This is why within blues songs, there is a lot of weight, but more than that – especially in Hill Country – there is a sense of celebration, appreciation. These are songs that shake people from their seats, songs not only about lost love, but also about the return glory of love. When Junior Kimbrose sings “Stay All Night”, the language fills with pain, but the pain is not sadness. It is the exhaustion of blissful longing, the same thing that sits deep in Marvin Gay’s voice at the end of “Let’s Get It On” when he pushes his solicitation to its limits and is breathless with desire. Kimbrough, at the gates of desire and looking for the keys to the kingdom, sighs, “Love me baby, love me girl.” And the song is not about sadness, but about a celebration of the potential that can come on the other side of a long night. These are great blues songs. Suffering is a marathon; Anand is a short sprint that takes place in between moments.
I know elders or friends who would put a needle on some old blues record at the beginning of a party to warm people up. Because you can dance to the blues just like you can drown in their thick and immovable nature. You can sob along for the sad, only you can also chase a more joyful route, laughter on a porch swing with your feet pushed against the night air, or peppered with kisses or swinging. The logic, as I have always understood it, is that the blues is something that you get first so that you can get everything else. It resides in you, so that you may be fortunate enough to see the world better, more honestly, with greater dexterity. This is why so many great blues songs are about leaving one place and reaching somewhere else. About seeing something that seems impossible to see in a moment and then taking it with you for a lifetime.
When people talk about the spontaneity of the blues, or how there is a kind of freedom beneath it, it is partly because the blues had a long history before recorded music. It had a history of traveling from one person to another, such as good gossip, bending along the way. “It’s like diamonds never lose their value,” Orback told me, still rolling the lighter on his fingers. “Because all these musicians – really good ones – they are never the same. They always put their seal on everything.”
It was a sound and tradition created by working class players who played songs after their labor days, people who showed up and nothing else. RL Burnside was a farmer, fisherman. He would play music, no matter who came and recorded it or not, satisfied with maintaining a tradition at the place he loved. Most of the early recordings by Hill Country Blues musicians were made by musicians who heard stories of juke bursting with sound during specific closing hours and wanted to come down to see what all the fuss was about. Artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell Some of them managed to capitalize on field recording and land record deals and tour opportunities. But modest commercial success was also rare, and it often occurred late in the lives and careers of artists who fell ill or died soon after becoming better known. McDowell’s first album was released in 1964, and he died by 1972.
When Fat Possum was formed and went in search of bluesmen that had not been properly recorded for decades – such as Kimbro, Burnside, and others, as well as Greenville’s versatile T-model Ford – it was a record improvement. Seemed like The Hill Country and Delta Blues mini-revival swept through the 1990s and by the early 2000s translated into record sales, documentaries, festivals and travel juke-joint reviews. This revival gave living legends space to record and release music later in their lives. But it also posed the question of the value of an American collection. Along with the recording of Fat Possum – eclipsed by listeners across the country – there is another collection that lives in the people there, whatever the beginning was for them, listening to these songs and telling people about them . That collection is less glamorous but still valuable.
When Dan Orbach was 17, he took a road trip with his father to Mississippi, the moment the blues scene was gaining more mainstream attention in the ’90s, partly due to Fat Possum’s work. . They started in Akron, stopped in Nashville and then Memphis, where they found a short guidebook to the Mississippi Blues, and then went straight to the center of Hill Country to see some of the players and the places they only told stories about. Had listened. Auerbach went straight to Junior Kimbrough’s Juke Joint. Kimbrough was known for his live shows that stretched long and kept people dancing for hours (Fat Possum’s 1992 album, “All Night Long,” took him to the national stage). But by the time Auerbach made his way to Mississippi, Kimbrough was at the end of his life. Junior’s son Kinney Kimbrough told Auerbach that Junior would not be held by the club and would not play that night, which presented another issue altogether: Kinney’s brother played, but was off at the moment. He needed a loan to get it out. “He told my dad that they would pay him back after selling some drinks that night,” says Dan. “It was like $ 24 or something.”