I’ve crossed the Mississippi and I’ve savoured the magic cultural melting pot that is New Orleans. Adelaide is a long way from New Orleans and I had the jet lag to prove it, but the two cities have more common than one would imagine at first glance. New Orleans is the heart of the Mississippi delta, and Adelaide adjoins the mighty Murray delta. A long bow maybe, but Adelaide is home to a lively underground blues music scene. Cal Williams Jr is at the heart of that scene and with bassist Korey Horwood and blues harp player Lightnin’ Will Kallinderis, he treated the punters at the Wheatsheaf to a wide ranging if jumbled history of Mississippi Delta Blues music.
A History of Early Blues at the Adelaide Fringe
Question: Why are so many of the original famous blues musicians blind? (Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie Johnson). Answer: It was the only way to feed yourself if you couldn’t work in the cotton fields. I learned the definition of a resonating guitar, that twelve-bar blues rhythm was based on the sound of a steam train, and the significance of ‘field hollers’. I would have liked to learn more, but too much time was eaten up by extended jamming on most of the tracks instead of properly introducing the audience to the origins of the music. It would also have helped if the set list had been arranged chronologically from the earliest material to the latest so that I could see the progression from Son House to Willie Dixon.
Not that the audience was sidelined. The boys asked for and got plenty of punters to singalong to Furry Lewis’ Turn Your Money Green (Furry Lewis being the famous Furry in Joni Mitchell’s Furry Sings the Blues) and clapping and foot stomping to Son House’s Death Letter and Charley Patton’s Thirty-Four Blues. However, as a lover of lyrical blues guitar masters like Ry Cooder and John Fahey and the virtuosic harp playing organ of Charlie Musselwhite, I liked the stripped back simplicity on Willie Dixon’s Rattling Around. Williams’ voice was also more in the Bob Hite/John Mayall mould than a Muddy Waters, which might explain why the faster numbers prevailed.
It was intriguing and enjoyable, but with more thought and structure spent on the show’s construction, it could have been fascinating.
A History of Early Blues is at the Wheatsheaf Hotel as part of the Adelaide Fringe on February 24