Student: Are all those (records you played) available on Harry Smith’s anthology?
AG: No – The “James Alley Blues” is, Richard “Rabbit” Brown singing. The “C.C.Rider” and “Jelly Bean Blues“, both by Ma Rainey, are on a collection of Ma Rainey that may be (on) Columbia (Records), but they’re available (there are about four or five albums of Ma Rainey now re-issued  and they’re available). The “Jacksonville Blues“, I don’t know where that’s from. A friend of mine was looking through this book (The Blues Line) and had a cassette, which he loaned me.
Student: Go up to the Folklore Center in Denver. You’ll find it.
AG: Yeah, likely. This book? or the Harry Smith collection? or that “Jacksonville Blues”? – Everything? – Do they have everything? [Allen begins singing! – “Going to the Folklore Center…”]
Student: Wasn’t it the record company, Folkways, that went around recording these people?
AG: Yes. Well, people working for Folkways. Alan Lomax and others. They even recorded me, actually. Harry Smith, who did that anthology, has spent the last two years recording all of my music, and a lot of Peter Orlovsky‘s music, and a lot of other people – “Materials For Study of Religion in the Lower East Side – Circa Nineteenth, Mid-Twentieth Century”.
So what I was playing you were my models and my own sources. So (now) I’ll play you some of the results, because I’ve been working recently in this Blues form, (which I’ve just learned). I wrote two Blues here (Naropa) last year, and then recorded, this March and June 1st, at Columbia Studios, with John Hammond, who, originally, recorded some of the last Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday songs. So he was interested in what I was doing, because that was my lineage as far as… I used to listen to station WNYC in New York back in the late (19)30’s and(19)40’s, and heard a lot of Lead Belly, and a lot of Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith, and, with (Edgar Allan) Poe and Vachel Lindsay, that seems to have entered my neural structure.
So the first is “Sickness Blues” – As you may have noticed, I have a slightly paralyzed right cheek, as of last May, from going to a hospital and (being) shot full of antibiotics, which I was allergic to. I think the words are clear. [Allen plays the version of “Sickness Blues” that was subsequently released on the John Hammond-produced First Blues recording in 1982, interrupting after the opening line to enquire “Can you hear the words?” and, later, repeating the line – “He shot me with poison germs”, followed with “compare this to “Kaddish”“]
What I was trying to do there was to appropriate some of the formulaic terms of the Blues, like, “Doctor, Doctor, bring morphine”, or, “Someday..I’m going to leave this town with noise of rattling bone” – and add on modern poetry, a little modern Surrealistic Tibetan Vajrayana poetry, and put in a little bit of Gnostic, or Mantra-yana, depth to it. But sticking to the traditional form – and put it in subtly enough so that it’s almost invisible (but, at the same time, restore the Blues diction and content to its original hard-on melancholy. So I’ll play “Hard-on Blues” next.
Student: Was that last one a single take?
AG: That was the first take of.. the words (that) I’d written down (although I altered them slightly in the singing). The music was.. I’d run over it with one of the guitarists and played it separately with the dobro player, but we never got together and rehearsed it before, and just did one take.
Student: What was the name of the dobro player?
AG: Pardon me?
Student: What was the name of the dobro player?
AG: David Mansfield – who was one of the musicians on the (Bob) Dylan Rolling Thunder tour. The dobro isn’t here, actually. There’s cello. The cello is a Buddhist cellist (Arthur Russell), who spent a longtime meditating in San Francisco. This is “Hard-on Blues” [again, Allen turns to a recording] – It’s not mixed too clearly. So I’ll read you the words – [he proceeds to read out the lyrics]
“Blues is like a hard-on, comes right in your mouth/Blues is like a hard-on, comes right in your mouth/Never know when it’s coming in your North or in your South/ Yeah, Blues like a hard-on, leads you down the road/Blues like a hard-on, you’re [sic] standing on the road/ Lord, I gotta stop here, get rid of my weary load” – That’s an old Blues formulaic thing – “I gotta lay down my weary load” – [Allen continues] – “Blues is like a hard-on, it takes you far from home/ Go out in the night-time, in streets and subways roam/Looking for a lover, like the blues who won’t let you alone/ Blues is like a hard-on, I got a case of Blues/ Ain’t got clap or gonorrhea, just got my hard-on blues/If you were sitting here in bed with me, you’d be the one I choose/ Blues is like a hard-on, I can’t leave it alone/ Sitting in my bed in Boulder, all I can do is groan/ If I don’t get it off right now, someday it’ll all be gone.”
And that was a Buddhist ending!
[Audio for the above can be found here (starting approximately fourteen minutes in and concluding approximately twenty-five-and-a-half minutes in]