Saturday Single No. 590

It started as one of those Facebook queries/challenges. A friend asked me to take ten days and display the jackets of ten favorite albums. I bit. And most of those ten would be familiar to anyone who’s read this blog regularly:

Honey In The Horn by Al Hirt (1963)
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Glenn Yarbrough (1967)
Abbey Road by the Beatles (1969)
The Band by The Band (1969)
Second Contribution by Shawn Phillips (1970)
Den Store Flugt by Sebastian (1972)
Comes A Time by Neil Young (1978)
Tunnel Of Love by Bruce Springsteen (1987)
Evidence by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith (1989)
Riding On The Blinds by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen (1994)

Now, that’s not necessarily my list of the best ten albums; those are favorites, and I made sure that the list of ten included albums from the Eighties and Nineties. And then, just for fun, I kept going, up to twenty, then thirty, and then beyond. This morning, I put up a posting of a favorite album for the forty-eighth time: Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970).

Is it my forty-eighth favorite album? Probably not. I think it likely would rank higher if I were actually trying to rank them. But all I’m doing is trying to share with my friends at Facebook albums that I love, offered in no particular order. So once in a while I throw in a curveball, just to remind folks that my musical universe is vast and strange. That’s how The Best of the Red Army Choir (2002) came to be listed on Day 31. (None of my 316 Facebook friends gave it a “like.”)

And I took a look this morning at the growing list – forty-eight albums long now – and wondered if I’d written about all of them. Most of them, I could say “yes” without digging into the blog’s archives. But I wondered about one of them: Mississippi Fred McDowell’s 1969 album, I Do No Play No Rock ’n’ Roll. It turns out I’ve mentioned McDowell and the album three or four times, but pretty much always in passing (though I have featured a track or two).

McDowell was found and first recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. He was living and working as a farmer near Como, Mississippi (though he still called Rossville, Tennessee, his home). He’s been styled as a Delta blues musician, but Wikipedia notes that “McDowell may be considered the first north hill country blues artist to achieve widespread recognition for his work. Musicians from the hill country – an area parallel to and east of the Delta region – produced a version of the blues somewhat closer in structure to its African roots. It often eschews chord change for the hypnotic effect of the droning single-chord vamp. McDowell’s records offer glimpses of the style’s origins.”

McDowell began recording commercially (though he continued farming), and in 1969, recorded I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll for the Capitol label, using electric guitar on a record for the first time. (Wikipedia notes that along the way, McDowell gave tips on slide guitar to Bonnie Raitt and notes as well that McDowell was pretty pleased with what the Rolling Stones did with his song “You Got To Move” on their Sticky Fingers album.)

My introduction to Mississippi Fred McDowell probably came in the studios of KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State sometime during my freshman year, almost certainly early in 1972. I seem to remember being in the tiny room that served as our lounge with music coming in from Studio B, but I suppose could have been at home, whiling time away in my room with my new clock radio tuned to KVSC. Wherever it was, the first sounds of the first track on I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll caught my attention: a few plucks on a guitar string and then a weathered voice saying, “My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Mississippi Fred McDowell . . .”

And after a little bit of talk, which includes the line that became the title of the album, McDowell moves into Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” I’d never heard anything like it before. And it would be nice if I could say I immediately became a blues fan, buying and listening to McDowell’s records and those of his contemporaries and predecessors and followers.

I didn’t, of course. I was still learning about rock and its various branches and styles. I began to catch up to the blues during the late 1980s and 1990s. Mississippi Fred McDowell popped up on a few anthologies, and in 2002, as I was creating my LP database, I noticed his name again and remembered that moment in early 1972. The Texas Gal and I were living in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, with no easy day-to-day access to a decent record shop, so I went online, and in a few days the mail carrier brought me my vinyl copy of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

I don’t listen to it often, but it is a favorite (if that makes sense), and when I was pondering the other morning which album cover to post at Facebook, McDowell’s album came to mind, and I thought I should follow up here. So here’s some talk from Mississippi Fred McDowell and his take on “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” all of it the first track of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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