Outside Woman Blues

How strange it is to hear the voice of a man who was born more than a hundred years ago. Blind Joe Reynolds was born – whether in 1900, or 1904, or some other year – into a very different world. In his day, black Americans very often came into the world with no record of their birth, never attended any schools, never had their faces photographed, never had their marriages legally validated, never owned property, never had their ills treated or their children born in a proper hospital, and died without leaving a legal trace. (Excepting should they run afoul with the law.) Reynolds lost his eyes to a shotgun accident (was it an accident?), did time in prison (for what?), and spent most of his life as a traveling street singer (where, exactly?), moving around to evade arrest, leaving little trace of himself, except musically. Even though he only recorded on two occasions, and of the recordings he made only a literal handful survive, his distinctive playing style is evident, and influencial. Somehow, the obscure pressings of an obscure blues singer who lived out most of his life in poverty and segregation, became part of the basis of a style of music that came to command popular culture. Blues based rock music, and the lifestyle trappings and social mores that came with it, became a cultural phenomenon in the 1960’s and it’s barely an exaggeration to say that it changed the world (forever! The world. It was changed. Forever.) Not that Blind Joe Reynolds ever got any satisfaction from the gentrification of the blues; he died of pneumonia in 1968, as poor and obscure as ever. Reynolds may have been a genius or he may have been merely typical of the circuit he ran in, and we’ll never have any way of knowing the true extent of his talent. The circumstances he was born to, the times he lived in, every part of the society around him conspired that he and men like him should live invisible lives, should die silently, should be erased and forgotten. He may have written dozens or hundreds of songs, maybe brilliant or maybe not. Songs that have died along with all of the people who’d ever heard them. Out of the eight or so that are known, only one has been rescued, revived and heard by millions of people, though in a rendition that Reynolds could not have imagined in 1929. .


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