Sunday, July 01, 2018

Jelly-Roll King!

Claude McKay:

"Then Banjo keyed himself up and began playing in his own wonderful wild way.
'Old Uncle Jack, the jelly roll king,
Just got back from shaking that thing!
He can shake that thing, he can shake that thing
For he's the jelly-roll king. Oh shake that thing!'"

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Subject, Not a Citizen

Willie Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 1, 1915, and in the years after World War II, he would become an important figure in the development and growth of Blues, Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll. After performing with a succession of R&B groups, Dixon would work for Chess Records in Chicago, starting in 1951, and except for a brief period in the late 1950s, he would stay for two decades. Don Snowden, Dixon’s co author of I Am The Blues described his role there. “Dixon was a full-time employee after 1951—producing, arranging, running the studio . . . His role was so crucial that Leonard Chess would later describe him as ‘my right arm.’” His greatest impact was as a songwriter. He would pen “Hoochie Coochie Man” for Muddy Waters and “My Babe” for Little Walter. In the 1960s, his music would be recorded by The Rolling Stones (“Red Rooster”) and Led Zeppelin (“I Can’t Quit You” and others).

But before the fame and success came along, Willie Dixon was a subject of Jim Crow Mississippi. While still in his teens, Dixon was jailed in the Magnolia State for hoboing and the experience marked him. I am the Blues detailed the horrors, including his witness to a murder. “They beat this guy until blood was running out of his mouth at the cage. He died right there in his own blood and that dirt would be so hot and that dust so thick that it would burn your feet through your shoes. After they beat him, they drug him over to the side and a little breath was still life was still left in him. Where he had been bleeding out of his mouth and nose, you could see a little, bloody-colored bubble coming up from where he was breathing there. After awhile, you didn’t see them no more and they’d tell you, ‘Go bury this nigger.’”

This sort of experience was doubtless in his mind when he started receiving draft notices in 1941. Congress enacted a draft in 1940 as the country drifted towards entering World War II. Dixon decided that he would refuse to serve, and he was eventually arrested while performing in Chicago. “They came on the stage down at the Pink Poodle when the Five Breezes were playing one night, when we came back the second time. This was during the time that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and they picked me up and put me in jail. I told them I was a conscientious-objector and that I wasn’t going to fight for nobody. . . I said I wasn’t a citizen, I was a subject. I was telling them about the 14th and 15th Amendment[s].”

After nearly a year in jail, Dixon was released and declared unfit for service. His memoir lists his classification as “5-F” which probably should have been 4-F.

I don’t know how widely (if at all) this type of protest was made by other black men during World War II, but Dixon wasn’t the only person to feel the way he did. Harlem Renaissance journalist and Black No More author, George Schuyler also opposed African American participation as Oscar R. Williams wrote in George S. Schuyler: Portrait of a Black Conservative. “Schuyler’s reasons for opposing African American participation in World War II were primarily rooted in his firsthand experience with racism while serving in the army during World War I. ‘I saw what was done to the Negro during the last war and I heard a lot more than I saw,’ he wrote. ‘I consider the Negro’s treatment during that period unforgivable and indefensible. I foresee that his treatment during the next war will be the same.’”

Ironically, this prominent draft-resister’s widest exposure would come during the inaugural celebration George H.W. Bush, after the latter’s vapid Flag Factory/ACLU Card/Willie Horton campaign of 1988.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Records & Rarities

I have owned records for more than forty years now, though I only became a serious collector about three years ago. The longest continuing record in my collection is the LP Moonlight Feels Right by Starbuck, that I bought in 1976. I still purchase and listen to LPs but I "collect" 45 rpm records in the sense that I'm always looking for rare and unusual artists, labels and songs in that format, and I have little difficulty finding them, mostly at a trio of local records stores in Knoxville.

The embedded playlist below has videos of a few of my favorite rarities. Some of them feature recognizable songs, including one co-written by Merle Haggard and another made famous by Jim Reeves. A few of them were from labels based in East Tennessee and presumably received only a regional release.

My favorite part of sharing these records on YouTube is receiving feedback from viewers, especially those for whom the old records have sentimental value.  I have heard from the daughter of one artist and from a persistent gentleman who bugged me until I sold him a record that he hadn't seen or heard in more than forty years.

Monday, January 21, 2013


The January/February issue of The American Conservative will soon be out with my review of Manufacturing Hysteria. It is appropriate that it come out near the Martin Luther King holiday as the FBI' COINTELPRO harassment of King was one of my topics. I wrote:
The most famous target of Hoover and the FBI was Martin Luther King. The investigation of King was based the assumption that some of his associates were Communists, but the FBI’s level of attention suggests a more personal motivation. Hoover intervened to keep Marquette University from granting King an honorary degree and was especially agitated at King’s winning a Nobel Peace Prize. The bureau’s most egregious abuse of power in this case was a crude attempt to wreck King’s marriage by sending him illegally recorded tapes of his marital in"infidelities, accompanied by a crudely forged letter encouraging him to commit suicide before his “filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”
Writing in the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald discusses King's opposition to militarism and the Vietnam war, which should be highlighted along with his views on racism, poverty and civil rights:
King argued for the centrality of his anti-militarism advocacy most eloquently on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City - exactly one year before the day he was murdered. That extraordinary speech was devoted to answering his critics who had been complaining that his anti-war activism was distracting from his civil rights work ("Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?"). King, citing seven independent reasons, was adamant that ending US militarism and imperialism was not merely a moral imperative in its own right, but a prerequisite to achieving any meaningful reforms in American domestic life.
Here is audio of one of speeches on the war:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

800 Pound Gorilla . . .

Somehow Glenn Reynolds and Michael Barone talk about polling and the election for more than thirteen minutes and never get around to discussing Nate Silver:

Monday, September 17, 2012

More Damaging Romney Footage . . .

This won't help the Romney campaign:

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Operation Shift Blame

In the near term, at least, Barack Obama is a solid favorite to win the 2012 election. Since the economy is weak and the president is a KENYANSOCIALISTCHICAGOALINSKYITEMARXIST, his rightwing critics are straining for reasons that he is in the lead.

John Hindraker (via Memeorandum) thinks he has found it, and apparently, the fact that Republicans brought about the disaster in the first place and people don't trust them has nothing to do with it:
I am afraid the answer may be that the country is closer to the point of no return than most of us believed. With over 100 million Americans receiving federal welfare benefits, millions more going on Social Security disability, and many millions on top of that living on entitlement programs–not to mention enormous numbers of public employees–we may have gotten to the point where the government economy is more important, in the short term, than the real economy.
I would give his argument more credence if he defined his terms and used hard data—how much "over 100 million" and what does he mean by "welfare"? The term "public employee" is reasonably precise, but as Paul Krugman notes, government payrolls have shrunk under Obama.

William Jacobson sees another cause—a Liberal Media Conspiracy to demoralize Republicans and conservatives:
It’s November 7.  Barack Obama has won.  The Republican presidential strategy has failed.  The media is jubilant.  The right-blogosphere is going through a serious introspection.  The left-blogosphere is dancing on our graves and shoving it down our throats.  Four years of fighting the Obama agenda was for nothing.
Oh, I’m sorry.  Let me correct that.  It’s September 9, not November 7.  The rest of the paragraph above can remain as originally written.
 The most absurd part is Jacobson's assumption that right-blogosphere is capable of "serious introspection."

I don't know how the election will come out, but I'm becoming more confident that Obama will prevail and I'm certain that far from introspection, the rightwing will become more detached from reality and blame the Liberal Media, or Hollywood or fraud: anything but their own failings.