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dsuisman on 07/19/2010 at 09:10AM
Matthew Johnson has said that he started Fat Possum Records just to be able to put out a record by R. L. Burnside. He did that (Bad Luck City, 1992), but fortunately he didn’t stop there. From that time on, Fat Possum has released many of the most exciting blues discs to appear since the 1960s, revitalizing interest in music that many people (outside the South, especially) had long thought was creatively exhausted.
For a number of years, a handful of artists from the label’s roster toured the country, billed as the Fat Possum Juke Joint Caravan. Back in the mid-1990s the troupe featured R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Later, its mainstays were T-Model Ford and Paul "Wine" Jones. In 2004, the opportunity arose to bring the Caravan to WFMU for a set on my show "The Inner Ear Detour," and I was thrilled to have them.
For reasons I don’t recall, everyone was packed into Studio A, rather than setting up the musicians in the regular, roomier performance space upstairs, connected to Studio B. It wasn’t intentional, I’m sure, but with everyone crammed in there, the effect when the music started was that Studio A felt an awful lot like a crowded hill-country juke joint. The sound had a lot to do with it, too, of course. Listening to these recordings today, this is not a sound—gritty and dark, loose and groovy—that I generally associate with 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning! It helped too that we had a throng of people squeezed into the room: all the musicians, their handler, engineer Jason Engel, sundry WFMU staffers and volunteers, and, somewhat incongruously, a small television crew doing a story on Fat Possum for the Canadian branch of Bravo.
The late Paul "Wine" Jones played first, with a searing guitar style reminiscent of the rawer recordings of Hound Dog Taylor. T-Model Ford played next, with echoes of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters in his repertoire but with a sandpaper-and-gravel timbre and sparse accompaniment (by his longtime partner Spam on drums) that no one would mistake for Chess Records. "T” (as everyone seemed to call him) was then in his 80s and walked with a cane, but this didn’t stop him from getting up and dancing when the other musicians played. Last was Kenny Brown, best known as a protégé of R. L. Burnside but whose lighter finger-picking on this date was more reminiscent of another of his mentors, Joe Callicott. Cedric Burnside played drums with Paul Jones and with Kenny Brown.
Great musicians, and a great morning.