VOICES Notes and news on Digital releases
24 MAY 10 ANNE FARNSWORTH
James "St. Louis Jimmy" Oden was an itinerant bluesman who wrote for major artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker. A successful singer himself, in 1960 he reprised a set of his most personal material called Goin' Down Slow, the title of his biggest hit.
Born in Nashville in 1903, as a teenager he headed for St. Louis. An important center of black American music since the Ragtime era, by the '20s it had a vibrant blues culture with its own distinct sound. Oden stayed long enough to hone his skills and pick up a nickname, which he carried to Chicago, spending the rest of his life recording and composing.
"Goin' Down Slow" is a chilling account of a hard-living man who sees his health deteriorating. "Poor Boy" is the lament of an impoverished, illiterate orphan. Autobiographical or not, it must have resonated with a significant portion of southerners of that era. "Mother's Day Blues," a paean to mother love, is an example of blues as a discrete musical form whose subject matter isn't always downbeat.
A huge part of this record's appeal is the piano playing of Robert Banks. His churchy right hand and shuffle basslines exemplify a sound that lead to the rock and roll era of Fats Domino and Little Richard.