THE CALIFORNIA DELTA BLUES
When most of us hear the term ‘Delta Blues’ we think of legends like Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Swampdick Perkinson, Udderthirsty McCoy, and Blind Lemon Pledge. All of these pioneers emerged from the Southern United States, and are worshipped as the musical gods they are. Yet history has overlooked another quadrant of great blues making, from another delta area, that of the San Joaquin Valley in California.
Alan Lomax, the great musical historian, received a telegram about a panhandler with a guitar who flummoxed between Lodi and Fresno. He called himself ‘Slim Lip Mackovitz’. Lomax was involved in a project for Carnegie Hall at the time, so he was unable to travel to California. Two weeks later, he received another telegram, stating that Slim Lip had disappeared, but that a migrating Mormon group could have adopted him to their flock. His whereabouts have never been discovered. Or his guitar.
A sheep rancher by trade, Bucky Freeman used his free time among his flock to develop his harmonica skills, often soothing the pasture into sleep. It is said that he had biblical knowledge of his sheep, but this could be apocryphal. Freeman used his time away from the pasture in the bordellos of Mariposa, singing and playing his harp to the ladies and men who did not want to hear him. He died in 1942, his skull crushed by a Byzantine plaster cast that fell out of a window. He was only 107 years old.
Leathertop Fussbag Murphy was already a well-known womanizer, spendthrift, and drag queen before he recorded his first sides at a studio in Bakersfield. Two and a half 45s were released- ‘Them Bitches They Done Me’ b/w ‘It Takes a Negro to Know’. Then, ‘Life Sucks for the Ofays’, b/w ‘Heaven ain’t that cool.’ The last song he recorded before his death was ‘Get the Fuck off my Lawn’, which proved to be ironic, as he died on May 23rd while mowing his lawn.