Friday, August 10, 2007

The night the bluesman met the honkies

This memory sprang unbidden and whole from my head (like Athena) recently:

Many, many years ago, back when I was a naive young man living in Little Canada, my then-wife and I went to see a blues singer named Osee Anderson. He was very, very good and very loud. A veteran at ease on stage, he was free with the banter. His audience was almost all white, and he seemed conscious of the lack of melanin in his fans, and tried to compensate for it. At one point, he said to us: "I don't want you out on the dance floor. This is a blues thing. I want you out on the dance floe!" In case the honkies didn't get it, he became specific, spelling it out: "F, L, O, E: floe!"

A few minutes later, Osee exhorted us to give voice to the the power the music had over us. "Let me hear you say: Ohhhhhhhh!" he called out, this last a deep soulful bluesy moan.

"Owww..." the honkies tried. Actually it was a kind of subdued, nasal gasp, a cross between "Awww" and "Owww."

The bluesman was briefly nonplussed, but bravely soldiered on. "No, no, let's get everybody to say" [throaty, resonant moan]: "Ohhhhhhhhh!"

"Owwwww...?" (Same as above, sort of petering out at the end, perhaps somehow sensing that they weren't quite getting it.)

Well, he exhorted us no more after that, for a bluesy moan of satisfaction was clearly beyond the power of the honkies. But later in the evening, Osee proved he was adaptable to the shortcomings of his audience: "Let me hear you say: Owwww," he offered.

This, they could do. And they did, heartily.

I kid you not.

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