« This is a fascintating and entertaining set » by Blues & Rhythm

Voodoo (frequently referred to as ‘hoodoo’ on mainland America) has had a bad press in America and Europe, with sensationalist media having a (racist) field day with zombies, white slavery, naked midnight rituals and sympathetic magic – take a look at some of the images in the booklet accompanying this double CD, although the sleeve illustration also falls into the same trap. Many African-Americans have also bought into this impression, drawing in southern folk beliefs, though it is with a little surprise that I note that Muddy Waters is the most represented artist on these two CDs, with his five titles – two more than a totally unsubtle Screamin’ Jay gets – comprising ‘Gypsy Woman’, ‘Louisian Blues’, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, ‘Got My Mojo Working’, and ‘Evil’, though the second of those titles points to the state most usually associated with ‘hoodoo’, thanks both to New Orleans and the state’s bayous. The Crescent city artists present range from Jelly Roll Morton to Eddie Bo, with Oscar ‘Papa’ Celestin’s ‘Marie Laveau’ almost a template for Mac Rebennack’s late ‘60s and early ’70s incarnation as ‘Doctor John The Night Tripper’. Zora Neale Hurston was initiated into a woodoo cult in New Orleans and gave a vivid description in her book, ‘Mules and Men’; she also travelled to Haiti – the home of voodoo, in the west at least – and wrote about her experiences there in ‘Tell My Horse’. A common saying is that ‘Haiti is 90% Catholic and 100% voodoo’ (figures vary but you get the idea), and that is acknowledged here by the inclusion of three titles by the rather cultured singer Josephine Premice, recorded in Los Angeles in 1957 and which feature Barney Kessel on guitar. ‘Chicken Gumbo’ owes more to Harry Belafonte than to her native island though – and it would be good to hear more by her. Blind Blake represents The Bahamas with the lively ‘Spirit Rum’, nice enough and well worth having, but not his best. Back on the mainland, the blues contribution ranges from – inevitably – Robert Johnson’s ‘Cross Road Blus’ (the notes link the big black man who purpotedly turned up at midnight and tuned Robert’s guitar at the crossroads with powerful Haitian deity Papa Legba) to the nicely sophisticated Terry Timmons, the r&b contingent includes Louis Jordan and JayMcShann, and rock’n’roll gets a look-in with sides from Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry (‘Thirty Days’) and The Clovers (‘Love Potion Number 9’). Besides those already mentioned, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Art Blakey are on the jazz side, though the inclusion of the latter two is only justifiable as the titles of their numbers display an awareness of African roots, though once again possibly quite stereotypically, and otherwise tel us nothing about woodoo as such. The only white headline act here is indeed a curious choice : The Kingston Trio performs the calypso ‘Zombi Jamboree’ after a careful introduction. This is a fascintating and entertaining set, but the booklet notes seem to have been cut before publication. The legend of the crossroads encounter quoted here was actually about Tommy Johnson, not Robert, and there is obviously something missing as this quotation is immediately followed by a source attribution ‘Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Dirty Work At The Crossroads, 1953’, which might suggest that Gate’s opus was at one time also scheduled for inclusion. It is not a massive oversight as the set stands up well enough without it. Norman DARWEN – BLUES & RHYTHM