Saturday, September 6, 2014


Cowboys and Indies
Gareth Murphy
St. Martin's Press 2014

Another fairly homely book cover with text on cheap paper yet a terrific read inside, skimping on no part of the historical record, with the giant cast of characters all showing up: Lomax, Hammond, Phillips, Clive Davis, Ertegun, Spector, Oldham, Blackwell, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Punk, Sugarhill, and of course Thomas Edison.

[ BA ]

"Our whole musical world is an ethnic melting pot containing just a few core ingredients. For the Irish-bred Dave Robinson, "England has always been cold because its music has always been theatrical. The indigenous music in England and Ireland is really folk music, but that's not what the British public buys to a large extent. It buys a theatrical kind of pop. It's very different from America, whose music has gone through several ethnic and urban filters." As Robinson points out, country music, centered around East Tennessee, was heavily influenced by Scots-Irish traditional music — as was the folk scene of Greenwich Village. In fact, boiled down to its lowest common denominators, modern music has been built on three main waves: African blues, Irish folk, and English vaudeville. "If you mix all that together," reasons Robinson, "that's where the great songs are, that's where the great rhythms and lyrics are. That's where Jimi Hendrix was. And at the end of the day, that's where most of rock 'n' roll came from." . . .

". . . As an older man contemplating the historical importance of African American music, Sam Phillips believed "we've now learned so much from some of these people we thought were ignorant, who never had any responsibility other than chopping cotton, feeding the mules, or making sorghum molasses. When people come back to this music in a hundred years, they'll see these were master painters. They may be illiterate. They can't write a book about it. But they can make a song, and in three verses you'll hear the greatest damn story you'll ever hear in your life."

    For centuries, folk and blues was accumulated wisdom passed ever downward. "Think about the complexity, yet simplicity, of music we have gained from hard times," says Phillips, "from the sky, the wind, and the earth. If you don't have a foundation, you won't know what the hell I'm talking about." His proudest discovery was not Elvis, or even Johnny Cash, but blues shaman Howlin' Wolf.

      Whether it's in dense cities or across open country plains, the search for the divine comedy is a timeless art that just adapts to different environments. In the big city, cut off from the elements, records have become our folklore, our spiritual medicine, our last sacred connection to the tribal godhead. In a game populated by snake-oil salesmen, the real record man is the one selling the magic potions that actually work.

      Music is one of several domains — sports, politics, movies, books, and fashion included — that will always remain governed by tribal genes inherited from the campfire. Thousands of years of technological progress and where are we? Still huddling up at night around the glow, trying to make sense of it all — dreaming our lives into the stars.

Seek and ye shall find."

~ Gareth Murphy, Cowboys and Indies