Songlines: ‘Me and My Telephone’ / ‘The World Keep On Turning’

Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis and Peter Green

The first time that I came across the name Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis was in 1999; in a conversation with Mike Vernon printed in the booklet to “Fleetwood Mac – The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967 – 1969”, Peter Green mentions him as one of the musicians that he was listening to in late 1966, early 1967 when he was contemplating forming his own band.

Much to my frustration, I was unable to find any information about this artist (biographical) or his music (discographic). 

Years later, when I began researching my book(s) in earnest, I discovered* that Davis had had four songs released on a compilation titled “Modern Chicago Blues” (Testament 1964) and a self-titled LP released on Elektra in 1965 (both were issued in England in 1966 on the Bounty label) – unfortunately, these were out of print, and I could not find any of his recordings on-line.

 Left staring at a brick wall at the end of the blind alley I had traveled, I simply made note of Green’s referencing Davis and one-armed harmonica player Big John Wrencher** and moved on.

I honestly did not give it much more thought after that until just recently, when I came a across a post from Jan Largent (who consistently brings wonderful, undeservedly obscure songs to wider attention) on her Facebook Page “Blues Heart & Soul”

Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis

Jimmy Davis: guitar & vocal

Recorded 1963, Chicago, IL

Released on “The George Mitchell Collection Volume 36” (Fat Possum 2007)

Intro (0:20) / Everything Gonna Be Alright (2:44) –

Very loosely based on Little Walter’s song of the same title, it was the guitar playing and arrangement that excited me.  You can hear faint echoes of them in Green’s ‘The World Keep on Turning’.  Problem is, although the recording was made in 1963, it remained unreleased until 2007.

Thankfully, a good number of other tracks by Davis had been added to YouTube when I wasn’t looking for them; listening to the songs it quickly becomes apparent that Davis had a limited repertoire of guitar licks, relying mainly on a modal, one chord style most likely learned from John Lee Hooker with whom he often traveled and stayed with for a while in Detroit. (‘I Got My Eyes on You’ on Davis’ self-titled LP is Hooker’s ‘Dimples’ under a different name)

He used a similar arrangement on ‘My Baby Changed the Lock on My Door’ but I believe that it was Davis’ guitar playing on the following number Green took his inspiration from:

Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis

Jimmy Davis: guitar & vocal

Recorded 1964 / 1965, Chicago, IL

Released on “Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis” (Elektra 1965 U.S. / Bounty 1966 U.K.)

Me and My Telephone (Jimmy Davis) (5:00) –

Davis seems to be assembling his song on the fly; taking inspiration from John Lee Hooker song titles: ‘Just Me and My Telephone’, ‘Drifting from Door to Door’ and reaching as far back as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Matchbox Blues’, giving the number a makeshift quality; the ramshackle lyrics serve to highlight how effective the guitar work and vocal are in holding the listener’s attention.

Playing with the Bluesbreakers, and seeing the rise of Cream, Green may have already been contemplating the way that “The Blues” was being dragged more towards “rock” and with a number such as this, was seeking to connect himself and his music with a “purer” style; self-contained, a lone performer, living to play and playing to live, accompanying himself on harmonica or guitar, singing his song for any who may care to listen. 

Green first performed the number at the 7th Annual National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival on August 13, 1967, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’s debut, introducing it as “…an olde English Blues song”.  To me, this was the best of Green’s three performances that day.

Despite the poor sound quality, it is worth hearing the song as it was first performed.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Peter Green: vocal & guitar /

Recorded August 13, 1967,

Balloon Meadow, Royal Windsor Racecourse, London England

Available on: bootleg

Intro (0:23) / The World Keep On Turning (P. Green) (2:19) –

                Lyrically, Green too borrows from older songs, but rather lift the lines directly, he places his own spin on the ideas; Son House sang of “meeting the blues…walking just like a man”; here, “worries” and “troubles” keep coming ’round Green’s door, old “friends” whom he knows he should avoid, but can’t bring himself to as he enjoys their company.

                Green’s vocal here has a softness that creates a frisson with the words and theme of the song, but the speed with which he moves through the lyrics dissipates the tension inherent in the piece.

                This is also the only recorded version (there are six that I know of) where he inserts three descending notes near the end of the song; after the final line, at 2:16 and again at 2:29.  

Four months later, on November twenty-second, Green put the number to tape in the studio during the sessions for the band’s first LP.  There were subtle differences, and Vernon’s production enhanced the fatalistic, brooding quality of the song.

Shortly after the New Year, on January sixteenth 1968, Green performed the number for a BBC broadcast.  There are only minor changes made to the previous two performances. 

The first major deviation from the original was caught on tape at the end of April, 1968.

Fleetwood Mac

Peter Green: vocal & guitar /

Recorded April 27, 1968

Original release, London Live ’68 (Thunderbolt LP 1986)

The World Keep On Turning (P. Green) (3:35) –

The longer running time is almost completely due to the extended intro, which unfurls at a leisurely pace for close to a minute.  Where the previously performances were declamatory, Green telling the audience his tale, the more relaxed playing and almost contemplative vocal suggests an interior monologue as if he is musing on his circumstances in an attempt to understand how he has gotten to this point.

He does not appear to have any regrets for the things that he may have done or the decisions that he has made, and the biggest change, the repetition of the final line, makes him sound blindsided by his need for this woman even as it serves as a (self) justification for the things that he has done.

The arrangement here also moves the furthest away from Davis’ style and the one Green himself used on all of the other performances that we have.

There are two more recordings in circulation: a poor-quality audience recording that I believe is from the band’s 1968 Scandinavian tour, in November of that year, and a final, impromptu performance during the taping of a show in Norway in November of 1969 when Green performed the number as Danny Kirwan replaced a broken string on his guitar. 

*My research was greatly aided and enhanced by Stefan Wirz’s meticulous and exhaustively researched website “American Music” – be forewarned, all who enter, you can easily get lost researching your favorite artists and discovering many more.

**Further research into Wrencher’s catalog would seem to show that he had only one song released under his own name around that time, also on the “Modern Chicago Blues” compilation.  He also played harmonica in support of Robert Nighthawk on seven sides released on “Masters of Modern Blues Volume 4” (Testament 1967) so it is difficult to assess his influence on Green.

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