Desperate Man Blues
Desperate Man Blues - DVD
the subject of Edward Gillan's award winning documentary, Desperate Man Blues,
is a man who has been hunting for rare blues, hillbilly, bluegrass, and jazz 78
rpm records for over 50 years. His enthusiasm and deep love of all things old-timey
is infectious; to watch Bussard listen to one of his 25,000 records is to see
the music transmuted into a series of involuntary grins, ticks, and jigs that
one cannot help but adore, even if old time is "just old scratchy records"
to you. He started hunting for this music, most of which was recorded in the 1920s
and 30s, when he was 16, taking weekend trips that have led him down thousands
of miles of dirt road, to the side rooms and porches of cabins and shacks throughout
the southern United States. His collection has been the source of numerous anthologies
of country blues, bluegrass, string band, and hillbilly music and includes the
only known existing copies of many now classic performances, which, without the
efforts of enthusiasts and collectors like Bussard, would surely have been lost
forever. As amiable and charming a subject as he is, the real star of the film
is, of course, the music. Sides by Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, the Carter
Family, Lane Hardin, Clarence Ashley, and countless others from Bussard's collection
make appearances on the film's soundtrack, but the real gem, for my money, is
some rarely seen 16mm footage of Son House performing "Death Letter Blues"
in 1968. During his brief explanation of the song's origins, House seems surprisingly
slow of speech and even a little vulnerable, but before long he launches into
a bone-chilling performance on steel guitar, full of fierce right hand gesticulation
and that unmistakably powerful Son House holler.
Letter Blues," is one of the tracks collected on the film's companion CD.
And it's in good company, for in addition to the aforementioned blues greats,
the CD is full of tunes by country string bands (Floyd Ming and his Pep Steppers),
hot-hot-hot early jazz groups (Billy Banks and his Orchestra), banjo songsters
(Uncle Dave Macon, Clarence Ashley), and good old time country music (The Carter
Family). The compilation is really just the tip of Bussard's 25,000 record iceberg,
but it's a mighty fine place to start. [CC]