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Monday, April 14, 2014

Bukka White: 1963 Isn't 1962

BUKKA WHITE: 1963 ISN'T 1962 (1963/1994)

1) Streamline Special; 2) Drunken Leroy Blues; 3) Fixin' To Die; 4) Midnight Twister; 5) Aberdeen Blues; 6) Vase­line Head Woman; 7) Jump; 8) Jack O'Diamonds; 9) Chi Chi Boogie; 10) 1963 Isn't 1962; 11) Boogie 'Til Dubuque; 12) Driftin' And Driftin'; 13) Corinna Corinna.

Not released officially until 1994, this little-known recording might actually be the best post-war slice of Booker T. to be found on the digital circuit. The reason why it took so long to see the light of day is technical — this is a relatively poor quality tape recording, with a lot of distrac­ting hiss running through it, that John Fahey and Ed Denson took of Bukka in the process of «redis­covering» him in November 1963, exactly one year after Dylan had covered ʽFixin' To Dieʼ and brought the name back to public attention.

But poor quality aside, this is the only post-war document to capture Bukka «unprepared», in a homely environment, without any special new strategy of studio behavior, and, consequently, without the man trying to be like somebody else (Chicago bluesmen, for instance). Mississippi Blues, recorded soon afterwards, would still be relatively fresh and come close to matching this attitude — yet even there, the man was already set on «giving the people what they want», that is, well-recorded recreations of his classic pre-war hits. Here, as you can see from the setlist, those hits are almost nowhere to be found — no ʽShake 'Em On Downʼ, no ʽSic 'Em Dogs Onʼ, no ʽParchman Farmʼ, just whatever Bukka felt like playing at that particular moment.

And he felt like playing lots of different things in free format, be it an almost epic-length version of one of his train tales (ʽStreamline Specialʼ), interspersed with streaks of rapped quasi-auto­biographic dialog, or short stretches of boogie improvisation (ʽJumpʼ, ʽBoogie 'Til Dubuqueʼ) that, interestingly, would not reappear on his post-1963 studio recordings, since, apparently, dance-oriented boogie-blues was not what Bukka's main target audience was expecting from the man. All in all, the main distinguishing feature of 1963 Isn't 1962 is the apparent lack of reve­rence for this business — Bukka was not yet fully aware of how «sacred» the new blues fans were finding that kind of music, and his laid-back mode here might really not have been all too appropriate for market demands circa 1963. But it's all right now, half a century later.

Of particular interest here is the brief cover of ʽJack O' Diamondsʼ, a song usually associated with Blind Lemon Jefferson — Bukka gives us a rougher, faster, more rambunctious version, but still punctuated with plenty of weeping outbursts from the slide guitar to preserve the song's tragic outlook (but his own "Jack o' diamonds is a hard card to play!" sounds pissed-off and frustrated next to Jefferson's almost-sobbing delivery). Great slide moments abound on the album in gene­ral, for that matter — weird as it is, this homemade tape gives the impression of the man really trying to prove his best on the instrument, much more so than on his soon-to-come streak of compara­tively inferior studio recordings. And his will to improvise and create is most amply illustrated by the title of the title track, even if the tune itself is generic 12-bar stuff.

So, if you can stand a little hiss and crackle, 1963 Isn't 1962 might be your best bet for a post-war companion to Bukka's pre-war recordings. The general rule holds here: as long as all those old faded «stars» of a goneby era were content with staying what they were, their recordings were full of genuine spirit — when, on the other hand, they were trying to «match the expectations of the times» or anything like that, things immediately began going sour. This one is quite sweet, by that standard, and gets a respectable thumbs up.

Check "1963 Isn't 1962" (CD) on Amazon
Check "1963 Isn't 1962" (MP3) on Amazon

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