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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Issue 3. 15th March [1976]


page 16


You used to do a bit of preaching when you started playing on the road.

Yeah, when I was young I used to. I was brought up in the church.

People like the Rev. Gary Davis used to....

Well, Rev. Gary Davis was a parish preacher. He was an ordained preacher. But I wasn't. Mine was a gimmick. I knew that religion was a fantasy and everybody believed it and if you can express yourself from the Bible. You know, you can take up a collection. It was to get a crowd round and take up a collection - singing and preaching that was it.

Did you ever record any religious songs?

Oh yes, Brother George and the Sanctified Singers I was on. I've got a whole album out on Fantasy now called 'Closer walk with Thee' All scriptures.

You first recorded, evidently, under the name of Blind Boy Fuller.

No, Brownie McGhee was my first recording 1939.

Weren't you ever given a sort of subtitle of.....

That's after BBF died. I made the 'The Death of Blind Boy'. It was a guitar playing - Sonny was playing with me at the time and I met Sonny. I made 'The Death of BBF and for record selling purposes they called me Blind Boy Fuller No. 2.

Do you feel it helped or hindered your career?

Well, my father though it was scandalous.

In those time who would your biggest influences have been?

Well, I hadn't met BBF at the time. My father was my biggest influence because I'd only heard him and his associates playing. His way of playing the guitar had a great deal of influence on me. He played with 2 fingers and thumb. I used to play with 3 fingers and a thumb. But it got me into just one way of playing. I played more like a classical style. He played that-a-way but he played very slow blues. My father played very slow, country, real cornfield.

Were there any other influences?

Lonnie Johnson was my biggest influence after my father. After I began to listen to the records they had around the house. I found that LJ was picking guitar at that time. I liked that way. I really thought the man had more hands than he did have.

Did you ever work with him?

Yes, I met him in 1948 in Chicago and played with him for the first time on stage. Then after that I invited him up to Canada, (that's where he died). I was around with him in New York in different places and in Philadelphia. I figure I got every record he ever made. I never saw him again.

He was a hell of an influence on me, mostly on my single string. I'd never be able to do what Lonnie was doing, but I could hear it by doing it my way. LJ would sing and play afterward you see. Usually his phrasing would come after he'd sing. All his fantastic playing and his improvising would come after. Now I sing and play at the same time. My style.... my father did that. But I usually use Lonnie Johnson on my improvising on the single string.

Just thinking of guitar styles, I listened the other day to a track you recorded with Sonny and Big Bill Broonzy. What do you think of BBB?

Oh Bill was an outstanding player. Bill's contribution to the blues both in writing and singing of real country blues was enormous.

A lot of blues nowadays is still being written. You've got the old standars but you've got a lot of original stuff continually being written.

The form will never be destroyed. The content goes into it people have different ideas. They're not singing about mules and cotton much. They' re going to sing about cars and short dresses, nice houses and [unclear: Cadillcs]... you know. Everything is changing but the form hasn't changed. The content that goes into the form is the main thing that changes. They call me a city blues singer but I wasn't going to sing city blues. I still live in the country in the mind. I live a little better that's all.

How do you feel about white people playing the blues?

I've got no discrimination against anybody singing the blues because I know they didn't create it. What do you think about me singing an English Ballad. What do you think about Charlie Pride singing country and western? He's Black. If you like the thing and want to do it, you can do it. So that just shows you, Ray Charles took all of country and western and turned them into gold records.

And that changed my attitude about people singing songs - you can sing anything you want to if you want to. If you think you can do it - I can't do it. But now white people can do a good job on the blues. But the main thing found out about white people is that they don't want you to know what goes on behind closed doors. They will not tell you about their personal lives. They seem to be ashamed about what goes on at home - about what goes on in the family. They don't want you to know that they have had it hard.

One of the chief qualities of blues is that one blues song is probably never played the same way to two people. Would you agree?

Yes thats true. It's a free type of music. People try to make a set pattern - they try to put it into a written category. But blues is free. It's a story-tellin thing. It's a music that you tell stories behind — you can relate to that. That's the thing about it and that's what I'm doing when I'me on the stage. I feel so free and relaxed when I have my guitar with me. I'm only really my past. And blues as I said we have a form which is only a 2 chord, 3 chord 4 chord thing. You can do so much improvising on it, and people absolutely turn it into really fantastic stuff.

