Wednesday, August 5, 2009

AW-WOOO! WEREWOLVES OF MISSISSIPPI

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LISTEN, BABY, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LOVED BY A MAN THEY CALL "THE WOLF"?
~ HOWLIN' WOLF (from 'I Ain't Superstitious')

The first Blues albums I ever bought were Volumes 1 & 2 of ‘King Of The Delta Blues Singers’ by Robert Johnson. This was probably in 1978. But I had heard a little Blues prior to that as my Ma purchased B.B. King’s ‘Completely Well’ album when it was released in 1969. We both loved his hit The Thrill Is Gone, and I still think it’s perhaps the best electric guitar Blues solo ever; simple lines that build to a tension-filled climax. Yeah, you know what I’m sayin’.

But I didn’t really start to develop a serious interest in Blues music until the early 1980s, and by ’86 I really had the Blues, and I had a Big Boy’s Blues collection to match.

I still have a cassette tape I titled “Official New Orleans Blues” which consists of various really old down-home Country Blues that my buddy Eric and I taped off a radio station on October 4, 1983 from our Motel 6 room in Slidell, Louisiana while on our “Jack Daniel’s Cross-Country Tour.” It was really thrilling to be hearing stuffs like that being played on the radio because we didn’t have any programming like it in Los Angeles.

I think it was probably 1987 when I went to my first Watts Music Festival. Watts is located in South Central Los Angeles, and it's most famous for its folk art classic Watts Towers and its big 1965 riot. I’d heard that another White boy attended the ’87 Blues Festival in Watts but I didn’t see him there.

A couple of weeks ago, far into the evening, I happened upon a TV station that was broadcasting a program called ‘The Howlin’ Wolf Story.’ Well, I was already late for bed, but bed is for wimps when da Wolf be howlin’! I stayed up and watched the program one and a half times and then bought my own DVD of it online first thing the next morning.

Of all the Bluesmen (and women) WOLF was always my favorite. Muddy Waters? Love him! Robert Johnson? Love him! Albert King? Love him! Little Walter? Love him! John Lee Hooker? Love him! Willie Dixon? Classic, man, classic! But there ain’t no Bluesman I loves mo’ than da Wolf, man! I can still remember blasting Wolf in the UCLA parking kiosks when I worked on that campus in the mid-‘80s and all my coworkers saying, “What the #$%! is that?!”

Anyway, I thought ‘The Howlin’ Wolf Story’, a 90-minute documentary, was fabulous! I’d never seen any live footage of Wolf before, and he was just tearing it up. The story is rollicking, tender, and heartbreaking - that stuffs about Wolf being rejected by his mother nearly ripped the heart out of me. Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) was a huge man, and he was as interesting as he was big. Wolf was a massive-voiced singer who went back to school while in his fifties to learn how to read and write; he paid unemployment insurance out of his own pocket to his musicians; and he was a devoted family man who worked his way from Dirt Poor, Mississippi to Innovative, Blues Giant. ‘The Howlin’ Wolf Story’ includes some very insightful interviews with various people who were close to the Wolf, including the great Hubert Sumlin, without a doubt one of the finest Blues guitarists who ever lived. In other words, see the documentary, Friends; you’ll dig it - that's a promise from me to you! I made Brother Nappy watch it and he dug it even though he ain’t no kind of Blues fan.

OK, the commercial’s over. Here’s the lesser stuffs:

Circa 1990, a day of drinking at the Townhouse bar (a dive that I hear has gone downhill) in Venice Beach, combined with my love of Blues and Jazz music, inspired me to write my first and only screenplay. It was called ‘Billy & Billie’, about a nerdy White would-be writer who idolizes Stephen King and is trying to write a screenplay about vampires in Las Vegas, and it's about a sassy, smart Black girl who idolizes Billie Holiday and sings for tips on Venice Beach. Can two so dissimilar people fall in love and find lasting happiness? Only I know. The story didn't make me a penny, but here’s one scene that I still like:

INT. BILLY WITHERS’ APARTMENT – DAY

BILLIE CLAYTON stands in the middle of the room with a record in her arms. She hums the melody of “How Long Has This Been Going On?” while she sways gently, her eyes closed. There is suddenly the SOUND of a loud ZIP, which causes her to take notice.

BILLY WITHERS, who has just angrily snatched a sheet of paper from his typewriter, crumples it up, tossing it on the bed, where many more crumpled pages are scattered across CLAYTON’S records. As he puts in a new sheet, BILLIE picks up his manuscript and thumbs through it.

CLAYTON
What’s wrong?

WITHERS
The usual: I’m stumped again. I’ve got the protagonist surrounded by vampires and slot machines and I can’t figure out how to save him.

CLAYTON
Well, maybe he doesn’t get saved. Maybe they kill him and it has a sad ending.

WITHERS
I’m only on page fifty-six; it can’t end yet. This whole thing is terrible – worse than that: it’s a stench.

CLAYTON
How about if he leaps across the slot machines and gets away?

WITHERS
Nah, he’s just a normal guy. He’s not supposed to be especially athletic.

CLAYTON
Well, how about he pulls the handle off a one-armed bandit and sticks it in a vampire’s chest like a stake?

WITHERS
You can’t pull a handle off one of those things.

CLAYTON
Oh. I’ve never actually seen one in person. Well, what have you thought of?

WITHERS
Nothing worthwhile. He’s just trapped, trapped, trapped. Damn, I’m a lousy writer.

He picks up a couple of her records and reads them.

WITHERS
Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Bill Broonzy? They sound like they’re from the World Wrestling Federation.

CLAYTON
They’re all great Bluesmen. You know, if it wasn’t for whiskey, the devil, and big-legged women, there wouldn’t be any Blues records at all.
(Suddenly excited)
Hey, I know what you need; you just need to take a little break from writing, that’s all. You need to find a nice, peaceful spot that will settle your mind – and I know just the place. Get your coat, come on.

She rushes to the closet to get his sportcoat.

WITHERS
Where are we going?

CLAYTON
You’ll see. It’s a place I go whenever I’m depressed and need some tranquility. Come on, you’ll like it.

She tosses him his coat and goes to the door, holding it open for him.

CLAYTON
Alright, let’s get on it.

Where did they go, you ask? Guess you’ll just have to wait until the movie comes out to learn that. But it’s not coming to a theatre near you in this lifetime.

“ALRIGHT, LET'S GET ON IT."
~ HOWLIN' WOLF to Eric Clapton after teaching the Englishman the guitar chords to ‘The Red Rooster.’

~ Stephen T. “Lonesome Dogg Blues” McCarthy

Postscript:
I found this really cool story about Taj Mahal playing at the Watts Music Festival. Click HERE.
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4 comments:

mousiemarc said...

He's my favorite too.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

`
Great ears hear alike.

~ STMcMe
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>

DiscConnected said...

I think he would have sounded better with more cowbell...

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

`
Ha! Well, one can never have too much cowbell.

~ STMcMe
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>