Archive for the ‘Guide’ Category

The Shaman’s Touch: “Giving Ease” in Post-modern Times

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

A theory of evolutionary psychology suggests there may be real curative powers underlying the techniques of the faith healer, or shaman as known to tribal peoples. The theory suggests a time when humans were reduced to a small population by stresses, and in that time certain individuals who had a positive response to shamanistic techniques conferred on them a survival advantage, which explains not only the so-called placebo effect, but our response to faith healing and shamanistic techniques. This evolutionary event may have been responsible for getting the whole shamanistic ball of wax rolling.

It is not just a matter of making the sick feel better about being sick. It suggests there are actual curative powers to altering our mental chemistry through exposure to shamanistic ritual that result in actual physiological changes that prevent or attack disease. It suggest that we have built-in responses that the shaman evokes.

The way the shaman evokes a response in people is completely different than the Western tradition of medicine and psychotherapy. In a reversal of roles from Western psychotherapy, the shaman becomes expressive and the patient becomes quiet. In psychotherapy, the therapist listens while the patient becomes expressive. (This is noted paper by Dow). This reversal is the most important quality of shamanistic healing for us to recognize. It reveals how materialistic, hierarchical, anti-holistic our view of psychology is. How even thoughts and dreams are treated as objects to be dissected, categorized and analyzed. Yet, there is no real proof that by analyzing the makeup of our thoughts and feelings does any good, or does as much as the shaman’s touch. To be analytic, to prompt the patient to expression, interferes with the transference of “magical” energy from the shaman to the quiescent and receptive patient.

This magic is no less fanciful than the electric feeling flirting lovers get when they touch. Our mental processes may be the result of chemical balances and imbalances in the brain, but they are still a mental chemistry manipulable from outside, through perceptual influences—what we see, what we hear, body language, facial expressions, the model of other’s minds we build in our own. The process by which the shaman operates remotely on the patient is by engaging in expressive actions that give rise to a transference of this force to the patient’s mind. It may well be that Western psychotherapy actually blocks the process by which the shamanistic techniques act on the body through the mind. If one is busy yakking about one’s problems, distracted from the expressions of the shaman, how can one be receptive to such changes in mental chemistry?

It is with this knowledge and framework that you should watch the film Tommie Bass. If things pan out, we may learn that the shaman’s touch is not a fantasy or a placebo, but a true healing touch.

Streets of Crawfish: A Celebration of Cajun Culture

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

The folkstreamers out there may find this festival right up their alley. It sounds like good times and good eats, and more than that, it celebrates the influence of Cajun culture on the Delta area. The festival will be held on April 30th of this year in Leland, MS, also home to the Highway 61 Blues Museum.

Festival chairman Billy Johnson said the “The south Louisiana natives who have migrated to the Mississippi Delta are a big part of the Delta and a big part of our culture.” He tells how they “took old buckshot farmland and showed other farmers how to grow rice on it.” So, if you’re interested in exploring Cajun, Creole and related cultures of the deep south, try Dry Wood exploring the celebrations of black Creoles in French Louisiana, Mosquitoes and High Water examining the Spanish-speaking “Islenos” who live in the bayous east of New Orleans or Gravel Springs Fife and Drum the music of a community in northwest Mississippi.

The Delta Democrat times published an article on the festival with all the details.

Streets of Crawfish
By KERI HOLT – Delta Democrat times

Crawfish, crawfish and more crawfish will be served up hot and spicy straight off the streets of Leland on April 30.

The party band of the South, The KrackerJacks and the hot, young Cajun band, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, will set the beat for the giant crustacean feast, and various family activities are planned to complete the Leland Crawfish Festival.

“We are going to have a big party in the street downtown in Leland,” said Billy Johnson, festival chairman. “The Lost Bayou Ramblers are from Lafayette, La., and their French lyrics and danceable Cajun beat are something everyone should enjoy.”

With its Cajun recipes and activities, the festival is designed to honor Louisiana natives and remember the importance their presence has brought to the area. During the day, boiled crawfish will be served by Mark Azlin of the Bourbon Mall. There will also be a crawfish-cooking contest and arts and crafts. It’s all part of a celebration of Cajun food, music and culture

“The south Louisiana natives who have migrated to the Mississippi Delta are a big part of the Delta and a big part of our culture,” Johnson said. “They took old buckshot farmland and showed other farmers how to grow rice on it. Now rice is the one of the most important thing grown in the Delta. And Cajun recipes are a major part of the Delta, especially crawfish. This festival reflects the influence they have had on the Delta.”

