Blues music often has a haunted feel to it. An almost supernatural quality. And Halloween being my very favorite holiday, I enjoy my music tinged with a little bit of the ol’ dark side. I can think of few songs more haunted than the Lead Belly classic, “In the Pines,” also sometimes known as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.
I first heard this creepy ditty during an airing of Nirvana’s famous Unplugged concert. With the eerie opening chords of the performance, chills were already shooting down my spine, but by the end of Cobain’s harrowing vocal shrieking I was practically hiding underneath my covers from the Boogeyman. The performance, of course is even more haunting with the knowledge that Cobain would tragically end his life very shortly after. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the Lead Belly version of the song. While not as immediately horrifying, the cut has an air of menace lurking beneath its surface. Give a listen to the two interpretations side by side – which gives you the willies more?
Recently, Joe Bonamassa discussed spooky blues tunes on his fantastic radio show with Matt Abramovitz, The Pickup Radio. I love this show because it exposes me to some awesome blues cuts that I never have heard before and reacquaints me with some old favorites too. If you haven’t heard this yet, you should definitely give it a listen. The show highlights cuts from Robert Johnson, Son House, Fleetwood Mac, Buddy Guy and Carlos Santana. All of it is most enjoyable, but for me the best was a close call between Johnson’s “Me and The Devil Blues,” an old Faustian favorite, and Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” which is a tune I’d never heard before.
Ultimately, if I need to scare myself up a good blues jam next Halloween, I think I’m going to be playing Son House. Joe is absolutely right to identify the positively haunted quality of House’s acapella vocals, surrounding you with a deathly vibe and the air of incipient insanity, almost as if we could hear the beginnings of the next Michael Meyers or Leatherface. Do you agree? If not, when you need to conjure up a ghoulish blues spell next Halloween, who you gonna call?