Woody – a tribute to Woody Guthrie.



‘This machine kills fascists.’

So clever. How did you think of that?

There’s not many men that done the things that you’ve done. Bob Dylan said that about you.

I was only a kid when you died in 1967 – just eighteen years old and you were just fifty five. But I was already besotted with a lot of your work. I had a whole bunch of your records that I played incessantly. That was the year that I bought your autobiography Bound For Glory.

We couldn’t have been much more different could we? – Separated by the best part of forty years, an ocean and a world of experience.

You were born in Okema Oklahoma and I was born in Surrey England. We did not have wide open plains, tornados, Indian reservations, black slaves or rattle snakes in Walton on Thames. We did not have guns, dust storms or dusty old hobos who rode the blinds. There were no lynchings, shootings or crooked Southern politicians who solved problems with their fists or bosses who employed vigilantes to get their own way. Walton was very provincial and English. Yet Woody – your songs still spoke to me. You painted the pictures in my mind. I lived it through you.

My family was pretty ordinary too. None of them were burnt to death, or died of madness or ran for office. My father wasn’t involved in lynchings, or dubious property deals and he did not join the Ku Klux Klan.

Our worlds could not have been more different could they? But I could still relate to what you said and I did.

You were a one off.

What made you that way Woody?

How come you were brought up in a prosperous conservative family, full of racism and violence, and you developed the mind-set you had? Where did you get your sensibilities from?

What made you so special?

You took up the guitar and set about entertaining people with your songs. You busked around the country, painted signs, carried out odd-jobs, and ran a radio show.

You rambled, lived rough and rode the trains with the poor, the down-and-outs and blacks, tramped round the country, playing to the strikers and disenfranchised, and you believed in a better world. What made you such an optimist?

How come you weren’t a racist like all the others? Where did that compassion come from? What made you believe in fairness? It seems to me that there was something special inside you. You couldn’t turn a blind eye or ignore what was going on. You were forced to do something about it and fight for what you believed. You seemed to believe it more strongly than anybody else.

It seems to me that you kept your vision simple. You believed in justice, freedom and equality. The rest followed on from there. You were a communist and pluralist because of equality. You took people as you found them regardless of the colour of their skin. Back then both those beliefs were dangerous. But they didn’t faze you, did they Woody? Where-ever there was injustice you were the first to speak up, to write songs and put your body on the line on the pickets. You fought racism and championed the underdog. You were a union man because you saw that as the only way to put a stop to the exploitation of working people.

Woody – you were a one-man political organisation, a social dynamo, a fearless radical. Compromise was not in your language, was it?

You did not court popularity did you?

You took up social issues, like the dust bowl refugees, and put forward their case for justice.

The compassion and fury poured forth from your guitar.

You loved life, nature and women. You were never happier than when outside, under the sky, with the sun, stars and mountains. I could feel that in your song This Land Is Your Land.

But you also had a dream. You could see a better world a coming. You saw science providing the answers. Electricity from the hydroelectric would turn deserts into fertile land. There would be a land of plenty in which all men and women would prosper.

All we had to do was defeat fascism.

Which brings me back to that slogan – this machine kills fascists.

It taught me a valuable lesson. You don’t defeat fascism, hatred and exploitation with violence. You defeat it with love, reason and music. A guitar is a machine that can reach into peoples’ hearts and change them. A guitar is better than a rifle. Songs are better than bullets. Words can kill fascism. Ideas hold great power. Your words still move me.

We might have been born worlds apart but I’m joined to you like I was your twin.

I just wanted to say thank you Woody.

Woody Guthrie – Roll on Colombia – a song about hydro-electric power from back in the 40s!!

Woody Guthrie – Roll on Colombia – a song about hydro-electric power from back in the 40s!!

Woody was way ahead of his time. He was hired by the Bonneville Power Administration in Oregon to provide music for a film they were making on hydroelectric power and the damning of the Colombia River. Woody saw this as a great opportunity to bring cheap power and employment to the area. He thought it would greatly benefit the working man.

To that end Woody wrote a whole stack of songs in a couple of weeks many of which came out on his wonderful Columbia River Collection.

