Tuesday, August 23, 2005:

even catfish get the blues

Skip James -- Catfish Blues
Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabaté -- Catfish Blues
Jimi Hendrix -- Catfish Blues
The songs here are three different versions of the blues standard "Catfish Blues," about a man who wishes he were a catfish, swimming at the bottom of the sea, because then all the women would be fishing after him. If you think it's metaphorical, you're uh, wrong. He really would like to be a catfish, and find some appetizing bit of food drifting past, and find a hook inside it. Also, the bit about two trains leaving a station, one at midnight, one during the day, that's not a metaphor either. Similarly, bluesmen who sang about squeezing lemons typically did so because they were chefs, each with a penchant for making pies and pastries and so forth. (For some reason they kept forgetting to ask to have the lemon cut in half. Maybe it just goes without saying.)

Right. Well, Skip James' version is traditional; it's a muted performance, soft-spoken, understated.

Taj Mahal's version is off Kulanjan, his collaboration with Toumani Diabaté. It's a somewhat louder song, with lovely interplay between guitar and kora; the album as a whole is a solid fusion of African music with its stepchild the blues. The album opens with "Queen Bee," which is just drop-dead gorgeous, seriously one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.

Jimi Hendrix' version is, well, typical Jimi.1 I like it, but then, I like his work in general. That said, nothing in the song really surprises me. (The same from someone less talented would, though ... no doubt I'm indulging in a double standard). (Oddly enough, I found the acoustic track on this disc wonderful and unexpected, and wish I could have heard more of his acoustic work).

On the subject of catfish, a former coworker mentioned once that he knew someone who claimed to go fishing for catfish and to take old bits of soap as bait. From this, the coworker concluded that catfish were stupid. My take on it was that if it's true (and effective) that you can catch catfish with soap, maybe catfish just have a different sense of taste. Birds at least do; they love hot peppers for some reason--just scarf them down one after another. That said, catfish do try to eat quite a wide range of things. They are, on the whole, not picky.

Below: pictorial evidence that even catfish get the blues.
catfish trying to eat a basketball
Found at http://www.techimo.com/forum/t137704.html, with the explanation that the catfish had tried to swallow the basketball and then exhausted itself trying (and failing) to dive. Someone caught it, cut the ball, and set the fish free.

1: A good, but possibly (probably?) apocryphal, story about Hendrix: I've heard the owner of Hyde & Zeke's in Gainesville say that his sister-in-law used to work at the building next to Electric Ladyland Studios, and that she used to go out to lunch with Hendrix--just friendly, nothing romantic. He says that she says that Hendrix said that he wanted to retire from the limelight for awhile and take guitar lessons--that Hendrix felt he'd gone as far as he could as a guitarist, and that also Miles Davis had invited him to jam with the band, which left Hendrix excited and intimidated. Supposedly Hendrix felt that Davis really knew what he was doing, and that he himself didn't. So his plan was to finish his contract and take a year off and then start playing with Davis. Which, as you know, never happened.

Now. Is it true? I don't know. It's a good story, though.
[Amazon.com]: Skip James -- Hardtime Killing Floor Blues
[Amazon.com]: Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabaté -- Kulanjan
[Amazon.com]: Jimi Hendrix -- Blues


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