Saturday, June 30, 2018

Eli Green's Amulet of Power

Some folks believed that Eli Green was a powerful hoodoo who could change into an animal, much the same as the loup garou in Haitian and French folklore.

According to John Fahey, in his liner notes to "Death Chants, Break Downs and Military Waltzes" (1964), Bertha Lee had passed down Charlie Patton's guitar to Eli Green, who subsequently moved up to the northern hill country of Marshall County.[1]

Sylvester Oliver states that Green was born in the first years of the twentieth century, making him a contemporary of both McDowell and Boose Taylor. McDowell 

Is this "our" Eli Green?
Eli Green was a contemporary of Fred McDowell (who remembered, "we did a lot of playing all around the Delta together - in Cleveland and Rosedale, towns like that" and he had a profound influence on Junior Kimbrough. In the 1920s, Fred McDowell sharecropped on a farm east of Hudsonville, MS. It was there that he met Eli Green.

Sylvester Oliver claimed that Green was from the McIntyre community near Chulahoma in Marshall County, but Luther Dickinson thought that he had grown up in the Delta and moved to the hill country.  Green had apparently learned a great deal from Charlie Patton, and some folks described him as a gambler and a dandy dresser "in-well tailored black suits" and "white spats with his highly polished black shoes." 

Junior Kimbrough, as a boy, learned guitar from Fred McDowell and Eli Green, both of whom would come to get haircuts on Sundays from Kimbrough's father. 

Eli Green took on the persona of the "Bad Negro," a hero in Black folklore who often defied white authority and managed to escape punishment or recrimination.  Junior Kimbrough referred to him as "a bad guy" and a practitioner of hoodoo.  Kimbrough claimed that he could throw a pack of cards in the air so that they all stuck on the ceiling. Once the cards were in place, Green could call out the name of a card, and that card would fall to the ground."and he claimed the Green "had a lil' man he kept in his pocket. He take that lil' man out and he dance around in his palm. If Eli got locked up in jail, that lil' man [would] steal the keys for him."  If the little man was not available, Green had a magic bone that allowed him to walk through walls, which he had obtained by boiling a live cat.  Sylvester Oliver had also interviewed older folks who remembered Green as a "bad and dangerous man." who possessed the power to hypnotize people. According to Oliver, Green once went into a cafe and hypnotized all the women as well as the men, and he made "all of the women dance around with their dresses above their heads."  

Oliver also interviewed someone who claimed that Green could change into an animal, (much like the Haitians' feared werewolf loupe garou), eat light bulbs, and disappear at will.

Kimbrough also said that Green would "throw a deck of cards and they'd all stick in the ceiling. He'd name one and it would come down." 

In 1965, Fred McDowell helped Chris Strachwitz locate Eli Green living near Holly Springs in a remote shack without electricity and a long ways from the road.  It was in this setting that Green recorded among the most devastating raw country blues I've ever heard. He recorded Green's performance of two songs, "Brooks Run Into The Ocean and "Bull Dog Blues" with backing from McDowell.  These are "all that remains for posterity of the remarkable Eli Green." Not long after the session, Green was rumored to have gotten drunk and lost his amulet of power. He died the following year and was buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Greenwood Missionary Baptist Church near Lamar in Benton County, Mississippi. His grave remains unmarked as of 2019.


2. A quote from Luther Dickinson: "And it was this guy, Eli Green! He grew up with Charlie Patton and Son House, but then he moved up to the hills. And he taught Fred McDowell a lot of stuff and he taught Burnside and Kimbrough. Kenny Kimbrough remembers him and says that he was a magician, that he had a briefcase that nobody but one person could look at if you opened it and looked in it, it would blind you. He plays like Son House, that primitive, really rockin' stuff."

3. The master's thesis of Sylvester Oliver.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

101 Reasons Not to Stop Someone from Dancing on the Train Tracks

Album Review: 
Tony Manard - Know Why

The above listed site, on the main page, will get you to a place where you can pick up the above album by Tony Manard, who perhaps goes around wanting to "know why" everything is the way it is. I don't "know why" that's the name of his album, but if a man was to use his intuition and intellect and think of what might be on said album, he might not be all that surprised to find six of these songs coming from Manard.  In truth, I'm no Manard expert, but like all plural beings, I possess the ability to profile and judge folks, perhaps cold-read is a more acceptable term in our times. So I make assumptions and speak truth to power despite the offensive potential to a gracious and cordial individual who seems a genuinely kind soul. 

