The Fat Possum label continues it’s blistering run of traditional and psycho-lectric Mississippi Delta blues classics (Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, Paul Jones, Super Chikan) with the rerelease of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Mama Says I’m Crazy, recorded in 1967 under freaky real-world circumstances:
- Fred couldn’t have been more excited about doing a recording session and insisted we hire Johnny Woods, his old friend and a local legend, to accompany him on harp.
No one in the area had seen Johnny in about either years, but Fred had heard he was back in town. Three hours on a dirt road later, we pulled up to a dilapidated shack in a town called Senatobia and found Johnny Woods – who I later found to be a cordial, gentle man, forty-something, one hell of a harp player – passed out on the front porch.
Crammed inside the two-room house were fifteen or twenty men boisterously enjoying their Sunday afternoon, drinking and shooting craps. “Hey, Shake ‘Em, what you doing?” they greeted Fred, who is best known in the area for his performance of “Shake ‘Em on Down.” When Fred sat down with his guitar and a bottleneck, everyone joined in. A couple of songs later, Woods dragged himself in, still in a haze so thick you could see it in his eyes. He started rummaging through his pockets for his harmonica, and when Fred launched into “Shake ‘Em on Down,” Johnny’s shrill harmonica joined the whang of the guitar to make a sound powerful enough to bring the walls down. We arranged for Woods to meet us at Fred’s house the following evening.
Woods never showed that night… [from George Mitchell’s 1967 liner notes]
And right Mitchell is: blasted on corn liquor or not, Woods adds rhythmic fire and melodic ornamentation to McDowell’s alternately harrowing and jubilant vocals and propulsive, rocking acoustic rhythm and slide guitar, proving once again to the skeptical that a voice, two acoustic instruments, feet stomping on the floor, and wild passion channeled through music can get any party started, even without a stereo to play Pink.