It's the thing that throws you when you start reading about the history of the blues. There are so many people that probably never actually made it but were evidently really good. Do you think of these people?

I do, yes There's a lot of young blacks that really need to be heard. And I'm trying to do something about it by investing into companies - young record companies that might be able to get them on and get them heard. I think fellas like myself should take them by the hand and let them play with us more. They should be heard because they still have it.

But you won't see them. There's nobody to lead them, and so they'll just be a lost cause, and that's why they keep asking us questions. Are there any young blacks playing the blues? Yeah, there are, but they are hidden. They're pushed back by all the fellas like myself that's out here. Down there as you say, out of the light. The only way they're going to get recognition is by fellas like me, and others like Freddie King and BB King.

You ran a blues school in New York, didn't you?

Yeah, I had a place called the home of the blues and I was training people on stage and on how to get lyrics together, how to store them, how to put them into the form in a way that would be listenable, and hopefully somebody might, like them. And I put a lot of people on records. But I turned them loose at the wrong time and I was working with he wrong people.

Photo of Brownie McGhee performing

page 17

I noticed last night that you and Sonny seemed to be playing individually rather than acting as a two some.

Well, that's the whole thing about myself and Sonny's survival. There are 3 acts on the stage. There's Sonny Terry, and there's Brownie McGhee, and there's Sonny and Brownie. Now we're missing the third part of the show. We always did that. One opened, the other backed and we did 30, 15, 20 - whatever we wanted to do. There s no set time of doing it. If you want to do five numbers, you do 5. We don't go backstage and argue about how many numbers we're going to do. There's as much difference between myself and Sonny Terry as there is between night and day. But we have pooled our resources in being together. We don't dictate to one another. I don't try to change him. You don't change a man's style of playing. You try to support his style of playing and that's why we've been together 37 years. That's a long time to be with a man.

But it's got to the stage now after so many years that the 3rd show is missing. I know it. The duet show, which we do maybe 6 or 8 duets. We're not recording that type of thing any more. We haven't written any new numbers and so I feel like its left out. I haven't written any duets since 1955. And they have to be written. You have to get together on them. You just can't go out and be free. There's the individual stuff that you can do yourself the way that you want to do it, but when you're doing to do duet numbers there's got to be some kind of togetherness. You've got to be oversinging, undersinging, or aftersinging. Some ones got to lead. Someone's got to sing top and someone's got to sing bottom.

Were you singing more duets when you first started up?

No we weren't singing any. Sonny was just backing me up, being honest about it. Sonny didn't start to sing until 1942. When we started in 1939, Sonny was just backing me up. He wasn't even vocalising or singing. The first duet song we did was in '42. And I arranged 'Stranger Blues' That was the first song that we ever did together. Sonny was singing falsetto when I first met him. He doesn't sing false now I think he made 1 or 2 records in falsetto. In 1942 'Stranger Blues' was the first song he ever did in his natural voice. Then after that he got very familiar with what we were doing and I wrote a lot of duets. I arranged 'John Henry', Treated Wrong', 'Sun's Going to Shine' ....and I did a lot of under-toning on that.... 'Ride and Roll'. In 1955 I got a whole album of folksongs. I wrote nothing but duets. I worked on lyrics that would be suitable for us both. And mostly I have him in the lead. And that's all we know now.

You do a song for 20 years, and you think its about time you do some new one. But if we can get on and do that, we do a whole show. That's what we usually do when we got to France, because that album has been translated into French. People say 'are you writing new things?' Sure! Got many new songs. And I could do songs that you have never heard anyway, and you'd think they were new ones. Somebody asked me the other night, he said 'Play the Baseball Boogie' - I didn't think anybody had ever heard of it. It was a dedication in 1947 to Jackie Robertson when he made the baseball team., Brooklyn Dodgers'. It was the season and we sold all our records. When the season was over the records stopped. And I could sing about baseball, but it was no fun Not too many people know that Jackie was the first black to ever hit the major teams.

In the early days before you started recording you were playing with jug bands.

