Catfish Keith released Catfish Crawl in September and is currently touring the UK. Catfish Crawl is the eighteenth album by a stunning acoustic blues player. I can put it no better than to say that if you want to explain to someone what the blues is and why it grabbed its place as the core of western music for over fifty years, just play them this album.
Catfish – I gather his name is from a mate who saw his diving technique – Keith has been making albums since 1984. I came across him early in his career and haven’t kept in touch with his music until now. The album is a treat.
It opens with the title track, a ragtime piece with a lyric about “Mama baby it’s understood/Got the best jelly in the neighbourhood/Do it in the kitchen/Do it in the hall/Do the old catfish crawl”. ‘Go Back To Your Used To Be’ is a heart-wrenching blues, followed by the contrasting bounciness of ‘Bella Mina’, a Bahamian song first recorded in the 1930’s. ‘Dixie Darlin’ ‘is the old Carter Family song. Catfish notes that “The music I fell in love with as a kid is the music I still play today”. His source genres are varied but Catfish Keith’s distinctive style is that of the man who has achieved his childhood ambition to be a guitarist who is “one person making all that sound, a single instrument in those hands [that sounds] like several, playing bass, rhythm, melody, harmony and counterpoint”. On the fifth track ‘Don’t You Call Me Crazy’ he goes a step further and does it all on a 12-string guitar.
‘Rambling Blues’ is the Johnny Shines piece, bottleneck playing on a National Guitar and starting “I woke up this morning…” It’s followed by ‘Little Pal Of Mine’, written by Catfish Keith but inspired by Reverend Robert Wilkins from the inter-war years. ‘Willie Mae’ is the Big Bill Broonzy number (on the video lbelow). Just these three tracks would be reason enough to introduce someone to the Blues and let them feel the music; if it’s already in your blood, the playing is faultless.
‘By the Waters Of The Minnetonka’ is a slide guitar instrumental. ‘Memphis Morning Train’ is another blues track. ‘Turn Your Money Green’ is the Furry Lewis classic, including the immortal lyrics “Follow me baby turn your money green/I’ll show you more money than Rockefeller has never seen”, “Woman I hate, see her every day/the woman I love, she’s so far away”, “Been down so long it seems like up to me” – it’s a cracking track and my favourite on the album.
Catfish Crawl closes with “What’s The Matter Now” but another of my favourites is the penultimate song on the album, ‘Banana in Your Fruit Basket’ – “Let me put my banana in your fruit basket and then I’ll be satisfied”. I doubt he’s a fruitarian but it’s a smiling reminder that one of the understated skills of the old blues styles was the ability to write an entirely innocent song which isn’t.
Catfish Keith is on tour until November 23rd, dates and venues on his website – and I’m looking forward to being at one of them in a couple of weeks’ time.
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‘Willie Mae’ – live: