12 October 2016
Robert Lee "Lil' Poochie" Watson & Hezekiah Early - Natchez Burnin'
// Broke And Hungry Records //
It's the air, or the electricity in the air, or the loessy scent of countryness...the smell of cotton and kudzu, deep loamy soil, rust and dried blood, sweat and barbecue smoke, worn rope, gasoline, hot metal, sun-dried wood, weed, whiskey, and lathered mule. Mississippi smells of The South, and whatever you think that is.
It's the Mississippiness of Mississippi, if you will. You want to talk about having Sense of Place? Mississippi is that place. And southern Mississippi? It's got something else. It's got east Louisiana.
Hometown of Guitarist/vocalist Lil' Poochie Watson and Hezekiah Early, drum and harp, Natchez, Mississippi sits a bridge and river away from Louisiana, just down around the bend from Jerry Lee Lewis' Ferriday, La.
Natchez has a little casino down by the Mississippi river, and they got Jughead's Fish Fry, and all the rest of what every other small, southern, river-side town has in one form or another: Hard-worn roots. Dirt under its nails. A chipped front tooth. Trotlines. Dog runs. Motor Court. Trash around the tracks. Hardwood. Hard time. Hard music. Big love.
Let's talk about Natchez
Natchez was hardly touched by the civil war, but for one incident in 1851, involving the Union ironclad Essex which fired on the town in September of that year. One old fellow had a heart attack, and shrapnel killed seven-year-old Rosalie Beekman.
Now, you know the story about the fire, right?
The great Natchez Rhythm Club fire.
A gawd-awful, awful, unspeakably horrible thing.
This fire in Natchez, Ms in 1940 at the Rhythm Club killed two-hundred and nine people. That same fire inspired the dark blues standard, The Natchez Burning.
The southern Mississippi Civil Rights era was what one would expect of the horror of Nineteen-Sixties Mississippi. In 1964, 25-year-old Joe Edwards disappeared, and was believed, according to evidence given by a white pastor and a white banker, to have been murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1966, the United States House Un-American Activities Committee published a list of Klan members in Natchez. The local paper mill alone had 70 members. Cops on down and local leaders on up were well-known members.
Terrorist groups like The Cottonmouth Moccasin Gang (whose members murdered Ben Chester White in an effort to draw Martin Luther King to Natchez so they could assassinate him) and The Mississippi Whitecaps, made up mostly of rural farmers, had Natchez and southwest Mississippi locked down.
These weren't the only racist gangs in south-west Mississippi. There were White Knights, Original Knights, United Klans of America, the Silver Dollar Group, and others all intent on putting their willfully ig'nunt dumbasswards racist shit-heeled boot down on the necks of black folks just for existing. But I digress...sort of...
In 1967, George Metcalf and Wharlest Jackson were blown up in separate unsolved car bombing incidents, and Natchez was the center of Klan activity for Mississippi. Poochie Watson was eighteen years old in 1969, and growing up around the piney woods of Fayette, Mississippi.
When Charles Evers, Medgar Ever's older brother, became, in Fayette, the first black mayor since reconstruction in Mississippi, Hezekiah Early was 35.
Look, nobody really needs me to recap a litany of The South's creeping southern dread and horror as entertainment schtick.
I simply propose that this history is in the flavor of Poochie Watson and Hezekiah Early's sound, filtered thru Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and the vile reality of a lot of other places not necessarily in "the south." The past isn't even past. You know that. It's not the only flavor. There's a mess of Jerry Lee Lewis, seasoned and blackened with creole beats, the bite of a cold beer found in the back of the fridge on a hot day, T-Model Ford playing on the car radio, and white whiskey.
Watson and Early's town, with its hard rurality fronted by the Natchez Trace, and backed by The River, lent itself to a particularly virulent, low, and nasty culture, hidden beneath the veneer of a pretty little Mississippi River town.
Which is the kind of culture that often leads to a good party. As the saying goes, "Mississippi: Born to party, forced to work."
Poochie Watson and Hezekiah Early know how to party. Now, that's not to say this is some weak blooze party music, on the contrary. They'll break your heart one song, and make you shake it til you break it the next.
