Beedy Eyes stops thumping the skins as Chaney sings an old Leadbelly work song as I recall the first time I heard the blues. It was somewhere between the music I heard as a child–primarily country, gospel and hymns. A skinny toe head growing up on the rolling northern prairies, I perceived the blues was somewhere between country and gospel–something you sing while dangling your feet off a hayrack weighed down with a full load, something you sing with others coming in from the field, something you sing when the sun is tilting toward the western horizon. For a young kid hearing the blues for the first time it was somewhere on my musical landscape between religious and profane, respect and discent, right and wrong, joy and despair and seemed to fit me like a glove.
The window is open to an autumn afternoon as I work on graphic design projects. I listen to Bill, Chaney and Junior sing about hard times. Neighborhood dogs barking and birds singing seem to be appropriate backup. It’s been hard times for a lot of us. The other night I walked into a friend’s home and he asked right off, with a smile, “Anything you need to repent of? We’re talking about repentance.” Yeah, I think to myself. I got a long list. There are times I want to rob and steal, cuss and swear, break stuff and hit someone and be all sizes of trouble. Hard times is life. Doing what I aught to do is not easy. Ain’t that the blues? Or is that gospel? The double edged swing of the blues kicking up the dust of life in your face, choking on pride and praying that you “remember you’re walkin’ up to heaven, don’t let nobody turn you round.”