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Highway to the Soul
By John C. Kojak
My father didn’t leave much behind when he left this world, at least not anything of monetary value, but he did give me one thing that has been invaluably important in my life: a deep love and appreciation for blues music.
Some of my earliest memories are of him sitting in the den at night and listening to his records. We children were not allowed to disturb him while he was in there, but I always had a sense that something very profound was happening. I was young, and like any son I wanted to bond with my farther, so I began to ask him who these musicians were and why their music was so important to him. He seemed to approve of me taking an interest, and I loved it when he would sit me on his lap while he flipped through the albums and told me stories about the people on the covers and the meanings behind their songs.
Bands like The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin, were his favorites, but he said that they all got their sounds, and a lot of their songs, from listening to an earlier form of music called the blues. His words would become hushed as he spoke about these old black musicians who had come out of the Mississippi Delta region in the 1920s and '30s. He called them bluesmen, and whispered their names with a reverence I had never heard him use before…Robert Johnson…Son House…Muddy Waters…It was if he was speaking of kings.
One day, when I was just 11, he took me into the record department at a local store. He searched until he found the album Cheap Thrills by a group called Big Brother and The Holding Company. The band featured a young woman named Janis Joplin on vocals, and he said that he had never heard anyone sing with such power and raw emotion as she did. I will never forget the way that he tapped his finger on the cover as he told me that no matter what else I ever listened to that I always had to have this album in my collection (and I still do). It was the first record I ever owned, and as soon as I heard her voice I knew what he meant. There was something visceral about it, like she was screaming and crying at the same time.
But Janis was a young white girl from Port Arthur, Texas, and I wondered how she could possibly sing the blues, a form of music that had originated from descendants of African slaves, with such force and passion. It was then that I began to ask myself what blues music really is. Son House, one of the true fathers of the delta blues, said that the blues “is what happens between a man and a woman that’s in love.” I would have to wait until I was older to truly understand that, but anyone who has ever loved, and especially those of us who have lost, knows it’s the truth.
That was the beginning of my journey into the heart of the blues, a journey that continues to this day. I recently went to a blues festival in historic Clarksdale, Mississippi. I drove up from Louisiana along fabled Highway 61—“The Blues Highway”—through the rolling hills of Southern Mississippi, past the remains of the Antebellum South, and into the flat lands and cotton fields of the hallowed Mississippi Delta. This is where blues music was born. A place where descendants of slaves, people who had been persecuted and mistreated their entire lives, people who might not know where there next meal was going to come from or where they were going to sleep that night would play and sing, not about equality or social justice, but about love–the most basic of all human needs. That simple truth is what still touches me about the blues, and is what I think has touched so many other people from all over the world.
You could see how far this music had traveled in the numbers and diversity of the crowd at the festival. There were 30,000 people there, some who had come from as far away as New Zealand and Japan. When I met the curator of the Blues Museum in Clarksdale he told me that he had such a deep love and appreciation for the blues that he had felt compelled to move his entire family here from the Netherlands. The fact that so many have made this pilgrimage to a small town along the Mississippi River is a testament to the importance that blues music has played in so many lives, including my own.
#Real #Music #Blues #BlackAmericans #FatherAndSon #AfricanAmericanHeritage #JanisJoplin #TheRollingStones #LedZepp
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