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Sweet Home – April 2020 • Blues Rona Playlist

| April 5, 2020

A Blues Rona Playlist

These are challenging times as the Covid-19 pandemic has touched all corners of the globe, all countries, and all societies. The quarantine forces us inside to piece together new routines around an uncertain situation. Music has always been a refuge in fearful circumstances, and blues literally evolved from pain, so there’s no better time to listen to a blues playlist than now. Blues songs have chronicled many epidemics and disasters, from the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918, which lasted until 1920 and affected 500 million people, to the Delta floods of 1927, which was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The music offered an emotional outlet as people battled through the difficulties.

This curated “Blues Rona Playlist” collects blues songs from different eras; from the 1930s up to today, songs that speak to the circumstances that we are dealing with because of the virus. Some of these tunes may be familiar, others not so much, but they all offer perspective and solace during this time.

“Come On In This House” –  Magic Sam
There is no sound more enlivening than the guitar playing of Samuel Maghett. Recorded live in 1963, the track appears on **Magic Sam Live (Delmark, 1981). The urgency is palpable in his crooning: ”Oh lord/lord/lord/ I’m beggin’ you/I’m beggin’ you/to come on in this house/yeah, this ‘ole house.” Sam is, of course, pleading with a lover, but these lyrics serve as an apt directive for social distancing.

“Baby How Long” – Howlin’ Wolf
Howlin’ Wolf voices the question that we all feel. How long will we be locked in our homes and separated from the greater community? Howlin Wolf recorded this plaintive Chicago blues classic in 1954, and it appears on **Moanin’ in the Moonlight (Chess, 1959). Wolf churns out tasty harp licks before bellowing “How long/baby/how long/how long/how long/ baby/how long/ how long.” The longing in his voice offers a musical release for all of us wondering about this question.

“Ain’t Nothing You Can Do” – Bobby “Blue” Bland
You can ignore the directives and go out and mingle and touch people, but you also risk the real chance of getting sick and infecting others. Or you can follow the guidelines, stay at home, and practice social distancing. But besides these choices, there’s not much we can do about Covid-19. Recorded in 1964 and released in 1974 on the album of the same name, Bobby’s rich baritone expresses the dilemma with evocative flair: “When you lose your love one/it makes you feel so blue/and then you’ve got a heartache/and there ain’t nothing you can do.” The upbeat rhythm, paired with his smooth vocals, can’t help but uplift spirits.

“Waiting for The Tide To Turn” – Robert Cray
Being holed up in the house, waiting for the numbers to fall, and the pandemic to end is the order of the day. Robert Cray recorded the essential anthem for our plight on 1983’s **Bad Influence (High Tone). Bob lays out the situation; “My nights are long/ I’m all alone/my money’s short/ so I’m sticking close to home/and waiting/waiting for the tide to turn/time will bring on some changes/that’s one thing that I’ve learned.” This is some clear advice to follow.

“Beer Bottle Boogie” – Koko Taylor
So you’re at home all the time, what do you do? Well, there are a variety of options. The Queen of the Blues offered up an interesting suggestion from her 1985 album, **Queen of the Blues (Alligator). Belting over a contagious boogie, Koko declares that beer and dancing are great pastimes. “Well I don’t like beer /when it goes too fast/don’t like foam/and a muggy glass/you pour it out slow/and let the beats come on/I drink good beer/when I go home/I got the beer bottle boogie you know/the beer bottle boogie for sho’/everybody’s doin’ it/beer bottle boogie now.”

“Champagne & Reefer” – Muddy Waters
For folks who require a little bit more than beer during this seclusion, the King of the Blues had some ideas. Recorded in 1981 for the **King Bee (Blue Sky) album, Muddy called for the legalization of marijuana and testified to its relaxing powers. “Well you know there should be no law/on people that want to smoke a little dope/well you know there should be no law/on people that want to smoke a little dope/well you know it’s good for your head/and it relax your body don’t you know.”

“Heal Yourself” – Ruthie Foster
With so much up in the air about vaccines and ways to cure Covid-19, Ruthie Foster has a few pointers about what to do in the meantime. This funky track from 2007’s **The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster (Blue Corn) tackles the psychological issues that helped create the institutional barriers that have failed so many during this crisis. You born in the backseat of America/and you pride yourself in sharing her/taught to work to please and pray on your knees/you pay for your cheap grace with nominal fees/oh, you try to change the news with your TV remote/you got the freedom to choose/ but you choose not to vote/better heal yourself, child, /heal yourself.”

“Everything Gonna Be Alright” – Big Mama Thornton
Ultimately, we just have to believe that everything will be alright in the end. Big Mama Thornton supplied a big dose of grit and belief on this 1967 tune from her album, **The Queen of Monterey with the Chicago Blues Band (Arhoolie Records). Never doubt Big mama’s commanding declaration: “Everything gonna be alright baby/I know because I feel it in my bones /everything gonna be alright baby /because I feel it in my bones/hey pretty baby/ I don’t want you to leave me alone.”

“Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Shemekia Copeland
For an extra dose of faith, Shemekia delivers a knockout punch on 2015’s **Outskirts of Love (Alligator). With ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons supplying haunting guitar on the group’s original song, Shemekia assures divine intervention. “Jesus just left Chicago/bound for New Orleans/working one end to the other/and all points in between/ You won’t see him in person/but he’ll see you just the same/you don’t have to worry/taking care of business is his name.”

– Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

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