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Monday, March 24, 2014

Bukka White: Mississippi Blues


1) Aberdeen Mississippi Blues; 2) Parchman Farm Blues; 3) Shake 'Em On Down; 4) I Am The Heavenly Way; 5) Atlanta Special; 6) Drunk Man Blues; 7) Army Blues; 8) Remembrance Of Charlie Patton; 9) New Orleans Stream­line; 10) Poor Boy Long Ways From Home; 11) Baby Please Don't Go.

Like so many of his blues pals, Booker T. «Bukka» White was rediscovered in 1963 (by John Fahey, a notorious musician in his own right), and with the acoustic blues boom revival in full swing, almost immediately landed a small contract with Fahey's Takoma Records, who got him a recor­ding session in Memphis and released the results under the laconic title of Mississippi Blues (on CD, this record usually goes under the title of The Sonet Blues Story, since, apparently, the European distribution rights were handed over to the Swedish Sonet label).

Bukka is completely alone for this session — no second guitarist, no harmonica, no backup sin­gers, not even a washboard — which is probably the main reason to hear and own it if you alrea­dy have his pre-war recordings (a secondary reason is the expectedly improved sound quality, but the old stuff really wasn't that bad, compared to some of Blind Lemon Jefferson's or Charley Pat­ton's records, for instance). The songs, with but a few exceptions, also cover the same repertoire, although some of the titles are new: ʽThe New 'Frisco Trainʼ becomes ʽThe Atlanta Specialʼ, and ʽPo' Boyʼ becomes a lengthier ʽPoor Boy, Long Ways From Homeʼ. Weirdest of all, ʽParchman Farm Bluesʼ is not really ʽParchman Farm Bluesʼ, but rather ʽWhen Can I Change My Clothesʼ — a blatant mistake that has, nevertheless, steadily persisted on all subsequent releases (just goes to show you how much people actually listen to these things).

It is hard to tell whether the man was in top form while making these recordings (some have suggested a bit of a tired strain to at least some of the tracks), but he does make an effort to pass this off as an evening of public entertainment — regularly interspersing sung parts with snippets of talkin' blues to cheer up the audience, and creating the illusion of a band by sometimes ad lib­bing stuff like "play it while I get me a cigarette!" before launching into a solo passage, even though there really ain't nobody but us chickens in the studio. One of the tracks is completely non-musical: four minutes of small anecdotes about Charley Patton, Bukka's personal idol and greatest influence (although there has been some speculation that he was merely thinking these stories all up to please Fahey, who was a big fan of Patton).

Other than that, the session does not open up a lot of previously unknown sides to Mr. White. He plays piano instead of guitar on one track (ʽDrunk Man Bluesʼ), not particularly well or anything, and covers Big Joe Williams' ʽBaby Please Don't Goʼ — credibly, but not embettering the origi­nal or, for that matter, the Muddy Waters Chicago version. His old standards show that twenty five years outside the studio have not diminished his guitar skills in the slightest, nor has there been any strain on the vocals, but neither has he thought of any additional ways to reinvent or embellish those tunes. Still, the album is well worth a thumbs up at least for the tastes of those who worry too much about the rusty quality of pre-war blues recordings. For Bukka, these songs still remained his lifeblood in 1963 — this is much more than a nostalgic facsimile — and from a technical point, his rough, but effective playing style should be much easier to study based on this session than on anything from the early days.

Check "Sonet Blues Story" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Sonet Blues Story" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. "credibly, but not embettering the origi­nal"
    I like the version of Sam Lightin' Hopkins best (besides Budgie of course).

  2. I've read that Bukka never even met Patton, giving credence to the theory that he was making things up for Fahey's benefit.