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Peg Leg Sam: Kickin' It

Ed Kopp By

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The late Peidmont blues harpist Peg Leg Sam (real name Arthur Jackson) was a true ramblin' bluesman who lost his right leg in 1930 when he tried to hop a freight train in North Carolina. When he wasn't riding the rails, the South Carolinian worked as an entertainer with a medicine show run by "Chief Thundercloud," a Potawotomi Indian. This show continued its run until the chief's death in the early 1970s. It was around this time that Sam recorded Kickin It!, originally released on Trix as Medicine Show Man.

Though Kickin' It is a studio recording, it presents Peg Leg Sam's typical live repertoire, an unusual mix of blues and storytelling. (The album features 13 music tracks and two monologues.) Sam had many talents, but none more amazing than this: He could play two harps simultaneously, blowing one through his mouth and the other through his nose. He sounded great blowing one harp, never mind two, and this CD is a wild showcase for all his talents.

Aside from its historical value, Kickin' It is a freewheeling rural-blues recording that's also a hell of a lot of fun. Sam's solo cuts are terrific, and his tracks with guitarists Charles Henry "Baby" Tate and Henry "Rufe" Johnson are also quite good. The two monologues are charming in an old-fashioned way, but Sam's harmonica work is the real attraction. Sam plays some astounding harp here, especially on "Lost John" and "Peg's Fox Chase." On the latter track, he creates the sounds of a foxhunt using just his harp and voice. With his exuberant, unstructured approach, Peg Leg Sam was the country blues equivalent of a free-jazzer.

Sam was also the last country bluesman to tour the U.S. with a medicine show. Back when the blues was mostly a rural genre, many bluesmen connected with these shows. Each was typically run by a "doctor" whose goal was to make money hawking homemade remedies made primarily from alcohol. (Medicine shows allowed many rural residents to circumvent local alcohol restrictions.) In order to attract people to hear his sales pitch, the good doctor would employ one or more entertainers. Much like an old-time circus, the medicine show would set up shop on the outskirts of town and announce its presence.

Peg Leg Sam was the last of an extinct breed, and a unique talent.

Track Listing: Peg Leg Sam (harmonicas, vocals); Charles Henry "Baby" Tate, Henry "Rufe" Johnson (guitars)

Personnel: Keb' Mo' (guitars, banjo, harmonica, vocals); Jim Keltner, Steve Jordan (drums); Sergio Gonzalez (percussion, drums); Reggie McBride (bass); Scarlet Rivera (violin); Greg Leisz (pedal steel guitar); Greg Phillinganes (synthesizer, pedal steel guitar, keyboards); David Mann, Lawrence Feldman (saxes); Thomas Tally (viola); Gerri Sutyak (cello); Leon Ware, Dennis Collins, Marva Hicks (backup vocals)

Title: Kickin' It | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: 32 Records

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