worthless and you appear to get your knockers in a twist about this, and lose your rag, that might suggest that you value my[so called opinion], if you did not think that my comment that the original blind blake interested me more[ not the same as worthless]then why get your self in tiz was, why not just ignore the comment and treat my alleged comment with disdain, to respond in a hot headed manner that jumpss to inaccurate conclusions reflects your bad temper"

I only have a bad temper when I deal with imbeciles. You engaged in name-calling in your first post. The last line of that post, to be exact. That shows me someone who can dish it out, but who cannot take it.


07 Sep 17 - 12:52 PM (#3875698)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

AT no point have i described, The second blind blake[ who named himself after the first one] because he too thought the first one was a great musician] as worthless.
now please stop accusing me of saying things i did not.


07 Sep 17 - 01:33 PM (#3875705)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

Furthermore we are trying to discuss blues guitarists, so since the other blind blake... [Blake Alphonso Higgs (1915 in Matthew Town, Inagua, Bahamas ? 1986), better known as "Blind Blake", was the best-known performer of goombay/calypso in the Bahamas from the 1930s to the 1960s.] he is not relevant because he was a performer of calypso not blues, therefore is of no interest to me... why because he was not a blues guitarist, that does not mean his music is worthless, it means in the context of this thread he is not of interest.
I was and am familiar with his work because some five years ago, he came to my notice because of his name, for many years i have been a fan of the original blind blake, and out of curiosity investigated Higgs BLIND BLAKE music, IN MUCH THE SAME WAY I INVESTIGATED THE FIRST SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON BECAUSE OF THE SECOND ONE, who i had discovered first. the second Blind Blake is a well respected calypso performer., however in the context of this thread hi is not relevant. CAN WE NOW MOVE ON


07 Sep 17 - 02:59 PM (#3875718)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

I confess I don't understand the need to pigeon-hole any African-American musician whose principal instrument was guitar as a "blues singer." I certainly don't expect it among persons, as here, who I would presume knew better.

Hurt and Lead Belly, who had broad repertories drawing from folk ballads, pop tunes, hymns, work chants, the occasional blues, and more, routinely get labeled "blues" musicians, usually by persons who've never actually listened to their records. A songster, on the other hand, was somebody who sang songs, period. According to no less than Johnny Shines, who would know if anybody did, Robert Johnson sometimes sang Sons of the Pioneers tunes and others learned from the radio. Maybe the phrase "bluesman" (or -woman) should be retired from discussion of pre-war vernacular performers.

The phrase "blues singer" surely has more to do with the early recording industry, which employed it as a marketing category, than with ground-level identification of local singers and players.


07 Sep 17 - 03:09 PM (#3875720)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Cj

C'mon, Dick, I love your playing and enthusiasm, but I can't let that fib get away - unless it really was you who discovered the second Sonny Boy Williamson first? Where were you? Or was he playing in Ballydehob?


07 Sep 17 - 05:50 PM (#3875742)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

I discovered the second Sonny Boy before the first one, it was a long time ago probaly on the mike raven blues show in the mid sixties.
jerome clark, the phrase blues singer means someone who sings blues, in the same way jazz singer means someone who sings jazz, opera singer means someone who sings opera, is that clear? maybe you should take up collecting butterflies or trainspotting


07 Sep 17 - 06:44 PM (#3875750)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

If "blues singer" means "someone who sings blues," then most recording artists were, up till relatively recently, blues singers. Much, maybe most, popular music of the 20th Century was at least blues-influenced when it wasn't outright blues, which means that a whole lot of rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, classic pop, country, jazz, swing, gospel, and more is in fact the work of blues singers.

My point -- an obvious one (I should hope) to any informed reader -- is that where pre-war black folk musicians were concerned, record company a&r men (and they were nearly all men) insisted on blues because releases labeled "blues" (issued in the so-called race series) had proved popular and profitable. But we know from field collecting up through the middle of the century that so-called blues singers had other kinds of material in their repertoires. The fact that only the blues part of their song lists got recorded commercially gives us a misleading idea of what their tastes were and what the totality of their repertoire was.