With washboards and tubs, yeah! Those instruments have become very popular, because they're classic instruments now, if you can find anybody to play them. Very seldom you can find a jug-blower, and its very hard to find a good washboard-beater. And tub-players, they're very rare, because how you can pluck a string and move that neck around, its very hard on the hands.

A lot of whites have formed jug bands.

Yes, there is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Jim Kweskin had a pretty good thing going but it didn't last long. We have musicians like that in New York, but they're in the ghettos. Nobodys going to take time go in and find them because this thing between the races has got to goddamn up in the air. You know, nobody wants to go in to look for this talent anymore. So its left up to the blacks that come out. Brooklyn is full of good harmonica players washboard players, good tub players, good kazoo blowers, and they just don't get a chance. They don't come out because they don't know where to go, once they walk out of Brooklyn.

Photo of Brownie McGhee performing

I go there quite often when I'm on the East Coast, because I know them. I want to get some of them on record so people will realise that this music is not dead, its not going out. They're still playing it, just not recording it. John Lee Hooker's first guitar was a one string baling wire on a barn door. He doesn't like to talk about it. He used to go out and put the baling wire between two doors and then push the doors back.... before he was able to buy a guitar. And my first string I made for the banjo was a sewing thread. I tied it on branches of a tree, and pushed the branches back. You had to have a lot of patience. I learnt to do ti from my old uncle, he taught me how to wrap the strings together, and stretch it. When you got the sound you wanted you left it to dry. They didn't last, and you had to play them very soft.

If you tie a string in 9 knots and have to play between the knots - that's where you really have fun. That's where the capo come in. I had no capo then. I used a hickory stick. You'd tie that around the neck of the guitar because you weren't able to buy a string in the late 20's. If you did get a string, you'd hang on to it. I tied bass strings and high strings together. As long as you have the capo below the knot you get the same tone. I bottle all my strings. After this tour I'll go back and bottle each set of strings. I could sell them if I wanted to. Someday I might become famous. You could to into my office and see all these guitar strings bottled up and stuck down my bottles saying Germany and India - and think 'Whats all this for'. I save all my strings. I use the same set of strings that I had when I first toured Australia in 1965, the same pick that I made my first record with.

You don't have the guitar you made your first record with?

No, I wished I did, but I was stupid. I had to pay for the new car. It was a little old make-believe guitar. It was so old the keys were all bent on it.

You played a Gibson earlier on didn't you?

Yeah, earlier. I had an SS Steward. Then after that I had a guitar with a neck on it. I liked the body of it and I put a neck in it for me. Then after that I got a Gibson. I sued Blind Boy Fuller's steel Nash one.

How do you feel about the steel guitar?

I liked it at the time because it was a very good weatherproof guitar. Hitch-hiking was.....

You were still on the road?

Yes, I had it when I came to New York.

They were popular because they were loud for the street?

Oh yes, and they were good in the weather. All you had to do was just cover up the resonator - the little piece of wood underneath the bridge. If you keep that from getting wet, its fine. I slept on it many a night. I used it for my pillow, just put a sack on it, put it under your head. Pick it up, put it on your back and walk on. It was no problem. But a wooden guitar - as soon as it started to rain you had to get it under something. It made my shoulders sore after so long - very heavy.

page 18

Elite Hotel - Emmylou Harris

Word's going around that the gentle simpletons of our fair uni have their ears unpleasantly mis-tuned. I've actually witnessed the word 'Country' producing a response of physical convulsion. Monstrosity of conditioning. The time has come for 10cc of that old hickory wind to be injected into auditory canals everywhere for the Natural High.

So listen.

Emmylou has not been idle since the rude departure of the man who found her and brought her to this world, Georgia Peach Gram. She has already shown herself to be a singer of not only incredible poignancy and power, but also the sweetest passion, on her first solo album 'Pieces of the Sky'.

This album was notable also for superb musicianship throughout, and many of those responsible have contributed on Elite Hotel. There's Ben Keith and Hank diVito sharing the sweet steel work admirably, and Eagles and Flying Burrito Brothers guitar man Bernie, Leadon who also helps out with vocal on 'Feelin Single - Seein' Double'.

Altogether it hangs in very well, though the string arrangements come in a bit heavily at times. They are not used grossly, but anything which hints at dragging someone of Emmylou's capacity down to the pop appeal of Carly Simon churns me up just a mite.