The main ingredient for the crawfish cook-off must be crawfish. It will be judged by three renown Cajun cooks. Contestants must bring a dish for eight to Flavors by 10 a.m. April 30. First place prize is a $100 gift certificate. Second place is dinner for two at Flavors. Third place wins a one-year subscription to Leland Progress. For information or to enter call Sue Kingsbury at 686-4128.

The festival will begin at 11 a.m. It will kick off with The Lost Bayou Ramblers. The KrackerJacks will perform from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The festival will take place in downtown Leland. Participants are invited to bring their lawnchairs, yet no coolers.

Admission is free with the donation of two cans of food to help the Leland Food Pantry. The pantry provides an invaluable service to needy families in the community.

Anyone interested in being a vendor should call the Highway 61 Blues Museum at 686-7646.

Keri Holt can be reached at (662) 378-0724 or

Early in the Morning: Peg Leg Sam on iTunes

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

If you have iTunes, an out of print recording of Peg Leg Sam is available through the online service. Early in the Morning was recorded in the 1975 and originally released in 1994, re-released in 2001 (currently out of print in CD form). His playing on this recording is simply astonishing and confirms his reputation as a harmonica virtuoso. He is backed by the understated guitar of Louisiana Red, hanging back so Peg Leg Sam can shine. This is one of the best blues recordings I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. to my mind, Strollin’ is the best performance of the session. Early in the Morning is a fine tune. His repertoire includes traditional blues, gospel and even a “Western” Navaho Trail. I’ve learned Dog Chase (related to his performance of Fox Chase on his other recording, Kickin’ It ), derives from the “fox chase” form common to harmonica playing before the blues, but was something new to me.

On Folkstreams, you can catch a glimpse of Peg Leg Sam doing some his famous mouth harp gymnastics in the film Born for Hard Luck and read a review of Early in the Morning, which offers insights into his playing, influences and how he made music from a variety of genres his own.

Give My Poor Heart Ease

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

Give My Poor Heart Ease is a brief and uneven film, a 1975 account of the blues experience through the recollections and performances of B.B. King, James “Son” Thomas, Shelby “Poppa Jazz” Brown, James “Blood” Shelby, Cleveland “Broom Man” Jones, and inmates from Parchman prison. The film opens with a statement on the universality of the blues, the opening image is of a DJ invoking B. B. King in his lead in, recalling that “when you hurt, you gotta tell somebody, someone must understand how you feel, the only way to do it, say it loud and clear so everyone can hear.” (Stream Now)

As the last notes of Thrill is Gone rang in my ears, I came away from the film with with the realization that there is more nuance to blues than I realized, that this film captures a lost moment and culture that can never truly exist again and that this film is a unique opportunity to revisit that time and era.

Here we have the opportunity to see the young B. B. King in an arguably more nuanced rendering of his famous The Thrill is Gone, six years after the release of the 1969 single recording, than I am familiar with.

The brief glimpses of B. B. King in this film are an opportunity to experience the deft touch and rich, layered articulation present in his playing, something easily overlooked in the overall appeal of the song. There is a softness, a restraint of touch apparent in the opening scene playing solo before an audience in a small auditorium. I’ve overlooked this quality in other performances I’ve seen on television. Listen closely to his accompaniment to the “free free free” vocal in The Thrill is Gone calling to life feeling with each little touch of the strings into action, each little touch in service of emotion. Listen to how the layers of emphasis within the notes and muted chords catch the feeling of the song.

Those familiar with pop interpretations of the blues may find this deftness of touch and expressive articulation surprising. Listening to him play I can’t help but think some of the popular blues based music is melodramatic compared to the articulate or deadpan renditions of the blues we see in the film.

I wonder if B. B. King changes his style to suit more public performances and for recording sessions. Perhaps it is performing with others, leaving musical “space” for the other musicians that makes the difference. Here, he may be filling in that space with his own articulations.

