A case in point: A couple of weeks ago, The Daily Music Break posted a couple of items – including a podcast interview — on Guy Davis, a terrific contemporary blues player. One of the songs that we focused on was Rev. Robert Wilkins “That’s No Way to Get Along.” The song was covered/changed and became The Rolling Stones’ “Prodigal Son,” which was on the great “Beggar’s Banquet” album. (It’s an extremely odd reimagining. It’s great because of Keith Richards’ guitar. It’s odd because of Mick Jagger’s decision to make it into religious – or, more accurately, “religious-y” allegory. I doubt he consulted clergy.)
That’s one string. The other is TDMB weekly newsletter features posts from our archives. On Friday, the site posted two numbers from Robert Clifford Brown, who is better known as Washboard Sam.
The two strings come together in the when doing a little YouTube poking around. The search quickly produced a great version of “That’s No Way to Get Alone” by the Piedmont Bluz acoustic duo. The principals are Valerie and Ben Turner. She is a tremendous – and tremendously calm – singer and guitar player who to my untrained ear sounds like Elizabeth Cotten. Ben is a washboard player.
It seems logical to think that the instruments with which we are familiar evolved from efforts to replicate the sounds around us. The line between the world at large and music seems to be porous. (Or, perhaps, in cases in which the line is not porous it’s probably not very good music.) Scat singing, for instance, is the use of the human voice as an instrument. Likewise, there are thousands of songs in which the rhythm section is meant to sound like a train. The washboard is a bit different in that it is an actual household item that is repurposed as a musical instrument.
Here is Piedmont Bluz website. A profile at Acoustic, Folk and Country Blues describes the duo, who – at least when the story was posted two years ago – lived in Queens, NY. Ben is a competitive speed skater and a graduate of The Fashion Institute of Technology. He designs the washboards. Thus, it’s likely that they haven’t seen duty as actually cleaning shirts and socks.
Piedmont Blues is very enjoyable. It’s rich heritage. In addition to Cotten, Wikipedia says that the well-known players include Mississippi John Hurt, Etta Baker, Blind Blake, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Blind Willie McTell and Josh White. As usual, there are great names: Barbecue Bob, Peg Leg Howell, Bull City Red, Peg Leg Sam, Bumble Bee Slim and Drink Small.
The Turners’ version of “That’s No Way to Get Along” is below. It was recorded at Hurt’s home. Above is “Joliet Bound,” which was written by Kansas Joe McCoy. It is just fabulous. The recording was a Wes Houston presentation.