It also explains why all kinds of songs that weren't blues at all suddenly got "blues" attached to their titles. It was because the labels thought the b-word would enhance sales.

At times, non-blues material got recorded commercially, almost by accident, by "blues singers." I have no desire to carry on at length, and to no point, on that subject. I refer interested readers instead to the late Paul Oliver's superb Songsters & Saints (1984) for specifics.


07 Sep 17 - 07:32 PM (#3875764)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

its all getting a bit fractious - turning into one of those
what is folk music?
what is blues threads?

As Dame Edith Evans said (when asked about the true motivation of the character in a play), I think you are confusing me with someone who gives a fuck.....

Can we just try and focus on Skip James?


07 Sep 17 - 07:48 PM (#3875765)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

No, apparently. And what is Dame Edith Evans doing here?

Sigh....


07 Sep 17 - 11:30 PM (#3875774)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

none of that squit alters the fact that Skip James was a blues singer.


08 Sep 17 - 12:00 AM (#3875778)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Guest

"Skippy tired."


08 Sep 17 - 01:15 AM (#3875779)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

the music is weird. plaintive.
something like Hard Time Killing Floor - its hard to imagine in any other context than as a song coming out of a phonograph.
its not a drinking song. its not a song you can dance to - maybe as a smoocher....
a song for the kitchen . almost the same pace as Ewan MacColl singing The Ballad of Tam Linn. is that fanciful?


08 Sep 17 - 06:07 AM (#3875799)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Hootenanny

Dick,

I find it quite funny that you discovered Sonny Boy Williamson through Mike Raven. Mike's programme was very good and required listening at that time but he was sometimes confused re the two Sonny Boys. Explaining the difference then playing an incorrect track.

Of course "Blues Singers" performed other types of material. Any musician/entertainer trying to scrape a living has to to give his audience or his A & R man what they they want to hear.


08 Sep 17 - 09:32 AM (#3875847)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,ned of the hill

They    were very different stylistically


08 Sep 17 - 09:37 AM (#3875848)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

"None of that squit alters the fact that Skip James was a blues singer."

Good call I was concerned that you might have thought he was a Hawaiian guitarist.


08 Sep 17 - 10:06 AM (#3875861)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,N

HO HO Your so funny Hilarious sparkling wit


08 Sep 17 - 11:34 AM (#3875894)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark

Thank you, appreciate it.

And now I bow out of this discussion, which seems to be going nowhere.


08 Sep 17 - 03:13 PM (#3875955)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Tunesmith

" Don't start me talkin'" but I thought I'd just mention that a guitar playing mate of mine toured with, and backed, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) in the UK in the 60s.


08 Sep 17 - 07:53 PM (#3875995)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

Tunesmith,he must have been good[Rice] made the wonderful commentabout the rolling stones sure those white boys want to play blues real bad ,and thats just what they do, play it real bad


08 Sep 17 - 11:02 PM (#3876008)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

At least they used their real names.


08 Sep 17 - 11:15 PM (#3876012)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: harpgirl

I love Skip James and I have been playing "crow jane". I would like to read this book. I can recommend Dave Evans book on the Blues...as well.


09 Sep 17 - 08:19 AM (#3876085)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

rolling stone bill wyman did not use his real name he was bill perks


09 Sep 17 - 10:47 AM (#3876123)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: meself

Mick is actually Michael.


09 Sep 17 - 02:51 PM (#3876167)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

ARE YOU TAKING THEMICHAEL


10 Sep 17 - 09:43 PM (#3876427)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Elijah Wald

Two quick additions on the Bahamian Blind Blake:
1. I have never seen any evidence that he named himself for the US Blind Blake -- it's quite possible, but since his given name was Blake and he was blind, it's equally possible that it was just a coincidence.
2. He was not a blues singer, but he played a lot of material that came out of the same minstrel/ragtime tradition as a lot of stuff we now tend to call blues, hokum, jug band, etc., including some unique pieces like "Jones, Oh Jones" and "The Foolish Frog" that I have good evidence were being sung by African Americans before the blues era but never got recorded on the mainland. Notably, Bessie Smith used a series of lines from "Jones, Oh Jones" (or whatever it was originally called) in her "Hateful Blues."