There are problems, such as fish migration and navigation associated with damning rivers but there are ways of dealing with these.

Woody was right: sustainable power is the way forward!

Roll on Colombia
Words by Woody Guthrie, Music based on “Goodnight, Irene” (Huddie Ledbetter and John Lomax)

Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through.
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew.
Canadian Northwest to the ocean so blue,
Roll on, Columbia, roll on!

CHORUS: Roll on, Columbia, roll on.
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn,
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

Other great rivers add power to you,
Yakima, Snake and the Klickitat, too,
Sandy Willamette and Hood River, too;
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.


Tom Jefferson’s vision would not let him rest,
An empire he saw in the Pacific Northwest.
Sent Lewis and Clark and they did the rest;
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.


It’s there on your bank that we fought many a fight,
Sheridan’s boys in the blockhouse that night,
They saw us in death but never in flight,
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.


At Bonneville now there are ships in the locks,
The waters have risen and cleared all the rocks,
Shiploads of plenty will steam past the docks,
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.


And on up the river is Grand Coulee Dam,
The mightiest thing ever built by a man,
To run these great factories and water the land,
It’s roll on, Columbia, roll on.


These might men labored by day and by night,
Matching their strength ‘gainst the river’s wild flight,
Through rapids and falls they won the hard fight,
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

Woody Guthrie – Grand Coulee Dam –

Woody Guthrie – Grand Coulee Dam –

Woody was Green. He saw the potential of green power and the great potential that came from damming the rivers. He sang of the river working for us as it rolled along, about the deeper waters providing safer shipping and the use of Aluminium from the cheap electricity helping to build flying fortresses to defeat the Nazis.

Another great song!

Grand Coulee Dam
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

Well, the world has seven wonders that the trav’lers always tell,
Some gardens and some towers, I guess you know them well,
But now the greatest wonder is in Uncle Sam’s fair land,
It’s the big Columbia River and the big Grand Coulee Dam.

She heads up the Canadian Rockies where the rippling waters glide,
Comes a-roaring down the canyon to meet the salty tide,
Of the wide Pacific Ocean where the sun sets in the West
And the big Grand Coulee country in the land I love the best.

In the misty crystal glitter of that wild and wind ward spray,
Men have fought the pounding waters and met a watery grave,
Well, she tore their boats to splinters but she gave men dreams to dream
Of the day the Coulee Dam would cross that wild and wasted stream.

Uncle Sam took up the challenge in the year of ‘thirty-three,
For the farmer and the factory and all of you and me,
He said, “Roll along, Columbia, you can ramble to the sea,
But river, while you’re rambling, you can do some work for me.”

Now in Washington and Oregon you can hear the factories hum,
Making chrome and making manganese and light aluminum,
And there roars the flying fortress now to fight for Uncle Sam,
Spawned upon the King Columbia by the big Grand Coulee Dam.

‘All You Fascists Bound to Lose’ – Woody Guthrie lyrics brought to life by Billy Bragg. Religious fanatics, political tyrants and those who practice hate, intolerance and cruelty – you have no future!

‘All You Fascists Bound to Lose’ – Woody Guthrie lyrics brought to life by Billy Bragg. Religious fanatics, political tyrants and those who practice hate, intolerance and cruelty – you have no future!

Photo of Woody Guthrie

Woody was highly prophetic. This song was written about fascists like Hitler, Mussolini, the Ku Klux Klan and other xenophobic racists of the first order but it applies equally well to ISIS, the Taliban, Al Shabab, AL Qaeda and Boko Haram – all the fanatical thugs who are practicing their intolerance and hatred right now.

Woody believed that you did not destroy fascism with guns; you killed it in the minds of people. That is why it is so important to look at the horrors or fanaticism, intolerance and hatred and prevent people being sucked in to that twisted ideology. Education is the key; understanding and respect.

Regardless – the whole world is getting organised to wipe out the evil caliphate. It is now just a question of how much pain and misery they can inflict in the mean-time.

Humans are vicious animals but love will conquer over hate.