In my own mind, "Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)" is the artist taking on the role of a blue-collar southerner who wants to murder his employer, yet also desires some sort of job security so that he can grow old with a little grace and get a taste of the not-so-complicated twilight of life. There is also a tinge of sympathy for the plight of the unskilled laborer (read: redneck) in today's society whose job prospects are dwindling. While it's not mentioned directly in the song, it's implied that the increasingly diversified population and economy in the southern states is going to require folks to attain a different skill set to maintain their productive status in society. Of course, many of our brothers and sisters find themselves lost and feel as if they have no options, nothing to lose, and many people go the same route of our protagonist, learning the hard way that they had more than most. I think I hear Cecil Yancy back there on a harmony, and Alice Hasen demonstrates her abilities as a catgut scraper too on the opening track.  A full-length video directed and produced by Libby Brawley, one of the newer filmmakers in the Memphis-New York connection, is embedded below. 

The track that stands out to this lifelong admirer of the music of Beck and Leonard Cohen is "Track 6: B-Movie Actor," which contains lyrics that remind me of a love affair between two beatnicks.  The most interesting aspect is the rhythm and the melody and even the vocal. It's a shake up for Manard. Granted, it may be a bit groggy on the highs, but compared to the tone on the rest of the album, I'm actually quite refreshed and invigorated by its steadiness. Manard's skill as an instrumentalist cannot be denied by any sober critic, but I always felt that Robert Jr. Lockwood said it well when he said, "Don't play too much." Unlike a few other places on the album, the business of filling up space is abandoned in favor of pedantic, progressive rhythm on this aural delight, which should not fail to peak the curiosity and interest of Manard's more dedicated following. It is notable for nothing else if not Vincent Manard's closing with the Aztec Death whistle.  It makes you feel as if things will be all right despite a lot having gone wrong.  With no more ado, enjoy the show - TDM

"Mississippi (Why You Gotta Be So Mean?)"
Tony Manard

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Opioid Blues

The Philipsburg Mail, Nov 24, 1899.

"You see the drug was so deceptive that while under its influence I could work and be free from pain, so instead of laying up and letting Nature do her work and cure me, I kept taking the injections until the pain would grow worse when I was completely from under the influence. The first thing I knew I could not do without it. I was compelled to take it night and morning to be at all comfortable. Then as I used it, I was not content to simply have enough to keep me free from pain. But like that fire, when once kindled, it grew in force and strength."

These are the vivid words of a man struggling with opioid addiction, but they do not adorn the pages of a contemporary news outlet, nor do they advance the underlying political platforms promoted in the pages of a modern newspaper. They come from an 1878 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

Americans struggled with their own opioid crisis in the nineteenth century. An estimated 1 in 2001 people were addicted to opioids by the end of the 19th century, not that far off from the approximately 1 in 1542 Americans who were dependent on or addicted to opioids in 2016.

What were the causes of the 19th-century opioid crisis?

Over-prescription by doctors and easy access to opioids—remarkably similar to the causes of the modern epidemic.

In the 19th-century, opium-based patent medicines such as laudanum and paregoric were popular solutions to a wide-range of ills, from coughs, to aches and pains, to diarrhea, to the euphemistic “female complaints.” In fact, many of the opioid addicts during the late 19th-century were women, particularly white women of the middle and upper classes, who became addicted after being prescribed opium-based medicines by their physicians.

These opioid-saturated medicines were widely available, with ads for them appearing in newspapers around the nation. One such medicine, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, was geared toward young children and promised to not only soothe teething babies but also claimed it “corrects acidity of the stomach, relieves wind colic, regulates the bowels, and gives rest, health, and comfort to mother and child.” The fact that it was laced with opiates wasn’t mentioned.

The Civil War introduced a new demographic of opioid addicts: soldiers. Morphine, derived from opium, had been around since the early 1800s, but the introduction of the hypodermic syringe into mainstream medicine around the time of the Civil War made it possible for military doctors to easily treat wounded soldiers without the side effects of orally administered opioids.

When the soldiers returned home, some of them returned addicted to the morphine administered to them in hospitals, while others became addicted after the war as a way to treat the chronic pain resulting from war wounds.

So how was the 19th-century opioid epidemic resolved?

In the late 19th century, medical professionals began to realize the detrimental effects of opioids. “Who is responsible for […] morphine victims?” asked a doctor in an 1892 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He then answered his own question: “The physician and the druggist, most largely.”

As awareness of the dangers grew among doctors and pharmacists, opioids were prescribed less often and became less freely available, which helped lower the number of new addicts. This, combined with state and federal regulatory legislation, helped eventually end the epidemic.

Of course, just because the 19th-century epidemic ended, it didn’t mean opioid abuse was completely eliminated. Abuse continued on a smaller scale, complicated by the introduction in the late 19th century of an opioid marketed as a safe alternative to morphine: heroin.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Note about Fred McDowell from Straw, MN 55105

Earlier this month, I went to the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund post office box and pulled out a package from Mr. Kevin Hahn.  The package claims to have been sent from a place known as Straw, MN 55105.  Of course, this place does not exist.  Nevertheless, inside I found several photographs and the note below: