We’ll finally get back to Follow The Directions today and sort the 88,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer for “South,” which might be the most musically evocative of all the directions. It’s certainly the one I’ve been pondering the most since Odd, Pop and I came up with the idea for the series. But we run into problems right from the start. The player sorts for genre tags as well, so the list we get includes everything that’s tagged as “Southern Rock.”
Thus, we get most of the catalog of the Allman Brothers Band as well as work by Delaney Bramlett, Elvin Bishop, the Cate Brothers, Charlie Daniels and on and on through 1,146 mp3s. Some of those will work for us. But not only do we have to ignore southern rock, we have to ignore lots of albums with “south” in their titles but no tracks titled with “south.” That includes the epic – yes, I used the word – four-CD collection titled Sounds of the South assembled from various albums of recordings done by folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax.
We also lose, among others, Magnetic South by Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Colin Linden’s Southern Jumbo, Little Richard’s unreleased 1972 album Southern Child, Koko Taylor’s South Side Lady, Maria Muldaur’s Southern Winds, and many entire catalogs, including those of J.D. Souther, Joe South, Southside Johnny (with and without The Asbury Jukes), Matthews’ Southern Comfort and the 2nd South Carolina String Band.
But, as generally happens, we have enough left to find four records that may entertain us this morning.
We’ll start with a record that refers, evidently, to a New York City locale but that came out of Philadelphia: “100 South Of Broadway, Part 1” from a group called the Philadelphia Society. Now, Wikipedia tells us that the Philadelphia Society is “a membership organization the purpose of which is ‘to sponsor the interchange of ideas through discussion and writing, in the interest of deepening the intellectual foundation of a free and ordered society, and of broadening the understanding of its basic principles and traditions’.” Somehow, I don’t think that’s the source of this fine and funky 1974 instrumental on the American Recording label. But a moderate bit of searching brings up hardly any information: Discogs lists no other releases for the Philadelphia Society (which I suspect was a generic name for a group of studio musicians), and the record label itself, as shown at Discogs, tells us very little: only that the track was recorded at the Sigma and Society Hill studios in Philly and a few names. Googling those names noted on the label – writers Davis, Tindal and Smith and producers M. Nise and B. Adam– gets us mostly unrelated links along with some links to sites offering the record for sale. One note I saw said the record was a significant hit in Great Britain. Maybe so. But whatever its genesis and its reception, it’s a nice way to start heading south.
Gil Scott-Heron’s uncompromising poetry on his solo releases – think “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” from 1971, for one – earned him (according to several things I’ve read) the title of “Godfather of rap.” He was just as uncompromising – if seemingly a little less acerbic – three years later on Winter In America, his first album with keyboardist Brian Jackson. That’s where we find “95 South (All Of The Places We’ve Been)” getting down to business after a mellow introduction:
In my lifetime I’ve been in towns
where there was no freedom or future around.
I’ve been in places where you could not eat
or take a drink of water wherever you pleased.
And now that I meet you in the middle of a mountain,
Well, I’m reaching on out from within.
And all I can think of are chapters and scenes of all of the places we’ve been.
I’m not such an old man, so don’t get me wrong.
I’m the latest survivor of the constantly strong.
I’ve been to Mississippi and down city streets.
I’ve seen days of plenty and nights with nothing to eat.
But I’m not too happy ’bout the middle of a mountain so soon I’ll be climbing again.
’Cause all I can think of are chapters and scenes of all of the places we’ve been.
I was raised up in a small town in the country down south
So I’ve been close enough to know what oppression’s about.
Placed on this mountain with a rare chance to see
Dreams once envisioned by folks much braver than me.
And since their lives got me to the middle of a mountain,
Well, I can’t stop and give up on them.
’Cause their lights that shine on inspire me to climb on from all of the places we’ve been.
From all of the places we’ve been
From all of the places we’ve . . . been a lot of places, yeah,
From all of the places we’ve been,
Been down, been down, been down, a lot of roads and places.
All of the places . . .
And from there, we slide back to the autumn of 1948 and “Down South Blues” by Muddy Waters. The track might have been issued on Aristocrat 1308 at the time – I have a note that says that might have happened, but I can’t at the moment find the online source for that note – but it was certainly part of the second package of “real folk blues” put out by Chess in 1966 and 1967. As Mark Humphries writes in the notes to the 2002 CD release, “Muddy’s two ‘real folk blues’ albums were revisionist history of a sort, attempts to provide a fresh framework for his music, especially his earliest Aristocrat and Chess label recordings. By the time the second collection appeared in 1967, Muddy and his band were making forays into such hip niteries as the Electric Circus and the Fillmore. Yet even as Muddy’s audience changed, he continued to bring them many of the songs first collected on LP under the ‘real folk blues’ rubric. While this may have been because he saw them as folk songs and thus suitable for young white listeners, it was more likely because they were core parts of his repertoire, major elements of a music gazing with one eye back at the Delta and with the other toward a future which Muddy lived to enjoy but could scarcely have imagined when these recordings were freshly minted.”
Delta Moon is an Atlanta-based band about which I don’t know much except the music. I’ve found my way to several of the group’s CDs, and every time one of the band’s tunes pops up on random on the RealPlayer, the iPod or some of the mix CDs I play in the car, I find myself pulled in. That’s especially true for the track “Goin’ Down South,” the title track from the band’s second studio release in 2004. Swampy and sticky, this is music that calls me home to a place I’ve never been.