This is the first tune I ever learned on the guitar, when I was sixteen from the legendary Reverend Gary Davis
in the shack behind a row of condemned buildings in Harlem where he and his wife Annie were living. why you cryin cuz i leave you ? He told me it was by Cab Calloway and that he picked it up off the radio (Davis was blind and that is where he got a lot of his music), but it sounds very old, pre-blues, and African to me. Much like the “blues” they play in Bamako as I discovered when I got there forty years later.
You can read more about Davis who was a seminal person in my life, a boddhisatva if there are such beings, see the Rolling Stone profile in Past Dispatches. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about him and posting my half-assed interpretations of amazing things he taught me.
Why he decided to teach me this tune, I don’t know. He taught each student something special so that the student would have something special from that only he and nobody else. It was like getting your personal mantra from your guru, at least for me, as I now realize. In this one tune all the music around the world that I would dip into over the next forty-five years opens up, at least for me. Southern country blues, gospel, ragtime, Appalachian, Celtic, samba, Russian, Malian, Rajasthan gypsy, flamenco, jazz.
This kicks off a new section of the Dispatches, Suitcase’s Morning Ragas. For years, I have religiously played the guitar for an hour two before starting my writing day. It’s my form of meditation. I just let whatever melodies are in my head that particularly morning express themselves. Maybe a minute or two of it is really good, and I’ve never captured these fleeting moments of transcendent musicality. Now I can plug my old black Gibson 1935 archtop L=30, which Slava Egorov has just restored, which you should remind me to tell you about, because Salva melted old black 78s to get the real lacquer that was used before the invention of plastics, which is secreted by beetles ! So I’m happy as a clam jamming on my Garage Band.
I have recorded and edited the tune on Garage Band but so far haven’t figured out how to attach it to this post so please bear with me music lovers.