Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Adventures of One-Eyed Johnson: Part Negro Blues Hollerer

Blind One-Eyed Johnson 1 Wiseman

The Adventures of Blind One-Eyed Johnson:
Part-Negro Blues Hollerer

The blues: "a panhandling gimmick for alcoholics." -H.C. Speir, talent scout responsible for the recordings of many Delta blues artists.

How I Got the Acquaintance o’ My Pig, Po’kchot

The Mississippi Delta is home to a lot of things, mud particularly. I cracked a pained eyeball. I could see nothing. This was not unusual for a man of my habits, a profligate drinker of strong spirits and a chaser of most any sweet jellyroll that passed me by. It might be night. I might have eaten one of them jimson roots. I hope I hadn’t drank any methyl alcohol, though I wouldn’t put it past myself.
Seemed only one thing to do. I let loose with a hellhound halloo. “Az Gads, I’zzz bli-i-i-n- d,” I paused and thought. I’azzz blind-ed. Az poor an’ give inta my sins an’ fell afoul o’ the Lord and now he’s taken my sight....”
I thrashed my limbs about, hoping nothing was broken. My nostrils were hit by a noxious smell that made me heave. Then, I felt something nuzzling into my tallywacker. But, it wasn’t romantic and I feared for man rape. “Nooo, ah Lordy, no! Ah know az pretty, but I’m a God-fearin’ man who don’t hold with the Sodomitic practices!”
For my efforts, I got a banshee scream in my left ear that sent all my sinews into acting on their own and I shoved through some foul goo to see a fine little porker staring at me, with the clear light of morning shining behind him.
I was in shit. Pig shit. I had spent my repose in some mudhole that was comprised of two percent soil mud and 98 percent animal mud --particularly of the pig and poultry versions.
I peered either way and sat up in a wary crouch. I tapped and found I still had my lid, a man’s not a man without a hat, covered in feces or not. To my right, I spied my guit-box, still wrapped in my duffle, it’s head seemingly still aligned with the bulk of its body. If I broke that guitar, I’d be well and truly screwed. It was the instrument of my survival, for I was an itinerant bluesman heading for Clarksdale, Mississippi, the mecca of the blues.
Fact that I had only a passing knowledge of how to play the thing, that I didn’t know how to tune it, that I sang in a voice that only a mother could love and I could never remember lyrics worth a shit added up to me being about the sorriest bluesman managing to keep vertical a few hours of the day in the South or anywhere else for that matter.
You know that old Walkin’ Blues? “Woke up this mornin’, fumbled ‘round for ma shoes....” I’d learned, from my profligate ways, that such behavior in an itinerant bluesman, was a good way to end up in the dirt fulltime. Bogged in pigshit as I was, I saw light, a break of forest, my duffel, and the cutest little mud-covered pork roast you ever seen. Scrambling it all together, I grabbed my poke and the porker and knowing that no one would ever be able to remove me from my shoes without a buck knife, I lit into a shit-cakin’, hog squealin’, guitar bashin’ run for the forest.
And Lord be praised, if I didn’t make it well into the trees before I heard the first shotgun boom.

* * *

Man like me doesn’t spend much time wondering where he is. Where ever I find myself, there I is. However the peripherals make a magnitude of difference.
I’d obviously tied one on last night and through direction or my own non-existent navigation had spent the night in a pig flop. Worse had happened.
No more shots followed me into the woods, so I ran a crazy track for a good piece until I found some brush that I could settle in. Then I took off my jacket and rolled the quiet piglet into it. This was some pig, a little round baby, mostly belly, little screw tail and wet snout. Eyes that looked like they’d been open just a few days.
I set my hat out to dry and started scraping the mud off my trousers with a stick. I checked my neck and my Gammy’s hoodoo poke was still there. I moved all my fingers and joints, cranked my neck, popped my back. Nothing was broken, which was likely more as the result of my tender years, all 23 of them, than any lack of trying. When my face was scraped cleaner and the grit out of my teeth, I went into my duffle. My darling Bovrille, my prized six-string of no perceivable brand, still gleamed and was of a piece. I praised Lord Jesus, for his mercies, to my guitar, my fingers, my teeth and various other body parts as I felt around.
Best of all, I found my smoked black lenses were still of a piece. Those are very important to my sting. Took ’em off a blind man who no longer had any use for ‘em. Fear a bit of a curse for that.
I checked my bandit places, little sewn-in pockets in my duffel and pants-legs. I found a short dog of some evil-smelling liquor and that made me very happy. I found some scrap and some papers in my pant-cuff. So I rolled one and fired it up. I made water with no noticeable pain and got that fine warm feeling I always did when I felt the heft of my bad black boy. I started thinking about food, but not much, cause I always been skin and bone, a bit of muscle, too. But eating always came last to me after wang-dang-doodle and John Barleycorn.
I looked over at my coat and flung it open so that I could hang it over a branch to dry out. The poor little piglet rolled out, gave a weird grunt. I looked at this cute little muck-covered guy, or girl, I didn’t know which, and said, “Guess what Po’kchot, I don’t want to eat you, cause I got this rotgut here. Instead, you and me weez gonna be friends. And you’s gonna make me a wealthy itinerant bluesman.”
The pig made that noise again and I uncapped my bottle, ready for the adventures of a new day.

