Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Music on Monday: White Boy Blues

If I say "what a noise", I mean it entirely positively. 'Bukka' White knocks the hell out of a National Steel guitar playing Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues, one of his signature songs.

He had hands like Rachmaninov, a punishing way with a guitar and a Mississippi accent forty yards deep, which could partially account for the fact that he's been chiselled into history as 'Bukka' White, when his real name was Booker T. Washington White. 'Bukka' was the name a (white) producer put on the label of his first set of recordings in the 1940s, and despite hating it, White was stuck with it.

Legend has it that in 1937 White shot a man in a barroom brawl (in self-defence, it was later determined), fled to Chicago, and was two songs into a recording session when the police came for him. He served time in the notorious Parchman Farm, where he composed the songs that would make his reputation.

Not the least of his legacy is that a White's young cousin (one B.B. King) developed his distinctive finger vibrato trying to mimic White's, not understanding he did it with a slide.

The guitar featured in this video (probably, anyway - I say that to give this low voltage anecdote some narrative cohesion) is the one that wound up in Eric Bibb's hands:

While Bibb has been carrying a torch for his musical ancestors for 40 years or so, it took a chance encounter with a guitar owned by one of Bibb’s heroes, Delta bluesman Booker White, to set it ablaze.
It happened after a concert in the north of England a few years ago. A fan came up and asked him if he’d be interested in playing this old guitar. “I opened the case and there was this wise old instrument - it played like a dream” explains Bibb.
I remember talking to someone from Newcastle who heard that White's guitar was on sale at a music shop in the city. When he went there he found that there was some sort of mini pilgrimage underway and the shop was full of people like him who'd just come to have a look at Booker White's National steel.

Anyway - that guitar (probably) in the substantial mitts of Booker T. Washington White, tough, loud and magnificent.

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