I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues by Stephen Calt

By Stephen Calt

<P style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Skip James (1902–1969) was once maybe the main artistic and idiosyncratic of all blues musicians. Drawing on hundreds and hundreds of hours of conversations with James himself, Stephen Calt the following paints a gloomy and unforgettable portrait of a guy untroubled via his personal murderous dispositions, a guy who accomplished one second of transcendent greatness in a lifestyles haunted through failure. And in doing so, Calt deals new insights into the character of the blues, the realm within which it thrived, and its destiny whilst that international vanished.

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Extra info for I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues

Sample text

While attending the St. Paul elementary school on Woodbine he was consumed by curiosity for strange words; whenever he Skip James and the Blues 29 found a scrap of paper he would attempt to read it. He often carried such scraps to older people in an effort to learn the strange words he saw written on them. In later years, James would speak in his own strange dialect, its curiously cultivated abstract nouns removed from the concrete speech of his contemporaries (which employed almost no abstract nouns), its grammar on the level of unlettered plantation speech.

According to James, who learned of this event from his mother, the Whiteheads sharply rejected this suggestion. James claimed that his boyhood "agreeableness" and intelligence eventually made a fine impression on "Kirk" Whitehead. " Once the plantation owner, who had no children, indicated to Phyllis James that he would give Nehemiah a first-class education if she would let him take charge of his upbringing. "I wished many times my mother hadda given me to that man," James said. " Although James later boasted of being a "walking encyclopedia," his avid natural intelligence was blunted by a catch-can education.

In Mississippi, the verbal content of most blues songs was superseded by a heavy dance beat that provided a livelihood for their performers, who entertained at rural "house frolics" (private parties organized by bootleggers as a means of selling their product) and "jukehouses" (commer- 18 I'D RATHER BE THE DEVIL daily operated night-spots located in towns and cities). Even James respected this principle: his sorrowful Hard Times was played incongruously to a surging 1-2 beat. But the beat of his music was often secondary to its emotional content.

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