* * *

I set myself up on a street corner in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I’d dusted myself off, put on my smoked lenses and tapped my way over with my thin bamboo cane. I found a wood box down an alley without anyone really seeing what I was up to. I got comfy on my box and started banging on my guitar. I was a useless guitar player, but one kind fellow, on hearing how hopeless I was, had tuned my guitar to an open-G tuning. Thus, laying a finger aside any fret made a chord, and when I got out my pocket knife I could attempt to play a little slide guitar. The trick with the latter was to keep the vibrato going, so you never really landed on any particular note. It looked flashy and over time I had developed a few simple, workable slide solos. I had learned to tune my guitar from the top string down, but only into open-G. Ask me to return it to conventional tuning and I couldn’t do it on a bet.
I began plunking out a simple bass line with my thumb and used my fingers to get a bit of a rhythm pattern going. Then, I laid my knife along the strings and a metallic ring sung out of the box.

* * * *

Christmas in Clarksdale —1938

I’d pulled my coat collar up and pulled my hat down. Po’kchot, my piglet, was huddled in a blue flannel blanket in a wood box beside my bench. I’m a guitar player, but the cuteness of that pig makes us more money than my blues. So. I figure we’re business partners and I never scrimp when it comes to keepin’ her comfy or well fed. She’s been puttin’ on a few, too. Must be about 20 pounds now. I’ll never eat her. She’s my sweetie-pie. Kept each other warm during the autumn nights when I’d just wander into the woods after a day beatin’ the strings and settle down under a tree.

But, tonight was lookin’ to be a cold one. Couldn’t keep my strings in tune as the cold shortened them. Even when I lay the back of my knife on the strings they felt harder and there was a crisp raspiness to the friction and my notes had a certain eerie zing that I found appealing, even though when I played chords they sounded like a train wreck.

“Well, Po’kchot, looks like we’re gonna have to dip into the winter savings and get us a room for the night.” Here in Clarksdale there was the white-folks hotel, The Taft, the upper-class blacks hotel, The Lansing, and there was the Black Cat, a fine establishment if you woke up alive in the morn, but most of my fellow bluesmen stayed over at Jemima Belle’s rooming house. It was clean enough and sometime, when the weather was bad, a little jam session would get going in the back parlour. Trouble was, I’d never heard a policy on livestock. I didn’t know if Po’kchot would be a problem securing accommodation.

That I was sighted, though only in my right eye, was common knowledge among the bluesmen who populated the street corners of the town. Still, I wore my dark glasses hoping for a few sympathy pennies from the civilians. I’d walk around with my guitar slung across my back and my cane tapping out in front of me. I’d stuff Po’kchot in her warm blue blankie into my sailor’s rucksack and we could travel anywhere. She seemed to find it soothing and sleep-making to lay in the sack while I travelled. She’d been thrown into rail cars many a time and seem to roll with the impact. Hell, sometime I’d thrown her in before I got a good handhold and I’d be running fast alongside her car, grasping for a rung to pull myself in. I’d only lost her by a couple cars once. But I made the train and had to scramble across a few linkages to get to where I’d thrown her sack and my guitar. I found a white hobo feeling around her, when I walked in. So, I pulled out my signature Spanish Bowie —14 inches of blade and five of handle. Put the fear of the Almighty in the hobo rummaging through my stuff. As well it should. I’ve slashed a few bad men with that blade and stick it in to the hilt in a couple more. Lotta guys have guns now, stolen mostly from guys that didn’t know if a man is runnin’ toward you, you better shoot fast, because guys who are running at you are holding a blade and, in close quarters, I’ll take blade rather than a pistol any day. Quieter, deadler, less chance for a screw up. I got a gun, a beat-up derringer .25, handles shattered off it, just a barrel a firing pin and an trigger more or less. It’s in my sock and I know it might save me one day, but when all the chips are down, I’ll stay with the Spanish steel for getting the job done. Has a certain intimidation authority that is hard to beat, too.

