Eight from Bob Eagle — Part 3

We continue as blues expert Bob Eagle recounts his all-time favorite live performances….

#3) My #3 best-ever live performance is quite different. I went to Detroit to meet Luther Huff at his home. I was in the states on a shoestring, aiming to stay as long as I could afford to do so, and therefore I wasn’t able to pay to get Luther’s mandolin out of pawn, but he had his guitar and his kazoo (à la Tommy Johnson). I’m not a musician so I can’t tell you much about it, but it reminded me of Hooker from about 1953-1954 (before Vee-Jay tamed him). I’m convinced now (although how could I know then, before its discovery?) that he performed a version of Tommy’s “I Wonder To Myself.” Just an amazing, under-recorded performer.


#2) Who was my #2 live performer (and, believe me, I’ve seen many)? None other than Fats Domino, in Australia in the 1970s, with an absolutely knockout band led by Dave Bartholomew (maybe, I should say Dave instead of Fats). Amazingly powerful ensemble, assisted by a great selection of well-known and well-performed songs. Those days will, my friends, never return.

And… we’ll reveal Bob’s all-time favorite live performance in our next post!

Eight from Bob Eagle — Part 2

We continue as Bob Eagle recounts his all-time favorite live blues performances….

#6) Performance. Exactly what does that mean? Does a guy singing to you at his kitchen sink qualify? I hope it does, because Roy Brown is next. We were talking at his home, and he told me that “Hard Luck Blues” was his life story. He began singing a cappella — he did not need accompaniment. Although he was initially trying to sing like Sinatra (before 1948), thankfully he found his own voice. And what a voice….


#5) Larry Davis. What a great singer! And, starting as a bass guitarist — which might suggest he had no flair to interpolate time — he turned out to be a great guitarist as well, albeit in the Albert King mold. Larry is my #5. Fenton Robinson gave me his number, but it was awhile before I got to Little Rock. Clearly, Fenton had not called him, as promised (probably thinking, “this Aussie guy will never get to Arkansas”). I called Larry from the Greyhound Bus station, hoping to put him at ease, and after a few sensitive moments, he agreed to come pick me up. He had a rehearsal booked with his band, and we went over there. I asked him to play “Texas Flood,” by the end of which we were both emotional, and in tears. This was before “The Years Go Passing By” — how could this guy record two such different but absolute classics?

(Note: Fenton Robinson plays lead guitar on “Texas Flood”)


#4) #4 and #5 are a toss-up between Fenton Robinson and Larry Davis. I saw Fenton first and so let’s make him #4. When I got to the Bay area, I was told he was shacked up with a white girl in Santa Cruz. I got on the Greyhound and caught up with him (alone) one sunny afternoon. He was really friendly. I told him how much I appreciated “Somebody (Loan Me A Dime).” I was short on resources, so it was either record him or video him — I chose video, although he only had an acoustic guitar with him. He was great, as you can imagine. And he gave me Larry Davis’ phone number….

Eight from Bob Eagle — Part 1

Recently, blues expert Bob Eagle shared a short but sweet list of his all-time favorite performances — that he was lucky enough to witness live in person over the course of his career as a researcher, detective, author, and scholar — not to mention fanatic. The list might surprise you, and thanks to Bob’s kindly permission, we’ll be sharing the results with you (along with the videos he picked to accompany each entry) over the next week or so. Enjoy! –SBH

#8) “Mule” (aka Joe Willie Wilkins) was an amazing human being. I knew him very well for about four (maybe more) months in 1972 and renewed the acquaintance early in 1975. He was a great musician and an uncommonly humble man. God, I miss him, ugly mofo that he was. I first heard him play on Danny Thomas Boulevard, Memphis in 1972, with Houston Stackhouse. A stunning young black girl taught me how to dance to the music (L forward, L back, R forward, R back – I had been trying to do it in waltz time; from there, you can do whatever you fancy). It’s a toss-up for me whether I love Joe more than Eugene Powell. What a conundrum to have to consider….