The song writing team is graced with the appearance of Gram Parsons no less than three times, including 'Ooh Las Vegas' which is treated to a really shit-kicking pace, though without quite the vocal vigour of the original version (on which Emmylou backed Gram). That's a track of gambling blues which will give all you pussy-footin punters a glimpse of the perils of time spent with the dealer. The album ends with 'Wheels', another lump in the troat for any who caught the spirit of Gram Parsons before he moved on (have a good listen to 'My Man' on the Eagles album On the Border ).

The other Parsons track 'Sin City' was for me the best of the album on first hearing, but it's fast losing it's hold as the other tracks creep up on me, 'Satan's Jewel Crown' is a heart felt rendition of the temptations of riches and a fundamentalist good will conflict with all the accompanying imagery.

Some of the tracks on side two were recorded live, used to good advantage at the beginning of 'Sweet Dreams' which just flows out of the applause between tracks, and turns into a lover's lament - quite similar to Too Far Gone' on Pieces of the Sky and just as sweetly sad.

You never get too brung down with weepies though, thanks to a lot of good up tempo music to pull you away just when you think your eyes are sinking to belly-button-contem-plation level. The album opens with 'Amerillo', a zippy bitter-sweet tale of a lover whose attentions are lost to the delights of the city (overtones of 'Streets of Baltimore'?), and then there's 'Feelin 'Single-Seein' Double', a good number for yer drinking women. Hank Williams' 'Jambalaya' is given a fresh work-out worthy of its composer, guaranteed to get your sluggish feet coursing with rhythm and your knees a-bobbing.

Perhaps the album hasn't the speed of appeal of Emmylou's first but if you'll give it the chance it'll get you in the end. And where better?

So move your latest Tangerine Dream number into a corner somewhere, preferably in a Kleensak along with the rest of your stone cold intellectual musicianshit, and give emotion a chance.

Good Gracious God, I love it!

Spinner's Live Atlantic SD-2-910

Live albums are the paradox of the vinyl age. Without the broad subleties of the studio room the group or band is portrayed 'in the skin'. There can be no back-tracking, re-editing or overtakes. If done with precision and skill the intensity and feel of a live performance more than compensate for the loss of studio gimmickry. The Stone's 'Get Your Ya Ya's Out' is a case in point, while the Spinners Live is a good example of some of the faults that can plague a live album when the marvels of electronic wizardry have been trimmed away.

The Spinners Live album is a double L.P set and the songs are soul at its best. The Spinner's are still the slick and precise group that they were ten years ago, and their harmonies and chorus backing are a delight to the ear. The orchestration is tight and well balanced (if at times a little too rehearsed), never drowning out the group itself. Songs like 'Living a Little, Laughing a Little' and 'Then Came You' still retain the exuberance of the original recordings, while 'Could it be. I'm Falling in Love, could hardly be bettered. The only disappointment is the inclusion of 'Sadie' a sentimental and unnecessary piece of slop.

Side three is taken up with a 'Supstar Medley', good night club fare no doubt, but not normally live album material. However, the Spinners carry it off well, the timing always perfect, showing how polished and versatile the group is. The impersonations are never strained or drawn out, retaining listener interest in the act.

But something seems to be lacking, or perhaps there is something there that shouldn't be The Spinners are renowned as much for their stage routines as they are for their harmonies, and the listener is placed in the predicament of being able to hear an excited audience while being unable to gather the cause of the excitement. The constant tinkling of glasses and background chatter are another frustration; at one stage the listener could well imagine that the audience were more concerned with their immediate neighbours than with the Spinners. This no doubt is as much the fault of the recording's location (The Latin Casino!) as it is of the audience.

The mixing and editing sometimes leave a little to be desired. 'One of a Kind' for instance is cut off while the strings are still drawing the conclusion to the song.

However the overall presentation is good. The record delivers the goods admirably, showing the talents of probably one of the greatest soul acts around. If soul is your bag, then don't hesitate to have a listen. The faults fade into the background when considering the overall excellence of the album.

Martin Allison

Andrew Gold

While some records are a senseless waste of vinyl and others are pure joy to listen to, the vast majority fall into a category where they may gain a limited audience but invariably end up in the reduced record boxes.

