Monday, January 5, 2009

Watch Your Step; Ted Hawkins & me (continued)

The record cover showed a big black man with a big grey beard playing a big dreadnought acoustic guitar. He had a pink short-sleeve shirt on, and the background was a powerful construction of planes of color, white walls and barred windows, bisected by dark shadows and sun, and a bright raw triangle of blue, of blue sky. It was artful and direct and pure.

There was a terrific story connected to the record too, and the liner notes by the distinguished Peter Guralnick sketched it in roughly. Ted Hawkins had been singing on the streets of Los Angeles in 1971 when a young blues fan named Bruce Bromberg heard him.  Bromberg had produced a few bluesmen in the past and so now he recorded Hawkins. But the problem was that these tunes weren't blues, and Bromberg didn't exactly know what to do with them, although one song, "Sweet Baby," even got played a few times on a local R&B station.

A dozen years later, 500 miles away, by sheer accident, I heard it on the radio too. I couldn't tell you if it ever got played again — I couldn't prove to you it ever got played in the first place. It begins: "Sha la la la lala la la . . ." in a blasting burst of joy so solid words won't stick to it. But then words gather:

"Sweet baby, you know
That no one can love you the way I do
And I just proved it . . . "

and then the words race across a mind exposed in love and fear and ferocious pride, bragging, begging for praise, flirting, flattering, starting a jealous argument just for the sweet sake of smoothing all those ruffled feathers, rolling and tumbling in a bed of laughter, swearing true strong love on a stack of Bibles, and then offering up one of the largest and purest lies a lover can ever deliver:

"Don't worry, darlin'
I'll do nothin' at all
That would cause your teardrops to fall . . ."

before raking it all back under again with another burst of "Sha la la la . . . " just to remind you what a pack of liars we all are.

[see the beginning of this piece, "Watch Your Step; Ted Hawkins and me," below somewhere, and other Ted Hawkins documents]

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