All You Fascists Bound To Lose

I’m gonna tell all you fascists, you may be surprised
People all over this world are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose

Race hatred cannot stop us, this one thing I know
Poll tax and Jim Crow and greed have got to go
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose

All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists
Are bound to lose

People of every color marching side by side
Marching across these fields where a million fascists died
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose

All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists
Are bound to lose

I’m going into this battle, take my union gun
Gonna end this world of slavery before this war is won
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose

All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists
Are bound to lose

I said, all you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists
Are bound to lose

Woody Guthrie – Vigilante Man lyrics – Protest song – A vigilante man is a vicious thug hired by the bosses to break strikes so that they can pay starvation wages and make bigger profits.

Woody Guthrie – Vigilante Man lyrics – Protest song – A vigilante man is a vicious thug hired by the bosses to break strikes so that they can pay starvation wages and make bigger profits.


Most people are pleasant, helpful, caring and kind. A few are selfish and greedy. And some are spiteful vicious and mean.

There’s none worse that the black-leg, the scab, the vigilante thug.

Woody took his stance and sang his songs with the working men on the picket lines. He took his beatings too. He stood for justice and fairness.

It’s the same battle now.

Vigilante Man

Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
I been hearin’ his name all over the land.

Well, what is a vigilante man?
Tell me, what is a vigilante man?
Has he got a gun and a club in his hand?
Is that is a vigilante man?

Rainy night down in the engine house,
Sleepin’ just as still as a mouse,
Man come along an’ he chased us out in the rain.
Was that a vigilante man?

Stormy days we passed the time away,
Sleepin’ in some good warm place.
Man come along an’ we give him a little race.
Was that a vigilante man?

Preacher Casey was just a workin’ man,
And he said, “Unite all you working men.”
Killed him in the river some strange man.
Was that a vigilante man?

Oh, why does a vigilante man,
Why does a vigilante man
Carry that sawed-off shot-gun in his hand?
Would he shoot his brother and sister down?

I rambled ’round from town to town,
I rambled ’round from town to town,
And they herded us around like a wild herd of cattle.
Was that the vigilante men?

Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
I’ve heard his name all over this land.

Exercise Music for Today.

This is what I was exercising to today! With my headphones on I was pounding the treadmill as these sounds bashed my ears at maximum volume! I find it helps!

Neon Meate Dream of an Octofish – Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band

Green Manalishi (Live) – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Cigarettes and Coffee – Otis Redding

Hard Travelling – Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie – Tear the Fascists Down

Where are the people like Woody Guthrie who can put in words and music the need to stand up to Fascism.

While the world has lurched to the rights and fascist groups are once more marching through our streets, Tommy Robinson and the extremists are courting the gullible with their message of fear and hatred, we need honest men and women like Woody Guthrie telling it like it is.

We fought a world war against these fascist scum. 100 million people died!

It is time to stand up for tolerance and compassion, understanding and love – the helping hand not the iron fist.

It is time the fascists were stopped from setting the agenda and we started looking for solutions to our problems that aren’t walls and bombs.

Tear the Fascists Down

There’s a great and a bloody fight ’round this whole world tonight
And the battle, the bombs and shrapnel reign
Hitler told the world around he would tear our union down
But our union’s gonna break them slavery chains
Our union’s gonna break them slavery chains

I walked up on a mountain in the middle of the sky
Could see every farm and every town
I could see all the people in this whole wide world
That’s the union that’ll tear the fascists down, down, down
That’s the union that’ll tear the fascists down

When I think of the men and the ships going down
While the Russians fight on across the Don
There’s London in ruins and Paris in chains
Good people, what are we waiting on?
Good people, what are we waiting on?

So, I thank the Soviets and the mighty Chinese vets
The Allies the whole wide world around
To the battling British, thanks, you can have ten million Yanks
If it takes ’em to tear the fascists down, down, down
If it takes ’em to tear the fascists down

But when I think of the ships and the men going down
And the Russians fight on across the Don
There’s London in ruins and Paris in chains
Good people, what are we waiting on?
Good people, what are we waiting on?

