Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mississippi Sheiks: I've Got Blood in My Eyes for You

One of my favourite music programmes is Radio Three's Late Junction - "A laid-back, eclectic mix of music, ranging from the ancient to the contemporary." I first heard Vampire Weekend and posted Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa here without realising how popular they were.

But I am confident that this song, which also comes from Late Junction, is more obscure.

The Mississippi Sheiks, according to Wikipedia, were "a popular and influential guitar and fiddle group of the 1930s. They were notable mostly for playing country blues but were adept at many styles of United States popular music of the time, and their records were bought by both black and white audiences."

And as we saw a year ago with Move It On Over by Hank Williams, it was the fusion of country and blues that gave birth to rock. The Sheiks have their place in American social history too.

The band's guitarist, Sam Chatmon, was born in 1897, the son of a man born into slavery. After the band's heyday in the 1930s, he worked as a farmer and nightwatchman before being rediscovered around 1960.

Introducing an engrossing interview with Sam Chatmon from October 1980, the Jas Obrecht Music Archive writes:
Unlike some of his “rediscovered” contemporaries, Sam did more than recapitulate the past. He bravely sang of racial inequality in songs such as “I Have to Paint My Face,” with its ironic images of a “stomp-down, baby-chicken-killin’ nigger” and a black man’s desire to paint his face a lighter shade ... 
Sam Chatmon made his final professional appearance at the 1982 Mississippi Delta Blues Festival and passed away on February 2, 1983.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Should anyone be interested, The Sheikhs were made up of the three Chatmon Brothers plus Walter Vinson.

One of the other brothers also recorded under the name Bo Carter. Like Sam, he recorded a lot of risque and/or novelty material but also had another side to his music.

He lived from 1893 - 1964, but sadly was afflicted by blindness from roughly 1920 onwards.

I don`t claim to be an expert, or have any desire to become one, but for anyone who wants an introduction to all this and more, I`d reccommend `R Crumb`s Heroes of Blues Country and Jazz` (book & CD) and, if you can find it, `The Story of the Blues`, a compilation based on an old TV series.