Monthly Archives: May 2014

“Three Ball Blues” b/w “Blue and Worried Man” by Blind Boy Fuller. Okeh 05540. Recorded 04/06/40 & 04/05/40 in New York City.

 

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

The nice thing about writing a music blog about particular artists is that it gives you an opportunity to research questions that you’ve long had about whole genres of music. Such as: Why were so many classic blues artists blind? Think about it: Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell. And Blind Boy Fuller, the artist who recorded this week’s 78.

As one might guess, there is more than one reason for the preponderance of the blind in the blues. Childhood malnutrition is one factor. Bad moonshine ingested as a young man  is another. And then there is the simple fact that playing guitar and singing was a potentially decent way for a blind person to make a living; and if you were African American during the Depression, chances are good that you had a hard time finding decent work even if you were sighted. Growing up in the Jim Crow South just made matters worse.

Fulton Allen was born in Wadesboro, North Carolina in 1907, one of ten children. He learned to play guitar early in his childhood. When he lost his sight in his teens to the delayed effects of neonatal conjunctivitis, he took to playing in front of tobacco warehouses and on street corners and in house parties in Winston-Salem. By the 1930’s, Fulton and his wife Cora had settled in Durham, where he played with guitarist Floyd Council, harmonica player Sonny Terry, and washboard player George Washington. They were discovered by a talent scout named James Baxter Long and a recording session with American Recording Company soon followed. But first, Gorge had to change his name to Bull City Red, and Fulton to Blind Boy Fuller.

Their first single was more ragtime than blues and is all the more fun for it. From 1935, here’s “Rag, Mama, Rag.”

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“Ceremony” b/w “In a Lonely Place” by New Order. Factory 33. Recorded 1/22/81 in Manchester, U.K.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Anyone writing about New Order is obliged to begin by writing about Joy Division. That is especially true in this case.

As a teenager growing up in Rochester, I thought of Joy Division as the band with the beautifully austere album covers that cooler kids listened to. I was not that cool, and I still have a hard time making it through an entire album. But as an adult, it isn’t because the music is over my head—it’s because the gloom and sadness is so thick. And it is beautiful, this gloom and sadness, even when it’s coupled with a manic adrenaline. A good example of that coupling can be found in this live clip of “She’s Lost Control.”

 

The guitar is playing a rhythm part, while the bass playing is unusually melodic. The beat is both robotic and frenzied; the drummer is playing acoustic drums, but all most of us hear is that beautiful Synare 3 handclap. And the singer’s voice is so low, both tonally and emotionally, that it walks the line between sublime and embarrassing like a tightrope. And his dancing seems all too appropriate for a song about losing control.

This was one of many fascinating musical directions that the British took when punk fizzled out in the late 1970’s.—much more musically ambitious but just as bleak as anything from the Sex Pistols, with a serious debt to the work of German electronic music pioneers like Kraftwerk. You could slam to some of it, you could do a kind of Goth vogueing to the rest of it, or you could do what singer Ian Curtis did and dance in a way inspired by the epileptic seizures that plagued him in real life. Continue reading

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