Blues People

In 1965, the field recordings of the Bahamas were an island unto themselves. Thirty years later, it's a small world after all.

The first songs Sammy Green sang for Stecher and Siegel were Ray Charles's "I Got a Woman" and Bobby "Blue" Bland's "High Heel Sneakers." The songs that made The Real Bahamas were "I Told You People Judgement Coming" and "I Ain't Got Long." Neither tune resembles the rhyming style epitomized in "By and By." "I Told You" is short and mean; Green balls up his redemption song and blasts it out like he's auditioning for a Sun session. On "I Ain't Got Long," he moans a mantra so blue it goes black.

Green was essentially an R&B singer and his style was mindful of, but a bit distant from, the religion Edith Pinder sang about when she bellowed lines like, "Jesus remember/I am a fallen sinner." Green's initial choice of Ray Charles's sacrilegious rewrite of the old gospel "I Got a Savior" is a coincidence for sure. But so is rock & roll. And Green blurs the thin line between the spiritual and the soul shout with an intensity that could match any R&B singer he ever heard on a record. (At points it's a little too intense. "The only people who responded negatively to this music were young, affluent African Americans," Stecher says. "They found them too raw, and way too threatening. Too close to the sounds of slavery.")

Back in 1966, just as his album was coming out and his job at Nonesuch was in the bag, Siegel heard that same raw power in a different context. "Percy Sledge had come out with 'When a Man Loves a Woman,'" he remembers. "His singing really reflected church singing, and it wasn't lost on me how gospel music related to the Bahamas. My goal was to introduce people to the Bahamas the way I had been introduced to the music of Kentucky. Still, I didn't see it influencing pop music."

It didn't. In fact, the record fell out of print quickly enough to leave little discernable influence on the world-music history it had helped to pioneer. Yet this collection--which appeared amid a renaissance of roots recordings--would represent a unique, formative confluence of world music and Americana. (Decades later, the "world" world would be prepared for Spence-ian albums, like Rounder's mid-'90s issues Spring of '65 and Kneelin' Down Inside the Gate: The Great Rhyming Singers of the Bahamas.)

Reappearing now, The Real Bahamas represents a sort of Time Before Time in the popularization of foreign music; neither the album, nor Spence, nor the Bahamian islands are mentioned in the otherwise all-inclusive Rough Guide To World Music. Stecher is, however. You can see him photographed in the mid-'60s, pickin' some rediscovered "old time" American music with country revivalists the New Lost City Ramblers. Proving that there are islands of Americana wherever you want to find them.

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