Bukka White – The Roots of ‘Do You Give a Damn For Me’

A few months ago, I got an e-mail from a PeterT who was writing to inform me that in an earlier blog about ‘Show-Biz Blues’ https://smilingcorgipress.com/rory-gallagher-showbiz-blues/ I had neglected to mention that Green’s performance of the number owed a debt to Bukka White’s ‘Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues’.

And while I did write of White’s influence on Green’s playing on the song (and all the assorted out-takes, up to and including ‘Show-Biz Blues’) in the book, it was in relation to White’s train songs, such as ‘The Panama Limited’ and ‘Streamline Special’.

Going back to see what I had missed, I listened once more to White’s original recording of ‘Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues’.

 Bukka White

Bukka White: steel guitar & vocal

Washboard Sam: washboard

Recorded March 08, 1940, Chicago, IL

Released, B-side Okeh 78 ‘Sleepy Man Blues’

Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues (Booker White) (2:34)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnWjZeVqMHY

I was at a loss.  While there were insinuations of White’s playing in Green’s recordings, in my mind, this simply reinforced my original contention.

But, as I had not yet examined the evidence “six ways from Sunday” I continued to look into Peter T’s claim, eventually piecing together a “history” of how White’s performances of the song evolved.

The session at which White had recorded the song would prove to be his last for twenty-three years.

In 1963, guitarist and blues enthusiast John Fahey posted a letter addressed to “Booker T. Washington White (Old Blues Singer) c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi”.  A month later he received a response from White, now living in Memphis and two days later he was at White’s door with his friend ED Denson and the two recorded him in his living room, releasing the results Fahey’s Takoma label.

Bukka White

Bukka White: steel guitar & vocal

Recorded 1963, Memphis, TN

Released, “Mississippi Blues” (Takoma 1963)

Mississippi Blues – The Incredible Bukka White” (Sonet 1969 U.K.)

Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues (Booker White) (2:34)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_a8wuxb4_8

White had transformed the song in the years since he had first committed it to vinyl, accelerating the tempo and intensifying his attack with percussive hand slaps on the guitar.

What one had to strain to hear picked up and echoed in Green’s performance in White’s original recording, has now begun to coalesce, emerging fully formed in this performance at the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival:

Bukka White

Bukka White: steel guitar & vocal

Recorded October 09, 1967 for WDR TV, Cologne, Germany

American Folk Blues Festival

Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues (Booker White) (incomplete) (3:09)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbHtNMyAB7g

The clip picks up with White at the end of the intro (the original clip has narration in German providing background on White) but nothing can diminish the power of White’s performance.

Despite there being more than a year between this performance and Green’s first attempt at what would become ‘Show-Biz Blues’ it is easy to believe that had Green seen this (the band was in England at the time) that it would have been something Green kept in the back of his mind and let steep until he found the right time to use it.

 

Fleetwood Mac’s second LP had been released in England in August of 1968.  They followed that up at home with a lone single in November (granted that single, ‘Albatross’ would eventually go to Number One on the U.K. charts) but here they were recording in New York City, while on tour, attempting to get enough songs on tape for a third LP.

The pressure was on Green to come up with the material (the new kid, Danny Kirwan had plenty) and he was not happy about it.

The earliest take that we have is also the most vehement.

Fleetwood Mac

Peter Green: guitar & vocals

Recorded January 08, 1969 Tempo Sound Studios, NYC, NY

1st released on: “The Vaudeville Years of Fleetwood Mac: 1968 to 1970 Vol. 1” (Trojan 1998)

Available on: “Men of the World – The Early Years” (Sanctuary 2005)

Do You Give a Damn for Me (P. Green) (3:45)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Euh8pbZLk8

One can easily imagine Green sitting alone in the studio, literally separated from his bandmates and the producer by the glass of the control room, looking right at them as he shouts out the opening question / accusation.

The little laugh heard as he reprises the line may have been meant to take the edge off, or relief at finally letting out how he feels.

This take has his most “conversational” vocal, where it really feels as if he is telling us a story.  The extended instrumental breaks between the verses are also part of the story, building upon and highlighting the emotions that he is trying to convey.

This approach reaches its apex during the last two verses.  When he sings of how he doesn’t need anybody but “old me” those two words are swamped by the guitar, as if he finds them hard to say out loud, and can deny that was what he said if he is called out on it.

He also allows the tension to build after stating how “…you sitting there so green…” compulsively picking at the strings before releasing it with the admission that he is “…just the same…”

His final words are an acknowledgement of what his “job” is: to make people “laugh, cry and be satisfied” and the final burst of guitar can be heard as the sound of someone thrashing against the restraints that he has been placed in.

 

This first take may have been a bit too “raw”, the emotions too close to the surface.

Sixteen takes would be logged that day, with the twelfth being released on “Show-Biz Blues: Fleetwood Mac 1968 to 1970 Vol. 2” (Trojan 2002)

The song would undergo two more title changes as Green continued to modify it musically lyrically and vocally over the next six months.

In the end, the version that would appear on “Then Play On”, titled ‘Show-Biz Blues’, comes off in comparison to this earlier version as less urgent, as if Green were more concerned with the sound of the song rather than its meaning and in truth, that is how it should be.  It is a favorite on the record for many, and to quote Irving Thalberg, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union”.

Green wasn’t the only one constantly searching, bringing something new to a song each time they played it.

I’ll leave you with this clip of Bukka White recorded two months after the German broadcast.  Enjoy:

Bukka White

Bukka White: steel guitar & vocal

(Possibly) Recorded December, 1967 for KCTS, Seattle, WA Public Television Station

Released on “Masters of the Country Blues” (Yazoo DVD 1991)

Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues (Booker White) (3:27)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8IGs7GQ740

1 Comment

  • comment-avatar
    John Litrenta September 14, 2018 (12:43 pm)

    Thanks Richard,for the updated insights into the birth and transformation of this song and to PeterT for the inspiration.