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My mother, she died and left me in 1920... And after then I got on my own, I could go everywhere I wanted then without letting anybody know where I was - Blind Willie McTell

Author Topic: Robert Pete Williams-Poor Bob's Blues, Arhoolie CD 511  (Read 2109 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Robert Pete Williams-Poor Bob's Blues, Arhoolie CD 511
« on: April 14, 2004, 10:53:12 PM »
PROGRAM:? CD-A:? My Mind Wandering Around; Cane Cut Man; My Daddy Was a Hoodoo Man; No More Sweet Potatoes; Poor Bob's Blues; Cows Love Music; Can't Yo-Yo No More; Shake, Shake Baby; Lord, I Done You Wrong; Been Mistreated So Long;
CD-B:? Things All Wrong With Me; Matchbox Blues; Sad News From Korea; What A Shape I'm In; Poor Boy, Long Way From Home; Out All Night Long; Crying Won't Make Me Stay; All Out And Down; Tom And Old Master?

I bought this 2 CD set three days ago, I think, and have already listened to it from beginning to end 7 times.? It is really amazingly good.? For those of you unfamiliar with Robert Pete Williams, he was discovered by the folklorist Dr. Harry Oster at the Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana in the late 1950s.? Oster recorded him there, doing solo numbers and also accompanying fellow inmates, and soon began to lobby the governor of Louisiana for Williams' release, a la Leadbelly.? Williams was released around 1960-1961 into a supervised farm labor situation, which he contended was slavery.? Around 1965, he was finally paroled, and for the remainder of his life (he died in 1980) performed occasionally at festivals and recorded.

His music is difficult to describe.? He is simultaneously the most country, in the sense of sounding unschooled, and wildest sounding country blues player I think I have heard.? A very high percentage of his recordings (especially his earlier ones) do not really sound like anyone else who ever recorded in this genre.

Although recording dates are not provided for the music on this 2 CD set, my sense is that the music on it was recorded later than the stuff from Robert Pete's time in Angola, or the album "Free Again" (available on Original Jazz Classics) which was recorded soon after his initial release from Angola.? The program starts with an unaccompanied vocal number, "My Mind Wandering Around", which is one of the most beautiful pieces of this type I have ever heard.? It then passes into "Cane Cut Man", with Robert Pete working out of a low-tuned G tuning, DGDGBE, to play in D.? He had an eerie, very distinctive sound in this tuning.? "My Daddy Was A Hoodoo Man", in E standard follows, and right at the beginning of it Robert Pete hits a bend I have never heard anyone play in a Blues before.? He's a good guy to listen to if you feel like you are getting a bit jaded with the music, because I guarantee you will hear a lot of things you've never heard before.? "No More Sweet Potatoes" is a slide tune in Spanish.? "Poor Bob's Blues" is an incredibly funky number in A standard, tremendous trance music, and very infectious.? Chris Strachwitz likes to include spoken numbers on his CDs and one follows, "Cows Love Music".? The first CD rounds out with "Can't Yo-Yo No More" and "Shake, Shake Mama" in E standard, a very different sounding piece in Spanish capoed high, "Lord, I Done You Wrong", and "Been Mistreated So Long", in which Robert Pete observes, "I've been mistreated so long, I don't know how to act sometimes."

Disc B opens with "Things All Wrong With Me", a slide piece in Spanish.? He follows that up with "Matchbox Blues", in D standard tuning.? Robert Pete's music normally had so little chordal content that it is a little disorienting to hear him play something as relatively regular-sounding as his version of "Matchbox".? "Sad News From Korea" shows a John Lee Hooker influence alluded to in the CD's notes by Elijah Wald.? The powerfully driving "What a Shape I'm In" in E standard follows, then "Poor Boy Long Way From Home", in Open G.? "Out All Night Long" is a particularly funky number about tieing one on.? A very strong "Crying Won't Make Me Stay" in D standard follows, with "All Out And Down" in Spanish, concluding the songs on the program.? The CD winds up with an enigmatic folk tale, "Tom and Old Master".

