Beavers Digs in Deep

The above track is track 7 on the last album. He has a new album in the can, but this short review refers to his last album and his general comportment. The last section is an edited interview from 2014, which includes this editor's notes and explanations of several misinterpretations. 

"Everyday starts with the crow," hollered out James C. Taylor at the 1970 Delta Rock Festival. Dale Beavers was not yet six years old, but it was already hard to tell that he had once been deemed the best looking baby in Chicot County, Arkansas. Since 1970, he decided to pick up a guitar in the same vein as his early life hero, Donnie Brown, of the Candy Shoestring, which held a reunion a couple years back. This journeyman axeman came up in the same way as Bo Carter: he got an early taste for "dirty" songs and others relegated him to the bass guitar. Over the years, moreover, he has become somewhat of an "All Around Man," cutting wood and making bread for his distressed spirit as well as making his own way through the crowd. Now he stands out front on his own record.

If someone asked random asshole #3 for a review of Dale Beavers' music, that fella might say it was blunt, straight-forward, unadorned. Ted Drosdowski, when he is not sitting at a bar obliviously enraging “blues assholes,” might say that Beavers was the “real deal,” particularly due to the fact that Beavers maintains a strong animus for such polyvalent terms. Beavers might very well dust off the overhand right on the masculinist music commentator from Nashville, but the assessment would still prove accurate for some whether Ted was out cold on the floor or not.

The first time this author slipped the compact disc out of the package and into the small slit in my vehicle’s dashboard, it stayed right there spinning around and around for at least a few days. The first time it started over and began playing the first song, I realized for a second time that it I didn’t want to hit the stop button. It starts off innocent enough—with Beavers, I assume, strumming a single chord up and down at a steady pace, and then the drummer comes in with the classic snare-kick-snare, which brings a bass guitar not-quite-thundering into the mix with the accompaniment of keys, beating hard and straight down onto the ivory, steady, rocking, and true to the rhythm 

It takes a full thirty seconds before the engineer is required to slide up another fader and allow the vocals to inform us of the problem that consumes the mind of Dale Beavers. Not a terribly complicated man, not a man who covets intellectual pursuits in the ivory tower, Beavers has the same type of attitude and concerns as one might expect to find in a host of red-blooded Americans testing the limits of their historically uninhibited freedoms. The sound and tone gives off a fun aesthetic that makes you want to crack a beer and smile at the girl sitting at the end of the bar. It makes you want to dance with her, and it also lets you know that Beavers understands how you feel after getting shot the hell down and squirming back inside that brewskie.

You will not get a whole lot of answers to the big questions this world has to offer, but you will feel good enough about yourself that you will smile at the other woman, who sits at the other end. Or you might even go after the first woman’s short-haired friend. What I’m trying to impart in the short review is that the music is good; it’s not anymore real that the songs on another record. Every asshole in the room will tell you something different if pressed to define the term “real” or “authentic.” So I know why Beavers does not like such terms. He does not bullshit, period. He may not know what the hell is going on, but he will let you know that he's lost. The songs he plays are not meant to be “real” or “authentic,” which makes the record so damn fun to hear more than once. I’m going to put the record back on right now. Do yourself a favor and do the same.

- T. DeWayne Moore

Dale Beavers on the Jeff Norwood Memorial
Stage at the 2016 Deep Blues Festival
Photo: Bill Steber 
Beavers Testifies
by Sean Jewell - 2014
[This short interview conducted before the 2014 Deep Blues Festival was done at the behest of Chris Johnson, founder of the event, and contains several editor's notes for context]

When deciding how to describe the importance of this years festival, I found myself with too many topics from which to choose. Thankfully Deep Blues has a mixtape out this year full of its amazing acts. One particularly rowdy tune, Dale Beavers‘s cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s “Baby Get It On” stuck out because of its brilliance, its tempo, and its unidentifiable source. For weeks we asked ourselves, who is Dale Beavers? I decided to find out, and as usual, got more than I bargained for.

Dale Beavers was [NOT] born just outside of Clarksdale, [but he was born] on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River [directly across from] Greenville [in the bustling water sports mecca of Lake Village.  Unfortunately the author writes as if he is swooning, starstruck  and lost concerning the geography of the mid-Delta. The author also acts a bit punch drunk as if the career of Beavers hit him like a train passing through.]  Beavers is the bassist behind Junior Kimbrough on his Fat Possum Records release Sad Days Lonely Nights.  [While the album is certainly one of the more notable to come out of the hill country during the 1990s, the author's contention that it was] "a record so trans formative that it moves into your mind and rearranges the history of the blues" [is absurd.  Junior Kimbrough was one of the most enigmatic of the later hill country blues artists who played in a style that can be traced all the way to Frank Stokes and Jim Jackson in the early 1900s, Joe Callicott and Garfield Akers in the 1920s & 30s, Fred McDowell as well, but mainly later in the 1960s and 70s. There is no need to rearrange history or silence any of these important voices simply because it took a conversation with Dale Beavers to lift oneself out of the darkness.]

