(Larry's Got A Secret)
Mister Doo's Rants And Raves...
This is a page where Mister Doo rants, tells stories, and generally says what he's thinking at the time. It is subjective, opinionated, probably contains factual errors, and may bear no resemblance to what he's thinking 10 minutes after he wrote it. In particular, pay no heed to sentences like 'The greatest blues song ever written is...' - this will have changed before the page has been uploaded.
- Mister Doo's Blues Philosophy
- Phineas Gage
- Tommy Johnson's Drinking
- Don't Get Me Started on W. C. Handy
Read on, and email Mister Doo with comments and corrections, or if you'd like Mister Doo's opinion on any aspect of blues. Or anything else.
If you got anything you'd like to see on this page, email Mister Doo and he may put it up. The editorial policy could probably be described as 'whimscial', however...
Mister Doo's Blues Philosophy
There are three types of blues I hate. The first is where an old classic has been updated so that it's now basically a 12-bar rock blues with an indistinct tune. All that's left of the original is the words. This is far too common these days, and I think it's, at best, just lazy, and at worst just plagiaristic and cynical - making easy money out of someone who spent their life in poverty.
The second type of blues is probably even more cynical. This is where an "original" has been written, but is made up of tired old blues cliches that cannot possibly apply to the singer. You know the kind of thing...
- My woman done left she (she hasn't)
- Gotta ride the blinds (trains don't have them any more!)
- I'm so tired, broke and hungry (No you aren't! You live in Godalming)
- I've almost lost my mind (Well, I'll give you that one...)
...and so on. There's just no point doing this! Play the originals if you're just going to re-hash bits of them to avoid royalty payments!
So that leaves the third type, where bluesmen write about their actual experiences. Unfortunately, in our comfortable life, we don't really have the kinds of feelings that the delta blues guys had. We don't live in a violence ridden world of abject poverty where you'd end up blind due to the work you had to do and were then thrown on the scrap heap with no income because you were useless to your employer. That's why these guys learnt to play guitar; not because they liked the sound of an E chord - IT'S BECAUSE THEY WOULDN'T HAVE ANY MONEY TO EAT AND THEY WOULD DIE OTHERWISE!
I'm afraid these type of lyrics just don't cut it for me:
- I woke up this morning, my car wouldn't go,
- My stock options have halved in value,
- And my boss has asked to work mo'
Blues? My arse! (Note: these lyrics are copyright 2003 Steve Wells. Not because I'll use them, but because I don't want anyone else to!)
Better than the previous 2, but, in many cases, I find it just cringe-making. The blues is just not the medium for this kind of "I'm a tiny bit depressed" sentiment.
"So what's left Mister Doo?" I hear you cry, "If we shouldn't play all this stuff (our entire set), what ought we play?". Well, there's always the originals. You don't have to play them note for note, but I at least get pretty close to playing it as it was originally recorded before adding in any of my own bits. That's the only way to get a feel for what is the "essence" of the song.
With original stuff, there are at least 3 subject areas that have always been blues subject material, and still are. I'd estimate that about 80% of all blues songs fall into one of the 3 following categories:
Hence, Mister Doo's "signature" tune, The Jelly Man. You didn't think it was about puddings, did you? What do you think Snowball is all about? Mister Doo's Christmas single?...
Mister Doo has written a song that could almost be described as a folk ballad. Scary. However, this was such a fascinating story, that this seemed the only sensible treatment.
Phineas Gage worked on the railroads in the late 19th century, and specialised in blowing up hug hunks of rock for tunnels and cuttings to get the railroad through. This consisted of a number of steps. First, a hole had to be drilled in the rock. This was then filled with filled with a scary amount of dynamite, and tamped down. "Tamping down" consisted of putting a ten-foot cramping iron in the hole, and hitting it with a big mallet to tamp down the dynamite. Not a procedure that would be passed by the HSE these days, I suspect.