12 Sep 17 - 03:22 AM (#3876651)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

"but he played a lot of material that came out of the same minstrel/ragtime tradition as a lot of stuff we now tend to call blues",
"we", you mean the royal we, ragtime is called ragtime not blues. he was not a blues singer never did he claim to be.


12 Sep 17 - 01:21 PM (#3876736)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

Elijah, at

http://www.elijahwald.com/rjohnson.html

your website still says

"WHAT IS BLUES? [...] first it was a black pop style[...] it retroactively became a folk style[...]"

I wonder if you'd consider changing that since, as discussed above in this thread and by you and me several times over more than a decade, you have zero credible evidence supporting the idea that pop musicians (black or otherwise) helped invent blues music. (See above for the issue that 1905 was different from 1910.)


12 Sep 17 - 05:08 PM (#3876754)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

well i don't suppose they invented blues music to be unpopular.

however i want at this stage to completely disagree with the negative reviews of this remarkable book.
there's stuff i'm not keen on . but Calt does try to discuss Skip James's music, in a musicianly/guitarist's way.

its a serious book and tries to empathise with the utter rejection that many musician's deal with when their music becomes unfashionable/unprofitable - and yet the artist still feels impelled to go on developing.
it also deals with the way many people acquiesce in the the status and career opportunities their oppressive societies confer on them. i guess that's what Max Weber called functionalism. we are grateful for to have a function when the consequences of not having a function are awful.

Skip James was moonshiner, pimp, then factory worker in the society he was born into. That he was also a creative genius is matter of record. We aren't good to geniuses. THink of the Cornish fisherman painter Alfred Wallis dying penniless in the workhouse. The poet John Clare dying in the madhouse.

such people live at heights and depths unimaginable.   Calt does his best to convey some of this chaotic mental and emotional state and the intensity of the focus necessary to create at that level of excellence.


12 Sep 17 - 06:06 PM (#3876762)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Hootenanny

Mr Scott,

If blues music and it's predecessors wasn't "pop" - that is short for popular, in it's time why/how did it survive?

"Pop" today applies to material manufactured by a so called music industry and is a different kettle of fish.

I can't believe that you admit that you have really wasted a decade arguing about this.

Sad.


12 Sep 17 - 06:08 PM (#3876763)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"well i don't suppose they invented blues music to be unpopular." A song being popular among folk musicians as of e.g. 1905 is a different issue from whether those folk musicians were pop musicians as opposed to folk musicians.


12 Sep 17 - 06:13 PM (#3876764)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,CJ

Of course the blues singers and players were pop. They played at the dances and in the bars - why? Because they were playing one strand of the popular music of the day. The pop music.

Who were the pop musicians of the day for the african americans of the day, if not them?


12 Sep 17 - 06:21 PM (#3876766)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"why/how did it survive?" The earliest blues music survived among folk musicians by them learning it from each other as folk music. There was a popular music industry as of e.g. 1895 and 1905. As of 1905, "Rags" that were rags were being published as sheet music already but "Blues" that were blues were not yet, for instance. Meanwhile, as of 1905, blues music already existed as folk music, as heard e.g. by Elbert Bowman and Emmet Kennedy.


12 Sep 17 - 06:43 PM (#3876767)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"they were playing one strand of the popular music of the day" Someone who sang "K.C. Moan" or "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home" in 1905 was singing a folk song, not a pop song.

"Who were the pop musicians of the day for the african americans of the day, if not them?" People like Bert Williams. We could talk about "stage musicians" if that gets more to the point for some: who can give a plausible example of a stage musician who had helped invent blues music as of 1905, when blues music already existed among folk musicians, such as the railroad workers Elbert Bowman heard? No one can. Elijah can't, Abbott and Seroff can't, Calt couldn't, etc. Now if you take 1910 and Johnnie Woods, e.g., he _is_ an example of a stage musician who was singing blues as of 1910. And 1910 isn't 1905.


