Sometimes it's a fine line to tread between respect for elder
musicians and responsibility to your art--especially when you've got a whole
record to make and only one week to make it in.
That's what Jon Spencer
Blues Explosion guitarist Judah Bauer found out last fall when he trekked to
Holly Springs, Mississippi to record an album with local blues legends. Drummer
R.L. Boyce, fife master Othar Turner and his drum corps, and a man known only
as "Spam" all turn up on the new album Bauer recorded with his brother Donovan
under the name Twenty Miles.
But the real story is in how they got
"They would say, 'We're coming by at four--meet me outside the
grocery store', " Bauer said of the older blues men, his voice a combination of
frustration and deference. "I'd go to the grocery store, and no one's here.
We'd go back and hang out and maybe they'd show up the next day. They'd come in
the door and be like, 'I guess you're ready to play now.' So we'd play.
Then they'd get too drunk to play, and they couldn't fuckin'
Bauer hooked up with the musicians indirectly through R.L. Burnside,
with whom the Blues Explosion recorded an album last year. Burnside records for
the Fat Possum label, who put Bauer in touch with the locals.
of their sessions are the 10 raw, blues-infected cuts that make up Twenty
Miles, released this month jointly by Fat Possum and Epitaph. Bauer calls
the disc, most of which was captured on first take, a "sloppy" record. "All the
songs I had written before I went down there," he said, "but they're all real
loose. Because I knew it was going to be an experiment from the get go. I had
to figure out how to do the song when I met them, and what they could deal
Among his not-so-fond memories...
Among his not-so-fond memories of the experience, the
guitarist recalls that octogenarian fife player Othar Turner showed up with his
drum corps to record at midnight, three days late. Turner's corps
consists of several men, each of whom plays a single percussion piece. "Othar
leads them into what to play," said Bauer, "and when they get in a groove, he
starts playing fife. Usually he didn't feel like playing it 'cause he thought I
was too loud. He's into blues music and he didn't like what I was doing. Toward
the end he started having fun, he started getting into it."
hear Tuner blow his pipe twice on Twenty Miles, on the songs "I'm Not A
Man" and "Mississippi Bolero."
Bauer said he came to know drummer R.L.
Boyce from his work on Feelin' Good an album by Jessie Mae Hemphill.
Though now a construction worker who concentrates on his guitar chops, Boyce
agreed to take part in the sessions with Twenty Miles. "He kind of wanders over
the drums," said Bauer. "It's not like a straight riff. He'll play on the
snare, and then he'll go over to the high hat. On that song 'She Don't Know'
you really get to hear that kind of style. He's just a beautiful, strange cat.
I never heard anyone play drums like that."
Also taking a turn behind the
kit is Spam, soon to be known for his skills on the debut album by T-Model
Ford, Pee-Wee Get My Gun. According to Bauer, Spam is something of a
marathon man with the sticks. "If he starts playing, he'll play all night, for
like 10 hours. He's the best boogie drummer I've played with. He's really
Although the Bauer Bros. will be touring as Twenty Miles
after the Blues Explosion does its summer stint with the Lollapalooza festival,
Judah doesn't expect his Mississippi cohorts to join them. "I don't expect
these guys to totally jive with what I'm doing," he said, "because I'm playing
white punk and Link Wray, and they're pretty hard core Delta blues musicians.
Othar doesn't even like playing with electric instruments."
Asked if he
plans to record with the crew again, Bauer replies without hesitation, "No, no.
Uh-Uh. I'm done. I had my trip, I fought the war. And I paid up front."