• Crawling King Snake by John Lee Hooker

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    So it shouldn’t be a total loss, here’s John Lee Hooker at his best, singing about that amniote, ectothermic vertebrate.

    Mr. Hooker is from Vance and Clarksdale, near my hometown.

    That’s where he first saw king snakes and–I’m just guessing here–thought they might be an effective metaphor.


  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 2

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Trump offers to meet with North Korea leader under the right conditions.  Even says he would be “honored” to meet him. (Washington Post) 

    Why the sweet talk about one of the world’s most noxious humans?

    Comment: My guess is that Trump and his aides are trying to give Kim Jong Un a face-saving way out, even as the US ratchets up the pressure. Trump would never meet with Kim unless the deal itself was already set.

    It’s all a long shot in any case. Everything hinges on China, and the only reason China will pressure Pyongyang is the now-credible fear that, if Beijing does not act, Washington will.

    Who knows if the whole thing will disintegrate? Still, Trump and his team have handled this carefully, so far, and have managed to assert leverage from threats that were simply impossible under Obama and the Bush administration (which was tied down in Iraq).

    To put it simply: Trump is coupling his coercive diplomacy with a carrot.

    Brexit: Brits and EU off to a bad start. Strong words at Downing St. meeting between PM Theresa May and European Commission Pres. Jean-Claude Juncker (BBC)

    The UK will not enter into “a briefing war” with the European Commission over Brexit talks, Tory sources have said.

    It follows reports in a German paper of repeated clashes between Theresa May and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at a Downing Street dinner.

    EU sources claimed UK misunderstanding of the talks process, and ignorance about how Brussels works, could lead to no deal being agreed on the UK’s exit. –BBC

    Comment: These will be complicated, difficult negotiations. Each is a huge trading partner of the other. But the EU does not want to set an example that it is easy to leave the union. Nor does it want to see EU nations, currently living in the UK, forced out.

     Dozens of Putin’s opponents killed over the years. USA Today says those “cast suspicion on Vladimir Putin”

    What do they have in common? They are among 38 prominent Russians who are victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths since the beginning of 2014, according to a list compiled by USA TODAY and British journalist Sarah Hurst, who has done research in Russia.

    The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin power brokers who had a falling out — often over corruption — and 13 military or political leaders involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including commanders of Russian-backed separatist forces.. –USA Today

    Comment: Looks like a previous leader passed along his advice.

     Why are US corporate earnings so high when the economy looks weak, CNBC asks.  Short Answer: International Earnings in a strong global economy.

     How is Europe’s problem with Islamic terror going? Not Well.

    The US State Department just issued a travel alert for the whole continent. (Reuters)

      Just heard Elvin Bishop singing “I’m Old School,” with the great line,

    Don’t send me no email.

    Send me a female.





  • Torn between two lovers: Strange story and the perfect blues song to go with it

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    I hate it when this happens.


    Blues song, dedicated to the miscreant’s wife.

    “Another Mule Kickin’ in Your Stall,” is supposed to be metaphorical.

    In this case, though, it’s all-too-real. Elvin Bishop does a great, laid-back version of this Muddy Waters song. There are several great versions, if you are interested. Junior Wells has a fine rendition, featuring his harmonica. So does the great blues piano player, Otis Spann, here. Bobby “Blue” Bland does a growling version here.

    Let’s go with Elvin’s easy, wistful version.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, April 21

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     ISIS terror in Paris’ Champs-Élysées

    Comment: Why would Islamic terrorists strike so close to the election, in such prominent spot? What’s the logic?

    They surely know it will increase support for the most hardline anti-Islam candidates. They must calculate that such candidates will strengthen their own radical basic in poor, bitter, poorly-integrated areas in France and across Europe. That is, they want to drive a wedge between French Muslims and the rest of the country, hoping the Muslims will then side with ISIS.

    The high-profile attack also signals strength to their supporters around the world. They are saying, in effect, that we may be losing their territorial Caliphate in Iraq/Syria, but we can still cause death and destruction to the Infidels. Of course, all non-Muslims and perhaps even Muslims who are not in ISIS are infidels.

    Meanwhile, Europe itself is in the midst of a cultural, political, and organizational crisis, besieged on several fronts with no clear leaders and confusion over what to do about Islamic immigrants, Russia, the EU, and Turkey.

     US intel agencies reexaming leaks, could indict Julian Assange and WikiLeaks (CBS)

    They are also engaged in a major hunt for the sources of multiple devastating releases of information, some to WikiLeaks, some to news outlets.

     VERY prominent financial exec says there are “some warning signs [in the economy] that are getting darker” (Bloomberg)

    The comments came from Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager (over $5 trillion). Fink stressed how much depends on corporate earning and political action in Washington.

    The stock market needs validation that U.S. corporate earnings will stay strong and that the policies of President Donald Trump regarding taxes, regulation and infrastructure will advance in Congress in order to move higher, Fink said.