Throughout the two CDs, the degree to which Robert Pete is fully engaged in his music-making at every instant of musical time is awe-inspiring.? His singing and playing both hearken back to African musical sounds in a more direct way than do most Country Blues music.? If you have never heard his music before, I would say this set is a great introduction to him.? It strikes me as being a bit closer to the mainstream of Country Blues from his part of the world than his earlier recordings, and so in that sense, may be more accessible.? His music could never be considered "nifty" or flashy, but if you want to hear someone that hears and expresses musical sound in a completely distinctive way for the blues, Robert Pete Williams is your man.
All best,
« Last Edit: April 06, 2005, 04:30:04 PM by Johnm »

Offline Slack

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Re: Robrt Pete Williams-Poor Bob's Blues, Arhoolie CD 511
« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2004, 07:29:15 PM »
Wow, another great review - I guess I'll just have to pick this up too!

I've been listening to my second Robert Pete also - "Robert Pete Williams" - Fat Possum Records. (this was a gift from my eldest son's girlfriend - a sweet gal, eh?).  I don't think I'll try to describe it - you've done such an eloquent job - but give a few impressions instead.  I don't know how many times I've listened to it - but it tends to stay in the player - so darn entertaining, listening is a veritable musical roller coaster! 

Here are the tracks:
1. Farm Blue  2. Goodbye Slim Harpo  3. Rub Me Until My Love Come Down  4. Freight Train Blues  5. Got Me Way Down Here  6. Matchbox Blues  7. Railroad Blues  8. Tombstone Blues  9. Sweep My Floor  10. You Used to Be a Sweet Cover Shaken But You Ain't No More  11. Vietnam Blues

John, this also has 'Matchbox Blues' - like you describe, relatively regular sounding, so I'm wondering if it is the same?  An easy check -- is there a rooster crowing throughout and a tractor traile rblowing its horn at the end?  (love the rooster through several tunes and he obviously lived next to a highway.)

Striking to me on some of his tunes is that the guitar lags the vocal, sometimes it [/]really lags - talk about a tension builder.  He also repeats discordant riffs - very interesting!

Anyway, Robert Pete is definately an acquired taste (and if my mind gets warped any more than it already is - I'll blame Johnm and Robert Pete  :D )  the Fat Possum site has two mp3's on line from the above CD: "Goodbye Slim Harpo" - a slide tune, which is pretty tame for his slide tunes (they are often hard for me to listen too - but this one is pretty good) and Vietnam blues.  Robert Pete was born in 1914 and this was recorded in 1971.


Offline Johnm

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Re: Robrt Pete Williams-Poor Bob's Blues, Arhoolie CD 511
« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2004, 09:46:05 PM »
Hi John D.,
Thanks for the heads up on the Robert Pete Fat Possum release--I was unaware of it.  I don't believe the version of "Matchbox" on the Arhoolie release is the same as the one on the Fat Possum from your description of it--no roosters or semis on the Arhoolie version.  It is weird that Robert Pete evidently claimed to have been influenced by Lemon, yet his version of "Matchbox" is in D standard, which as Frank noted in his great listing of Lemon's keys, Lemon never recorded in!  I also know what you mean about Robert Pete being an acquired taste.  The one time I saw him in person I believe was at the Smithsonian FolkLife Festival in the early '70s, and I couldn't make head nor tail of him.  I should say, too, for people whose only experience of Robert Pete's music is his appearance on the Vestapol video "Legends Of Country Blues Guitar", that that footage does not give the remotest idea of what Robert Pete was capable of musically.  As for the Robert Pete staying in your CD player, I can relate--I have not been able to stop playing this set since I got it.  He had such big ears that he makes me question everything I take for granted about blues-playing.  He definitely was a one-of-a-kind musician.
All best,