Part 6: Muddy Water Blues

Continued from part 5.

Needless to say that for the little village, she was a fallen woman and was treated as such.  She left as soon as she could.  My mother had to grow up in the same town with the stigma of being the result of an unholy union.  How kind of those good people.  Today, that type of story is commonplace.  People just take another breathe and continue on.

Grandmother did jab the gossips with one more insolence.  There was a house of ill repute in the village or across the river.  The madam of that establishment drove a white convertible with red seat covers.  One of the next times granny came back to town, she was driving a car that looked just like it.  There were few people in town who could afford such an automobile.  It was a good slap in the face.

Speaking of Ohio, one of my favorite movie cowboy heroes was from Cincinnati, Ohio.  His name was Leonard Franklin Slye.  He originally started off in a musical group that became eventually famous as the Sons of the Pioneers.  Singing westerns were becoming popular in the country and he and his group moved out to Hollywood.  Soon everybody in the country would know him as Roy Rogers.  The coupling of movie cowboy dress and a folk music tradition that originated in the eastern states would soon be known as country and western.  The first recording that I bought with money I saved bit by bit from my weekly allowance was a Sons of the Pioneers recording.

Time to move around some more.  At some point my first wife felt that she would like to move back to New York State where she had grown up.  We didn’t move back to her home town, but not too far away either.  We tried a few places and finally ended up in Syracuse.  I found a nice job teaching guitar and she worked for a publisher as a proofreader. We found a place to live that wasn’t too expensive.  It was something of a rooming house and as the rooms weren’t very large, we chose to have separate rooms.  I finally settled with one in the attic.  My guitar playing would bother fewer people and I had a fantastic view of the street out front.  I also like to sleep in the cold so I wasn’t too unhappy on winter nights.  The room was usually warm during the day.

I had the same type of job as I had before.  My main focus was classic guitar, but I taught some popular music too.  I had always wanted to take guitar lessons from somebody that hadn’t come to music by way of written notation and had reached a high level of development.  One of the guys working in the school more or less fit that profile so I worked with him for a couple of months.  I was especially interested to understand how he conceived music.  I quickly found out that he knew where the notes were on the neck better than I did.  Much classic guitar music is written for the bottom and middle of the neck.  I was very clear about the logic of the neck as one went up the fingerboard, but had never spent too much time in the upper realms.  People playing advanced popular styles very frequently use those areas.

There was another very clever fellow in town that had analyzed the neck from a different perspective and came up with some very interesting unifying ideas as to the logic of the fingerboard.  He greatly influenced my thinking.  These were experiences and ideas that I wouldn’t have had if I had stayed around the conservatory.

A lot of people didn’t like the climate very much, but I really liked it.  Despite some disadvantages, each season had its pleasures.  For the most part I found that I could get around on a bicycle so I ceased to own a motor vehicle.  I walked and rode a bike.  It was a healthier lifestyle. Around the end of November it became a winter wonderland.

As time went on my wife and I decided that we had entirely different objectives in life and remained friends while we pursued separate directions.  We’re still in contact.

At some point a young French woman came to Syracuse on a scholarship and ended up taking a room in our house.  She was getting a master’s degree in gerontology in the sociology department.  She joined the house. The occupants frequently did things together in small and large groups.  Gradually we got to know one another.  I occasionally read her papers for her.  The sentence structure in French is not like in English.  Sometimes it almost seems backwards.  However, things went as they sometimes do and I found myself in a relationship again.  So when it came time for her to leave, it seemed like that had come to an end.  She could work as a doctor in France and would have to take extra courses in medical school to do the same thing in the States.  She was also unclear as to how she felt about me, so I decided that I would just have to suffer through.  It wasn’t an uncommon story.  As the saying goes: You have to roll with the punches.  Time to get on with life.

Continue to part seven.

Some background on “Muddy Water Blues” from Elvin (April 2016):

My source of “Muddy Water Blues” is a “Best Of Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry” album dating from 1960. They had recorded it earlier. The title is not so surprising as it just says that I would rather do something disgusting rather than have something more disagreeable happen. The credits say that it is traditional. These things were probably invented by somebody, but the origin is forgotten or unknown. In their performance they sandwiched in another blues to make the piece longer. I chose not to do that.

It is worth noting that both musicians were handicapped. Brownie McGee had a wooden leg and Sonny Terry was blind. In those days handicapped people were frequently given an instrument so they could have some way of earning a living. It wasn’t just in the black community. One of the best guitarists of the last century, Doc Watson, was blind. When I was a kid in Orlando, there were a couple of blind guitarists walking around with a tin cup attached to the guitar singing for a living. They weren’t very good.

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