Skip James – The Complete Bloomington Ind. Concert – Part 1 (March 30 1968)
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This Skip James concert was performed at the student–run Indiana University Folksong Club at Bloomington, Indiana the small auditorium was filled with about two hundred persons who knew more about local bluegrass traditions (Bill Monroe’s Sunday bam fests took place in nearby Beanblossom) than blues. Yet as one can hear on this recording, they were not disappointed.
Skip James played a total of twenty “pieces” from his repertoire. These included God Is Real which to my knowledge he had not recorded before, as well as two other “spirituals”: Look At The People (Got To Go To Judgement) and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning. Skip James’s penchant for mixing sacred and secular songs was well received by an audience used to similar European-American concert traditions in country music.
In addition, he played eight songs first recorded during his 1931 sessions by Paramount producer Arthur Laibly in Grafton, Wisconsin. Skip introduced I’m So Glad, the best known of these because of its 1960s cover version by the Cream (featuring Eric Clapton), with the story of how Laibly at first urged him to “play the song as fast as you can”. On actually hearing it at that speed, Laibly advised Skip to slow down. Listening to his performance of the song in concert, one can hear James gradually accelerate the tempo of “I’m So Glad” as a dramatic demonstration of his continued finger-picking prowess.
The circumstances of Skip James’ life, since he had resumed his performing his performing career in 1964, provided the fodder for three newer original blues compositions – Lorenz, concerns his wife Lorenzo Meeks James (1905-1977), and two blues about his hospitalizations, one in Tunica, Mississippi, Sickbed Blues, the other focusing on his stay at Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues.
The remaining six songs were Skip James arrangements of a variety of popular songs. Backwater Blues recounted the disastrous flooding of the Mississippi river, in the winter and spring of 1927, as popularised by Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson recordings issued that year. Hard Headed Woman Blues adapted the 1934 hit “Black Gal (What Makes Your Head So Hard?)” of Joe Pullum, covered by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. Catfish Blues, combined lyrics recorded by Robert Petway (“Catfish Blues Blues” DOCD-5671) and Tommy McClennan (“Deep Blue Sea Blues” DOCD-5670) in 1941, later to be reconfigured by McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters, in his rendition of “Rolling Stone” (1950). Having been ordained as both a Baptist and Methodist minister, Skip’s singing of Petway’s verse,“I went to the church house and they called on me to pray; I got all on my knees, but I couldn’t find a word to say”, must have possessed personal poignancy. Skip James’s Bloomington appearance introduced his unique “Bentonia (Mississippi) School” of minor key blues to an appreciative audience. Taken from the sleeve notes by Dr. Peter Narváez.
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