Growing up in the
So the folk clubs, and my revered first guitar teacher Dory Latta, who took me on when I was 10, more-or-less saved my musical life. The coffeehouses I’ve written about, and I’ve thanked Dory elsewhere, but this time I want to talk about a source I didn’t discover ‘til later.
I heard the great bluesman Paul Rishell at Bob Franke’s Saturday Night in
A little later on, when I had moved back from
But I also wanted to learn to play the blues, the real electric blues, which lived a long, long away the suburbs. I’d heard the real shit in the clubs on the South Side of Chicago during my brief, angry UC career, and I’d worked at it in Texas (the first time), but when I found myself back in my own home-town, 3 years after I’d left at age 17, I had a clearer sense of just how much of a musical desert it was. And I wanted to learn to play the blues (this is just weeks before Larry and I wandered into the Guitar Workshop and found Dharmonia and all the others).
So sometimes I’d stay in town, and make my way from Harvard to
In the early ‘80s, in
I did get to hear Rishell a bunch of times, playing on the electric side of things. And I certainly had to acknowledge that he was a great player and singer. But it wasn’t ‘til I heard this record that I realized not only how great he was, but how expressive he was and how moved I was by his music.
Partly it’s Annie, who’s a good singer (great harmony singer) and a house-on-fire Little Walter-style harp player: there’s a great interaction between all voices: his National-steel and her harps, his voice and hers, but really it’s, I think, because I grew up—and maybe he did too. He’s only about 9 years older than me, but he sounds ageless (he looked ageless at 27, too). There’s a magnificent version of John Henry and another of JB Lenoir’s Mama Talk to Your Daughter, hard-rockin’ versions of Step It Up and Go and my favorite 8-bar blues, Keys to the Highway, and some great original tunes too.
But the one that really slew me, the one that finally turned the key in my brain and helped me understand how great and how powerful this music was—the way it could heal you—is their version of the old gospel spiritual I Shall Not Be Moved.
It’s played at a really-quite-slow pace, just Rishell’s National fingerpicking, and Annie’s sittin’-round-the-campfire harp, and Paul’s lead vocal and tapping foot. But it’s so naked, and so simple, and so understated, and so certain, that it doesn’t matter if you’re a a person of faith or not: you listen to this recording, and you believe. I’d put this record up there with those of Blind Willie Johnson and Son House—two other bluesmen who understood that it’s the sinners, not the “do-right" people, who need the saving. And the faith.
I finally got it. I’m glad that Rishell, and Annie, and their blues—and the music of all the bluesmen that went into theirs—were willing to wait for me to catch up.