Listen to some bluegrass


Single             : Black water – #1 in Billboard Hot 100, 1975

Band               : The Doobie Brothers

Album             : What were once vices are now habits.

Release          : 1974

Genre             : Bluegrass / Country Rock

The YouTube video I made with ‘Black Water’ as the background score :  See below


The term ‘intellectual property’ didn’t exist in the 1970s Indian engineering college hostel where I spent five delightfully immoral years of my life. Whenever an album hit the Billboard Hot 100s in the US, we got a copy even before the grooves on the vinyl had fully hardened, thanks to Ranga, whose elder bro was already in the US. He would send a bunch of the latest LPs either by parcel or through friends who were coming home on vacation.

Ranga would rush it to our institute sound lab where a senior had rigged up a Hi-Fi Dolby Stereo spool deck. He would quickly have a master tape made and before he left the lab, the spool had been converted into about 10 audio cassettes. Very soon, the album would be belting away in every hostel and that’s how I got introduced to The Doobie Brothers. Through abetting large-scale piracy.

Albums those days were like the Voyager space probes. Ranga received this one from his bro around Pongal of 1974 and it orbited our hostels for a while. At Tapti Hostel, my neighbor, Tony, received a copy of the cassette and we spent the whole weekend getting stoned and listening to the lead singer, Patrick Simmons’ chart-topper, ‘Black Water’. That’s the one that’s playing in the movie I made on YouTube that you’ll find here:-

By the time the Tamil harvest festival got over, the album got a boost to Trichy through Srini’s bro who was doing his chem engineering at REC -Trichy then. At Trichy, the album cover was peppered by an asteroid belt, in the form of seeds and ash from all those chillums they were smoking. Some zapped individual then spilt arrack (Indian hooch) on it, leaving a horrible yellow stain and puffing up the cardboard of the cover. From Trichy, the battered LP suffered further abuse at REC-Kalikat, where Srini’s bro’s Sri Lankan pal had taken it.

By now the LP was getting stuck at ‘I’d like ta hear some funk and dixieland, pretty mama gonna take me by the hand’. No matter. There was always a stoned pair of hands to lift the stylus and place it on the next groove. Those days, everybody in REC-Kalikat was stoned all the time. REC-Kalikat used ta look like Marlon Brando’s drug den in ‘Apocalypse now’.

The Sri Lankan student, a Tamil named Karuna had a voluptuous Mallu girlfriend in Ernakulam, daughter of a big-shot cashew plantation owner. Whenever he wanted to f—k and have all his filthy clothes washed at the same time, he rode up the coastal NH-47 in a KSTC bus, to Cochin. This time, Karuna was going to leave the album with his girlfriend, as payback for the weekend frolic in the hay.

It was on the bus that the LP gave up the ghost finally. A hefty bra-less Mallu peasant woman sat on it accidentally (Malayalee peasant women don’t believe in wearing bras and the Malayalee men seem not ta care. I could never be a Malayalee man). Anyways, the LP broke clean in two with a loud snap, under her weight. I could go on telling you what happened to Karuna amd Ms Boobs thereafter, but this is about The Doobie Brothers, not about some horny Sri Lankan machan I have never even met.

“Black Water” is a number in the The Doobie Brothers’ 1974 album ‘What were once vices are now habits’. It is quintessential Louisiana rock with a bluegrass sound, its beats beautiful and the violin ethereal, producing a lovely late 19th century Mississippi river paddle-wheel steamer ambience.

Bluegrass, a distinct musical form, was developed from elements of the traditional music of the Appalachian region of the United States, where immigrants from the UK and Ireland arrived in the 18th century, bringing with them their musical traditions. These were English, Scottish and Irish ballads and dance music that would be accompanied by violins or fiddles. Sorry, no Welsh. Except Richard Burton, the Welsh always kept a low profile. Do you read about Wales in the news ever? It’s there somewhere next to England, where burly men play rugby without any protection.

Good melody is what it is – universal. So, it was not long before the Appalachian ballads found their way down to Louisiana and Mississippi, where black musicians infused characteristics of the blues to the mix, transforming it into bluegrass.

‘Black Water’ is brilliant example of bluegrass-infused country rock. Watch out for the violin, it is mind blowing.

Oh, and the video is just me driving to and from work and has really nothing to do with The Doobie Brothers. I was trying to gain expertise, splicing audio into video with my new toy, Corel’s Video Studio Pro. Thanks for watching it. Think Steven Spielberg will need an assistant? Huh?


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