    “If we don’t have earnings validated in these higher P/Es [price/earnings ratios] we could adjust downward 5 or 10 percent from here,” Fink said. “If the administration does succeed on some of these items then the market will then reassert itself going higher.” –Larry Fink, interviewed by Bloomberg News

     Fine piece on the Mississippi Delta blues, local food, and other attractions in Clarksdale and points south  (Jackson, MS, Clarion-Ledger)

    It comments on the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, and a lifelong favorite of mine, Chamoun’s Rest Haven (Lebanese food) in Clarksdale.

    Comment: The omission of Abe’s Bar-B-Q is a serious error of omission that should be corrected immediately by the Clarion-Ledger.

    People don’t go to Abe’s for the view or white table cloths. They go for some serious pulled-pork sandwiches.

    In other Mississippi news: Gov. Phil Bryant vetoes a budget line-item spending $50,000 on a PR campaign telling people wild hogs are dangerous. His point: they are dangerous, but you should already know that unless you are an idiot. He was more polite.



  • OUTSTANDING new blues song: Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, “Please Don’t Leave Me Here”

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    The song–amusingly for me–is about being stuck inside Chicago and yearning to go back to the Mississippi Delta. You gotta love any song that not only mentions Clarksdale but also Itta Bena!

    Taj does most of the singing, Keb’ pitches in, and they kill it–the lyrics, the singing, the music, all of it.

    Taj and Keb’ are going on tour together, and it’s an inspired pairing.

    This one comes with the famous Lipson’s Money-Back Guarantee.



  • RIP, Bluesman James Cotton, legend on the harmonica

    Here is Cotton playing Muddy’s blues standard, Got My Mojo Working (1966, at the height of their powers).

    Listen for Cotton’s brief, hard-driving solos.

    Muddy had his pick of musicians, and he chose the best: Otis Spann on piano, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Willie Dixon on bass, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums, and first Little Walter Jacobs and then James Cotton on harmonica.

    Here’s the NYT obituary for Mr. Cotton. Here’s the one in Rolling Stone.

    Born to sharecroppers in Tunica, Mississippi, north of Clarksdale, in 1935, he learned harmonica from his mother, who used it to imitate chickens and trains.

    But it was Sonny Boy Williamson II who really taught him the instrument. Williamson, actually named Rice Miller, was one of several harmonica players who named themselves “Sonny Boy” after the great blues harmonica player from the 1930s. Williamson was a star on “King Biscuit Time,” just across the Mississippi River from Tunica, and young James Cotton loved hearing him. Better yet, Williamson began mentoring Cotton.

    “I wanted to be just like Sonny Boy,” [Cotton] recalled. “I watched every move he made, every word he said.”

    “If he played it tonight,” Mr. Cotton added, “I played it tomorrow.” –James Cotton in the New York Times

    By the early 1950s, Cotton was in Memphis, working with Howlin’ Wolf and recording his own songs at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios.

    Later, he would join the great bluesmen in Chicago–most of them, like Muddy, Wolf, and Cotton, natives of the Mississippi Delta, weaned on acoustic blues, now creating the urban form of electric blues.

    Cotton would go on to win all the awards blues music had to offer.

    James Cotton, Rest in Peace.


    To me, the most moving memorial for blues greats we have lost is “Six Strings Down.” Robert Cray wrote it after his lost his friend Stevie Ray Vaughn.

    Heaven done called another blues singer back home

    The song goes on to name so many of the greats.

    Here’s a version led by the great Hubert Sumlin, the guitarist in Howlin’ Wolf’s band. He’s got oxygen tubes in his nose! But he’s laying down the blues for his departed friends. It’s all the more touching knowing that he has now joined them.

    Special bonus question: Behind Jimmy Vaughan is Robert Cray (with the black and white guitar). What was his first movie? His role was uncredited but, I guarantee you, you’ve seen it.

    If you need a hint, here it is in two words: “My man!”



  • The quintessential blues lament: Born Under a Bad Sign

    Some phrases capture an essential truth.

    That’s why Rodney Dangerfield’s “I can’t get no respect” is so great. It is a universal human cry, and his whole persona manages to convey it.

    It is the comedic version of Death of a Salesman’s Willie Loman. As Willie’s wife says of him “attention must be paid.”

    Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.

    –Linda Loman speaking of her husband, Willie Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

    Blues music is filled with such universal cries from the heart. One that particularly resonates is Albert King’s 1967 classic, Born Under a Bad Sign (lyrics by William Bell, music by Booker T. Jones).  Albert King’s version is a landmark in electric-blues history, leavening the self-pity with humor: “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” (The original recording is here.)

    Here is Joe Bonamassa, one of today’s best blues/rock guitarists, with backup singers that remind me of Ray Charles’ “Raylettes.”

  • A musical break, funny and bittersweet: “Mean Church People”

    M.S.G. The Acoustic Blues Trio sings “Mean Church People”

    Their style is called “Piedmont Blues,” which mixes traditional blues and ragtime rhythms. The trio plays both new and old songs.

    This one is original, targeting the people who stand guard at the church door and shun people with the “wrong” makeup or skin color.