Recorded in three hours, under the auspices of Broke And Hungry Records strongman Jeff Konkel at Delta Music Institute at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, Natchez Burnin' is blues played with a knife in its front pocket and a bottle of rye in the back.
This is blues that deserves a 180gm slab with a gatefold jacket, or better yet, to be issued as a 78. I don't think there has been a tougher blues recording made since T-Model Ford passed on.
Here's the run-down:
1. I Got My Eyes On You is Poochie Watson's raw funky pop blues rocker. It runs akin to boogies by Greenville's T-Model Ford, or Booba Barnes.
2. Shooby Dooby Doo is a Hezekiah Early number. A sweet but deceptive little song. Part street corner pop song to whistle, part lecherous blues. Nicely balanced. Early's occasional ululation, or warble at the end of a couple lines...is dirty, is what it is. His drums, hot like Tabasco and poppin' like corn, strollin' with Watson's nighttime bbq party guitar-style down a highway by the river.
3. I Feel So Bad is a Chick Willis song that makes for a good slow soundtrack to some hunchin'.
4. Mama Don't Love Papa is another Poochie Watson song. A spare, lean lament. Hezekiah Early's drums patter a ghostly heartbeat, his harp a howl in the wind, Watson's vocals raw, and real, his guitar primal and heartbroken.
This is blues.
5. Baby, Please Don't Go - Built and popularized by Big Joe Williams on his nine-string guitar, and covered by Muddy Waters, AC/DC, Them, Al Kooper, The 'Stones, and Mose Allison, John Lee Hooker, and Jake Bugg, among at least a bajillion others, Watson and Early bring it, wring it out, and make it their own.
6. Ain't That Just Like A Woman - Another Louis Jordan rocker, and another raucous howler. This song played by these guys in a packed room of dancers has gotta be illegal in parts of Alabama. Come on now! Give the drummer some!
7. My Girl Josephine by Antoine "Fats" Domino really shows off Watson and Early's Lousiana'd rock and roll flavour, with Hezekiah Early's harp taking the place of an accordion, his drumming washboard-metronomic, Watson's gitar scratchin' like a chicken, this New Orleans boogie rocks the yard. #ROWR!
8. Just A Little Bit by Rosco Gordon - Hezekiah Early's drumming is swinging Natchez, leaning and crackling like a hot house on fire, Louisiana-style, baby. His harp a sharp shout, vocals rending the air, and Poochie's guitar sending out the call to all the ladies to come on home and give Poochie just a little bit.
9. Late In The Evening is Traditional, and has been recorded by Robert Pete Williams, and Ray Charles. Watson and Early's version falls closer to the former, than the latter. It retains the Williams flavor, but kicks it with Brother Ray's controlled burn.
10. Mr. Charlie - I've heard variations of this song of course, but the first time I ever gave it serious consideration was in Charlotte, North Carolina, when I saw T-Model Ford play it.
The bar T-Model played, a classic brass rail and fern bar, with the usual capacity of old white blues dudes in attendance. A couple of the fellahs were up front, drunk and ruddy-faced, asking loudly for Mr. Ford to, "play that one song you do...where...you kick that woman in the ass! PLAY THAT...one song where YOU....kick that woman...here's some MONEY!" and he stuffed his fat, soft fist into the tip jar.
T-Model Ford looked annoyed at the man and said something the likes of, "Oh, yes sir, boss man, Yessir, Mr. Charlie" then started playing Mr. Charlie. It no doubt went right over the oaf's head, but I caught it. It was well played and it slayed. I don't remember him playing I'm Insane that night at all.
But back to the lecture at hand, Poochie Watson's plaintive vocals bust this song open. His guitar, like Early's harp, is interpretive, tasteful, supportive, and economical, much like Early's drums. A lesson in the raw power of simplicity.
11. Flip, Flop, and Fly - Big Joe Turner, baby! The original boss of the blues. What Turner had in smoothness, Watson and Early equals in raw early rock boogie fire. Primal pop rock.
12. Somebody Changed The Lock - Louis Jordan- This is Hezekiah Early's solo jam. Homespun vocals, homemade acoustic guitar, all you need for some straight up blues. A lost art, perfected.
Robert "Poochie" Watson & Hezekiah Early's album Natchez Burnin' is currently available to pre-order direct from Broke & Hungry Records. Get it.