#7) I’ve nominated Eugene Powell (aka Sonny Boy Nelson) as my next favorite. “Lugene” was an uncommonly moralistic man. His (final) wife had taken care of him when he needed her and he was determined to return the obligation. He was not financially able to employ someone to care for her, so often he turned down invitations to appear at blues festivals. I carried him to the Smithsonian in 1972 and he was magnificent. His downfall was that, fantastic musician that he was, he thought he could not sing (that’s why there’s a Hacksaw Harney CD on the Gene’s label — but not one by Eugene). He was not a Delta musician but from the Loess Plains of Mississippi (and his inspiration, Frank Stokes, only became a Delta performer if he turned south upon leaving the Peabody Hotel – LOL).

 

The Jinx Blues

Note: The following article was written by Bob Eagle, and originally posted to the “Blues-L” forum in January 2001. Other than a couple of very minor edits, here’s the article as it was originally published.

Here’s some exploratory ramblings on the word “Jinx” and its (possible) connections with the blues/Son House/et al.

JINX is the usual spelling in blues titles for a term which was earlier spelled “Jynx” in English. The term “jinx” has several specialized uses in blues parlance.

The term “jynx” entered the English language via Latin, but in a form effectively unaltered from the Hellenic Greek. The Hellenic “x” ending denotes the singular form, with the plural form (in English) spelled “jynges.” The “x” ending, being pronounced the same as “ks,” has led to the singular term sometimes being spelled “jinks,” probably erroneously.

The Greek word referred to the genus “Jynx,” a genus of birds allied to the woodpecker and known colloquially by the name “wryneck,” because of their ability to turn their head over their shoulder. This meaning had entered English usage by 1649.

However, such birds were used in witchcraft, and hence the term was also used in English, by 1693 (in the plural), to refer to charms, or spells. The term “wryneck” could also refer to a charm worn around the neck.

The term “jynx” was also used before the Christian era in Chaldea (the southern area of modern Iraq) as the name of an order of spiritual intelligences which formed part of the ancient Chaldean philosophy. That usage of the term had entered the English language by 1655.

However, as the glory of Chaldea preceded that of ancient Greece, the Chaldaic usage probably predated the Greek. Presumably the Chaldaic usage passed into Greek lore after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the area. Assuming that the Greek usage is connected with the Chaldaic usage, the wryneck may possibly have been regarded as a personification of the Chaldaic spiritual intelligences, and therefore took their name. In turn, that could explain the bird’s use in witchcraft, and why the term came to refer to a charm or spell.

Blues parlance does contain some examples of usage common to the usage of the term in white society, where a “jinx” is a person (or, less frequently, an inanimate object) whose presence brings bad luck, whether by some intrinsic lack of luck or by action.

Examples are: Ora Brown’s JINX BLUES (Paramount #12481, recorded c. May 1927); and Augustus (Track Horse) Haggerty’s I FEEL THAT OLD BLACK WOMAN IS A JINX ON ME (Library of Congress, recorded November 20th, 1934).

The term is also used in blues in the white sense, “to hex.” It is interesting that the meanings of “hex” include (as a verb) “to practice witchcraft (upon);” and “to bewitch;” and (as a noun) to mean a “witch;” and a “magic spell.”

It is also used in blues in the sense of a “hex,” used as a noun: for example, Gabriel Brown’s THE JINX IS ON ME (Gennett #5023, recorded May 2nd, 1945)

But also, as used in blues lyrics, “jinx” has some specialist meanings.

One principal meaning of “jinx” in blues usage is to denote a spirit of superhuman powers and (usually) mischievous bent, almost akin to a lesser devil. Compare its usage, with the meaning being obscured by bizarre syntax, by Charley Patton in his SCREAMIN’ AND HOLLERIN’ THE BLUES (Paramount #12805, recorded June 14th, 1929), most copies of which are credited as being performed by his persona, THE MASKED MARVEL:

“(If) I woke up in the mornin’, jinx all ’round your bed; (twice)
Turned my face to the wall and I didn’t have a word to say.”

In REVENUE MAN BLUES (Vocalion #02931, recorded January 31st, 1934) he sings:

“I wake up every mornin’ with a jinx all around my bed; (twice)
(spoken: “You know I’ll have them jinx hereafter”)
“I have been a good provider but I believe I have been misled.”