The song with the line “Rock me Baby” (I’m not sure of the song or performer) shows us a softer and less melodramatic performance. The low key and laconic vocal on “Sixty One Highway Blues”. Perhaps it is the “Delta Blues” character of the other musicians that gives the performances a kind of authenticity and lack of hyperbole that makes them resonant and believable.

The film records an impromptu jam session in the black barbershop, a gathering place for the black community, which the viewer may be familiar with from recent Hollywood depictions. Here we see the real thing in action and are reminded there are still barbershops like these tenaciously hanging on.

I came away recognizing that Highway Sixty One Blues is a metaphor for life. It bears a relationship to the struggles of every day life. What could more appropriately describe life but a journey up the longest highway until your knees give out? It bears a philosophical relationship to the journey of humanity out of Africa, as science has revealed, along the coast of India to Australia and north to Europe, to all the corners of the earth, walking all the way. Their journey can be compared to walking the longest road, settling here and there only when their knees gave out. With respect to this metaphorical relationship, the journey to the blues is rich in irony given the history of how the blues came to be. It bears a direct relationship to the struggles of the people who created the blues. It connects us to our ancestral heritage as creatures born to walk. Walking is something that in the last century we nearly abandoned, building cities around our means of transportation, the railroad, the automobile, dreamed of flying cars and made real the ultimate deconstruction of walking, the Segway. It reminds me how these blues men were masters of generalizing from the particulars of their lives, even if they were unaware of it. Any time you write down what you see people doing or describe what it feels like to be alive in troubled times, you necessarily speak generally to all people.

I came away with the impression that there is more to blues than a beat and pained expressions, but there exists a level of nuance and sophistication evident in the various performances and in King’s that tie the best of the blues with its roots in the community and its origins in works songs, chain gang chants and the gospel sounds of the black church. This sophistication exists smack in the middle of a very down to earth and basic form of expression.

I could not help being reminded that the richness and depth of the blues idiom is rooted in the black experience, which is constantly changing and therefore evolving into new forms of music that have left the blues as a kind of time capsule of world we can’t quite reach. The blues is a window on a world of gandy dancers and chain gangs, juke joints and Jim Crow, black churches and hard times that no longer exist in the same guise. As one of the interviewees says, “you learn the blues from the fields and you learn the blues by the women.” Hard work and relationship troubles have not changed, but the expressions have.

The blues may continue as long as people have the blues, but the world that created the blues is gone. This film captures a time that will never come in exactly the same way again. Hard times may come and go, but the forms of expression have already changed to funk (for example, the “Mothership” reference to a mother Africa in a kind of folk storytelling), to hip-hop and rap and will evolve to other forms we are not even aware of yet.

Even the universal hard times experienced by the black community may vanish as the black middle class rises, and those who grow up in new circumstances will create new forms more attuned to their unique experience, just as rock music came out of frustrated suburban white teenagers. The blues will likely not survive as a viable form of expression for contemporary and future people, but it will not disappear any more than other forms of music have. But one has to ask the question, how many people have “walked sixty-one highway” in recent years?

To my mind, as the opening lines say, telling everyone who can hear how you feel so that they will understand your feelings is what music and song and story are all about and may be the driving force behind all artistic expression. That is what these performances represent.

The film is over too soon, leaving the viewer wanting more, but that’s what good performers are supposed to do, leave the audience wanting more. The soundtrack is good enough to sit back and listen to without even watching the film. It contains standout performances such as Highway Sixty One Blues by (I think, not having a transcript in hand) James “Son” Thomas, different from the one recorded by Fred McDowell. It ends with a refined and nuanced performance of The Thrill is Gone. This arc shows how the blues rose from the fields and prisons to place it has in American mainstream culture today.

I wish that I had an opportunity to see this film in the late 1970s when blues and blues based rock was all my guitar playing friends and myself were into. You should think yourself fortunate to see it now.

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Folkstreams Guide

Saturday, March 19th, 2005

I am not an expert in anything you will encounter on Folkstreams. Not in folklore, not in music, not in art or craft. I have been known to on occasion play and compose music, write poems and songs and on a regular basis create photographs and digital art. If you find yourself in opposition to something I have said about a film, feel free to post a comment or correction. The method in my madness is to record my impressions of the film and encourage others to watch and debate the film. My attention to this blog may be desultory at times, but I am here to be an advocate for the viewer, to help visitors find the films they want to see whether they know they want to see them or not.