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From a young age in life most people are given conflicting lessons on dealing with emotional pain.

On one hand you’re told to express your feelings, not to hold them inside and let them eat away at you and make a bad situation worse by your inability to deal with the problem in a constructive manner.

On the other hand no parent wants their child to be a crybaby who whines incessantly whenever things don’t go their way and so once that habit starts to surface they’ll probably be told rather emphatically to “Suck it up, kid”.

As you grow up it’s the latter which most people tend to gravitate towards, all trying to epitomize the “strong silent type” ideal.

Percy Mayfield it seemed never learned that lesson, but unlike most who draw scorn for their bellyaching, he’s constantly being praised for how thoughtfully he does it, proving once again there is an exception for each and every rule under the sun.


Listen Just The Same
We’ve been pretty rough ourselves when it comes to addressing the whiny bitching… “bearing of the soul” that a lot of rock acts have featured in their songs. In fact we’ve made a running joke of it with some of Ivory Joe Hunter’s more egregious woe-is-me material.

The point isn’t to ridicule these artists for sport… well, not entirely anyway… but rather to try and pinpoint what makes for a good record when it comes to confronting real life issues such as romantic breakups, cheating partners and gold-diggers in the relationship realm and the usual everyday problems everybody faces at one time or another, whether it’s lack of opportunities you suffer from, or a lack of tangible results if you get those opportunities and fail to capitalize on them.

When you grin and bear it, tough as that may be, you earn some begrudging respect, yet when you feel sorry for yourself there’s a tendency to wonder if a better attitude might’ve led to better results… and better records.

Percy Mayfield sort of splits the difference on My Blues. He’s chronicling his miseries and laying blame on a “world full of evil”, yet he doesn’t quite sound as if he’s looking for pity or sympathy as much as he’s merely taking a steely-eyed look at his circumstances, resigned to his fate, yet bothered less about falling short in life because instead he’s trying figure out how life came to this for him in the first place.

Some people self-medicate with booze or drugs, others react with anger and look for people to make pay for their rotten luck with women or work… Mayfield simply lays on his own couch and does some self-counseling… in rhythm.


I Know Just What You’re Thinkin’
Few rock artists of this time were so adept at making the most of a minimum of musical components as Mayfield was.

His songs are frequently kept at a pace that is just a half step beyond inert and have melodies that are liked pulled taffy, with very few notes entrusted to stretch the song out into something definable.

His warm baritone is soothing in how he uses it, but not altogether inviting. There’s a certain edge to it, a metallic tinge that warns you to keep your distance even though he never raises his voice and doesn’t bitterly spit out lines in sudden bursts of fury.

He’s mesmerizing by design, knowing that his conversational tone draws you in, but then making sure that you never feel entirely comfortable because of how sharp and unsettling his observations are.

The first half of My Blues is a masterpiece of minimalist lyric writing. He’s got a gently swaying melody to hitch his words to that puts you under a spell allowing him to make sure you focus on each and every word. He doesn’t get much into specifics – there’s no backstory to get our bearings, whether it’s a woman, a job, a lack of funds that is behind his dour outlook, – but he lets it unfold in such a clever way that you don’t notice, or maybe just don’t mind.

In fact early on he dodges the question, after having posed it himself no less, telling us,

“Someone may ask the question, why are you so sad?
I would answer quite correctly, the blues is all I’ve had”

He’s answering it by not answering it, yet doing so in a way that’s compelling enough to give him a pass on it just the same. His delivery later on the line “The world has misuuuuuuuuuuused meee” is almost comical in his hang-dog conviction, yet who would dare laugh at him when he’s so serious about it.

If he’d given us a second half with new insight, or even just new examples of vaguely hinted at menace, this might’ve been close to perfect but he circles back to the same complaints, albeit with a slightly different way of phrasing it, thereby loosening his grip on us ever so slightly by the end, as we’re content to let him mutter to himself while the world carries on oblivious to his condition.

We can’t fail to mention however that Maxwell Davis earns yet another gold star for the arrangement, largely staying out of the way during the vocals and then contributing the liveliest section of the record with an urgent and aching sax solo, showing that he’s found himself a second artist (after Amos Milburn) with whom he is perfectly in sync with on every session.

There’s not much here, but what’s here is choice.


The Answer Would Be Easy
Virtually all of the elements that usually go into songs that are widely praised are lacking here, while certain things that people may normally take a dim view of are highlighted.

Yet in spite of not having a fuller, more rousing track, or a sweeter vocal singing a far more effortless melody, and even though he’s spending almost three minutes complaining about unspecified problems with no solutions, Percy Mayfield is never less than riveting throughout this mournful lament.

My Blues may not have technically been a hit, but that was the fate of many a great B-side to a big smash, and this one not far off in quality to a lot of what was burning up the charts in 1951.

But then again it’s not like those kinds of hit records at all. As always Mayfield’s records avoid the usual topics, the usual stylistic cues and the usual brand of vocal performance and rather than be hurt by this uniqueness, the records benefit all the more for those distinctive qualities.

You still may not be able to get away with griping about your own shortcomings in life, but if you want a lesson in how to try and pull it off, there’s always another Percy Mayfield record to give you the perfect blueprint for how it can conceivably be done.


(Visit the Artist page of Percy Mayfield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)