Other examples of the use of “jinx” in blues occur in:

Tampa Red’s JINX DOCTOR BLUES (Vocalion #1596, recorded January 28th, 1931);

Buddy Moss’ JINX MAN BLUES (Banner #33432, recorded August 9th, 1934);

Kokomo Arnold’s OLD BLACK CAT BLUES (JINX BLUES) (DECCA #7050, recorded January 15th, 1935);

Casey Bill (Weldon)’s JINX BLUES (Vocalion #03496, recorded September 3rd, 1936);

Red Nelson’s WHO PUT THESE JINX ON ME? (DECCA #7256, recorded September 9th, 1936);

Black Boy Shine’s GAMBLIN’ JINX BLUES (Vocalion #03687, recorded June 15th, 1937);

Son House’s JINX BLUES, Numbers 1 & 2 (Library of Congress, recorded July 17th, 1942);

Johnny Temple’s JINKS LEE BLUES (BLUEBIRD #B-8913, recorded September 11th, 1941);

Big Joe Williams’ JINX BLUES (Storyville LP #SLP 163, recorded October 16th, 1963) and JINX BLUES (Milestone LP #3001, recorded during 1964).

Son House’s JINX BLUES, NUMBER 1 and JINX BLUES, NUMBER 2 (Library of Congress, recorded 1942) share virtually only the title verse in common with each other, that verse being augmented by a number of floating verses which generally describe the lonesome feelings of the rejected lover. House’s songs employ the melody and, in the case of JINX BLUES, NUMBER 2, a verse from Willie Brown’s FUTURE BLUES.

Ignoring small variations, Son House’s title verse runs:

“I woke up this morning with the jinx all around, jinx all around, around my bed; (twice)
You know, I thought about you now baby, and it like to kill me dead.”

Taking into account the sense of the augmenting verses, House is using the word “jinx” primarily to mean evil spirits, unless “jinx” is intended to convey an enveloping blanket of gloomy thoughts. The word “it” seems to refer to his reaction to his thoughts, rather than to “the jinx.” Several of House’s augmenting verses describe “the blues” in terms of it being a feeling rather than as a personification of evil.

Taking up again the Chaldaic notion of a “spiritual intelligence,” one possible explanation for the above blues usage for “jinx” is found in the notion of the two inner “voices” sometimes used in popular stories to highlight an inner personal conflict: one voice, the conscience, is intent upon influencing the person to be “good,” while the other wants to lead the person into error or mischief.

The notion is similar to the Latin term, “genius,” which originally referred to either of the two opposed, but personal, spirits or angels which were presumed to “attend” each individual.

However, the personalization may derive from an African concept similar to the “genie” of Arabic lore, or the “genius” of classical text. In the case of “genius,” each person was regarded as being possessed of a good and an evil genius that struggled for control of the soul and the mind. The terms “jinx” or “the blues” may represent the evil genius within the individual.

In Arabic, there is a term “jinnee” (sometimes “djinn” or “jinn”) which described a spirit at a level lower than that of the angels. Solid evidence is lacking, but the Arabic word may be related to the Latin word “genius.” The modern notion of a “genie” appears to have come into English as a result of the French adaptation of the Arabic.

Therefore it is suggested that the above blues usage of “jinx” refers to the more sinister of the pair of spirits seen as attending the blues performer. It is suggested that a person regarding himself as the victim of bad luck or misfortune would usually feel that the more sinister spirit was continually attending him.

Despite the fact that Charley Patton, in his REVENUE MAN BLUES, sings “a jinx,” the context of both Patton’s quoted songs, and the title of Red Nelson’s song, and the title verse of House’s songs, is that there is more than one jinx, as is illustrated by Patton’s reference to “them jinx” and by Nelson’s reference to “these jinx.” Possibly the word should, after all, be transcribed as “jinks,” rather than “jinx.” As an extension of that notion, it is possible that, in black usage, the term “jinx” is related to the verb used in Scots dialects, “to jink,” which means to trick, or to dodge or move elusively. In the context of modern contact sports, its usage is to mean to trick the opposition by nimble movement. This usage may be related to the idea of “high jinks,” referring to boisterousness or merry-making.

It is also faintly possible that the use of “jink” as meaning “to play a trick upon” some body, was applied to the situation where fate plays a trick upon someone, leaving that person feeling dejected or “blue.”

The term “jinx” is sometimes used interchangeably for the term THE BLUES. An example of the use of the latter term to refer to spirits occurs in Coot Grant’s HEY DADDY BLUES (King Jazz unreleased/ Storyville (Dutch) LP #SLP 153, recorded September 18th, 1947).