I felt the cold wet slipping into my worn-out broguns. Newspapers had long been of use to me as insoles. I never read them much, but they folded up well and kept the rocks out of my shoes.

I saw the old harp player, Blind Boy Johnson, fumbling around on his corner. Sticking his tongue out to taste the snowflakes. A lot of us bluesmen are named Johnson. Robert, Tommy, Blind Willie, and so on. It ain’t no mistake. Some of us take the name to enhance our appeal, others just were inseminated by a lot of Johnsons. Others, like me, got the name from the ladies we bedded. Yes, I’m known for my skill with my knife, my fretboard and with the ladies. Been know to drink a few jars and remain standing and playing when others fell to the side, as well.

“B.B.,” I shouted. “It’s One Eye here. Wonderin’ if you could answer a question.”

Blind Boy stopped his fumbling about. “Well, I wish to tarnation that it would be any other brother than you, One Eye, but I’m not doing so well and I’m tired and wasted and can’t find my way home.”

This was heartening news. “So, I’ll help you back to Jemima Belle’s, sure enough. But I has the question.”

“No, I don’t has any whisky. I drank it all myself. No I don’t have any ’baccy. I need what I got to relax my frickin’ nerves. And, no, I don’t has any spare change cuz I never had any go flat. I need my hard-earned dough. But if you can get me back to Belle’s I would appreciate enough to give you a nickel for a beer.”

“Done,” I said. “Now, let’s get you straightened out here.” I took him by the shoulders and put him to sit on his barrel. I took the harp from his hand, a C# Hohner, I believe, and put it in his breast pocket among many others. “Okay, now you’ve got your instruments. Let’s see what else you need to take with you. His tin cup for offerings was at his feet and I warned him. “Keep those feet still, otherwise you’ll knock over your cup and all your day’s earnings will fall in the cracks of the boardwalk and we’ll never be able to get ’em.” I saw a sparkling dime in his cup and quiet as all heck I slipped it out without letting it rasp against the cup.

“What was that?” said the canny old buzzard.

“Nothing, I’m just getting you your day’s earnings, you old codger. Here it is in your favorite tobacco can, ya old poop. Now you’re squared away and I’ve gotta ask you a question.

He hustled the top of his ’baccy can on and gave it a stern twist then held it to his heart as if it were the Bible. “You sure you didn’t slip a few coins out of there?” He shook the can. “Seems like it might be a dime or a nickel light.”

“Look you old buzzard, I didn’t take a few of your coins. Now answer my question.”

“You can see.... You’ll take advantage of a blind man like me....”

“Look... well actually that’s not a good term, but I got one eye, scarred across the eyeball, the world looks like it’s got a piece of lumber in the middle of it, so don’t give me your abuse, you old hunk of lkeather. Looks like you got about ten bucks in your ’baccy can, so you can afford another bottle and some rent if you don’t get lost and robbed. I’m here to keep you from getting lost and robbed you dumb galoot.”

“Blind leading the blind....”

“Yeah sure, that’s sparklin’ witty, but what I have here is, y’know, my piglet Po’kchot?

“Mmm, that one’ll look good on a spit some day....

“Look you drunken coot, that piglet ain’t nobody’s meal, but she is my meal ticket. She’s what gives me the sympathy that you and your damned blind eyes got.” I gathered my breath for another barrage. “And if you weren’t too stupid to drink methyl alcohol, you would still have your eyesight. Ya dumbo tosspot.

“What I want is to get this piglet into Miss Belle’s But piglets need to shit and piss in the middle of the night, when you’ll be wrestlin’ with the devil taking your soul and I’ll be sleeping the sleep of the righteous.

“Now, how can I get this piglet in and get some kinda smell-proof accommodation made up?” I grabbed him by the throat and pulled his round brim down his nose

“Well po’k smells like po’k, no matter what you do. You can’t put that little one in with the big ones in a pen, they’d eat her within a minute”.