So I thank the Soviets and the mighty Chinese vets
The Allies the whole wide world around
To the battling British, thanks, you can have ten million Yanks
If it takes ’em to tear the fascists down, down, down
If it takes ’em to tear the fascists down

source: https://www.lyricsondemand.com/w/woodyguthrielyrics/tearthefascistsdownlyrics.html

Rockin’ the Curriculum

Rockin’ the Curriculum

In the late 70s my Rock Club at school went from strength to strength. I wish I could say the same for our family finances. We were floundering.
Then I had this brilliant idea.
I would run a History of Rock music course as an evening class. I approached the college adult education and they were keen. I set about it. I had lots of vinyl albums, I’d lived through it and I’d seen most of the major acts. Easy. I was used to talking about it all with my students. I knew my stuff. What could be better than playing the music you loved and talking about it and getting paid for doing it?
What could go wrong?
I could make some money to help tide us over and I would enjoy myself at the same time. It was a win win.
I produced some flyers, spread the word and set about offering my first class. As far as I could tell nobody had ever run such a course in Britain. I was the pioneer.
I needed twelve good people and true. I attracted ten. The college ummed and aahed and decided to let it run. I was to be paid £15 an hour. That meant I would probably, after tax, clear £18 for the two hours. It wasn’t a huge sum but it would make a bit of difference. We were desperate. It was 1978 and we had three children.
It took a lot more preparation than I had envisaged. I had to organise what we covered in the two hours, select the tracks I was going to play, check and research what I was going to say and produce information sheets. It took hours.
My students were all keen. They had areas of expertise. They expected me to know what I was talking about. I was being paid.
That’s where the reality hit home.
My record collection reflected my tastes, which were pretty wide, but there were holes that needed plugging. The weekends were spent trawling around the second-hand record shops and buying up material to plug the gaps. That was fun too. I started to meet a number of interesting people, some of whom I’m friends with until this day.
However, it was not doing anything for our budget. I was spending more on essential albums than I was bringing in.
My course was running well though. It was the only course in the college to actually increase in numbers. By the time I finished it had gone up to sixteen.
My record club at school was also flourishing. I started taking students along to concerts as far afield as Leeds and Sheffield as part of our unofficial extra-curricular activities.
Later, as a Deputy Head, I managed to convince the Head that Rock Music needed to be on the curriculum. I devised a course for the Sixth Form which was ostensibly Skill Development. I delivered a couple of lessons on a Rock genre or musician and they had to analyse my presentation in terms of verbal skills, body language and materials used. Then they formed in small groups and produced presentations on their choices and we analysed their performances and gave pointers on how to improve. They took it very seriously. I remember one group dressed up in Disco gear and produced a dance routine as part of their presentation. It was a hoot. The confidence the students gained was brilliant. It went through the roof and we all had a good time. The students skills are giving presentations also improved which went straight into interview skills. Every school should do it.
Nick Harper was a great favourite with the kids. Not only did I organise trips to see him play but he came into school quite regularly and did a performance for them. He went up into the Sixth Form room and sat around, playing, talking and showing them how it was done. He came into my PSHE lessons and talked to them about song-writing, life on the road and guitar playing. He gave performances in the main hall. Nick was a star in every sense of the word.
I often think about reviving those courses. I did three of them. They lasted two years each. But it was quite a commitment.
I do not think I have the time now that I’ve retired.
But I’m still rockin’ even if the curriculum isn’t.

Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie – Bob Dylan

An incredible poem that captures so much. Bob really had the bit between his teeth.

I dig this out every once in a while. It combines two of my big heroes and makes me think.

I like poetry that makes me think. This does that in spades. It flows, blows and rambles but it forms a maze of words that echo around your brain.

We’re all searchin’ for summit!

