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When I was comin' up, of course I had no idea as to playin' music for a livin', I just sing the blues 'cause I _had_ to - it was just somethin' I had to do - Muddy Waters

Author Topic: Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality  (Read 993 times)

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Offline Neal Cassady

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Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality
« on: February 21, 2015, 05:39:10 PM »


That well known portrait of Peg Leg Howell. I'm always glancing at his trimmed mustache, the shirt+tie with a vest on top, how the photograph caught all the great detail of his eyes too. I also always think about how Crumb used this portrait as the model for his drawing, yet choose to include the brimmed hat Howell wore in shot with Henry Williams and Eddie Anthony, instead of the white cap seen from the portrait.

Then I always wonder to myself what is that white cap? I'm very familiar with a similar type of white knit cap worn by Muslim males, sometimes known as the taqiyah. I know of no reference to Howell being a religious person though. Then there is also a similar type of cap worn by someone representing an African background; the internet pointed me towards the name kufi for describing those caps.

I was watching Selma just the other night and subsequently learned about James Luther Bevel, played by Common in the movie. Bevel being a Civil Rights activist who aligned himself with Dr. King in the 1960s. Bevel wears an outfit and immediately reminded me of Peg Leg Howell's dress in his portrait. For reference, here is a photograph of Bevel and King:



Does anyone have any information or knowledge of this type of cap and it's significance (if any) within the African American community? Lately I've become enamored by Peg Leg Howell's guitar playing and discography, specifically his seemingly vast pool of material he put into his recorded output. Without much furthur knowledge of him, I've always sensed very distinct, early blues playing from his solo guitar numbers; ie "Please Ma'am" or "Skin Game Blues". His singing is certainly distinct, his is use of both finger picking, flat picking and string-band accompaniment.

All this leading me to wanting to know more about his upbringing, though aside from what George Mitchell asked him, I'm not sure there is much more information. I'm hoping there are those out there that can pull information, in an historical context, from his recorded material. Any books or reading material (an issue of 78 QRTLY?) that delve, however briefly, into the context of his playing?

Having read through the topic regarding his lyrics: I'm thankful for John Miller for his great work on Howell's songs and the off-hand interjections in that topic centering around Howell's personality. Without rambling on and on, how about that cap?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2015, 10:00:19 PM »
For what it's worth Sam Charters in Sweet As The Showers of Rain (Oak 1977) devotes an entire chapter to Howell - pages 103-111.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2015, 10:01:37 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline beljum

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Re: Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2015, 05:49:31 AM »
As we speak I am working on ?Skin Game Blues? and wonder about Howell too. I found a little Peg Leg blurb in Cohn?s ?Nothing But the Blues? pgs 212-213. Text mentions that Peg and his ?Gang? were rough country musicians and didn?t mix well with the slicker set.
He looks like such a nice guy in the photo  ;D

Thanks, Bunker Hill, for the book reference. A snippet from Amazon?.
?The Blues Makers? is Samuel Charters's monumental study of the blues, its makers, and the environment from which they merged. IT was originally published in two separate volumes, The Bluesmen and Sweet as the Showers of Rain, and for a long time languished out of print. Now, with the addition of a new preface and a new chapter on Robert Johnson which reconsiders his life and art based n recently uncovered information, The Blues Makers

I just ordered a used one for less than 10 bucks delivered.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2015, 05:50:43 AM by beljum »

Offline Lyndvs

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Re: Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2015, 06:00:44 AM »
Red River Blues by Bruce Bastin  has a good over view of Peg Leg and his gang.Great book.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2015, 12:53:10 PM »
I added a Peg Leg Howell tag you can click on below and see other topics discussing Peg Leg. Quite a few to browse.

Offline thickpete

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Re: Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2015, 12:09:12 PM »
Very interesting question!

Peg Leg is one of my favorites and I'm very interested in the influence the esoteric has on popular culture. The 1920s were a golden age of Black fraternal lodges, Moorish Science and other Islam influenced religious movements, and the Back to Africa movement of Garvey and others. But it also looks like similar kufi/skullie like caps were popular back then generally - "beanies", "tuques", etc - so perhaps it had little deeper cultural connotation.  The cap in the photo doesn't look clear enough to me to tell if it's segmented or even if it might be a fez - though I can't find any examples of white fezes from back then....

Peg Leg generally sounds drunk to me and his work sounds like it was influenced by the singing street peddler traditions, but neither would preclude him being influenced by the movements of the time. Would love to find out....

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Portrait of Peg Leg Howell - His Dress and Personality
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2015, 02:29:29 PM »
apologies for digressing slightly from such an interesting topic, but TURBANS!

http://www.indiamusicweek.org/gallery_turbans.html


« Last Edit: February 24, 2015, 02:31:10 PM by Gumbo »

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