On Sunday, July 12 at approximately quarter to midnight I stumbled upon this video. Although recorded as an impromptu jam session, the resulting tape just might be the best music video ever made, an honor that heretofore belonged to “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.
What I had discovered was a performance by North Mississippi Allstars from the Jam in a Van dot com series. I have seen videos of this band before so I was aware of their musical talent in traditional settings, but nothing I had seen before prepared me for this. Even Jack, my angst-ridden Schnauzer, was impressed and he pretty much hates everything.
The Jam in a Van concept is simple but clever, and into this faux-impromptu setting comes Luther Dickinson with a homemade mutant diddley bow, his brother Cody with his left hand playing snare drum and his right hand playing washboard, while bassist/background vocalist Lightnin’ Malcom drops anchor stage right. As the guys finish setting up, three random young ladies (fans? groupies? girlfriends?) enthusiastically enter the van, and once the music starts they throw some serious boogie moves into the mix. Amid this eclectic milieu emerges a rousing ramshackle version of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin” as strings are twangin’, washboard is scrapin’, bass is thumpin’, and hips are shakin’. As in the “Safety Dance” video, there is a paradoxically coherent incongruity to all these moving parts.
I chose this video as the feature of the week for its eclectic visual appeal. To provide additional musical gravitas, I will throw in this video from the same Jam in the Van session, in which Luther trades his mutant diddley bow for a slightly less unorthodox cigar box guitar and Cody drops the washboard to play drums two-handed, while Malcom maintains his stoic background demeanor. Sticking with the theme of covering Delta blues songs, the boys roll out a riveting alternate take of Charley Patton’s “Boll Weevil Blues”. Luther absolutely nails the proper phrasing and pronunciation of the classic line “Miss-sippi bo weevul ain’t got no natchull hohm, lawdy-Lawd”.
Luther and Cody sometimes lend their talents to other southern bands, so Guitar George is not finished with them quite yet. Nor are we done with performances from the Jam in the Van dot com series. But for now, tune up yo’ diddley bow, toss Jack a bone, and hop on into the Jam Van.