Curently on my bedside table is I’d Rather Be the Devil, a treatment of Skip James and his music by Stephen Calt. Calt holds back nothing in telling why he loathes Skip James the man, but can’t withhold high praise for at least some of his music. Indeed, if James had done nothing but record two songs he would be noteworthy. Those two songs are Devil Got My Woman and I’m So Glad.
Devil Got My Woman works through the emotional maelstrom of lost love:
Was nothin’ but the devil, changed my baby’s mind
I laid down last night, tried to take my rest
My mind got to ramblin’, like a wild geese from the west
Calt explains why the song works:
James appeared to have created surpassing songs not through advanced technical ability but by having an acute awareness of the sounds he was making. He was a listener as well as a player…this self-conciousness is evident in the simple two-chord song that is Devil Got My Woman, where the listening feels the impact of every note James plays, thanks to his timing, tempo, and emphatic touch.
Turning the gender tables of Devil Got My Woman is a Bonnie Raitt version.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum is I’m So Glad,
one of the most extraordinay examples of fingerpicking found in the realm of guitar music, one that is virtually impossible to improve upon….The leaping dynamics that accompany his eruptions into falsetto singing, augmented by his explosive fingerpicking, give it an almost unworldy sound. (Calt)
For some 1960’s British rock featuring Eric Clapton, there’s the Cream version.