Musician Born In The 1800s Sang Remarkable Blues Tunes

Some of the greatest music in the world came from the southern United States, and musicologist Alan Lomax wanted to capture its origins before they died out. He traveled around looking for the origins of blues, country, rock, and jazz music to preserve in recordings including that of Sam Chatmon of the blues band, the Mississippi Sheiks. Sam played a song for Alex from his home, which was recorded for posterity in 1978.

Alan and Sam sat down for an interview and performance at Chatmon's home in Hollandale, Mississippi for the PBS series American Patchwork. They first speak about when Sam first started playing music, which he said was at about three years old, later playing with his brothers at around six years old. He is probably in his eighties in the video and recalls the way he played the guitar on the floor because he was too small to pick it up. Chatmon was born in 1897 (or 1899, according to the Encyclopedia of the Blues).

Before the interview ends, Chatmon tells Alan Lomax and his crew that he wants to sing a song for them. They prepare themselves and remain silent. The old man tests the guitar by plucking the strings lightly. He tunes it and starts playing. He’s still got his musical skills and his voice and the instrument synchronize perfectly. He is very comfortable and seems to enjoy himself as he sings. He plays the song, Make Me a Pallet on your Floor, which the two discuss is a blues-like song but probably originated even before the blues was invented.

Sam played in the band the Mississippi Sheiks, which was a family affair because most of the musicians were from the 15-member Chatmon family. In the 1920s, Sam was a bassist and later guitarist for the group according to the Encyclopedia of the Blues. The band was as influential as any blues band can be and their song "Sittin' on top of the World" was even inducted into the GRAMMY hall of fame in 2008 as per their press release.

It is incredible to be able to watch a musician perform who was there at the very birth of blues and has the virtuosity of a particularly unique kind. The Alan Lomax archives have been made available on the internet and thanks to Youtube, we can all watch the magical talent unfold before our eyes. It's your turn to see and hear the magic that is original American country blues music.

What do you think about the intimate performance? Be sure to pass this on to music fans in your life, especially those who might not know how music started back in the day.