Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Remarkable Chatmon Brothers

When I was 18 years old and a sophomore at the University of Missouri, some friends and I went to see a traveling Blues show called the Memphis Blues Caravan. I was already into Chicago blues but was far from ready for the show one of the performers names Sam Chatmon put on. Listening to Sam's unique amalgam of Delta blues, originals some crossoverish country tunes that he had adapted struck a chord I had to continue exploring: the incredibly rich tradition of country blues players from all over the U. S. Sam's performance and the wonderful reissues Yazoo records was releasing at the time allowed me to explore many of the lesser known rural blusemen, many of whom have remained in obscurity, but nonetheless contribute mightily to our cultural patrimony.

In the 1930's three Chatmon Brothers formed a small ensemble dubbed the Mississippi Sheiks which was known for its versatility of style, ranging from traditional country blues to medicine show and pop material. Their eclectic range allowed for popularity among both white and black audiences alike. The sheiks featured Bo Chatmon ( Bo Carter) on guitar and vocals, Sam on bass and Lonnie on fiddle. One of their classic originals, "Sittin on top of the World" has been covered by scores of artists, and is classified as an American classic tune.

Bo Chatmon, more popularly known as Bo Carter was the Sheik whose musical originality propelled him to fame in the 1930's and 40's as a solo artist. His unique, incomparable blend of erotic folk poetry played to his flawless finger-picking in open G and dropped D tunings are a veritable treasure of American art. Contemporary country blues guitar wizard John Miller, who offers superb instructional videos on how to approach Carter's style, writes: "the origins of Bo’s music are shrouded in mystery, and it is very unlikely we’ll ever find an explanation for the harmonic richness of his music, so different from other musicians of his region. Bo’s right hand approach was different, too, picking with all fingers and moving fluidly between alternation, thumping and runs with his thumb."
Give a listen to "All round man," a classic that foregrounds Bo's picking style and double entendre lyrics quite well.
Miller does an exceptional job of playing and explaining another Bo Carter classic, " My Baby," in this instructional video.

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