12 Sep 17 - 09:22 PM (#3876773)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: meself

I don't have a dog in this fight - but I think some of you are being deliberately dense about what Joseph Scott - and everybody else in the known world - means by 'pop' music.


13 Sep 17 - 03:09 AM (#3876790)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

no i think most people don't have this desire to classify music, and the pigeonholing gene is missing from most of us.

i can see it might be convenient for mozart lovers to have all his bits and pieces given a k number , or whatever. but why for the life of me Shady Grove (one in a thousand folk know) is a folksong, when John Denver's Country Roads (which nine out of ten folk know) is not a folksong - don't get it. never will!.

its really more to do with the neurotic desire of folk song experts to be a bit different from the rest of us. wouldn't you say?

God! I wish we could talk about Skip James!


13 Sep 17 - 10:05 AM (#3876852)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,pauperback

There's a difference between don't care and don't understand, Al.


13 Sep 17 - 10:28 AM (#3876856)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

well its not that. how it is for me - i think that different people have different experiences, and have different understanding of the terms.

i understand that people who have spent their lives researching folk music and making field recordings have one meaning in their minds.

but also there is the understanding of folk musicians. i remember Carthy saying that working in Steeleye Span had increased his audience so that he could play small theatres instead of just folk clubs. Over in Ireland - it gets really complicated where folk musicians regularly have hit records - Clannad, Planxty, Johnnu MacEvoy, Paddy REilly, THe Dubliners.

then there are the pro musicians who know what to play to get them dancing - not morris dancing, or singing to show solidairity - but singing and dancing for the joy of it. and that's a generational thing. Dull is the soul of man who doesn't sing I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts and dance the Hokey Cokey.

then theres the great public - who probably think Harry Field posing with an acoustic guitar is folk music.

i mean can you really be bothered to argue with any of them?


13 Sep 17 - 01:50 PM (#3876890)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"folk musicians regularly have hit records" In 1905 they didn't.


13 Sep 17 - 02:07 PM (#3876892)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

you seem very sure. English music hall artists were making recordings.

you can bet your life professional musicians were pinching and adapting folksongs, as they have in every era. John Gay was doing it with THe Beggars Opera in the 18th century.

Lizst in the 19th century adapted folk dance music.


13 Sep 17 - 02:07 PM (#3876893)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

you seem very sure. English music hall artists were making recordings.

you can bet your life professional musicians were pinching and adapting folksongs, as they have in every era. John Gay was doing it with THe Beggars Opera in the 18th century.

Lizst in the 19th century adapted folk dance music.


13 Sep 17 - 03:16 PM (#3876901)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"you can bet your life professional musicians were pinching and adapting folksongs" And from whom? Some other people called "folk musicians" I had just mentioned?


13 Sep 17 - 06:39 PM (#3876917)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

joseph scott,, stop derailing from subject mtter which is skip james, please start another thread if you wish to talk about musicians pinching folk songs.
maybe not 1905, but very shortly after.. here McCormack was one of the first artists to record the popular ballad "I Hear You Calling Me" written in 1908 by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall; he recorded it twice for Odeon starting in 1908 and a further four times for Victor between 1910 and 1927 ? it became his best seller.[5] He was the first artist to record the famous World War I song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" in 1914. He also recorded the song "Keep The Home Fires Burning" in 1917, though he was not the first to do so. He also sang songs expressive of Irish nationalism ? his recording of "The Wearing of the Green", a song about the Irish rebellion of 1798, encouraged 20th century efforts for Irish Home Rule ? and endorsed the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. McCormack was associated particularly with the songs of Thomas Moore, notably "The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls", "The Minstrel Boy", "Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms)", and "The Last Rose of Summer".
Joseph Scott not only are you a pita, you are also misinformed see above,Kindly take your intellectual masturbation back to the little boys room


13 Sep 17 - 07:36 PM (#3876925)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"you are also misinformed" John McCormack was not a folk singer who regularly had hit records as of 1905, nor have you shown that I'm misinformed about anything else above.

