Babe Stovall: Big Road Blues / Careless Love


Big Road Blues / Careless Love


Babe Stovall (guitar, vocals)


The Old Ace (Arcola 1005 )

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Babe Stovall (guitar, vocals).

Composed by Tommy Johnson


Recorded: New Orleans, July 1968


Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

"I ain't the best in the world," Babe Stovall modestly proclaimed at performances, "but I'll do until the best git here." For years, Stovall entertained passersby on the streets of New Orleans, and little did they know how deep ran the blues roots of this spirited showman of the pavement. Here he delivers a moving version of "Big Road Blues," a song that was handed down from guitarist to guitarist in the early decades of the twentieth century, and ismost closely associated with the legendary 1920s-era bluesman Tommy Johnson. This piece is more syncopated than your typical early blues and the guitar part is a timeless bit of Americana, worthy of its own corner in the Smithsonian. The Mississippi Sheiks later adopted the essentials of this song for their "Stop and Listen Blues"—a borrowing which led to that anomaly in the blues field: copyright litigation from Johnson's record label. Stovall's version sounds strikingly like Johnson's, and well it should—he learned this song directly from him, and even knows some additional lyrics that Johnson never recorded. This is the real stuff in the blues world, as authentic as moonshine straight from the still. Blues scholar David Evans has even studied this tune as a sort of African-American equivalent of Homeric aural-oral history, and Mr. Stovall sits in the center of it all. The tourists in the French Quarter never knew that the real historic monument in their midst was that old gentleman with the guitar in his hands.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia


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