Monday, July 06, 2015

Woman With Guitar – Memphis Minnie’s Blues – Paul and Beth Garon

Memphis Minnie is legitimately legendary as one of the early woman blues guitarists and singers who recorded over 200 songs and who collaborated with numerous men and who influenced artists as diverse as Big Bill Broonzy, Big Mam Thornton, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin ("When the Levee Breaks" was originally a MM tune, though they changed it radically) and Chuck Berry (who "borrowed" her "Me and My Chauffeur Blues" for his "I Want to be Your Driver").

Her story is told via interviews and whatever reports the Garons could find and there are lots of conflicting information that they discover, which makes the account of Minnie’s life a little vague and indecisive. So, a lot of the chapters on her life revolve more around the basic blues scene of the time and whatever recollections and rumors they could find.

But there is no doubt as to her talent at playing guitar – many say that she could “cut” her male competitors (Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, etc.) at any of the competitions in Chicago – her attractiveness (that she was not afraid to flaunt, although she does not talk it up in her songs), and the heavy drinking and just plain toughness (something that was certainly needed at the time).

After reviewing her life as best as they could, the Garons move on to dissect Minnie’s songs. They can get a bit too clinical here at times and sometimes miss – or at least omit – some obvious sexual metaphors, which is odd considering that Minnie allegedly did work as a prostitute at times. This can get a bit dry at times, though they do make some interesting points as they go along.

Not as compelling as I would have thought, considering the subject matter, but there is just not enough known to give a complete life's tale. Interesting but certainly not essential.