Roosevelt Sykes

Dirty Double Mother

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During his last decade as a touring musician, Arkansas-born piano man Roosevelt Sykes was a positively surreal character when encountered up close and in person. Short, stocky and always impeccably dressed, he would brandish a long cigar and mutter the phrase "mop, mop!" as he ambulated across the surface of the earth. Right around the time of his triumphant appearance at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, Roosevelt Sykes and producer Al Smith put together a particularly fine album of contemporary blues firmly anchored in a tradition that was approximately as old as Sykes himself. "Dirty Double Mother" is a reshuffling of the song title "Double Dirty Mother"; both phrases are variations drawn from Sykes' personal lexicon of cheerfully abrasive put-downs based upon the classic dirty dozen-derived "Dirty Mother for You," sometimes rendered as "Kickin' Motor Scooter." The rather extreme album cover art shows a glowing hot pink neon light shaped like a pair of lips superimposed over a close-up photograph of a black woman's heavily rouged lips. It's a classic example of sexploitation album cover art, tailor made for Gender Studies analysis. According to Smith's informative liner notes, "Dirty Double Mother" is dedicated "to Mississippi Delta Big Joe Williams, one of Roosevelt's closest and greatest friends."

This modern, somewhat plugged-in band did an exceptionally good job of interacting with the old man, and the results are gratifying. What you get is a Louisiana rhythm section driven by drummer Alonzo Stewart and George French, Jr.'s big fat electric bass guitar; a well-tempered electric guitar played by Crescent City sessionman Justin Adams and sensible input from New Orleans saxophonist Clarence Ford. Something about the rolling confluence of piano, voice, sax and electrified bass makes this rewarding album an ideal choice for grooving purposes. Some of the songs flaunt or grapple with Sykes' favorite topics. He relishes the art of complaining about untrustworthy neighbors almost as much as he savors every loaded reference to what he euphemistically pronounces as "Pussimmon Pie." There's a plucky song encouraging old men to get with young women, an obligatory reference to firearms, and "I Wanna Love," a straightforward plea for compassion and peace of mind. None of this business sounds contrived or artificial, as Sykes had a way of making everything seem like it was his idea in the first place. The "Dooky Chase Boogie" and especially "Jookin' in New Orleans" are solid rocking blues jams with boogie woogie backbones. Sykes opens up "Jookin'" with the words "Let's get drunk and be somebody else awhile," then leads his posse through a nearly five-and-a-half minute jumping, kicking, swarming Louisiana boogie. Find a copy of this album and consult with it regularly.

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