Looking at the tired and broken man on the cover of this disc balancing a national steel body guitar dejectedly on his knee, it’s hard to fathom Bo Carter at the height of popularity and success. But as one of the most prolific Pre-War bluesmen he enjoyed just such a stature during the Depression, an irony not lost in his songs. The notes to this compilation suggest that some of his celebrity may have been due to the risqué nature of much of his material. Indeed it’s tough to ignore the colorful imagery of tunes like “Ram Rod Daddy” and “Mashing That Thing.” But Carter’s skills far surpassed the lusty (and often misogynistic) topics of his lyrics. He was one of the most accomplished guitar pickers in the business and these twenty tracks bear this bold assertion out.
Born Armenter Chatmon, his abilities were initially honed in the company of his brothers Sam and Lonnie in the still (at least among Pre-War Blues connoisseurs) influential Mississippi Sheiks band, one of several famous traveling groups in Mississippi during the early 30s. Cutting his teeth on the road Carter eventually struck out on his own in search of the larger paychecks available through solo gigs. Working from a broad songbook almost completely of his own creation he cut a multitude of sides, each one showcasing crystal clean fretwork and a dry vocal delivery. In many ways he’s reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt in terms of string agility and relaxed presentation. His songs flow easily and evenly and feature sure-fingered instrumental breaks. Tracks like “Let’s Get Drunk Again” juggle obvious self-destructive tendencies with a carefree ambiance that is downright incongruous, but no less infectious.
Sadly unlike Hurt, Carter did not enjoy the fruits of the Blues Revival in the 1960s and passed away by all accounts broke, hungry and alone. As a single disc summary of Carter’s work this disc works incredibly well and it’s something anyone not familiar with the man who harbors affection for Pre-War blues should reference.
Catfish on the web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk/
Personnel: Bo Carter- guitar & vocals. Recorded: 1930-40.