I’d Take Morphine and Die

Let me repeat that this is the Butcher’s friend and I don’t know her or anyone in the band. They could be terrible people. Possibly made completely of boogers. Crusty boogers, most likely.

But I still like the hell out of their music and I invite you to listen to them doing a wonderful cover of Skip James’s “Drunken Spree.”

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4 thoughts on “I’d Take Morphine and Die

  1. From the title of this post, I thought it was going to be Good Night Irene. One of those lines that drifts between many songs no doubt.
    Skip James has always been hard for me to listen to. His voice…a bit too raw, to me. Moreso than Rob’t Johnson and it took me a long time to figure him out. I’ve never managed to get used to it; I flinch. It’s amazing, but…it’s too much for me to hear.
    But this is the kind of dixiefried* boogie that is right up my alley.

    *”It’s almost dawn and the cops are gone, let’s all get Dixie fried!”–Carl Perkins, stolen by Jim Dickenson

  2. Yeah, I always have to approach Skip James by the backdoor. Someone does a cover of one of his songs that I like–and of course, since he’s so hugely influential, there are a lot of covers–and then I go back and listen to the original and try to sit with it.

    But I agree, it’s too… something… to approach straight forward. I mean, take his “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues.” Everything about it is amazing. His voice, his guitar playing, and even the way that it makes you feel like you must never move again and also must not stop dancing. And yet, I’d prefer anyone else covering it if I had to listen to that song day to day.

    One thing I’m going to have to try to remember to ask Barry about is why he thinks this kind of vocal styling was so popular among Mississippi bluesmen early on (and in fact, I’d be willing to argue that one of the reasons Muddy Waters is the easiest “old timey” bluesman for non-blues fans to get into is that he sings in the part of his register he talks in. While Johnson and James and even Charley Patton, whose speaking voice you can hear at the beginning of, say, “Spoonful Blues,” are singing in a range higher than where they talk. And I think that’s part of what sounds so strange to us. The voice reads as “unnatural,” and not “real.”). I have some guesses.

    1. I kind of wonder if it’s the influence of Jimmie Rodgers, who was widely loved and who not only had a “natural” lovely tenor, but obviously made great use of how his voice broke when he yodeled. Did Mississippi musicians think Mississippi music should be sung like Rodgers, even if it wasn’t their most comfortable range?

    2. Blueswomen were much more widely popular at the time than bluesmen–that’s who was traveling and making the money and being in movies and such. Did that lead to the perception that the blues sounded most “right” when sung in a range women could sing in?

    3. Is this a jukejoint equivalent of the AM-radio influence on country music a decade or two later? There’s been a lot of interesting discussion about how country singers shaped their voices and changed their instrumentation to exploit as best they could the characteristics of AM radio–singing higher under the belief that it carried better across the airwaves (see especially Buck Owens and Hank Williams for good examples of that kind of AM sharpness I’m talking about). Did bluesmen find that, when playing in places with no amplification, that this was a vocal style that carried clear around the room? Note the switch from more nasally high voices to deep chested lower voices really took root in blues with the switch to electric guitars.

    Anyway, obviously, I don’t know. But long story short, I hear you and I do wonder about it.

  3. Sort answer, deadlines looming: The best evidence is that the general preference for high voice register singing in MS. is that it was, to some extent, a genuine African preference holdover; “voice throwing” and character adoption was generally a big deal in the areas of Africa slaves had most often been pulled from. It wad considered mysterious an sexy and at once earthy and unearthly, pretty much as it seems to everybody else! Add–possible native American influence there, and then, later, the popularity of that Rodgers yodel. It just added up. The virtual falsetto of Roebuck “ops” Staples of that generation, I doubt we would ever have had Smokey Robinson, etc, later..

  4. A-ha! The answer to any question about blues or jazz is almost always “Africa!” Thanks, Barry. I’m glad you mentioned Smokey because I thought of him as soon as I read B’s point 2, thinking, Men who sing like women have always been popular, from the castrati to Smokey Robinson.

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