Now there is a better than even chance that whacking an iron pole against rock will cause a spark, and this happened to the hapless Phineas one day. Unfortunately, his head was in the way, and the pole, propelled to a few hundred miles an hour by a few pounds of best dynamite went straight through, and out the other side.
The remarkable thing was that Phineas wasn't badly hurt. The red-hot pole must have cauterised as it went through, and, luckily it missed any vital organs (apart from his brain, which clearly wasn't that vital to him...) and blood vessels. So, Phineas went back to work, and allegedly could put one of his fingers in each end of the hole, and touch finger ends somewhere in the middle of his head. Nice party trick!
Now Phineas' personality did change after this accident, and this spawned the new science of full frontal lobotomy. The argument went like this. If Phineas lost a piece of brain, and his personality changed, we can remove bits of brain from anybody with personality disorders, such as psychopaths, schizophrenics, communists, gays or people with long-hair, and their personailty would also change. The problem was that these mad scientists didnt really know which bits of brain to remove, so the procedure never really worked. Thankfully, this barbaric practice was stopped, but not until many psychiatric patients had suffered the 20th century equivalent of trepanning.
The bizarre thing to me in all of this is the underlying support for lobotomy provided by the fact that poor old Phineas' personality changed. Am I the only one surprosed by this? It's not the loss of a piece of brain that necessary caused the change, it's just the fact that Phineas suffered a near-death experience, and ended up looking somewhat odd! Enough to put a crimp in anybody's day. Add to that the piss-taking of all your workmates as they dropped marbles down the top of the whole, and it's not surprising Phineas became a little tetchy...
So, here it is - The Ballad Of Phineas Gage.
The Ballad Of Phineas Gage
(or The Birth Of The Lobotomy)
Now, Phineas Gage, worked on the line, worked with dynamite all day,
Yeah, Phineas Gage, time after time, hit the cramping iron his way.
When it all went wrong, it weren’t for long
He’s a lucky man they say.
Now, Phineas Gage, like every time, filled the hole with the blasting stuff.
Yeah, Phineas Gage, working on the line, tamped down more than enough
But a second or two before the blast was due,
Ten pounds of dynamite went off.
Keep your irons in the very best condition
Keep your powder nice and dry
Whatever you do when you’re checking a position
Don’t look down the pole with your eye
Now, Phineas Gage, looking down the hole, saw a ten-foot cramping iron coming his way
Yeah Phineas Gage, he had just no time, to get his head out of the way.
So the red hot pole cut a big clean hole,
The wind could blow right through it so they say.
Now Phineas Gage in an hour or two, was back and working on the line.
Phineas Gage, with a hole in the head, was back and blasting feeling fine.
The only change, was a little more rage,
He’d snap at you from time to time.
Yeah, you might think, that a hole in the head, would put you in the infirmary.
But Phineas Gage, all he got, was a change in personality.
And he’d amaze his friends, by touching finger ends
In the place where some head used to be.
Now people were amazed (no surprise to me), Gage’s personality did change
When a cramping iron like that, removes some brain and burns your hat, you’re bound to feel a little strange
I’ll run that by you again, a missile through the brain,
Might just make your whole demeanour change!
Now this here story spurned a whole new science - full frontal lobotomy
If you take a piece from a psycho’s brain, he’ll end up just like you and me.
Tried again and again, but they tried in vain,
Then had to try electric shock therapy.
The Ballad Of Phineas Gage
Copyright 2004 Steve Wells
Tommy Johnson's Drinking
Tommy Johnson very possibly died of excessive drinking. It certainly wouldn't have helped whatever it was that actually finished him off. However, he was possibly most famous for his habit of drinking Sterno. This was industrial strength cleaning fluid - "Canned Heat" of the highest order. He would strain it through bread to remove impurities (he wasn't completely mad), but then eat the bread afterwards (so maybe he was).
Maybe this explains his extraordinary style. In Mister Doo's opinion, Cool Drink Of Water Blues is one of the finest blues records ever made (but see proviso above). Maybe the plaintive "Bring me Gasoline" is a call for something to take away the taste of the Sterno.