Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sonny & Brownie

In a comment on my last post, friend of Mighty Toy Cannon, Bob Hicks from Art Scatter, tells of his encounter with bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. That great story prompted me to dig up a few videos of the pair.

The first is Sonny and Brownie on Pete Seeger’s “Rainbow Quest” playing the classic blues tune, “Key to the Highway.”

I discovered Sonny and Brownie from an album pulled from a record store remainder bin when I was sixteen. I ended up buying four or five more albums and spent many hours listening to Sonny’s harmonica blowing and signature whooping, and Brownie’s guitar and voice. When I listen to them now, I realize what a deep influence Brownie had on my own guitar playing. I think I also learned a little about playing the harmonica just by listening to Sonny (though there’s no way I can get close to his distinctive sound).

Again from "Rainbow Quest," this video superbly demonstrates Sonny Terry's whoopin' and falsetto hollerin' and great rhythmic blowing.

Two more tunes, "Red River Blues" and "Crow Jane." (One of these days, I'll come back with a post with Skip James singing "Crow Jane.")

Trivia: Sonny Terry appeared on Broadway in the original cast of "Finian's Rainbow." Brownie McGhee also appeared on Broadway in Tennessee Williams' play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in the mid-50's.

More Trivia: Not to end on a sour note, but I've heard tell that despite their great musical partnership, Sonny and Brownie actually hated each other's guts. I read somewhere (in a Muddy Waters biography, perhaps) that over the course of an entire European blues tour, the pair did not exchange a single word off stage. The two eventually broke up the partnership.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nobel Prize for Pete Seeger?

One of the more touching scenes from recent Inaugural events was the concert at the Lincoln Memorial. For members of the Mighty Toy Cannon household, the highlight was the appearance of a hale and hearty Pete Seeger, singing "This Land is Your Land," including Woody Guthrie's more leftist verses.

The man deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, there is a movement and a website dedicated to getting Mr. Seeger that nomination. You can read more about that and about Seeger in this Huffington Post article. I also recommend the 2007 documentary, "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" if you get a chance.

My father-in-law is a delightfully warm, gregarious and caring man of whom I am quite fond--even though he is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. The irony is that he's also a huge Pete Seeger fan from way back. His love of belting out folk tunes with family and friends must overshadow all dissonance with Seeger's politics. His children and grandchildren have turned out to be liberals--some flaming more than others--perhaps due to having listened to "Union Maid" too many times.

YouTube has a treasure trove of videos from Pete Seeger's public TV show "Rainbow Quest," which was aired regionally (I'm presuming upstate New York) in the mid-60s. You can find at least a dozen videos from the show including guests such as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee; Richard and Mimi Farina; Jean Ritchie; Elizabeth Cotton; Mississippi John Hurt ... oh man, I'm going to have to get busy posting some of these!

This is one of my favorite videos. It starts with Pete introducing his guests, Johnny Cash and June Carter. Johnny then sings the "I am a Pilgrim" by the great Merle Travis. (Which reminds me to dig up some Merle clips for a later post). Johnny seems remarkably twitchy throughout this episode of "Rainbow Quest." I assume he's either high or itching to get so--keep an eye on his Beatle-boot clad feet.