When yer head gets twisted and yer mind grows numb
When you think you’re too old, too young, too smart or too dumb
When yer laggin’ behind an’ losin’ yer pace
In a slow-motion crawl of life’s busy race
No matter what yer doing if you start givin’ up
If the wine don’t come to the top of yer cup
If the wind’s got you sideways with with one hand holdin’ on
And the other starts slipping and the feeling is gone
And yer train engine fire needs a new spark to catch it
And the wood’s easy findin’ but yer lazy to fetch it
And yer sidewalk starts curlin’ and the street gets too long
And you start walkin’ backwards though you know its wrong
And lonesome comes up as down goes the day
And tomorrow’s mornin’ seems so far away
And you feel the reins from yer pony are slippin’
And yer rope is a-slidin’ ’cause yer hands are a-drippin’
And yer sun-decked desert and evergreen valleys
Turn to broken down slums and trash-can alleys
And yer sky cries water and yer drain pipe’s a-pourin’
And the lightnin’s a-flashing and the thunder’s a-crashin’
And the windows are rattlin’ and breakin’ and the roof tops a-shakin’
And yer whole world’s a-slammin’ and bangin’
And yer minutes of sun turn to hours of storm
And to yourself you sometimes say
“I never knew it was gonna be this way
Why didn’t they tell me the day I was born”
And you start gettin’ chills and yer jumping from sweat
And you’re lookin’ for somethin’ you ain’t quite found yet
And yer knee-deep in the dark water with yer hands in the air
And the whole world’s a-watchin’ with a window peek stare
And yer good gal leaves and she’s long gone a-flying
And yer heart feels sick like fish when they’re fryin’
And yer jackhammer falls from yer hand to yer feet
And you need it badly but it lays on the street
And yer bell’s bangin’ loudly but you can’t hear its beat
And you think yer ears might a been hurt
Or yer eyes’ve turned filthy from the sight-blindin’ dirt
And you figured you failed in yesterdays rush
When you were faked out an’ fooled white facing a four flush
And all the time you were holdin’ three queens
And it’s makin you mad, it’s makin’ you mean
Like in the middle of Life magazine
Bouncin’ around a pinball machine
And there’s something on yer mind you wanna be saying
That somebody someplace oughta be hearin’
But it’s trapped on yer tongue and sealed in yer head
And it bothers you badly when your layin’ in bed
And no matter how you try you just can’t say it
And yer scared to yer soul you just might forget it
And yer eyes get swimmy from the tears in yer head
And yer pillows of feathers turn to blankets of lead
And the lion’s mouth opens and yer staring at his teeth
And his jaws start closin with you underneath
And yer flat on your belly with yer hands tied behind
And you wish you’d never taken that last detour sign
And you say to yourself just what am I doin’
On this road I’m walkin’, on this trail I’m turnin’
On this curve I’m hanging
On this pathway I’m strolling, in the space I’m taking
In this air I’m inhaling
Am I mixed up too much, am I mixed up too hard
Why am I walking, where am I running
What am I saying, what am I knowing
On this guitar I’m playing, on this banjo I’m frailin’
On this mandolin I’m strummin’, in the song I’m singin’
In the tune I’m hummin’, in the words I’m writin’
In the words that I’m thinkin’
In this ocean of hours I’m all the time drinkin’
Who am I helping, what am I breaking
What am I giving, what am I taking
But you try with your whole soul best
Never to think these thoughts and never to let
Them kind of thoughts gain ground
Or make yer heart pound
But then again you know why they’re around
Just waiting for a chance to slip and drop down
“Cause sometimes you hear’em when the night times comes creeping
And you fear that they might catch you a-sleeping
And you jump from yer bed, from yer last chapter of dreamin’
And you can’t remember for the best of yer thinking
If that was you in the dream that was screaming
And you know that it’s something special you’re needin’
And you know that there’s no drug that’ll do for the healin’
And no liquor in the land to stop yer brain from bleeding
And you need something special
Yeah, you need something special all right
You need a fast flyin’ train on a tornado track
To shoot you someplace and shoot you back
You need a cyclone wind on a stream engine howler
That’s been banging and booming and blowing forever
That knows yer troubles a hundred times over
You need a Greyhound bus that don’t bar no race
That won’t laugh at yer looks
Your voice or your face
And by any number of bets in the book
Will be rollin’ long after the bubblegum craze
You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more
You need something to open your eyes
You need something to make it known
That it’s you and no one else that owns
That spot that yer standing, that space that you’re sitting
That the world ain’t got you beat
That it ain’t got you licked
It can’t get you crazy no matter how many
Times you might get kicked
You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope’s just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner ’round a wide-angled curve

