It was a Saturday morning in the middle of January.
I was out for a long walk with my favorite accompaniment: my iPod classic, set to “Shuffle Songs,” playing through my Sony headphones. I’d been serenaded by Billie Holiday, The Beatles, Etta James, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Josh Ritter and Gillian Welch.
Then I heard an acoustic guitar playing a Blues turnaround. Another acoustic guitar joined in and the duo started picking through a very fine 12-bar instrumental.
“Who’s this?,” I thought.
The layer of scratch crackling in the background signaled that this was a old recording. Was it one of those Sylvester Weaver & Walter Beasley duets? If so, there should be some slide guitar…
…then a singer entered in, and I really had no idea.
“Four-o’clock flowers bloom out in the mornin’ and close in the afternoon
Four-o’clock flowers bloom out in the mornin’ and close in the afternoon
Well, well, they are only so much beauty, woo hoo, Lord, boy, so as my little Betty June.”
I really enjoyed the recording. A very good Blues singer/guitarist joined by a talented lead guitarist who surrounded the vocals with a constant stream of tasty guitar fills and licks. After three verses, the duo laid down an excellent solo chorus after which two more vocal verses wrapped things up quite nicely.
When I got home, I got my gloves off, dug the iPod out of the deep pocket of my heavy winter coat and checked the listing on the display screen.
I’d been listening to “Four O’Clock Flower Blues” by William Brown from the album, The Land Where The Blues Began.
Turns out that “Four O’Clock Flower Blues” was a field recording, featuring not only guitarist William Brown but also singer/guitarist Willie Blackwell. The duo had been recorded by Alan Lomax, on a cultural mission from The Library of Congress to record Delta folk songs.
Here’s the library card from the Library of Congress.
The location was called Hamp’s Place – a shack in the middle of an enormous cotton field that served as a country store by day and a dance hall and gambling joint by night – on Sadie Beck’s Plantation in Arkansas. The date was July 16, 1942.
Listen for yourself!
I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.
Willie “61” Blackwell, as he came to be known, recorded seven other songs that day for Alan Lomax. William Brown recorded three solo pieces. One of them, “Mississippi Blues,” has been regarded as the “Stairway To Heaven” of Mississippi Delta Blues.
Looks like I’ve got some more listening to do!
“Good music doesn’t get old.”
The sources for the information used in this post were:
The Land Where The Blues Began by Alan Lomax, 1993. Published in paperback by The New Press, 2002. (Highly recommended!)
The William Brown – Mississippi Blues page at MetaFilter.com.
The Library of Congress at loc.gov.