Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sinclair’s Sunnyland Train


Picked up on John Sinclair and his travels site where he recently posted his version of the Sunnyland Blues. It’s largely based on parts of the one Slim and I did. It appeared first in Fattening Frogs for Snakes, his blues poetry opus published in 2002 by the Surregional Press.

John talked to me before he appropriated vast quantities of my piece. We discussed it, and jointly decided it was in the spirit of the blues to steal and borrow. It’s a premise of the blues to work with things that are out there, and adapt them with a new level of abstraction or different perspective. This is apparent in such scholarships as The Blues Line complied by Eric Sackheim [Schirmer Books, 1975] and in such rock albums as the Bob Dylan Time Out of Mind triptych, duly noted here and elsewhere. Sinclair dedicates his “Sunnyland Train” poem to me and Black Mike Henderson. Henderson played with Slim in the ‘70s as I recall.

Sinclair does put his take on the original Sunnyland Blues. He matches my stuff with stuff derived from Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues [Penguin, 1982]. The perspective portrayed becomes more nuanced: it introduces Slim as a figure of slightly suppressed volatility, and danger.

I really didn’t see this side of Sunnyland, and didn’t try to pursue that other phantom Slim. I knew the late Slim, the one that had returned to regular church going. But conversations with friends who knew Sunnyland long before I did confirmed that he had had a violent streak. He could cutcha! Particularly vivid in the mythical pantheon was the story of the band being pulled over in Northern California. Slim drunk, in the back, awoken, had a pistol and was ready to go at the policeman. He’d drink a fifth of whiskey a day back then.

Funny too. That John Sinclair included the work of Robert Palmer in this. I’d been working on the Sunnyland book for about five years when I read Palmer’s book in 1983. No question that Palmer had come across the original Sunnyland before he reduced his drinking and increased his adherence to the Christian life. When I read Palmer’s book I stopped writing the Slim book I’d been working on [a prose narrative bio] and began anew in verse.

Doubly funny. It was Palmer’s book that brought Sinclair back to poetry writing in the 1980s. He saw that the poetry of the blues men’s music was just as vivid in their conversational speech. And triply funny: John and I were both influenced by Investigative Poetry [City Lights, 1976] by Ed Sanders. Makes us blues poetry brothers, I think. But I’m gonna have to cut him, cause he took my poem. Heh-heh-Heh-heh-heh!

Sinclair is a true artist who is out there and grant seed is useful as he continues his studies in blues. Check out his site and consider clicking on the patron paypal link mechanism. In other words, think about donating money to this great working Merican blues poet. He is about to wend his troubadour’s way through England.

Anyhoo, in sequence on this blog runs here an old poem of mine.
The Doctor is in Time - A MoonTravellerHeraldBlogspot Poetry Moment

Also an interview with John.
John Sinclair interview on this site. MoonTravellerHeraldBlogspot Top Hit

Photo above: John Sinclair at Acme Oyster House, New Orleans, 1999.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's call this a memory jogger..hate to have falsities on web. but til I get around to it..the word is that there was no gun in this story... and Slim was not in backseat. They were going to visit Luther Tucker too, but it was Calif.

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