Peter Green & Lightnin’ Slim – Trying So Hard To Forget

Researching, writing, and revising this book (rinse and repeat) took me roughly ten years.  When I was finally able to let out into the world to share with like-minded fans, it was the end of one phase of a lifelong journey.

In “conversation” with other Green fans on Facebook, e-mails from people who have purchased the book(s), I find myself returning to roads I thought well-traveled and discovering others that are new to me, with the book(s) becoming a nexus for information and discussion about the music of Peter Green.

In a Facebook post, sharp-eared Christoph Hennebeil pointed out that Green seemed to have built ‘Trying So Hard To Forget’ on the foundation of Lightnin’ Slim’s 1954 debut single, ‘Bad Luck’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YDRKtzf9Mw

The chord progression that Slim studiously plucked out on guitar, were the heirloom seeds that he planted in the rich Louisiana soil.  Watered by a succession of harp players, Slim carefully cultivated this sound, producing beautiful flowers in limited variety.

Hennebeil made me curious as to where Green might have come across such an obscure number (Slim’s Excello label-mates Lazy Lester and especially Slim Harpo were much better known in England, their songs covered by a number of R & B groups)

 

I turned to the indispensable “American Music” website https://www.wirz.de/music/american.htm a deeply researched discography site covering hundreds of blues artists.

Looking at Slim’s listings, I could not see where ‘Bad Luck’ had been anthologized before Green’s recording (of course it is possible that Green had copy of the original 45, but I am always wary of easy answers) so I listened to some other Slim songs that were available in England in the mid-sixties.

There was ‘Bad Feeling Blues’ from 1955, found on a 1965 Sue compilation “Pure Blues, Vol.1”.  The connection to Green’s number is a little more pronounced than with the earlier number.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF9PIRZhED4

This seemed especially promising as the collection also has Homesick James’ ‘Crossroads’ and Buster Brown’s ‘Don’t Dog Your Woman’ both of which were covered by Jeremy Spencer.  (the Brown song being retitled, ‘My Heart Beats Like a Hammer’)

Then I saw a compilation released in Germany in 1966 titled “Big City Blues”.  Four of the LP’s sixteen songs were by Lightnin’ Slim, and one, ‘My Little Angel Chile’ is another that Green seemed to draw on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhgHMB50by4

 

There are currently three known recordings of Green’s number: a “home demo” done at Duster Bennett’s house, the released version on “Mr. Wonderful” and a live performance from the Carousel Ballroom in 1968.

To me, the “home demo” owes the deepest debt to Lightnin’ Slim.

Green seems to have modeled his sulky, declamatory vocal, on the first two numbers, along with how he has Bennett weave his harmonica throughout the number, almost forcing him to compete for space for his vocal.

The studio recording sounds more like ‘My Little Angel Chile’ with the guitar and harmonica being more prominent in the mix.  The playing now brings a sense of momentum to the number, as does the decision to drop Bennett’s solo before the final verse.

Green’s vocal here also begins to show the influence of another Lightnin’, Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Hopkins influence in most strongly felt in the live performance.  The stark simplicity of the intro transplants Slim’s “swamp-blues” number to the barren plains of Texas.

It is just Green voice and his guitar now.  To compensate for the loss of the harmonica, Green scatters notes from his guitar and puts a waver in his voice on certain words and elongates others to keep the number moving.

This was style that Green chose not to return to after this recording.  The understated, almost syncopated guitar playing places a far greater emphasis on the vocal, and thus demands a “display” of emotional commitment that he was more comfortable and better able to summon on the guitar.

1 Comment

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    Chris Conklin June 14, 2017 (6:51 pm)

    Another brilliant blog, Richard. Your research and intuitive knowledge is incredibly entertaining and educational. Thanks again!