Judy Roderick & The Forbears with Special Guest Mac “Dr John” Rebennack - “When I’m Gone”
12 Tracks; 45 minutes 11 seconds; Reference Quality
Style: Folk Revival Vintage Jazz-Country Blues
Judy Roderick 1942-1992
Who would have thought that a young folksy 19 year old Caucasian teenager from Boulder, Colorado via Wyandotte, Michigan could hold her own with the early 1960’s female African American Blues pioneers, much less land Columbia and Vanguard deals with titles like Ain’t Nothing But the Blues and Woman Blue, all by the early age of 21?
You should probably sit with that opening, just for a minute. Maybe go back and read it a second time, to understand what an amazing contribution this less-recognized female blues and folk singer-songwriter made during a time when music was a critical vehicle for youth to communicate the social, political and philosophical sentiments of our nation. Think “Bob Dylan” if you must, who was born in 1941 only 1 year before Judy. And think ‘1964 Newport Folk Festival’, renowned for introducing Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Johnny Cash and Howlin’ Wolf were there too where this ‘60’s blues revival was being rediscovered from its ‘40’s Delta heyday. Yes, that’s the company she was keeping.
Fast track from there to the UK to the Today Show in NYC and lots of performances in between, “When I’m Gone” is the 1982 remastered and rereleased recording of Roderick and her band the Forbears consisting of Washboard Chaz Leary, Don Debacker, Tim Martin and Dexter Payne. Her long time partner, band mate and collaborator, Dexter, deserves major kudos for bringing her back to life for those of us too young or less fortunate to have heard her prior to her much-to-early demise in 1992. Special guest Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack and some great horn players help create a disc that gives us a yearning to go back 40 years ago to a talent said to have inspired the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Joni Baez and Janice Joplin.
Track 1 is a Roderick/Ashford original, Gone To Memphis. This retro-rocking funky county blues tune has Judy sliding all over the pitch of the notes in a powerfully effortless way while the players have fun laying down a whacky blues pocket. Track 2 appropriately falls in place with the cover I’m So Glad, an Ernest “Little Son Joe” Lawlers tune you’ve all probably heard through Memphis Minnie. I LOVE Judy’s folk country blues version with the horns integrating a jazzy Vaudeville touch.
Want a little West Coast a-go-go surf rock lift with a Joplin punch? Listen to Queen of the Street. Sing it Judy! Judy’s tender delivery of Surprises in Track 4—with its slow emoting old timey country-gospel feel—is one that even Johnny & June Cash could appreciate in a Kris Kristofferson song writing way. The enhancement of the horn section with Forrest Means, Chris Lege and Fly McLard and topped off with Dr John’s keys make this one quite heart-wrenching.
There’s great horn arrangements and keys embellishing title Track 5’s When I’m Gone. Playful sassy dialog exchanges back and forth between the horn section and Judy’s sultry vocal delivery with an occasional wallop of male harmony. Ironically, the words Judy sings, “please don’t talk about me when I’m gone” are almost my invitation to be doing just that as I type this!
Track 6 is ragtime post-depression fun—Live in Love (Always) originally by W Walker and G Sullivan. Judy’s rendition is convincing as she shouts Live In Love! Live in Love! at the song’s end. If you like a vintage scratchy not-slicked-up-studio version old school sound, you’ll love this one. All the instrumentals held their own when the ball got tossed their way. The song compelled me to go out on the streets and shout something with a smile, or celebrate something, like when saints come marching in!
Track 7, Your Eyes Remind Me, has a nice harp introduction that leads into a country heart breaking ditty; who hasn’t ‘been there’ where Judy was when she wrote this song? Track 8 (American) Money Blues, is one of my favorite, with the grooving bass start, the psychedelic rock style opening rift, followed by a jazzy intro to what turns into a blues-rock Judy-belted-ballad, about the woes of money blues. Judy nails the blues vibe in this one. History apparently does repeat itself since we still seem to be having us some American Money Blues! I’d love to see this one hit the current XM radio satellite waves.
Our horns and keys come back with Judy and band mates all doing some serious blues struttin’ on Track 9’s Denver to Dallas. “Daddy used to be a rollin’ stone, mama was the kind to keep her man at home’. Track 10 is a wonderfully moving jazz rendition of Dream of You that made me want to be solo sipping Woodford Reserve on the rocks in some obscure dark corner of a smoky off-the-beaten-path jazz joint. It also made me wonder if Amy Winehouse had taken some lessons from the history pages of Judy Roderick.
Track 11 Shout Sister Shout (A. Crudup) starts with a gospel upbeat and jazzy horn intro that continues the pace throughout with horns, guitar rifts, ‘shout’ harmony of the boys, Dr John’s keys and Judy slinging her foot-stomping jazz chords of her own.
The disc concludes with Floods of South Dakota and I felt touched yet sad to see it over: “Someday—you’ll build a cabin on the hillside, someday—you’ll find the gold you’re lookin’ for, and maybe someday, in the diamond mines of friendship, you will find someone to share that winding road. For all time, you can count on me and all that’s mine.” Wow, Judy just emotes sincerely from inside her heart on this moving folk ballad.
Judy was truly one of the same Joplin-Dylan-esk folk-blues magnets that major labels were clamoring for in the 60’s; yet she also crossed all genres and has continued to be respected and admired for her works, to this day. I think sometimes it doesn’t matter how savvy a music reviewer you are: trying to actually put into words the description of tracks you listen to on a CD is DIFFICULT at best. How many adjectives and poetic packages can we use before we all sound the same with the same ole boring reads?
I know I’m lengthy here, but my sincere desire is to educate the reader about the person behind the music, as that's where the best music comes from, the people who can sing it, the people who can write it, and the people who can do both. It’s why we like to take blues cruises with the musicians, meet them face to face and attend their live shows—we want to know the person behind the greatness.
Some say Dylan was probably one of the worst singers, and Judy's no Celine or Patsy Cline, BUT both he and she left profound and inerasable marks, nonetheless; and that’s her great tribute to our music history.
From folk, blues, country, rockabilly, rock and roll, gospel to jazz and swing, Judy certainly had a gift of exploring, crafting, expanding and personalizing all musical styles that were born from original true root blues, as illustrated in this disc. I’m so honored to have met her here. Thank you, Dexter, for introducing her to me, and for sharing her again with those who already knew and loved her.
Belinda Foster is a Columnist and Contributing Writer for Greenville SC Magazine “Industry Mag” and was former manager of Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blues. She currently books blues-rock-jam musicians and is a devoted promoter and supporter of live blues root music and history, making frequent trips to “The Crossroads” and Clarksdale Mississippi, birthplace of the blues. Her column “The Upstate Blues Report” can be found on line at www.industrymag.net