Thursday, January 28, 2010

Took 99 Stitches in His Yas-Yas-Yas

If you're a blues nut you must own this book, 'Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary' by Stephen Calt. Mr. Calt takes a scholarly approach to defining the words and terms common in the blues lexicon. If you have pondered the true meaning of 'rounder' or 'goofer dust' in the lyrics of old blues standards, this book is for you. A couple of examples:

"Canned Heat e.g. 'I gave my woman a dollar, to get herself somethin' to eat / She spent a dime for neckbones an' ninety cents for that old canned heat' -- Will Shade, 'You Better Let That Stuff Alone'

"A trade name for Sterno, a commercial product introduced around 1900 that retails as a heating or cooking gel. Desperate or derelict alcoholics would squeeze and strain the gel through a cloth to extract its denatured alcohol base, and mix the latter with water or some other liquid to create a toxic confection known simply as 'canned heat.' "

Toxic confection. Gotta love a dryly humorous euphemism. Or how about:

"Shim-Sham-Shimmy" e.g. 'Check all your razors and your guns / Do the Shim-Sham-Shimmy till the risin' sun' -- Bessie Smith, 'Gimme a Pigfoot'

"A variant of the 'Shimmy-She-Wobble,' recorded by Cab Calloway as a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1930. It probably remarked on the light complexion of Cotton Club dancers, shim shams having been a black idiom dating to slavery for 'Negroes of mixed blood.' "

Until I owned this book I didn't know what 'keyhole' meant. Now I do. You can too.


I enjoyed Main Figurehead's post of the 23rd, specifically his points about our formative years of music appreciation. He got me thinking about my own such evolution, and his theory held up well. Try it yourself.

(One question to MF: Why did the Beatles reach you when they did? Had your musical seeds been sown prior to that, or was this totally out of the blue?)

My family members were a big influence early on. Mom liked classics and soundtracks, so before I started kindergarten I had already heard lots of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, and Brahms and Sibelius. Dad enjoyed easy listening, so there were doses of Henry Mancini and Jackie Gleason. I liked 'em all, and still do. ('Some Enchanted Evening' came on the box the other night, and all activity ceased until Ezio had had his way with us.)

The wild card was Aunt Martha, the bohemian of the family. Her tastes ran to folk and jazz, and she got me going big-time on The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, and Odetta, as well as Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, and Cannonball Adderley. I won't go as far as to say that at age eight I was understanding what all those latter explorers were saying, but I was interested. (I am reminded that in my college years, one hazy night I was listening to 'Birds of Fire' by The Mahavishnu Orchestra and thinking what a fine Christmas present the album would be for Martha, who was by then in her 60s and retired. I slept that one off and, as I wasn't a 'wake-and-bake' sort, talked myself out of it in the cold light of the following dawn.)

The mid-60s were a latency period, though. As a rather isolated country kid I missed the cultural revolution fomented by The Beatles and their contemporaries. On occasion my half-sister would come to visit, always wanting to know who I thought the cutest Beatle was. I hated 'em just for my having been subjected to such an exercise. (To my credit, I always chose John.)

It wasn't until the fall of '68 and my entry into high school that the early cultivation paid off. Top 40 radio was at an absolute peak at the time, a cross-genre panoply of ear candy. One could hear Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, The Doors, Jeannie C Riley, Hugo Montenegro, and Jimi Hendrix back to back to back. Those were the key years, really...1968-9, when some real building was done atop the musical foundation of my childhood. After that, it was off to the races...album rock radio in 1972-3, and KSAN (and the last gasps of free-form radio) in 1974-5...age 20. By then I was ready for anything...ECM, reggae, Afrobeat, space drones (Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze remain big influences), avant-garde...for a time in the 70s I owned several Sun Ra albums although I'll be damned if I was ever able to make heads or tails out of 'em.

Oh, and Dad? I still play Henry Mancini and Engelbert Humperdinck records and think of you.


My latest round of needle-drops yielded the typical quota of major and minor pleasures. Top o' the charts this time around: The Gilded Palace of Sin's album, 'You Break Our Hearts, We'll Tear Yours Out.' This one is hard to categorize; call it a mutant strain of dark Americana. I'll fall in line with other listeners who reckon this would appeal to fans of Nick Cave and Tom Waits.

So go here, read the encomiums, and mash on the player. If you like what you hear, I can certify that the rest of the album is equally worth your time. Cheers.


casanguinet said...

Oooo! That's right! The Limlighters! I have you to thank for my love of them.

Thank you for that, you sassy little vixen Ms. Fevers!

Veronica Fever said...

"sassy little vixen" -- Well, one out of three is good in baseball. :)