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Monday, January 11, 2010

Arthur Crudup: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 1


1) Black Pony Blues; 2) Death Valley Blues; 3) Kind Lover Blues; 4) If I Get Lucky; 5) Standing At My Window; 6) Gonna Follow My Baby; 7) Give Me A 32-20; 8) My Mama Don't Allow Me; 9) Mean Old 'Frisco Blues; 10) Raised To My Hand; 11) Cool Disposition; 12) Who's Been Foolin' You; 13) Rock Me Mama; 14) Keep Your Arms Around Me; 15) Dirt Road Blues; 16) I'm In The Mood; 17) She's Gone; 18) Ethel Mae; 19) So Glad You're Mine; 20) Boy Friend Blues; 21) No More Lovers; 22) You Got To Reap; 23) Chicago Blues; 24) That's Your Red Wagon.

Arthur «Big Boy» Crudup — the respectable layman will know this name only with the blessing of Elvis, and even then, only if the respectable layman cares to look at the songwriting credits. Who knows, perhaps without Arthur Crudup there would have been no Elvis as such; it is the reworking of 'That's All Right Mama', after all, that truly caught the ear of Sam Philips and jump­started the King's career.

The respectable layman also knows that at least one more big Elvis hit, 'My Baby Left Me', is also credited to Crudup. The respectable would, perhaps, want to ask how come they are the exact same song with different sets of lyrics — and be surprised in learning that, throughout his entire recording career, Arthur Crudup only wrote two songs, which, for lack of a better terminology, we shall hereby call The Slow One and The Fast One. From 1941 to 1954, he cut around a hund­red sides that, at best, constituted minor variations on these two pillars of his career, and, at worst, only differed as to the lyrics. (Although even the lyrics get recycled. E. g., the song 'That's All Right Mama' is not even present on this first volume, but the immortal lines ­— 'that's all right, mama, any way you do' — can already be found on two or three other cuts).

The fact that Crudup's records actually found reasonable commercial success in the 1940s will seem all the more mind-boggling once you realize just how simple the formula is. Arthur never was a great singer, whining and wheezing his way through the songs as certainly does not befit a true «Big Boy», and his guitar playing, particularly compared to such blues greats of the day as Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, or Lonnie Johnson, is at best rudimentary. Historically speaking, he was one of the pioneers of the electric guitar — along with the similarly minimalistic John Lee Hooker and the far more technical T-Bone Walker — but his sound was really just amplified acoustic, sometimes hard to tell from true unplugged; certainly this could not be a determining factor.

We would hit closer to home if we suggested that «Big Boy», in the world of popular blues-based entertainment, was one of the earliest propagators of the Keep It Simple Stupid approach; his di­rect heir was Jimmy Reed, and from then on — innumerable swarms of rockabilly pioneers, who were all too happy to blow on the coals of rock and roll excitement that lie at the heart of Crudup's Fast One, and sometimes on the coals of straightahead macho minimalism that make up the bulk of Crudup's Slow One.

Back in 1941, listeners were happy to have this non-sophis­tication — yearning for a simple, ac­cessible groove with a little bit of raw animalism (too much raw animalism, as displayed by Mississippi gurus like Charley Patton and Son House, would be way too scary for the respectable layman). Today, we may want to listen to this for altogether different reasons, combining historic curiosity with strange spiritual/intellectual urges — such as the urge to judge Arthur's grooves as turning non-sophi­stication into art, intentionally sacrificing complexity and progress in favor of something utterly free and natural, even though he himself certainly never saw it that way: he just kind of sort of liked to play guitar, to the best of his ability, and must have been deeply and pro­foundly shocked to find these records selling.

On a minor side note, he does sound a little bit like Robert Johnson from time to time — similar «whining» style, similar simplistic guitar accompaniment (although, in Johnson's case, it was de­ceptively simplistic) — and it may be so that people bought his records through some odd asso­ciation. Perhaps, somehow, he symbolized that creepy Delta magnetism better than anybody else in some listeners' eyes and ears. Perhaps not.

Discussing the actual titles would be completely useless. 'Rock Me Mama' is the best known one ('rock me mama — one time — before I go' is, after all, a classic line), and 'So Glad You're Mine' is another Slow One that Elvis put his mark on a decade later. Only about five or six of these 24 num­bers are Fast Ones; in the early 1940s, that kind of «blues-boogie» was still a novelty com­pared to the more traditional slow 12-bar form, so if you are more interested in Crudup as the pio­neer of rock and roll, skip to the next volume.

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