Lost world in Mississippi
Radio: DOWN THE DIRT ROAD Russell Davies
Personally, though, I find that I'm starting to listen in the hope that Russell Davies is going to do his American accent. He did it the first time a few years ago in the Robert Johnson programme; and while I've caught hints of a faint twang since then, it hasn't flowered in its full glory again - not until Down the Dirt Road. It's no coincidence that both programmes were about bluesmen who died in the 1930s: few early blues singers left much behind in the way of written records of their existence - just some scratchy records, the odd photograph and a few memories. Fleshing out their life stories entails interviewing a lot of ageing southern black people, who often speak in fairly impenetrable dialect. The accent that Davies adopts is a kind of half-way house between Cambridge and Indianola, intended perhaps to put interviewees a little more at their ease.
A measure of the success of the tactic came when Davies was talking to Patton's daughter, Rosetta Brown. He suggested that Patton's records are often hard to understand: partly because they were recorded on discs made out of some unstable material, partly because he had a deep, gruff voice. She admitted that she didn't always understand his singing voice: "But when he talked to me, he just talked like we talking."
Davies wasn't the first person to have trouble understanding Patton's lyrics. When his recording of A Spoonful was issued, the record company's advertisements made it clear that it was a song about soup. Actually, it was an old cocaine number and, as Davies pointed out, "A spoon, of course, is still a recognised part of the kit." He sounded a little bit pleased with himself for knowing about that sort of thing. Still, if he wants to feel pleased with himself, let him. He's entitled.
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