Blues classics on YouTube: 50 live performances

I’ve been working on this off and on since last Friday: a YouTube playlist designed as a comprehensive introduction to the blues, restricted solely to live footage. Music on YouTube is of course dominated by uploads of songs accompanied by still images, so simply sorting through and identifying live videos was time-consuming in itself. Musically speaking, I’ve cast my net widely, including some songs by performers usually associated with other genres (old-time Appalachian music, gospel, R&B, Sahelian guitar, Mississippi fife-and-drum, etc.) and some pieces by performers usually classed as bluesmen which are not, strictly speaking, blues songs. I wanted to suggest something of the broader context from which the music emerged; I even included a snippet of a lecture (illustrated with music) by multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons from the African-American string band Carolina Chocolate Drops.

My focus has been on the “greats,” but I’ve also included some fairly obscure artists and a few younger folks as well. I tried to balance the playlist geographically and by gender, style, featured instrument, etc., but unavoidably there are still more guys with guitars playing in the Clarksdale/Chicago style than anything else. I’ve tried to squeeze in as many performers as possible, so very few singers appear more than once, and I didn’t stop till I got to 50 videos. Rather than trying to watch the above embed in one sitting, it might be a better idea to bookmark the page on YouTube and browse at your leisure.

Don’t wait too long, though, because videos are always being removed from YouTube for one reason or another. Just in the past week that I’ve been working on this, one of the videos I’d originally selected has already gone missing. It was a good one, too! It’s almost enough to give a guy the blues…

Sibilant Ghazal

This entry is part 12 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


The hinge of any moment looks forward and back: the past is behind,
the weekend ahead. On the radio: a soprano’s clear notes scale the crest.

It’s long past summer, but the light at night and cloud formations
look weird. And in the morning, the sky magenta as the sun clears the crest.

Is it time to make a hurricane run? Batteries, flashlights, water;
how about chips, dips, and wine instead of fake chicken breast?

Home late, long past dinner time: I’m foraging in the fridge—
mung beans and shrimp paste, wilted greens. Cold rice, lemon zest.

It must be near my period: I cycle from sweet to salty and back
to sweet. I miss the kiss of wind on my lips. Or just to kiss.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

The Last Lion in Pennsylvania (Version 2)

This entry is part 3 of 22 in the series Alternate Histories


The last lion in Pennsylvania
was never found.
beetles smuggled her
underground; trees took
her up. Her ears became—
among other things—leaves,
& her roar was reborn in
the tops of tall pines.
She ran in the sap.
But she traveled, too,
into the ravenous
stomachs of the deer,
who were no longer
the wary creatures
she used to stalk.
Through them, she explored
a growing emptiness,
a desert with trees…

(See Version 1.)


Me, myself, and I— now we’re mostly friends. But I can remember
a different time when I fought with one, hid from another’s shadow.

I’ve never sleep-walked, and I can’t imagine being my own
doppelgänger… Whose ghostly shadow lives in the shadows?

Once, at a writing retreat in a castle, the fire burned down in the grate.
Was it the cold and damp that woke me at dawn, or was it a sitting shadow?

Villagers told of a lady walking the ramparts at night. Heartsick
or homesick? Before she became a bride, she turned to shadow.

In Kurosawa’s famous film, a thief passes for the warlord who has died.
No one knows who plays flute music in the fields; eventually, all is shadow.

But what purchase this world still has over us— Mornings are green and lilac,
afternoons rouged with jewel hues; nights star-lit, though smudged with shadow.


In response to small stone (171).

If you open an umbrella indoors,

expect a rain of spiders.
If they retreat to the bamboo grove,
you know it is to write poems on each stalk.
If rain is warm on your skin, go
into the backyard with a bar of soap.
If it slips out of your hand and floats
on the river, the capsized ferry
will arrive ten minutes ahead of schedule.
If thunder makes the sound of a hundred forks
falling to the floor, bring out wine glasses.
If the cat licking itself
is facing the door, expect guests.
If the color of the sky is indistinguishable,
you are allowed to start over.
If your friends turn first blue
then petulant, tell yourself
it’s only weather.
If the tilde is missing
from the n in your name,
you know you are done with that.


In response to small stone (170).

The Last Lion in Pennsylvania

First axe then lightning on
a million acres of dry slash:
the state’s namesake forests
burned & burned.
Then flood: with no roots
to hold the rains, hillsides slid,
rivers raged, cellars
filled with ashy gray mud.
The last lion in Pennsylvania
was starving, bones
visible under her hide
when they found her
at the end of a line
of incriminating footprints,
near a rocky outcropping
called the Pinnacle.
The men from the lumber camp
afterwards said she had
been prowling around,
had even stalked one of them
the night before.
Thomas Anson
was the name of the man
who shot her there
beside what they now call
Panther Springs—
though she had not.
He kept pumping bullets
into her crumpled form
to make damn sure.