But that’s what you need man, and you need it bad
And yer trouble is you know it too good
“Cause you look an’ you start getting the chills

“Cause you can’t find it on a dollar bill
And it ain’t on Macy’s window sill
And it ain’t on no rich kid’s road map
And it ain’t in no fat kid’s fraternity house
And it ain’t made in no Hollywood wheat germ
And it ain’t on that dimlit stage
With that half-wit comedian on it
Ranting and raving and taking yer money
And you thinks it’s funny
No you can’t find it in no night club or no yacht club
And it ain’t in the seats of a supper club
And sure as hell you’re bound to tell
That no matter how hard you rub
You just ain’t a-gonna find it on yer ticket stub
No, and it ain’t in the rumors people’re tellin’ you
And it ain’t in the pimple-lotion people are sellin’ you
And it ain’t in no cardboard-box house
Or down any movie star’s blouse
And you can’t find it on the golf course
And Uncle Remus can’t tell you and neither can Santa Claus
And it ain’t in the cream puff hair-do or cotton candy clothes
And it ain’t in the dime store dummies or bubblegum goons
And it ain’t in the marshmallow noises of the chocolate cake voices
That come knockin’ and tappin’ in Christmas wrappin’
Sayin’ ain’t I pretty and ain’t I cute and look at my skin
Look at my skin shine, look at my skin glow
Look at my skin laugh, look at my skin cry
When you can’t even sense if they got any insides
These people so pretty in their ribbons and bows
No you’ll not now or no other day
Find it on the doorsteps made out-a paper mache¥
And inside it the people made of molasses
That every other day buy a new pair of sunglasses
And it ain’t in the fifty-star generals and flipped-out phonies
Who’d turn yuh in for a tenth of a penny
Who breathe and burp and bend and crack
And before you can count from one to ten
Do it all over again but this time behind yer back
My friend
The ones that wheel and deal and whirl and twirl
And play games with each other in their sand-box world
And you can’t find it either in the no-talent fools
That run around gallant
And make all rules for the ones that got talent
And it ain’t in the ones that ain’t got any talent but think they do
And think they’re foolin’ you
The ones who jump on the wagon
Just for a while ’cause they know it’s in style
To get their kicks, get out of it quick
And make all kinds of money and chicks
And you yell to yourself and you throw down yer hat
Sayin’, “Christ do I gotta be like that
Ain’t there no one here that knows where I’m at
Ain’t there no one here that knows how I feel
Good God Almighty

No but that ain’t yer game, it ain’t even yer race
You can’t hear yer name, you can’t see yer face
You gotta look some other place
And where do you look for this hope that yer seekin’
Where do you look for this lamp that’s a-burnin’
Where do you look for this oil well gushin’
Where do you look for this candle that’s glowin’
Where do you look for this hope that you know is there
And out there somewhere
And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads
Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows
Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways
You can touch and twist
And turn two kinds of doorknobs
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You’ll find God in the church of your choice
You’ll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it’s only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You’ll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown

Featured Book – Rock Music – The Blues Muse – Chapter 2 Crystal Springs.

Crystal Springs


Crystal Springs was a typical Mississippi Town. There were a lot of these little towns around the Delta. They were the centres for trade with general stores and places where those with spending money could get a drink, play some cards or find a woman. Where the white bosses could meet for business or buy equipment, and where horses, livestock and equipment could be serviced. They were all a bustle. I moseyed into the centre. There was a small square where people sometimes gathered. It was shady which offered some relief from the heat and so it was popular with buskers like myself. We’d set up on the street corner and play our hearts out for nickels and dimes. I tended to ramble round. It didn’t pay to stay in one place too long. You’d attract attention from the sheriff and he was likely to give you a bed for the night and put you to work for a month or two to pay it off. They didn’t like itinerant ramblers any too much. Besides you had a novelty value and that soon wore off. No – I stayed a day or two and left. Sometimes they’d let me play in one of the taverns and sometimes one of the plantations would take me on. If there was heavy work to be done they liked a musician out there in the fields leading the chant. It raised spirits, put in energy and paid off in productivity. I could do that but it was long and hot all day under that sun. There was nothing easy about that. I avoided it if I could. Besides, there were plenty of guys who had no option. They were blind or crippled and could not work those fields. If they could not play they didn’t eat. I was young and fit; I hated to take food out of their mouths. I was happy to ramble, play the jukes and busk for a living. It suited me just fine.

