Struggles and Bucket Checks: Two Years On
Well, here we are at the second anniversary of Katrina's Gulf Coast landfall; and the aftermath for New Orleans continues. Reading the news, there's plenty to damn and some things praise about the slow motion recovery, which should have been, and still maybe can be, a renewal and renaissance for the city and region. But, I'm not here to editorialize - just do what I do and play a couple of songs that struck me as somehow fitting for the day. I don't want to read too much into them and try to make them mean more than they do. But, as I've said before here, when the stylus hits the groove, a song you've heard a hundred times can take on new meaning, based on changed circumstances. Both of these have some resonance for me that way today.
"Life Is Just A Struggle" (Kenner-Douglas)
Johnny Adams, Ric 983, 1961
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When I thought about what to play today, this subtly subversive song immediately came to mind. Written by Chris Kenner, who took the music and feel for it straight out of church, "Life Is Just A Struggle" gave 19 year old singer Johnny Adams a chance to show off his impressive gospel music foundation. Kenner had previously cut the song for Ron Records, which like Ric was owned by Joe Ruffino in New Orleans; but, obviously, Adams had the voice (mature beyond his years) to truly do it justice. It's one of my favorite sides of his. Although it has all the trappings of a song of faith, if you pay attention to the lyrics, you hear the writer expressing doubts about righteous religious platitudes and pointing out life's inequities, for example: "After we've suffered all of our lives, then we got to die and suffer twice." About as close as he gets to church is asking someone to pray for him so he doesn't have to suffer through eternity, too. And yet, Adams' vocal firepower sanctifies the song, infusing it with a spirit that rises above the woes of a set-upon sinner. I enjoy that seemingly contradictory duality and think it gives the song an added dimension.
Since long before the Flood, New Orleans has been no stranger to both hard times and rolling good ones, and continues to exhibit the yin/yang of abundant misery co-existing with the wellspring of celebratory energy in its music and cultural richness. Somebody pray that soon the latter can once and for all overcome the former.
"Check Your Bucket - Part 1" (Edwin J. Bocage)
Eddie Bo, Bo-Sound 5551, 1970
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On a lighter note, we have this sermonizing hymn from Eddie Bo's Church Of Holey Bucket Checking. Again, this song sort of picked itself the other day; and I can't hear it now and and not think about leaky levees in a city set in a bowl, virtually surrounded by water, and, on a good day, slowly sinking into the sandy muck it was built on. But, that's really not what the song's about. Eddie's point is that you can lose what you've got if you're not paying attention to what's important, in this case, a relationship that may be going down the drain and needs checking. Still, loss through neglect certainly rings a bell when it comes to life in the Crescent City. By the way, singing about holey buckets didn't start with Mr. Bocage, either. In the early 20th Century, songwriter Clarence Williams penned "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It", back when beer was bought and carried home in a bucket; and springing a leak was definitely cause for concern. One needs a seaworthy bucket for all sorts of things.
You'll note that Bo's not in his funk mode here. The material reminds me more of what he was doing for Seven-B a few years before. Still, it's a hooky, effective little R&B dancer with a strong vocal. The guitars are a little approximate at times and the arrangement is loose, but still feels good. Wonder, though, why he didn't play a keyboard on this.
You know, Eddie's been singing this song since the early 70s, so you'd think there'd have been more bucket inspection going on as a result. To paraphrase an old saying, nobody pays props to a prophet in his own hometown. Anyway, after what happened down this way, that double heap 'o hurricanes and all, and with the rest of life's struggles and troubles, I'd advise anybody and everybody to take this man's advice and check yours - frequently.