Monday, April 24, 2017

Hayes McMullan Everyday Seem Like Murder Here

Hayes McMullan
Everyday Seem Like Murder Here
Light in the Attic Records

Gayle Dean Wardlow was traveling in Black communities in his native Mississippi in the mid-sixties looking for old blues 78s when his comment regarding Charlie Patton 78s to Hayes McMullan was answered by Hayes who told Wardlow he knew and played with Patton. Wardlow recorded interviews with McMullan where he discussed experiences with Patton, Willie Brown, Ishman Bracey and others. Also Wardlow recorded performances by him on several occasions, even though McMullan had stopped playing music in the early 1930s, so he had to practice and had some song lyrics written down as he had forgotten them over the years. The interview materials have been incorporated in Wardlow's work on Patton (including the biography of Patton co-authored with the late Stephen Calt and currently being rewritten by Wardlow). Now, a half century after this encounter, Light in the Attic Records has issued a CD of the music from around a half century with some brief interview excerpts, such as what it was like to play a party-dance with Patton, or what songs Patton regularly played.

McMullan was recorded over several occasions and had different instruments to play. Given the fact he had stopped playing decades earlier after his brother had been poisoned, one might hear some rust or tentativeness in some of these performances, but he still had a certain robustness in his music on many of these starting with on an 8-bar blues "Fast Old Train," heard after a short interview segment when he talks about himself. It is followed by a terrific "Look-a Here Woman Blues," a solid blues that musically evokes Tommy Johnson along with the incorporation in the second verse of "No Special Rider Blues."

There are short false starts (like for "Back Water Blues") followed by a fine "Goin' Away Mama Blues," followed by his take on a girl every day theme, "Every Day in the Week," which John Miller, in his astute musical analysis in the accompanying booklet, observes is a rare instance of a Mississippi bluesman recording in A, although his simple self-accompaniment has a strong rhythmic emphasis. Listening to "Hurry Sundown," one is reminded of some of the field recordings from this period in terms of the gristle in the voice and the rhythmic aspect of the playing, although it ends abruptly (issue with tape recorded on perhaps). "Smoke Like Lightning" is influenced by Charlie Patton opening with the "chips flying everywhere" verse, with a Tommy Johnson falsetto although his vocal sounds a bit tentative.

There are so many intriguing things that strike a listen like his variation in his accompaniment of "Goin' Where The Chilly Winds Don't Blow," or his comments of Patton's music and what he was playing with Patton's "High Water" is playing in the background. There is a driving rendition of the parlor guitar piece, Spanish Fandango," a tantalizing fragment of another Patton number "Hitch Up My Pony," and the title selection with the underlying triplet feel in the accompaniment showing kinship to Skip James' "Special Rider Blues," as he sings about packing up and going. Another variation on getting a girl everyday of the week is "Gonna Get Me A Woman (Aka Sunday Woman)," with a simple accompaniment.

The repertoire is fascinating and includes "Kansas City Blues," a rendition of the Jim Jackson "hit" that Jackson recorded several times and Patton covered changing the location to Alabama. Also he has a unique take in "Bo Weevil Blues," a common theme and then two short takes of "'Bout a Spoonful," with some very nimble picking. "No Triflin' Kid," is a short performance with some Patton like beating on the guitar and a Tommy Johnson falsetto, followed by an instrumental, "Delta Walk," and his robust self-accompaniment of "Roll and Tumble."

The closing "I'm Goin', Don't You Wanna Go?," might suggest Furry Lewis at places and the lyric has him incorporating "hurry sundown, let tomorrow come," and hearing "Billy and Stagolee arguin' in the dark." McMullan turned down the opportunity to go North to record with Patton (and Son House and Willie Brown) and one can only imagine what he might have sounded if he recorded then. The performances, with some imperfections and tentativeness, stand up well a half century later and show what a strong Delta blues musician he was. Rather than be part of the blues scene, McMullan was a church deacon, involved in civil rights work and trying to get blacks registered to vote as well as worked on a plantation. He did perform for a 1979 Mississippi Public Television documentary narrated by B.B. King. In this writer's humble opinion, "Everyday Seem Like Murder Here," is the major country blues release of the past couple years.

I purchased this. Here is "Fast Old Train."

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