I’ve yet to find a more concise and accurate way of describing the allure and joy of early recordings of blues and folk music than Greil Marcus’: that they come from the ‘old, weird America‘. They’re weird because there’s never any solid information surrounding them. Nobody really knows the life story of Charley Patton, the supposed ‘father of the Delta blues’, and we know even less about the men and women who first inspired him.
This, to me, is the joy of listening to very old recorded music (from 1920
until the point music became a monster industry), with every little crackle and every fuzzy wail.
In a world where all aspects of a celebrity’s life is at your grubby little typing mitts, one of the great delights of collecting music is hearing some obscure recording from a shack (or was it a barn?) of a forgotten blind man singing a story about his mother that may or may not be true. That’s why the advent of recording was the historian’s wet dream; folk music is the music of the grass-roots of the Earth, and nothing can provide a more meaningful glimpse into the life and soul of some irrecoverable commoner for whom neither birth nor death certificate has ever been produced, than an impassioned blues song.
By the way, Mississippi John Hurt is by no means an irrecoverable commoner…