Now returning to The Top 10 in Christian Blues Week, day 4! Just one more day to go, so soak in all the blues you can before it’s gone. Now that’s a thought worthy to sing the blues about.
Anyway, just after my comment yesterday that this Christian blues list was killing our blog stats at The Blah Blah, we had our best day yet, with 63 views. Now, I know that for some of you bloggers out there 63 views would be a signal for the coming death of your blog, but we’re danged proud of it!
Now buckle in, cuz we’re about to get into some of the guys that define the world of blues music.
Here’s that snazzy list once again – The Top 10 in Christian Blues:
10. The Psalters – Home for Refugees
9. Glass Harp – Whatever Life Demands
8. Bob Dylan – Slow Train
7. Waterdeep – Gospel Train
6. John Davis – I Should Have Known
5. Doug Burr – Ain’t Got no Chains
4. Larry Norman – Feeling so Bad
3. Skip James – Jesus is a Mighty Good Leader
2. Son House – John the Revelator
1. Blind Willie Johnson – Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time
Larry Norman, coming in at Number 4, shows off his blues skills and lyrical poetry with “Feeling so Bad,” a great 70s blues rock song written from the perspective of a man whose girlfriend has gotten saved and started attending church all the time. He thinks she’s seeing some other guy and feels jilted that she would choose somebody else over him. Kind of a fun play on the standard blues music storyline of cheating lovers.
For those of you who don’t know him, Larry Norman was one of the early innovators of Christian rock in the 1960s and 70s. He dealt with a lot of criticism, mocking, rebukes, and threats because of his challenging message to the church and because he was singing demonic music, I mean rock music. People seriously got all bent out of shape because he was using rock and blues to worship God and preach the gospel. Lighten up, people. His songs seem a little dated and cheesy now, but back then, it took a lot of guts to play this kind of stuff for churches. Of course the kids loved it, especially since many of their parents despised it.
Larry Norman is a really talented guitarist and lyricist. His songs have been covered by a number of both Christian and secular artists, and he was called the “Rebel Poet, Jukebox Balladeer” by Ed Plowman of the Hollywood Free Paper in 1970. I’ve got a few songs that he does acoustic style, just him and a guitar, and they’re really great. He doesn’t need a full band to sound awesome. And he’s still touring today, after all these years, and still playing on street corners and preaching the gospel through music, so check him out.
Next on the list is Nehemia Curtis “Skip” James (1902 – 1969). Before you start to argue with me that James wasn’t a Christian, let me give a little history. Skip James grew up in the deep southern state of Mississippi. His dad was a bootlegger turned born again preacher. Apparently, James missed the part about being born again in his father’s training and grew up to become a whiskey bootlegger himself.
In 1931, James travelled to Grafton, Wisconsin (yay! go Wisconsin!) to record a blues album for Paramount. The producers bought him a brand new guitar so they’d get a good sound and recorded a full album of James, his eery voice, and his new guitar. Then they offered him either a lump payment of a few hundred dollars or a percentage of the sales. Like any smart bootlegger, James opted for the second, left the recordings with Paramount, picked up the contract, got on the train back to Mississippi, and never saw a penny for his recordings (boo! bad Paramount!).
Then the Depression struck. Skip James stopped singing the blues and started preaching the gospel, becoming ordained in both the Baptist and Methodist congregations. There’s debate as to whether he was really a Christian or just passing time.
In the 1960s, Skip James was rediscovered by hippie white kids who loved the folk and blues scene. Though he thought the whole thing was a little retarded (not his exact words), he did indulge the hippies by recording a handful of new albums. Some sources say that shortly before he died, James got serious about God for real, though he apparently struggled with the blues-Christianity dichotomy his whole life.
So, yeah, Skip James may or may not have been a Christian. I don’t know and I may never know. But this song, “Jesus is a Mighty Good Leader,” is definitely a Christian song in its lyrics, and James was one of the most influential blues singers of all time, so I had to include him.
Hope you dig these two guys, and come back tomorrow for the last, and best, in Christian blues – Son House and Blind Willie Johnson, classic blues names every music lover should know.
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