For Beavers, “There has never been another like Junior,” [and Beavers' commanding presence and deep voice may come off as threatening to one so uninitiated into his subject.] Feeling like he might bust the earpiece in the phone, Beavers declared, “he transcended millennia with his sound, the only person I ever heard could play guitar like that was Ali Farka TourĂ©.”

“He’s from Mali, Africa” I said.

“Yep, and you know Junior never even heard of him, though, so shit how did he reach that sound? It goes beyond that, to something deeper, that’s how.” 

[Ever since Melville Herskovitz found several "Africanisms" in North America and so many more in South America in the 1940s, scholars have gone back and forth about the level of acculturation in the United States, which--compared to Brazil, Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas--had very few imported African slaves. Paul Oliver, Samuel Charters and Gerhard Kubik have all written musicological texts about blues music and the musical traditions in Africa. Toure, having only released his first album in the mid-1970s, was heavily influenced by earlier American blues artists and the recordings that shaped world music. We have to remember that neither the Delta nor Africa exists in a cultural vacuum. Robert Johnson recorded almost all derivative songs in the 1930s, and by the 1960s, the blues tradition in the United States had given rise to the Rolling Stones in England and made such an impact across the globe that its reverberations would find a voice later amongst the dispossessed through  rap and hip-hop by the turn of the new millennium.]

Dale got his start in the blues doing what [only the most privileged and entitled of poseurs] with a guitar are [not] willing to [do]: [the rest of us] play the bass. Raised on punk, he began backing the locally well known Danny Lee Witherington at gigs in Monroe, Louisiana. [And I'm sure he felt lucky to get gigs  and cut his teeth coming up in the post-mechanization 1980s.]

“I’d never even played in a blues band, but that’s where I got my chops, I learned his songs, and the scales on bass and I made a lot of money. I figured out I could make like $100 a night doing this.” [A nice sum for a punk rocker from Lake Village]

It’s more than that though, despite going on to play bass for greats like Fortune Records artist Nathaniel Mayer, and making my new favorite album of all time, Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing, as a member of Compulsive Gamblers on guitar, Dale’s roots are [grounded] deep in the blues [revival of the 1990s:]

“This is off the subject, but Bruce [Watson] and I have been friends since we were kids. Best friends since we were seventeen. You know them Duck Dynasty wives? Yeah, we all went to church camp with them. Bruce’s Dad was some kind of minister, always into the church. Bruce was a hell-raiser though, I knew when he was out there throwing M80 firecrackers at the Jesus freaks –at his Dad’s own church camp– that we were gonna be good friends.”

Bruce never forgot Dale, either. They were roommates in college, and when Bruce went on to Oxford to begin the now legendary Fat Possum Records, he sent Dale a copy of everything he did. “I probably don’t have the whole collection,” he said “maybe just 95% of it”. When a headliner fell through one year early on at Deep Blues Fest, Chris Johnson called Bruce Watson, a recognized expert, for advice: “You have to get Dale Beavers” was the order from the man behind the revival of [hill country] blues.

Dale Beavers (guitar) performs with esteemed Columbian 
attorney Portuondo Guapado, (drums) the fifth 
cousin once removed from folklorist Tary Owens.
Photo: Bill Steber
“Chris is the guy that started all this amazing stuff happening with the blues” Dale told me. “He is the Hill Country blues. It’s like, at some point a bunch of old Slayer fans threw down their guitars, picked up banjos and started playing all this hillbilly shit. That’s because of Chris, he did that, he made it cool and fun to do. I mean there’s guys out there who can play, you got your Anson Funderburghs and those guitar slingin’ dudes, then you got all these white boys now punk rockin’ the hell out of the blues, like Scott H. Biram.”

Dale was excited about deep blues, and its move to Clarksdale. “I haven’t been down there since I played a little tour of the south in 2009.” He said. I asked him about the bill he plays on, at Juke Joint Chapel, the figurative main stage Friday night.

Kenny Brown is on that bill, he played guitar and bass for RL Burnside (who referred to him as an adopted son). I asked, “Do you know him?”

“Kenny? Oh yeah,” he said with a chuckle, I felt a story kicking in, “I’m all over his albums, man. We’ve all hung out, that thing he did on Big Legal Mess, you gotta get that. Get Meet Ya In The Bottom, too.”

“How about Elmo Williams and Hezekiah Early, their song on the mixtape ‘Mother’s Dead‘ is amazing, you know them?” I asked, still not understanding that Dale Beavers is Deep Blues.

A Happy Beavers Family
Dale laughed,
“Yeah, well, my grandfather and my dad used to run a nightclub. After it closed up we were living in it, and you know at one point I was playing with Elmo, and those guys had a handful of songs. Anyway, I’m livin’ in this closed up honky-tonk and we were sort of challenging guys like this to just play anything but old blues songs and to record, so at one point we were just talking about what one another had been up to and I said, ‘well I’ve been livin on a dance floor’. Elmo thought that was perfect and that’s where that song “Dancin’ Dancin’ All Night”comes from. We recorded about four or five songs together before Hezekiah came along.”