Crystal Springs was good. I was hopeful that I could add to my few coins. If I was lucky I would eat well and if I was even luckier I might just attract one of the pretty things who cast an eye in my direction and then I could end up in a comfy bed for the night.

As soon as I arrived I realised I was plum out of luck. The two best places were taken and both had attracted sizeable crowds around them. I left my guitar alone and settled back to watch and learn.

I was new to this trade and had a lot to discover. If I was not going to starve I needed every tip I could possibly get.

The Main Street was dusty. Every time a horse or wagon came through it would kick up quite a cloud. It added to the general discomfort and mingled with the sweat running down your face to create grimy streaks. We were used to it.

On Main Street there were boarded walkways for when it rained. When it rained in Mississippi it was like the heavens had simply tipped a lake over on top of you. It came down with such force that it was a mystery as to how anyone managed to breathe. The dust turned to mud that sucked you in, the street became a river and the wagons became bogged down in the quagmire. If it wasn’t for those covered boards nobody would get around.

On the boards in front of the hitching rail I recognised Tommy Johnson. He was one of my favourites so no wonder that he was pulling everyone in. Tommy knew how to entertain a crowd. He was like a magnet. He’d gather them round and magic the coins out of their pockets. I listened as he played the intricate patterns on that guitar and watched his fingers closely. Man, he was good! He was singing some song about canned heat. I could relate to that. Many’s the time I’ve had to doss down in the alleys where the down and outs live. I’d clear the sterno tins away so I could stretch out. Those guys were mean mothers. I had to cuddle my guitar to me all night. They’d steal the shirt off your back to get another tin. They never seemed to sleep. All night long they’d be heating those tins up and getting high on that juice. It rotted their minds and made holes out of their eyes but they were past caring. Tommy sure could sing about reality in that high-pitched falsetto voice of his. Not that this was the only thing about his act that the crowd found entertaining, no sir. There was nothing he could not do with a guitar. He was a crowd pleaser. He would work the crowd by playing that thing behind his head; he’d throw it spinning into the sky and catch it with hardly a stutter in the playing. It drove the women wild and they’d shriek and squeal with delight while the guys shook their heads in admiration. He’d finish off with a handstand on his guitar while still strumming. It sent shivers through me. I knew he was out of my league. I bet Tommy was never short of a drink or a bed for the night. I had no chance.

But as if that wasn’t bad enough on the other side of the square there was another of the legends of the area – Charley Patton. With his wavy hair and pale, red tinged skin he stood out. He was half Indian but it wasn’t just his looks that were striking. He too was a wizard with the guitar and Tommy’s equal at working a crowd. Whatever Tommy could do in the way of tricks he would do better. Charley had that crowd yelling. I watched as he played that old box behind his back and then walked it down the boardwalk playing it between his legs. His deep, rich voice was a contrast to Tommy’s high pitched tones and the crowds were lapping it up. A few years before Tommy had idolised Charley and learnt a lot. Now the pupil was giving the master a run for his money; though I could see that both of them were doing alright.

It was time for me to shut up shop and hit the road. I was not going to get much joy around here while these two were in town. They’d monopolise the jukes and drinking holes. I wouldn’t get a look in.

With a smile on my lips I watched them for another half hour. They were mesmerising. From where I was sitting the high voice and low growl blended into a perfect sound as their strong voices carried across the square and the guitars blended together. I couldn’t keep my eyes still as they darted from one to the other drinking it in. I was in heaven but there was no way I was going to compete. All I could hope was that I didn’t find Blind Lemon in the next place. That would cook my goose.

If you have enjoyed my writing and would like to purchase one of my books I have put some links to my best Rock books below:


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In Search Of Captain Beefheart



The Blues Muse






Rock Routes



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In Search Of Captain Beefheart



The Blues Muse




Rock Routes




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