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We’ve talked it about it so many times that it’s become cliché but this mistaken belief that rock stemmed directly from the blues is so easily disproven that you wonder why that theory still holds water with so many people.

But just in case somebody out there is still a skeptic as to the veracity of this myth being busted, here’s Jimmy Liggins to show what happens when a verifiable rock act tries incorporating the blues into his work.

It’s not that he can’t tackle another genre credibly, but rather that it sounds so alien to what else exists within rock at the time that it’s hard to see how the connection could’ve been made in the first place.


A Heart Full Of Pain
It’s probably an oversimplification to differentiate blues and rock by simply stating that while the former accepts its fate in life, the latter strives to determine its own fate when it comes to what the music represents to the artists and audience alike.

There’s exceptions to those rules in both fields, but as a general rule of thumb it’s pretty damn accurate.

The blues were conceived in the fields of the South in the shadow of slavery, Jim Crow and second class citizenry to serve as a coping mechanism in a world where real life justice for crimes against humanity carried out by the white majority was virtually impossible. As such the music attempted to treat life as a series of hardships to endure with stoic determination because there were no other viable options.

Rock ‘n’ roll on the other hand was born in a different, though still prejudiced, world after there’d been some modest advances in quality of life, increased opportunity, marginal legal and political representation and the (often hollow) promise by some in power to do even more in the years to come.

With this outlook came optimism, but not exactly a patient brand of optimism as you’d see represented in gospel, where it centered on faith in an ultimate reward after life on earth was done. Rockers wanted – and expected – to be treated well while still here and the music reflected that with brash confidence while proudly displaying a vibrant celebration of a better life that was sure to improve with each passing day.

One is defeatist, the other is sanguine.


Jimmy Liggins straddled these two mindsets in his work from the start. The bluesier side of him, such as the appropriately titled Goin’ Down With The Sun, gave voice to morose dejection and were marked by downbeat moods and the slow lurching pace that went with it, where each step up the hill before you was an arduous struggle.

Yet his rock efforts embraced an entirely different state of mind, where the sun wasn’t setting, but rather it was rising bright and early and the day that stretched out before him was one of promise rather than despair.

Both were still viable commercial outlets in the early 1950’s and yet as time went on the split between them and their audiences was becoming far too wide for most acts to traverse.


Everyday I’m Thinking About You
So we’ve established that this side of the record was more blues based than rock based which might lead you to believe the only reason it’s here is to show how the two styles diverged.

Not quite true, even if that IS a factor. But let’s be honest here, we wouldn’t review blues artists who were inching closer to rock and coming up with a record that was like this one in every way.

What allows Goin’ Down With The Sun to slip through the back door is the fact it’s written and sung by Jimmy Liggins… or more accurately that it’s written, sung and PLAYED by Jimmy Liggins, who had the reputation of being a skilled guitarist which prior to this was largely an unsubstantiated rumor since he rarely got a chance to show what he could do on record.

The top side of this single, That’s What’s Knockin’ Me Out, featured Liggins’ guitar more prominently than we’re used to and it made for a fairly good showing though it was still clearly being used in a supporting role.

Not so here where it’s the primary instrument and goes a long way into confirming his ability as his snarling, biting tone and coiled aggression are all present from the first notes, played slow and with definite purpose. As the song unwinds he branches out even more, picking up the pace and adding even more edgy tension to each line, exuding a dangerous vibe as if the strings were made of barbed wire.

It’s a great showcase for him as a guitarist but also, unfortunately for us, as a bluesman and in this instance, the way the instrument is framed not just the way’s played, is what brings it closer to the blues and further away from rock.

My Life Is Dark And Dreary
Though Liggins had used the same basic vocal structure on records before, the responsorial lines were always saxes, which connect the song to what was then (in the late 1940’s and early 50’s) the dominant rock accompaniment.

But on Goin’ Down With The Sun that role is taken by his own guitar and while that instrument will obviously become rock’s most common sidepiece in a few years time, it’s still more aligned with blues at this point.

That’s not to say however that any rock song with a guitar being prominently displayed in 1951, or earlier, is closer to blues than rock, but rather you need to study how it’s being deployed.

Much like the trumpet which is still tied to jazz because rock hadn’t figured out how to give it a distinct voice for their needs, the way in which Liggins answers his own forlorn vocals with these anguished guitar lines is what ties it, and the song, so closely to the blues.

Compared to a lot of Goree Carter’s best work which wed more exuberant guitar parts with an upbeat and optimistic story – rock attributes through and through – Liggins is falling back on the blues tropes here in both the song’s outlook and his own technical execution. He may be doing it quite well, but it still owes its approach to another genre.

Maxwell Davis at least tries keeping the song tethered to rock with his work on sax, but it’s mostly adding shadings as opposed to primary colors and so for better or worse this is Liggins’s show and while he’s letting that guitar ring out in pain, as much as we might wish he had found a way to utilize slightly different attributes, we can hardly fault his efforts to finally be heard.


Ain’t Got None
In the future rock would figure out how to re-work a trumpet’s approach to give it a different feel than jazz with people like Wayne Jackson and Cynthia Robinson leading the way, making it fit into the sonic palette rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

The guitar had been doing that from the outset in rock with George Freeman, Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis and Carter (among others) all bringing different elements to the forefront which distanced it from both jazz and blues. But Liggins’ work on Goin’ Down With The Sun largely reverts back to the blues mentality.

Still, in the course of being provided with a music lesson it’s nice to be able to attest that Jimmy Liggins’s reputation on the instrument was indeed well-deserved even if he had to veer a little to far outside of rock’s parameters to get the chance to do so. We appreciate the skill and are grateful for the opportunity to witness it four ourselves, but when judged strictly as a rock record it can’t help but fall a bit short.

As a blues record though… well, that’s another story, although we’ll save that verdict where we can praise blues songs for the same things we give the appearance of criticizing on these pages for another website project in another lifetime.


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy Liggins for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)