"Music is a higher revelation than philosophy."

-- composer Ludwig van Beethoven

Music reviews

kaleidosound by Ken Gaillot

Blind Boy Fuller: East Coast Piedmont Style

The Blues Experience

Artist Blind Boy Fuller
Title East Coast Piedmont Style
Dates 1935 - 1939
Label Columbia (Roots'n'Blues series)

North Carolina, the 1930s. A street musician plays the blues for local tobacco factory workers and city crowds of Durham. Thanks to new-fangled recording technology, this link in the blues experience was preserved for posterity. Columbia here reissues much of Blind Boy Fuller's work as part of its Roots'n'Blues series.

Fulton Allen (1907 - 1941) went blind by age 22, and became a street musician to help support himself and his young wife. A local record store owner recorded him and sold the recordings to the American Record Company (ARC), which released the songs on the Vocalion label. Not believing the name Fulton Allen could sell records, the store owner rechristened Allen "Blind Boy Fuller."

The sound here is typical of 1930s blues recordings: mostly just Fuller on vocals and guitar, occasionally accompanied by washboard, harmonica or another guitar.

In stark contrast to the moody, personal blues of contemporary Robert Johnson, Fuller's songs are mainly upbeat, party blues, closer to the later rollicking blues of Willie Dixon. The typical "I'm a Rattlesnakin' Daddy" is perhaps the best song in this collection, and other rocking tunes include "Rag Mama Rag," "Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind" and "You've Got Something There."

Fuller does have his share of the blues though, in "Ain't It a Cryin' Shame" and "Walking My Troubles Away:"

I got coffee grinds in my coffee
Boll weevils in my meal
Tacks in my shoes keep on sticking my heel
I keep on walking, walking my troubles away

The blues is not so much a music form as a contagious disease. The basic elements of the blues, whether pieces of lyrics, or riffs, or bass lines, can be heard in all blues recordings from the earliest to today's. Blues artists borrow -- are infected by -- these elements, building on them, reworking them, enhancing them. No blues artist is truly original, but the best make it seem like it.

Fuller here borrows from many sources, including Blind Willie McTell (what exactly is it about blindness and the blues?). In turn, Fuller's songs can be heard in later musician's work. Howlin Wolf's "Sitting on Top of the World" sounds much like Fuller's "I'm Climbin' On Top of the Hill." "Cryin' Shame" was redone by many artists, including country singer Merle Haggard. Lightnin' Hopkins' style often sounds similar to Fuller's slower pieces.

Sexual innuendo plays a leading role in Fuller's lyrics. "Rattlesnakin' Daddy," "Sweet Honey Hole," "Black and Tan" and "Big Leg Woman Gets My Pay" are all lighthearted frolics. The recurring blues theme of infidelity gets its play here as well, in "Keep Away From My Woman," "Cat Man Blues" and "Untrue Blues."

I rattle to the left
I rattle to the right
My sweet little woman says I can rattle all night
Cuz I'm a rattlesnakin' daddy