Thursday, March 01, 2007:

Otis Spann -- The Hard Way

Otis Spann -- The Hard Way
The blues are a distinctively American creation; and among them this song has a distinctively American sensibility, the narrator proud of his individualism even while recognizing that with some help he could have gone much further.

You know I came up the hard way
I just about raised myself
I been in and out of trouble
but I never begged no one for help

And what kills me: one word in a couplet:

After a few years passed
I soon learned how to sign my name

It's a Jim Crow song to be sure, released after Brown v. Board of Education but well before the government, in its "all deliberate speed," managed to integrate most schools (and even so, today the process of steering and school vouchers seeks to reestablish de facto segregation where de jure isn't possible).

Spann was pianist for Muddy Waters before Pinetop Perkins took over. I imagine the hiring process went something like this:

"There's the piano."
And then Spann sat down at it and proceeded to show it who's boss, a blur of hands slamming ivories, hammers on strings, keyboard solid but the legs beginning to groan, threatening to crack. And they toured with one more carpenter than usual, just in case.
[Otis Spann Is the Blues]


I grabbed the wrong "steering" link when I was writing this; the meaning I was thinking of was when real estate agents show houses in only certain neighborhoods, which is also illegal yet widely practiced. But the mortgage link above serves as another example of steering minority families to or away from certain areas in a city.

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