It's not that easy for me to talk about the blues because the blues are such an integral part of my life. First, I fell in love with the poetry of the blues. Those wonderful words resonated within me and carried the culture into my psyche.
Trouble in mind,
But I won't be blue always
That old sun's gonna shine
On my back door some day
I needed to believe in that sunshine coming along.
Then came the music. I would pick it out on my guitar from song books and learn the melody line. Then I'd sing it and teach myself the chords on the guitar and sing it some more and sing it and sing it and sing it again - until it became part of me.
I stuck to the old chestnuts, tried and true.
Every Day I have the Blues
St. Louis Blues
and on and on.
Every time I sang them I found something new and different; a turn of phrase, a new depth of meaning to the lyric, a slightly different rhythm. I never grew tired of the blues.
It mostly started in New York. my husband had moved to New York City to become an off-Broadway actor. His success in this field was limited. We ended up living at 171 East Second Street on the Lower East Side. The Lower East Side had been a ghetto for new immigrants for nearly 100 years. I was surrounded by echoes of poverty and striving. There was no place to go but up.
I learned things that were not in the lexicon of Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Gefilte fish, " Buy a salami for your boy in the Army" (that was a sign in the window of Katz's delicatessen). There were pushcarts still, a wheeled cart and you were in business. There were also drug dealers, numbers runners, petty thieves, muggers, welfare recipients and folks left over from previous waves of immigration.
We were not well to do. Times were hard and the blues definitely suited my lifestyle. I even wrote a few blues numbers. This was in the beginning of the folk boom. Everybody was singing. Being a musician seemed simple. Pick up a guitar, learn four chords and you were set.
" Michael, row the boat ashore"
I would go down to Gerdes Folk City, especially on open stage nights, To hear Bob Dylan and other folk notables. Ian and Sylvia debuted in New York at that wonderful venue. I heard Jimmy Witherspoon and Lightnin ' Hopkins, Brother John Sellers (he was the emcee,sometimes, but history has mostly forgotten him), Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson.
It was was good to hear and see what I had garnered from books and records and radio made real on Gerdes tiny stage.
I lived for thirteen years on the Lower East Side - from McCarthy and the Red witch hunt years to Lyndon Baines Johnson's presidency.
I went back to school, to college, Pace College to be exact, it was a sort of a academic business college. There were student riots at this time and I thought a business-orientated college it would be safe. Hah! Construction workers barreled through the plate glass entrance to the college, injuring students i n the process. They were seeking student radicals and by accident they came to a business college. So you could say that the blues followed me to school.
I didn't check out Woodstock I don't like crowds.
Didn't join the march on Washington for the same reason. Gave my tickets to somebody else but I was there in spirit and I sang their songs.
© Sonia Brock 2005