Skip James

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.


Filed under Blues

6 responses to “Skip James

  1. Please tell me he has an album titled “Epistle of Straw.”

    • Look at Zrim visiting a blues posting. But – be honest now – you didn’t listen to the music, did you?

      Anyway, yes, a rimshot on the drums for that one. Apparently James did some sermons that were straw, because he was licensed to preach in two denominations but it was apparently quite evident that he didn’t have “it.” The author of his biography is not impressed by James’ turn to religion after his earlier recordings, and basically says his turn to religion messed up his music.

      • Clearly his biographer lacks worldview. Everybody knows religion makes bad people (and their music) good and good people (and their music) better.

  2. sean

    I pretty sure James’ music gives itself too easily (simple two-chord progression). It’s inadequate for the NL developing of the mind and further perpetuates an idea that music is only useful when it’s ‘spoon fed’. After a long day or in the midst of everyday life, I prefer music that makes me work that I might be fed, because that’s how it is when you’re better than everyone else.

    • And I suppose The Big Fundamental has a game that is just too simple and inadequate for NL? Or does he do basic things really well?
      What we have here in “Devil’s Got My Woman” is guitar work in which virtually every note “counts” in developing the emotional feel of the song. It’s about the pace and feel of what he does, and I don’t know of a song that favorably compares to it in that regard.

  3. sean

    Hey don’t shoot the messenger, i’m just laying some Ken Meyer’s insight down for ya. The Big Fundamental is an assassin and ‘magically’ having a renaissance year at 36. He’s my hero. Lance too.

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