There were two performances back in the 1970s that turned me on to the power of electric blues. The first was part of the television special on Public Broadcasting called All You Need Is Love that traced the history and roots of popular music. During the segment on blues and jazz they concluded the episode with B. B. King singing his version of "Free At Last" while playing film footage of African Americans from as far back as the late 1800s up to the civil rights marches and sit-ins of the 1960s. Not only did the poignancy of the lyrics hit home, but the power of King's guitar leads really struck home when seen in that context. Somehow they seemed to sing as loudly about hardship and struggle as the lyrics.
The second performance was Muddy Waters singing "Mannish Boy" during the band's concert movie The Last Waltz. While there wasn't the emotional context of the television show, there was something about the sight of this man standing up on stage dressed in a leisure suit looking so normal, while out of his mouth came this amazing, resonating, voice, that was incredibly moving. The song is deceptively simple, as it follows a basic rhythm that repeats itself throughout. However, the way the vocals and the music accented certain points in that pattern gave the tune an emotional power that a more complex song couldn't hope to match.
Now obviously Muddy Waters and B. B. King are tough acts to follow, and both performances were in special circumstances, but on some level or another I'm sure those two performances have been the benchmark against which I've compared everyone else that I've seen since. It's not often that I hear anyone who is able to measure up to the emotional strength and honesty that they generated, but Travis "Moonchild" Haddix's newest release, Daylight At Midnight distributed by Earwig Music, is one of the few that have evoked both of those performances.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Travis has been around the blues since he was born in Mississippi in 1938. His father was Delta bluesman Chalmus "Rooster" Haddix, who played fish fries and juke joints on weekends and worked the fields during the day. If his guitar playing reminds you of B. B. King's, it's probably because it was meeting King in Memphis that made him want to learn the guitar. It was during his time in the Armed Forces that he began entertaining as he and a buddy were given the option of guard duty or playing for other soldiers and settled on the latter. Once back from Europe and discharged he joined an R&B band called Chuck & The Tremblers based out of Cleveland Ohio who he stayed with for six years.
It's not often you get to hear someone play who can handle King style leads, R&B grooves, and the deep rooted pulse of the Mississippi valley like Haddix does. In each of the songs on Daylight At Midnight he incorporates at least one of those three styles, if not sometimes more, and as a result has created a CD of diverse and exciting work. Even better is the fact that unlike others who are satisfied with being able to simply reproduce a style, he has used them in order to create his own style that comes through on each of the ten original tracks of this recording.
Perhaps it's his background in R&B, or maybe just a singular attitude towards life, but Haddix has a wonderfully sly sense of humour that comes through in his song's lyrics. Maybe it's because of my predilection for wixing my mords up that I liked his song "Backward Baby" so much, but how many times do you actually hear someone use the words back-assward in a song? Just as funny are the subtle, sexual overtones to "Way Back In The Country" where he talks about the lessons he learned about the birds and the bees. Some of those birds don't sing, eagles who like raw meant for breakfast and buzzards who cruise around waiting for something to die, and not all bees make sweet honey, some will just sting you.
There are far too many blues singers who feel like they either have to always shout their lyrics or put on some type of affectation they think is appropriate for singing the "blues". It's when you listen to a man like Travis Haddix that you realize what you've been missing out on by listening to people like that. He has one of the more expressive voices that I've heard singing any style of popular music in a long time. In fact he's such a skilled writer that the music on some songs was obviously created to take advantage of that and works with his voice to emphasis its expressive qualities.
He has more than just humorous songs, and while his material covers the usual love/relationship/mystery-of-the-opposite-sex topics typical of blues and R&B, there's also a side to his music that you don't find in too many songwriters. The title song, "Daylight At Midnight", is in reference to a tour he did recently in Finland and found himself in the land of the midnight sun for the first time. In it he expresses his wonder at joy at the "Strange things that happen in this town, it's daylight at midnight – seem like the sun don't go down".
Daylight At Midnight is Travis "Moonchild" Haddix's tenth solo release, and all of his discs, including this one were originally recorded and produced for his own label, Wann-Sonn Records, and are now being distributed by the Earwig label. It's not often you have the chance to hear someone who is able to move so seamlessly between the blues and near funk R&B on the same disc with such authority and assurance or whose lyrics are both funny and intelligent. This disc is a real antidote for all those bands who have forgotten that just because it's called the blues doesn't mean it can't be fun and those who don't know how to sing about anything else besides that girl who done them wrong.