Monday, April 24, 2017

"Going Down"

Lord what a cornucopia of rubbish there is on the internet. But then what a wonder it also is.

For too many years now, I’ve had this nagging fragment of a song, a descending riff in heavy blues format, that comes to mind, ear worms merrily away for a day or two, and then vanishes for a while. I’ve always had the impression that it’s a really well-known song, or a blues standard that Any Self-Respecting Guitarist knows inside-out.

(Actually, there are two of these nagging fragments. The other is a very slow blues-y song that played over the end credits of a Comic Strip episode, in which the words were, as far as I can remember, “Oh, je suis bleu.” I’ve never found it.)

But this one, thanks to the immense power of the web, I’ve laid to rest at long, long last. And the best part, the *very* best part, is that it has one of those semi-mysterious back-stories that a complete music nerd like me can get happily caught up in.

Initial research reliably informs me that “Going Down” was written by Don Nix - one of Booker T’s MGs - and was first recorded by a band called Moloch. There’s a clip of that version here

But at least one lyrics website says this song was written by Allen Toussaint. Two others say it as written by Michael O’Sullivan. A fourth credits Don Nix. And another, hedging its bets, credits the lyrics to “Original Writer & Publisher”.

So far, so obscure. The original is rather low-key, slow and doesn’t even hint at the grand smorgasbord of shouty blues-ness to come.

But then Freddie King got his hands on it, and Life Took on New Meaning. Staccato keyboards, fuzzed guitar slashes and Freddie’s pot-bellied raucous yell is all it needs to take this song and turn it into a force of nature.

Younger listeners might argue that there’s not enough bass, drums, or even outright volume, but this isn’t about aural assault or going up to 11. There are plenty of other versions of this song for that (search under Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pearl Jam), not to mention a rather rambling, understated take by Leon Russell and JJ Cale.

See, blues originally wasn’t about long solos, endless variation on the riff, or even weapons-grade amplification. It was about rhythm, repetition and above all simplicity - a little virtuosity is acceptable, but remember there is a song underneath all of that.

It’s about feeling, passion. And the blues, of course. Freddie King got that, *was* that, and that's why his taut version is the definitive one,

Let me down
And close that box car door
Yes, let me down
And close that box car door
Well, I'm goin' back to Chattanooga
And sleep on sister Irene's door