Friday, August 19, 2005 ... 3:12 PM

Reverend Robert Wilkins

He is best known for "Old Jim Canan's", a memento of a Beale Street speakeasy called in its day The Castle of Missing Men. He was a Memphis songster from the Jazz Age whose resume spans jug bands, revivalist folk festivals, and the holy pulpit. He leaves the biggest stamp on my guts that any blues has left since I first heard "Dark Was the Night" with his two-sided, one-chord midnight lament, "Rolling Stone."

Man, don't your house feel lonesome when your biscuit roller gone
Man, don't your house feel lonesome when your biscuit roller's gone

You stand in your back door and cry by yourself, alone
You stand in your back door, cryin by yourself, alone

Its couplets, delivered in a nasal drone, are punctuated by this syncopated, obsessive-compulsive hook that suggests, in its dripping faucet repetition, a long and fucking lonesome night of rocking back and forth and staring into shadows.

With his slurred consonants, the weary rolling up and down minor third intervals, Wilkins sounds like a man sitting on the edge of his empty bed in his skivvies at 2AM, awakened by a bad dream but still drunk, playing a riff and a chord over and over to keep from going back to sleep, or to keep from crying his eyes out, or to keep from blowing his brains out.

This is the best kind of comfort music. Comfort does not shine a light on you; comfort touches you in the dark.

Listen to this tune and a bunch of other Wilkins cuts on the JSP anthology Masters of Memphis Blues -- 4 CDs stuffed full of Tennessee whiskey and cotton, which you can pick up for $25.00 at your local record mart. I get no kickbacks for advertising this. I just love this label and their cheapo boxed sets.



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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


Flop Eared Mule
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Fried Chicken and Coffee
Mungo (This was the blog of my friend, the late Cami Park. Miss you, Cami.)
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