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I FIRST MET EDDIE DEAN at a Library of Congress symposium on rhythm and blues early this year.
This curly-haired apostle of roots music had already blown all my circuits with his knowledgeable, comprehensive, and most of all, respectful coverage of roots-rock music. Since first meeting the blues some 35 years ago, I personally relate to the dark pain of the Skip James saga (“Skip James’ Hard Times Killing Floor Blues,” 11/25). Though I am now a personal interpreter, perhaps even a griot of today’s deep blues—through my incarnation as Boxcar Chris Willie—I once merely worshiped at the feet of various blues gods.
A fellow devotee and far better practitioner of magic blues guitar, Bobby Radcliff, turned me on to Skip. It was back in the art studio of B-CC High, circa 1968. We had a scratchy, county-issued Victrola, left by our hippy-dippy art instructor to “inspire” our fledgling masterpieces of splashed polymer, broken glass, feathers, and you freakin’ name it. With fellow artists laying about passed out from too much glue, Bob switched the Mussorgsky “Bald Mountain” disc with a scratchy Vanguard recording of the mysterious Skip James. “Ooooh, debbil/got mah woomin…,” came the weird falsetto howl of this apparently tortured but gifted man. So, I was further lost in blues from that moment, going from tuning Fahey’s acoustic into open C at a forgotten open-air gig in Virginia to restringing Hubert Sumlin at Max’s Kansas City. Then, quitting as blues critic at Unicorn Times just prior to its death, and running away (literally) to Chicago to join a blues circus from which I have yet to return.
Lefty Dizz is dead, but Dean lives. His bum piece (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” The District Line, 12/2) was not up to the lofty heights of the piece on Skip, but then, in between the blues buttons, I, too, lived as a bum. Therefore I take issue with the concept of a man in the middle of a cold Adams Morgan night wishing people well without accepting a gratuity in return!
But that’s another story, and I have plenty of those.
American University Park