About his own (highly recommended) music at Deep Blues:

“Well, after trying to get a band together for a while in Port Huron, and having things always somehow not work out –like the drummer not showing up or the keyboard player not being around– I decided I’d start doing it just myself. I said I tell you what, I’m gonna get a stompbox and play guitar and sing solo like John Lee Hooker.

So I started layin’ it down, forgettin’ about everyone else, and guess what, the musicians came to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet two guys who are really accomplished musicians, so we have guitar, piano, and drums now. I’m bringin’ the piano player with me. We play real off-the-cuff, raggedy tunes. Jellyroll tunes. We’ve probably had two rehearsals in the last five years, and that’s how it should be, too!

“That’s what it’s like when you’re playing the blues. We’re like old jazz guys up there, they know what we’re all here to do, so we just get there. I can’t be lookin’ around telling the drummer what to do. It’s good too, because hell, I ain’t gonna play it the same way twice! You better know what you’re gonna do. We got a great band and that sound is great for just house rockin’ boogie.”

He went on:
“Lookin’ back, the past 20 years –at about 15 great records I’ve been on– I’m like ‘damn, Beavers, good job.’ I’ve played with Paul Jones, RL [Burnside], CeDell Davis, Dave Thompson, Dave Malone, oh man Jim Mize, you gotta get that record he and I backed Cedell Davis on that’s out on Big Legal Mess, The Horror Of It All, it’s a screamer. I’ve done some good shit. I lived in Memphis, then I moved to Detroit. Not one month after I arrived Greg Cartwright (Oblivians) called me up to Jim Diamond’s studio [Ghetto Recorders] to record sight unseen with Compulsive Gamblers. I asked when he called if they had any songs and he said ‘you better just come up here, you’ll like it’. We did Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing and that’s really my proudest moment. Just a great punk/blues/R&B record.

“Then Jeff [Mize] and I, we started playing swamp pop stuff, y’know —Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo— then we got to jump on that Nathaniel Mayer record I Just Wanna Be Held and played some just gritty, garage-rock R&B.”
Speaking of playing with cool people, I said, flabbergasted, tell me about Junior Kimbrough some more. [Dale, of course, obliged him:]
“Man! I have a story for you. An experience that changed my life. I met Junior through Bruce at Fat Possum, and from hanging at Junior‘s juke joint. Back then RL‘s son Garry Burnside was playing bass in Junior’s band, but he was runnin’ wild. You know, he was seventeen, just raisin’ hell all the time, so they needed a bass-player on tour, a road guy. Bruce called me up, I learned all the songs on All Night Long, and then when we met I think he thought I was just another white dude, but I could play all this stuff, and he was like, ‘damn, you can play.’ So we went on a West Coast tour. We played Seattle and Portland on that tour –I’d love to play out there again– anyway we were going from Boise to Salt Lake City and the rear end goes out on the tour bus. The tour manager had all these people coming to pick us up in the middle of nowhere, to grab all of our gear and everything, but there was like 13 of us. CeDell, Cedric Burnside, Kenny Brown, a whole bunch of guys, so they go outside to stretch and hang out, but Junior he ain’t gonna do that. It’s the desert out there and he was worried about scorpions and snakes and stuff. [Laughs] Anyway, Junior picked up an acoustic guitar –and this was strange because he never played anyone else’s stuff, but he spent four hours playing every single blues song he could think of, from Lightnin’ Hopkins on down, all of ’em. I couldn’t leave the bus! It really transformed me, I realized then for certain that this was what I wanted to do, to play the blues."
“I had great times with him. You know, Junior didn’t have no cell phone. It was great though, we’d have a gig, and I’d be all the way over in Conway, Arkansas, and we’d start calling looking for Junior. Bruce would call his girlfriend Mildred in Holly Springs and leave a message to let Junior know we had a show. Then I’d drive all the way there, no practice, without ever talkin’, but I could just drive into town, go straight to Aikei Pros Records and there’d be Junior, in his Delta 88 just sittin’ in the parkin’ lot.

“I’d say, ‘We got a gig Junior’ and he’d say ‘Well boy, we better go!’ We never coordinated anything. I’ve thought about it and I don’t think there was ever or will be another person like him.

“I’ll tell you what, we play his songs live too. Because to me it’s like, who’s left? I know all the songs, that’s up to me to do."

Beavers music is reflective of the blues traditions and artists for whom he worked over the years, but it should be stressed that now as a solo artist, who has stepped out from behind these purveyors of tradition, that he has managed to take on elements of different styles and build a conglomeration that on his record comes across squarely his own. He achieves this sound, in part, by embracing the stripped-bare tone of the mid-Delta from which he came, refusing to dress it up too much, and roundly rejecting the modulation and adulterating digital devices that came to plaque so many children of the eighties. [The below track is track 1 on the album--described at the top]

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