I would find it hard to believe that anyone could find this disc to approximate the two former catagories. His 'music is inoffensive and harmless - yet does not ever reach great musical heights.

Much as I dislike classifying artists, the reviewers job is to give the prospective buyer some idea as to what tastes the artist is likely to appeal to. Seems to me that Andrew Gold sounds something approaching a watered down version of Bread. His voice is practically identical of that of David Gates, but with excellent backing vocals and reasonable arranging, the producers have managed to salvage the music into sounding very much like the Eagles. The style follows very closely the lightweight country-rock thing.

Lyrically, the album is extremely tiresome as the same old country themes are regurgitated endlessly - broken hearts, gotta git back on the road again, and various other examples of debauchery, self indulgence etc.

At best, the music is pleasant and relaxing with some exceptionally nice slide guitar work and tight harmony featuring Linda Ronstadt and others. At worst, the music is tedious and predictable with very little lyrical or melodic merit which will probably mean that it will sell in large quantities.

Gold himself sings pleasantly and shows versatility as an instrumentalist - he plays drums, bass, piano, guitars and the symthetic haggis. I doubt, however, that he has any chances of hitting the big time as his first offering is so mixed quality-wise. Track 4 on the first side is a genuine rocker with a 'Tower of Power' - type horn section featuring Bobby Keyes of Harry Nilsson fame. In contrast. Track 2, entitled 'Heartaches in heartaches' is as bad as the title suggests - pure crap!

The album cover - an important part of any musical package - is unbelievably bad, resembling the well washed, white suited gent being bombarded with ping pong balls.

Although being superficial, Gold seems to get away with it by making the music unpretentious and generally following the usual lightweight country rock recipe. Worth a listen if you're into that sort of thing.

— David Murray

Queen Review

Queen present us with their night at the opera; an apparent take-off of every musical style from Gilbert and Sullivan and twenties-revival to folk and acid rock. Their tongue is always in somebody or other's cheek, but however much the listener may jump up and down in frustration, Queen remain passionless, aloof, inscrutable.

This album could be many things - revolting, tinny, plagiaristic, but most of the time its not. You can't even call it a take-off because it rises above that and stands as music in its own right.

We start with an all-purpose curse 'Death on two legs. Dedicated to....' which has some lines worth mentioning.

'was the fin on the back part of the deal? (Shark!)'


'You're a sewer-pit decaying in a cesspool of pride

Should be made unemployed Then make yourself null and void'

On the surface its like a schoolboy's written exercise that has all the right elements, but lacks the essential spirit. Underneath, its a lot more than this. Queen present it as a statement in its own right that's neither serious nor a take-off.

The same applies to I'm in Love with my car' - a theme that has been done before but never quite like this. Its helped by some beautifully atrocious lyrics:

'Told my girl just had to forget her, rather buy me a new carburettor'

There are parts of this album, particularly some of Freddie Mercury's vocal harmonies, that really send shivers down my spine. 'You're my best friend' has some terrible lyrics, but I do like the shivers, and what a name for a love song!

Now a folk-rock song about soldiers going across the sea to war; '39'. I defy you to find any humourous bits in this one. Yet it should be an awful plagiarism of Lindisfarne, but its not.

Because its an opera, the revolting clichés are repeated as a leitmotif in 'Sweet Lady':

'You call me sweet like I'm some kind of cheese

Waiting on the shelf You eat me up'

It's Queen's fond boast that they use no synthesizers. This gives their music a clarity and briskness and leads to some imaginative instrumentation. Brian May's harp on 'Love of my Love' gives the song a really beautiful touch. His 'genuine Aloha ukelele (made in Japan)' gives 'Good Company' an equally distinctive backing. And of course I mentioned Freddie Mercury's sensuous vocals - you probably remember that bit from 'Bohemian Rhapsody' that gives 'Mama, oo/Don't mean to make you cry'.

But even good things can be taken too far. Queen sometimes get carried away, for example, in 'The Prophets Song' where the same vocals are used to excess. Like most of this album, this song is a variation on an old theme, but it lacks the imagination of some of the other tracks. The same applies to Queen's attempts at social comment:

'All my friends by a year by and by disappeared but we're safe enough behind our door'

Haven't I heard that somewhere before?

However, mostly Queen's sheer bravado carries the album above such doldrums.