On a weekend day just before the Recent End of the World in Ice, we Jingos packed into the family jalopy to run some mundane errands. For once in my life, I was able to gainsay young Betty in the matter of the radio station -- avoiding an enervating immersion in our local Clear-Channel Suckfest, which inevitably induces in me mild nausea, accompanied by the urge to lecture crankily.
Instead I was treated to a pleasant moment with National Treasure Dick Spottswood's Obsolete Music Show on our public station.
I love American roots music just as much as the next gink, and I've got a pretty good storehouse of knowledge about it -- quite a lot of it gleaned from listening to Spottswood -- but I don't think I've ever had my neck wrenched quite so violently by anything I've heard on the radio as when he played a set of Blind Blake's ragtimes. Ho-lee jumpin' catphish, where have they been hiding this guy since 1927?
I've only been able to find one recording of his this morning, and you can listen to "Diddy Wah Diddy" here, or you can poke around in Spottswood's archive of the show (Dick starts talking about Blake at 1:37:45 - at least check out the first cut, "West Coast Blues," which will just knock you out)-- seriously, it's worth the effort, because I haven't been so ass-smacked by a guitar player since I first heard Django Reinhardt 25 years ago. (OK, acoustic guitarist -- Danny Gatton is still the Telecaster Christ...)
Listen to the guitar breaks in "Diddy Wah" -- it's like he's got extra fingers on each hand -- there's no other explanation for his ability to play multiple alternating bass notes while carrying a complex melody. Plainly, he set himself the task of replicating ragtime piano on guitar, and succeeded better than absolutely anyone. Just stunning stuff -- and I've been through all your Reverend Gary Davises, your Tampa Reds, your Blind Lemons, your Blind Willie McTells -- Blind Blake leaves the whole vision-impaired bunch a little sick.
(I leaned over to Wonder Woman at one point in the experience, whispered that I thought I needed The Operation... What operation? she asked suspiciously. You know... the eyes. They've gotta go.... Gotta have 'em plunked out if I'm ever to progress as guitar player....)
Here's an excellent biographical article on Blind Blake.
One other gem in Spottswood's show last week: Check out Onie Wheeler's "Bonaparte's Retreat" (at 1:00:09) -- If you were wondering where Tom Waits gets his inspirations for his acid-addled flea-circus arrangements, I don't think you need to look any farther. What a strange, strange piece of music....