Friday, January 20, 2017

History's Echoes

Thank John Henry It's Friday!

"Take this hammer, carry it to the captain, tell him I'm long gone!"


Today Donald Trump was formally inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

The photograph at right was taken at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday by Trump's son, Donald Jr. Having stood in that exact spot myself,
I am hopeful that Mr. Trump was both humbled and inspired by the experience, as I was.

Regardless of my own misgivings about the man (which I have recorded and will continue to record in these blog entries), today I choose to say a prayer for him
(thanks to the Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph, Minnesota for the actual prayer).

As for the idiotic protesters and boycotters, I will simply suggest that they listen to some calm, helpful words from my neighbor to the west, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse:

"Nice! You should move to Nebraska so you can vote for him."

The thought has crossed my mind...but I have a feeling I might get to vote for him anyway, some day...

Make Room!

On Wednesday the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that its most recent voting had resulted in three new members being chosen for baseball's highest honor.

This year's leading vote-getter, at 86.2 percent of all ballots cast, was slugging Houston Astros 1B Jeff Bagwell.

A four-time All Star and the National League MVP in 1994, Bagwell was a fearsome offensive player, compiling a .297 career BA along with 449 home runs (38th all-time) and 1,529 RBIs (52nd all-time).

He also won a Gold Glove for his defense in 1994 and was considered an above-average defender his whole career.

Finishing just behind Bagwell with 86.0 percent of all ballots cast was speedy Montreal Expos OF Tim "Rock" Raines.

Arguably the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the National League, Raines spent 12 seasons with the Expos before moving to the American League with the White Sox, Yankees, and A's. After a year out of baseball, in 2001-02 he made another 149 game appearances with the Expos, Orioles, and Marlins.

A seven-time All Star, Raines finished with a .294 career BA (he won the National League batting title in 1986), 808 stolen bases (5th all-time), and 1,571 runs scored
(54th all-time). He led the National League in runs scored twice, and was runner-up
in two other seasons.

The third-highest vote-getter, at 76 percent of all ballots cast (75 percent is the minimum required
for induction), was C Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who played the bulk of his 21-year career with the Texas Rangers before spending time with the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros, and Nationals. He was elected in his first year of eligibility, a rare honor.

Selected as an All-Star 14 times, Rodriguez was a defensive stalwart, winning 13 Gold Glove awards. He was no slouch at the plate, either, winning seven Silver Slugger awards at his position, and winning the American League MVP Award in 1999.

For his career he hit .296, with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBIs. He holds the career records for most games played at catcher (2,427) and most putouts by a catcher. He led the league in runners caught stealing three times, and is 39th in that category all-time.

"So, no Royals were elected this year?"

No Royal was even on the ballot this year...

Yeah, That Must Be It

From the pen of Chip Bok, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

On January 20, 1899 Huddie William Ledbetter was born on a plantation in Mooringsport, Louisiana. When he was five years old his family moved to Bowie County, Texas, and by the time he was 14 he was entertaining audiences in the surrounding area by singing and playing traditional work songs, field hollers, spirituals, and especially blues songs, some of which he wrote himself.

He gained wide renown performing as Lead Belly in no small part because of some recordings made between 1934 and 1943 by John and Alan Lomax for the Library
of Congress. The recording sessions began while Ledbetter was serving a prison term, something he did several times in his life.

His signature instrument was an oversized 12-string guitar, and by the time he died
in 1949 he had made an indelible impression on American blues music. Such was his influence that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, alongside The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Bob Dylan.

In February 2015 Smithsonian Folkways issued a five-disc boxed collection of Lead Belly recordings, including some material that had never been released commercially.

The set offers most of the songs closely associated with Ledbetter's career, including "The Midnight Special," "There's a Man Going Round Taking Names," "Cotton Fields," and several songs praising the folklore hero John Henry.

One of those songs was "Take This Hammer," recorded by Lead Belly in 1940 and again in 1942. It is a splendid example of just how blues music is truly a collaboration of influences spanning generations of artists.

Today's first send-off is Lead Belly's recording of the song from the Smithsonian Folkways YouTube channel. Enjoy...

In 1928, blues singer and guitarist Mississippi John Hurt first recorded a variant of the John Henry story called "Spike Driver Blues," and its lyrics and finger-picking style are echoed in Lead Belly's later version. Today's second send-off is Hurt performing the song, a clip that appeared on Rainbow Quest, a low-budget TV series produced in 1966-67 by folk singer Pete Seeger. Enjoy...

In February 2009, five years to the day before the Smithsonian Folkways Lead Belly collection was released, my blues-rock hero Joe Bonamassa released what to that point was his most successful recording in terms of sales, The Ballad of John Henry, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Blues Albums chart and reached No. 103 on the Billboard 200.

Today's final send-off is the official music video for the album's title track, Joe's own take on the John Henry legend filtered through Hurt (who received a co-writer credit on the album) and Lead Belly as well. The song has been a staple of Joe's live shows ever since its release. The video is from Joe's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

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