"stop derailing from subject mtter which is skip james" The subject matter raised at the top of the thread was Stephen Calt's credibility: his ability to research well and say good things about people when appropriate, as Al put it in the first post. Calt's book about Skip James popularized the myth that pop musicians helped invent blues music. Elijah Wald, who has also popularized that myth (if you haven't heard of Elijah he wrote a very well-received book about Robert Johnson), happened to drop by this thread, and not give any evidence for that myth, because for over a decade now he can't, because it's a myth. The fact that Elijah can't do that helps support the point that Calt wasn't credible, the subject matter raised at the top of this thread.


13 Sep 17 - 08:02 PM (#3876929)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"nor have you shown that I'm misinformed about anything else above" Except I did forget that Bill Wyman changed his name. (You introducing the Rolling Stones to the conversation was the sort of derailing from Calt and James that you more recently have come to not approve of.)

I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about that "songster" means singer (the idea that songster somehow suggested _non-blues_ singer is a myth that came along decades into blues "scholarship"), and that many blues singers were honest, including Hurt. These are the sorts of facts about music history, as opposed to myths, that one can research if one wants, eh?


13 Sep 17 - 08:07 PM (#3876930)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

"comments about" Comments above, that should be.

Researcher of black folk music Howard Odum, 1911: "In general 'songster' is used to denote any negro who regularly sings or make songs...." In 1911 if John Hurt sang a blues song he was a songster and a blues singer and in 1911 if John Hurt sang a non-blues song he was a songster.


14 Sep 17 - 12:43 AM (#3876953)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: The Sandman

john hurt was a blues singer so was skip james, now go and collect trainspotters


14 Sep 17 - 05:38 AM (#3876982)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

my father had a copy of McCormack's The OLd Bog Road and The Rocky Road to Dublin.

James Joyce worshipped McCormack - there is a whole section of his biography talking about Joyce's musical activity and there is even a picture of him holding a guitar - holding down an A chord! love ir!

Joseph I really don't think Calt deserves this measure of scorn. He attempts to talk about Skip's slim recorded output - track by track in a musicianly way. i must say this is much better than the Broonzy biog. which is always being favourably commented on.

There is real engagement with the subject. I'm not a formally trained musician - so much of what he is saying goes over my head. Nevertheless, I think Calt's biography is a creditable effort that many Skio James fans will love.


14 Sep 17 - 06:36 AM (#3876989)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,matt milton

So, Al, you don't find Calt's constant belittling of Skip James' music wearying?


14 Sep 17 - 10:16 AM (#3877038)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

i don't think he does belittle it. he tries to analyse the nuts and bolts that led to the magic that we all respond to. the pressures upon him in the studio and in the culture of the deep south.

I admit I don't understand enough of music theory to understand what he's saying. I don't know enough about folksong to know whether he's analysing the influences correctly

However I do know some of the songs. I know a lot about being an unsuccessful musician, which is the situation Skip lived most of his life. I know quite a lot about American folk style guitar playing.

I would say Calt in this book has paid the artist the supreme compliment of discussing his music as if it mattered. That's more than most of us get.


14 Sep 17 - 06:54 PM (#3877117)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott

Another dozen-plus opinions about this book

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/849894.I_d_Rather_Be_The_Devil


14 Sep 17 - 09:44 PM (#3877147)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/849894.I_d_Rather_Be_The_Devil


14 Sep 17 - 10:08 PM (#3877150)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: meself

Well - nice to see some co-operation here!


17 Sep 17 - 08:10 AM (#3877359)
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
From: Big Al Whittle

the only song i ever wrote in d minor tuning DADFAD, favoured by Skip


https://soundcloud.com/denise_whittle/a-song-for-john-dillinger