Sippican Cottage

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I Got a Black Cat Bone

You can’t really be sure you’re getting over with an audience until they make you play the same song twice.

That’s the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1960. They wanted a taste of that pure Chicago blues sound, and man, they got it. Muddy Waters was at the height of his power just then. That’s a great band. Otis Spann on piyanee. James Cotton on the mouth organ. Francis Clay is the sinister drummer, and he’s percolating.

Otis Spann was an interesting person. He’s more or less the greatest Blues piano player ever. He was born, amusingly if you’re a Donald Fagen fan, at the foot of Mount Belzoni. Otis’ father was a piano player named Friday Ford, a blues name the equal of which I couldn’t possibly come up with if you chained me to a Royal typewriter for a hundred years. His mother played guitar, and his stepfather, who gave him his last name, was either a preacher who played music, or a musician who preached. Otis died young, in 1970, and slept in an unmarked grave in Illinois for nearly thirty years. Ain’t that the blues, right there? Some fans got some money together and plopped some granite in the cemetery in 1999, but ain’t no grave gonna hold that body down anyway.

It’s interesting, but Otis’ replacement, Pinetop Perkins, was from Belzoni, too. I performed once with Pinetop, in a cathouse. That puts me in very select company. Since Pinetop lived for 97 years, and did two shows a day for nearly every damn one of them, I estimate that only 73% of the adult population of the United States ever performed with him. I drank more Johnny Walker Red with him than all of them combined, though. It’s been more than thirty years since that night, and the headache is finally starting to fade.

Wikipedia says Pinetop at first played the guitar, but got stabbed by a chorus girl, and the tendon damage made it impossible to fret the chords properly, so he switched to piano. Pinetop told me it was the chorus girl’s boyfriend. You decide which is the better story, and go with it. Pinetop did.

Tag: blues

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