Monday, November 30, 2009

Got the Key to the Highway - Brownie McGhee

Born this date in 1915, Brownie McGhee would hav been 94 years old today.

This little three days of blog posts has been a real triumverate of music that makes me happy when I listen to it. Randy Newman's sardonic ballads and show tunes, Merle Travis' bouncy Texas Swing and today, a progenitor of a kind of "Happy" Blues music that I don't think the casual listener even knows exists.

Yes the blues is there to make you happy. The blues isn't sung to wallow in self-pity, the blues are sung to share common woes and the best lyrics (blues or otherwise) is written with a sly wink and a nod to knowing our troubles will NOT be the end of us.

Brownie McGhee's stuff is "happy" just being listened to. The melody is friendly and the beat is truthful.

Hell. Brownie's stuff is just plain GOOD.

Most folks know the more electric "Chicago-style Blues" of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon, the accoustic-rural-rustic "Delta-style Blues" of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton and Tommy Johnson. There's also the "Swinging Big-Band Blues" of T-Bone Walker and Louis Jordan and there's the horn driven "New Orleans Blues" of Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Chick Webb.

But remember, blues is a folk music. A music of the people. Played by people, for people and about people. This style as played by wandering folkies has a real welcoming and friendly feel to it. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willie McTell, Sonny Boy Williamson and...Brownie McGhee.

Brownie spent a good part of his career partnered up with Sonny Terry. Between Brownie's smooth lower register voice and full sound of his guitar and the contrasting staccato of Terry's harmonica and his old-timey "whoops and hollers" (more on this another time...whoops and hollers are actually a deep rooted type of musical expression to be taken seriously) they made a sound totally unique.

Because they worked so much as traveling musicians, they became not so much associated with the blues singers of their day, as with other traveling folk singers like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seegar, Cisco Houston and Ramblin' Jack Elliott.

Man this music sounds good.

It really makes me happy to listen to it.

Thanks Brownie for reminding us to put a smile on with a case of the blues.

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