Pine Bluffing

Joe Cripps spent the past couple of years trying to coax a new record out of Delta blues legend CeDell Davis. In August, he finally will.

"I wanted to try some real African kind of drumming instead of a drum set on a tune, and we did it," Cripps remembers. "And you could just see the look of disgust in CeDell's face as we did it. You could tell he's just like, he's letting us do this, but he's just, like, looking out the window. As Peter said later, he goes, 'If you were teaching an acting class and were showing videos of different emotions, that would be disgust. That would be the perfect disgusted look.' We get done and I said, 'You didn't care for that too much, did you?' And he goes, 'That wasn't even half right.' I said, 'Well, I just wanted to see, CeDell, I just wanted to see. We don't have to keep it, I just wanted to see.' And he said, 'Well, do you see?' I said, 'Yeah.' And he goes, 'Do you see?'"

Some of Davis' ideas failed as well. A couple of days after the Rubber Gloves show, Cripps and the band decided to re-create the energy and excitement of that show by bringing in an audience to listen to them record at Dan's Bar. But they quickly realized they'd missed their chance; the crowd at Dan's sat on their hands, not wanting to intrude on the recording process, and much of the time, Davis was confused as well, wondering if he should be entertaining the people or concentrating on recording. Still, he gamely attempts to pull off a standard feature of blues gigs, where each member of the group is given a chance to solo. Nice idea, but the band isn't comfortable enough with Davis to know where he's heading, and his mumbled explanation isn't helping much.

"And the main guy I want to come to is the drummer," Davis says, wrapping up his instructions to the band. "I want him to do a little solo on the drums. You understand what I'm saying? When I nod my head, I want everybody else to stop. I want you to kick them drums. And you have to kick the bottom outta 'em. Kick 'em. And look, I'm gonna cut it short. Ain't going through pointing out stuff. This is fast time, 6/8 time. Yessir."

"Once he and R.L. Burnside are gone, that's it," R.E.M.'s Peter Buck says of 74-year-old CeDell Davis. "It's all going to be people that grew up hearing it second-hand."
Judy Walgren
"Once he and R.L. Burnside are gone, that's it," R.E.M.'s Peter Buck says of 74-year-old CeDell Davis. "It's all going to be people that grew up hearing it second-hand."

By the time Davis comes to Martin and Cripps' solo, the song has fallen apart to the point where it can no longer be recognized by anything other than dental records. "Oh, God," Buck groans when reminded of the give-the-drummer-some train wreck, after the band finished its first set of the night. Since he's been standing by Davis for much of the sessions, he's become the de facto bandleader. "That's how it works--if you're next to him, you're the bandleader," Buck says. "Everything we did on the record is a first take. He plays in G, but basically, you have to listen to him to figure out what riff goes where, because every G that he plays is different than the next one. And you don't really know what's going to be on the record, and what he's fooling with, and what's important...But, you know, hey, I'm in for it. I like to think on my feet. This is a musical experience. Once he and R.L. Burnside are gone, that's it. It's all going to be people just like me, whether they're black or white, that grew up hearing it second-hand. I'm just really pleased about this."

And so is Cripps.

"It's just been a real education for me," he says. "One, about music because he's just been playing music so long, and anytime you can talk to a musician who's been doing it that long, you're going to learn something. But, two, just learning about other people. When I thought I had him figured out and knew what he was all about and we were going to do a documentary, that was a very two-dimension image of who he was. And now that we play music together and we work together and get in business arrangements together and we have to travel together, it's much more complex and it's not as simple and clear-cut, and he's a really, really inspirational guy in a lot of ways. And just fun to play with, fun to be around, no hassle, great outlook, and I'm learning a lot, and it's just been a real good thing. It's been a real good thing."

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