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Stereotype Blues


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To the editors:

Cecil, please -- watch your stereotypes: "semiliterate" blues musicians, indeed [The Straight Dope, May 15]! One of the musicians you quoted, Blind Willie McTell, studied at schools for the blind in Mississippi, New York, and Michigan, and although he sang on the streets for years he was far from a beggar, traveling extensively throughout the south and performing many styles of folk and pop, as well as blues, in a wide variety of venues. Two of our other best-known "mojo" lyricists -- Willie Dixon and J.B. Lenoir -- are famous for their insightful, articulate musical observations on politics, social issues, and a wide variety of other topics. Each, moreover, was much more than a "mere" musician: Dixon was A&R man for Chess Records for years, and Lenoir made a profitable living for himself in the funeral home business after he retired from music. The list of blues musicians who've enjoyed success in other endeavors -- politics, business, other performing arts, the church -- requiring both literacy and resourcefulness would be much too long for this letter; perhaps even too long for a Reader article!

As far as the mojo goes, I might be able to contribute two tidbits of information: The "mojo hand" often referred to is a variation of a generic kind of magical "hand" used by root doctors and hoodoo doctors in rural folk medicine and magical practices; on one memorable television broadcast, Dr. John presented Muddy Waters with one, complete with either the bones or the dried fingers of monkeys hanging from it. From what I can gather, the word "mojo" in this case is an adjective as much as part of a noun, like the word "magic" in "magic potion."

The "mojo rising" the questioner mentioned, however, is the invention of one Jim Morrison of the famous Delta 'blues band the Doors. He took to nicknaming himself "Mr. Mojo Risin'" as an anagram of "Jim Morrison" toward the end of his life, and he finally included the phrase in the song, "LA Woman," although what southern folk medicine has to do with Los Angeles is a secret Morrison carried to his grave (we think).

David Whiteis

N. Leavitt

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