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Author Topic: K. C. Douglas-Mercury Blues Arhoolie CD 475  (Read 2260 times)

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Offline Johnm

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K. C. Douglas-Mercury Blues Arhoolie CD 475
« on: December 06, 2004, 04:15:34 PM »
PROGRAM:? Mercury Blues; My Mind's Going Back To 1929; Catfish Blues; High Water Rising; Woke Up This Morning; Somebody Done Stole My Gal; Fanny Lou; I Don't Want No Woman To Love Me; Married Woman Blues; Black Cat Bone; Good Looking Women; Richard's Ride; Hear Me Howling; I'm Gonna Build Me A Web; Make Your Coffee; Night Shirt Blues; Canned Heat; Your Crying Won't Make Me Stay; Country Girl; Black Cat Bone; Good Looking Women; Fanny Lou
This CD was pretty disappointing. I have two earlier releases by K.C. Douglas on Original Blues Classics (formerly Prestige Bluesville), and have enjoyed them quite a lot. K. C. Douglas was a native central Mississippian who like Shirley Griffith, ended up living most of his adult life far from his home state. Shirley ended up in Indianapolis and K. C. ended up in the Bay Area, in California. K. C. also, like Shirley, drew heavily upon the repertoire of Mississippi bluesmen like Tommy Johnson and Ishmon Bracey for his own repertoire. On different recordings, K. C. recorded "Big Road Blues", "Canned Heat Blues" and "Saturday Blues" (though he called "Saturday Blues" "Meanest Woman Blues", I think). On the two OBC CDs, K. C. was playing solo or was accompanied by the harmonica player Sidney Maiden.

On this CD, K. C. is joined for the majority of the program by his band from the '60s and '70s, K. C. Douglas and his Lumberjacks, and herein lies the problem with the CD. The Lumberjacks consist of a harmonica player and an electric guitarist and drummer. The harmonica player, Richard Riggins, was a near contemporary of K. C.'s, and works with him reasonably compatibly, but the drummer and other guitarist are not notably good listeners or great players, and the sheer weight of reliance on cliches, and insensitivity to the nuances of K. C.'s style has the effect of effacing pretty much everything distinctive about K. C.'s music, apart from his vocals. On "Catfish", the drummer fails to notice that K. C. is long with some phrases and short with others, and maintains the same accenting pattern throughout; the result--sometimes the groove is flipped, with down and upbeats reversed--is not real tasty. Add to this the fact that the first 12 songs of the 22 song program are all in E and you have a recipe for some pretty mind-numbing listening. For some reason, it is easier for me to take an individual who almost always plays in the same key, like Joseph Spence or Skip James, than a band that plays everything in the same key. Of course, the fact that Spence and James were geniuses didn't hurt.

Toward the tail end of the program, K. C. does a number of tunes solo or in duo with Richard Riggins, but it is too little, too late. It is a tremendous relief to hear the subtleties and country qualities on these late numbers, though. I really like K. C.'s song "Mercury Blues", but his music is much better served on the OBC releases than on this one, I think.
All best,
« Last Edit: May 28, 2021, 06:02:55 PM by Johnm »

Offline dj

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Re: K. C. Douglas-Mercury Blues Arhoolie CD 475
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2021, 11:24:50 AM »
I never had K.C.'s original Arhoolie LP, but I too have this CD, and have had it for quite a while.  I never really connected with the music and always felt a bit guilty about that. One of my pandemic projects has been going through Stephan Wirz's Arhoolie discography and making playlists from the Arhoolie CDs that I have that mirror as closely as possible the original Arhoolie LPs.  Doing that for Arhoolie LP 1073 finally made me appreciate this series of recordings.  The LP was superbly programmed: Side 1 consisted of 5 songs with K.C. backed by just his guitar and Richard Riggins' harmonica, and Side 2 was pretty much the cream of the band recordings.  Listening to the songs this way, programmed like a well-planned live set, makes all the difference in the world.  Why the CD was so haphazardly put together is beyond me.  It seems like a lot of thought was put into programming the LP and absolutely none into the CD, unless the CD programmer's thought process was "Well, people like full bands".  If you, like me, have had this CD sitting on your shelf for a decade or more just gathering dust, I'd recommend a trip to Herr Wirz's site to see how to show this set off to its best advantage.

A confession: Since I listened to the Arhoolie set the "right" way, I've been listening to a LOT of K.C. Douglas.  My current favorite by him is an LP that came out some time in the mid-1950s on the Cook label oddly titled "A Dead-Beat Guitar and the Mississippi Blues".  It's just K.C. and an acoustic guitar, mostly doing covers either of songs from his native Jackson Mississippi (Canned Heat, Big Road Blues) or the "hits" of late pre-war blues (Catfish Blues, Key to the Highway) as well as his own Mercury Blues.  There's also a nice acapella version of Casey Jones which Johnm has posted here:  It's a fine set of performances, available from Smithsonian Folkways and, I believe, available on most streaming services.  Take a listen!
« Last Edit: May 27, 2021, 11:26:33 AM by dj »

Offline Rivers

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Re: K. C. Douglas-Mercury Blues Arhoolie CD 475
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2021, 05:53:00 PM »
Thanks dj, solid post there. I'm with you on KCD


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