Go to Homepage   Mississippi Fred McDowell: I Do Not Play No Rock 'n' Roll

  Crescent Blues Movie Views

Varese Records (CD), ASIN B00005R8DP
Despite Fred McDowell's claims to the contrary, he does play that rock and roll, or it might be more accurate to say rock and roll plays him. He "makes a guitar say what he wants it to say: hope y'all like it." His slide guitar stings, cuts, jabs at now classic melodies. Where Mother Maybelle scratched, McDowell slices and stabs quickly and cleanly. Muddy Watters and the Rolling Stones -- as well as dozens of other purveyors of rock 'n' roll -- covered his songs.

CD: Mississipi Fred McDowell, I don't play no rock and rollYou can easily evaluate classic blues performances like his "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" or "61 Highway" on the basis of what couldn't exist without them, like Led Zeppelin's "Bron Yr Aur." However, the influences of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters permeate this record, and no latter day critic can truly distinguish as to which of the three carries the greater weight, despite the oceans of other influences that exist between, before and after them.

The solo flourishes of "Kokomo Me Baby," containing accents of New Orleans and Bahamas played at hyper-Chicago tempo, should be enough to inspire legions of 2002 guitar blues devotees with its sheets of melancholy. "That's All Right Baby" capitalizes on a soul vocal tour de force with a solo that bites, slashes, lashes out and insinuates with a series of hard left hooks. The same slashing tone accuses and insinuates in "Red Cross Store" and in what may be McDowell's most popular moment, the indelible "You Gotta Move," (equally indelibly covered by the Rolling Stones on Sticky Fingers).

The original release also contains one of the top five most frightening songs ever recorded in any genre: "Jesus Is On The Mainline." I can only think of two that might qualify as more frightening: "Whipping Post" and "Hellhound On My Trail." The studio version of "Whipping Post" by the Allman Brothers Band and "Hellhound On My Trail" by Robert Johnson, brim with brimstone, whiplash searing and souls already scorched by fear of hell. In contrast, "Jesus Is On The Mainline," while equally full of the intensity of evangelism, proves just as demanding in the sting of what might as well be a single-word chorus of "Call!" followed by the diminished syllables "him up and tell him."

With respect to I Don't Play No Rock 'n' Roll itself, Allman Brothers Band Live At Fillmore East (the original first set with Duane Allman and, frankly, all Duane Allman-version Allman Brothers band albums) and all Elmore James offer listeners distinctive lessons in not only the history but the bootyshakaliciousness of a truly distinctive horny slide guitar. At its bluesiest, the slide captures the sound of that first drop of whiskey hitting the tongue. At its horniest, it evokes the sound of the hand going down that red dress. At its most rebuking, it reverberates with the sound of a wake-up staccato slap and the chug of a train. I Do Not Play No Rock 'n' Roll delivers it all live, all at once and at its most indelible.

Michael Pacholski

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