Townes Van Zandt was famous for saying– “There’s only two kinds of music, Blues and Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” Boy, was he ever right. I say, gimme the Blues. The most perfect sorrow-drownin’, tear-jerkin’, soul-howlin’, baby-makin’ music there is. Mystic sounds born from blood, sweat & tears — still giving birth to the best Rock & Roll bands to this day.
R.L. (Robert Lee) Burnside — Born in Mississippi hill country back in 1926. Worked as a sharecropper, picked up the guitar as a young man, heavily influenced by bluesmen — Fred MacDowell, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters (who was married to his first cousin). Burnside shook the Mississippi dust off his heels some time in the ’50s and headed for Chicago. Within a year, his Father, brother, and uncle were all murdered. He went back home to Mississipi where he ran into trouble himself — killing a man. “I didn’t mean to kill nobody… I just meant to shoot the son of a bitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord.” R.L. Burnside gained a huge following and critical acclaim finally in the ’90s when he teamed up with Jon Spencer, releasing the masterpiece — “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey.” Burnside died at the age of 78 in 2005. –Image by Jim Herrington
John Lee Hooker — Born in Mississippi, the youngest of 11 children, back in 1917 to a sharecropper family. His Daddy was also a preacher, and when he was just 4 yrs old, his parents split-up. His Mama married a bluesman, William Moore — a young Hooker took-up guitar, and credits his stepfather with being a major influence on him musically. With his own unique style of talking blues, infused with boogie-woogie, Hooker racked-up a string of hits — including“Boogie Chillen” (from 1948) and “Boom Boom” (from 1962), and my favorite John Lee Hooker tune is — “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” John Lee Hooker passed away in 2001.
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Oregon, August 1939. “Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note Social Security number tattooed on arm.” Shorpy determined through a public records search that 535-07-5248 belonged to one Thomas Cave, born July 1912, died in 1980 in Portland, OR. Which would make him 27 years old when this picture was taken. This pic has long been a favorite of mine. First, there’s the handsome rake with his devilish “cat that just ate the canary” grin, and his beautiful bride lounging in the background with her equally impressive model-worthy looks. Second, there is more than a little irony for me in this image, as we so often equate physical beauty with material success these days– but here’s a stunning couple eking out a living through sweat and toil one meal at a time. I’m tellin’ you, as sure as I live and breathe– poverty is the ultimate equalizer, folks.
California, March 1937. “Toward Los Angeles.” Another ironic pic– “Next Time Try The Train– Relax.” Well– give me the fare and I will, buddy. We ain’t walkin’ for our health…
The American photographer Dorothea Lange was a product of Hoboken, NJ (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965). She started out her career in photography taking commercial portraits in 1920s San Francisco. Dorothea then worked in the Southwest with her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon. In the early 1930s, Lange intuitively took her camera to the streets, recording the breadlines and waterfront strikes of Depression era San Francisco. That marked the beginning of a radical shift in her philosophy & photography, that would mark her life and give us some of the most iconic American images known.
In 1935, Lange began her landmark work for the Farm Security Administration, a Federal Agency. Collaborating with her second husband, labor economist Paul S. Taylor, she documented the troubled exodus of farm families migrating West in search of work. Lange’s documentary style achieved its fullest expression in these years, with photographs such as Migrant Mother becoming instantly recognized symbols of the Depression.
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