One of my old pals Jacqui wrote to me via the show yesterday. She suggested we play some Henry Thomas. Pleasing Jacqui and playing Henry Thomas is pushing at an open door with me.
I met a guy many years ago who told me the story of Henry Thomas. It seems that, well after he’d recorded the 22 songs or so which made up his catalogue, he’d been forgotten about. (as so many of the delta blues men were) years later two guys had gone down to the delta to make a documentary about the blues and realised that the busker they’d heard in some southern town must have been Henry Thomas.
There are many such stories. I’m reading a few others like that in Robert Gordon’s book, ‘It Came from Memphis.’ It tells the stories which run parallel to the famous Memphis names. It illustrates how the desire to reacquaint the modern world with the music of the delta led to some of the great music which we now associate with that Tennessee city. One of the stories I like a lot is about the first country blues festival which was put on to showcase many of these old blues performers. The venue they chose had been used a week earlier to host a Klu Klux Klan rally but the significant part of the story was that there were more people there to see the music. From these tensions grew the music we now love so dearly.
Sometimes people will wonder why we play such a broad selection of stuff on the lounge. I, however, only see connections. One of the great things I learned recently – and this is self evident from the recent album by Solomon Burke called Nashville – is that many African American artists knew an enormous amount about country music. The reason? In the 40s and 50s black radio stations were closed over the weekend and everyone spent Saturday nights gathered round the radio. What did they listen to? ……The Grand Old Opry.