Category Archives: Pre-War Blues

Kendrick Lamar and Blues Tropes


Latecomer as always, See That My Blog is Kept Clean is back on the scene, and as usual, about a year late in acknowledging some hype-garnering artist. By this point, if you’re not familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s brilliant 2012 album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City you’re doing something wrong. While much well-deserved praise has gone out to the clever voicemails that structure the album and Lamar’s competent verses, so far no one seems to have picked up on two somewhat odd instances of blues tropes that resonate with the album. The first is the most direct. On “Backstreet Freestyle,” Lamar intones “Goddamn, I’ve got bitches: wifey, girlfriend and mistress,” oddly echoing Son House’s assertion, “I’ve only loved but four women in my life: my mother, my sister, my kid gal and my wife.” (Wherein, “kid gal” refers to a girlfriend or mistress.)

Much more interesting, because Lamar’s version greatly alters the tone and setting, is the echoed version of the blues and country platitude “If the river was whiskey and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom and never come up.” In “Swimming Pools (Drank),” Lamar modifies this inherently rural trope to update the phrase to the postmodern landscape of contemporary Los Angeles: “I’ma show you how to turn it up a notch / First you get a swimming pool full of liquor then you dive in / Pool full of liquor then you dive in it.” As the song deals more ambiguously with alcohol consumption than the blues songs that typically feature the above lyric, “Swimming Pools” contrasts this typically irreverent blues trope against a background of dark synths. Changing the setting from a river to a swimming pool alters the iconography, while maintaining the social resonance.

And yes, I understand Lamar is probably not in any way actually attempting to quote either of these blues traditions, but I do find it fascinating that these two common scenarios could be transferred across the years and styles from the blues to contemporary hip-hop. Culture is continuous, there are no hard and fast boundaries, and what’s green will grow, no matter what form it takes. I’m back.

Kendrick Lamar, “Backstreet Freestyle” (2012)

Son House, “Death Letter Blues” (1965)

Muddy Waters, “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (1950)

Kendrick Lamar, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” (2012)


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Filed under Blues, Country, Hip-Hop, Music, Post-War Blues, Pre-War Blues

The American Folk-Blues Festival 1962-1966, Vol. 1-3

This is a pretty exciting find: all three volumes of the American Folk-Blues Festival dvds up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. I had always seen clips from these films floating around on YouTube, and I’ve even posted some on here before, but never have I noticed the presence of these volumes posted in their entirety, each in a single clip. Anyways, enough talk. It’s time to get down to business, and we’ve got three hours of live blues to watch.

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3

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Bukka White, “Got Sick and Tired”

Sorry for the paucity of posts lately, but I’ve just relocated myself across the country to where I don’t have reliable access to the internet. I promise some quality posts will be arriving soon, but in the meantime please tide yourself over with Bukka White’s “Got Sick and Tired,” part of the same concert set from which I’ve already posted Skip James’ “Crow Jane” and Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.” (You can see them sitting in the background of the opening shot.)

Bukka White, “Got Sick and Tired” (Live, 1967)

PS The outfit (poncho, polka dots, etc) is awesome, by the way.

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Filed under Blues, Music, Post-War Blues, Pre-War Blues

Skip James, “Crow Jane” (Live, 1967)

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Son House, “Death Letter Blues” (1967)

I put fresh strings on the resonator this weekend, so it’s time to get inspired, and who better to inspire than the great guitar abuser, Son House. Through the sheer power of his attack, House seems to drag a greater variety of sounds out of his resonator than anyone else, except the likewise aggressive Bukka White. Plus his glasses and sweater in this clip are pretty awesome. Time to start the week off right.

Son House, “Death Letter Blues” (1967)

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“Patton” by R. Crumb

Legendary American comic artist R. Crumb was also a legendary 78 collector and enthusiast of pre-war blues, country and jazz. One need only read his short comic “The Old Songs Are The Best Songs” (1982) to gain an understanding on his musical tastes. One of his greatest works, and contributions to the world of the blues, is his 1984 graphic biography of Charley Patton. Patton is my favourite of the pre-war players, and Crumb’s biography does an excellent job of telling his story, while providing visuals that effectively portray the feel of the world Patton worked and lived in. The comic is available to read in its entirety here, and if you enjoy it as much as I do, “Patton” is available to purchase as a part of the collection R. Crumb Draws the Blues.

Charley Patton, “Down the Dirt Road Blues” (1929)

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Filed under Blues, Comics/Graphic Novels, Music, Pre-War Blues

Son House, The Real Delta Blues (1974)

Sometime in the last few months, I stumbled across Record Fiend, and was immediately impressed with the volume of rare vinyl rips they’ve made available to the public and by the excellent introductory material that accompanies each rip. Any time I find myself stuck for new music to enjoy, I spend a couple of hours digging through the archives at Record Fiend and always emerge with some great find. On my most recent exploration, I stumbled across an excellent Son House rarity, The Real Delta Blues – 14 Songs from the Man Who Taught Robert Johnson. The tracks from The Real Delta Blues were privately recorded by Nick Perls in Rochester, NY in the early 1960s, and released on Perls’ Blue Goose in 1974. The album includes several songs that don’t appear on other collections, at least under these titles, including some instrumental numbers. I was excited by the inclusion of two Charley Patton-related tunes, “Pony Blues” and “I Shall Not Be Moved,” as well as “Mississippi County Farm Blues,” patterned after this blog’s eponymous song, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean.” The recordings showcase House’s powerful vocals and often aggressive slide guitar work in an intimate setting from early in House’s “rediscovery” period. A vinyl rip of the album is available at Record Fiend, here.

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Filed under Blues, Lomax, Post-War Blues, Pre-War Blues