David Mort’s latest book “Voodoo Child” is available now from the Kindle Book Store. You may be interested in it as it covers the evolution of the blues and rock.
One of rock music’s more iconic images is that of Jimi Hendrix onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival in ’67, kneeling over the remains of his burning guitar after his performance of “Wild Thing.” He was beckoning the flames to rise as if summoning up demons and dragons from hell, which is what several fans described as witnessing after ingesting “Monterey Purple,” a strain of LSD concocted especially for the event.
Thirty years earlier, a bluesman by the name of Robert Johnson supposedly made a pact with the Devil at the crossroads in return for becoming an Ace” on the guitar. So perhaps Jimi had made a similar pact as both their souls were claimed at the age of 27. And before Robert there was another “Ace” named Charlie Patton who, like Jimi, could play the guitar behind his back, above his head and with his teeth. And before Jimi there was T Bone Walker who performed in a similar fashion. And as these three musicians were African Americans with Cherokee ancestors, perhaps they’d inherited an added spiritual dimension.
By the time Robert Johnson made his supposed pact however, the myth was already as old as the hills. The fact is that most blues musicians were itinerants who’d chosen a life on the road over a mundane, family or domestic existence, leading loved ones to conclude they were dancing to the devil’s tune.
For the purposes of my story, which traces the evolution of blues, r n b, soul and rock n roll from the Mississippi flood of ’27 to the deaths of Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, all such talented musicians, those deemed “Aces” “Kings” or “Queens,” had made similar pacts with the devil. Artists such as Buddy Holly, Bessie Smith, Eddie Cochran, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, who when their respective souls passed over, often after meeting a violent death at an early age, could be claimed to play for the “ARKestra Paradiso.”
This “ARKestra,” so called because it boasts two players per instrument, performs in a room whose walls are made of a membrane fashioned from tightly stretched goat skin or vellum. Therefore, it can pick up on sound waves travelling through air and water. This room is situated in an old slave ship named “the Paradiso” which floats on a giant underground lake, so can detect vibrations through its wood, taut ropes or sheets, and surroundings. This lake is in a giant cavern known as the Orpheus chamber, situated deep inside a mountain, home to stalactites, stalagmites and crystalline, flower like structures named anthodites, which also pick up on vibrations passing through rock. Consequently, these musicians are performing in a closed environment that resonates like a gigantic bell, thereby creating a wall of sound.
The “ARKestra” is composed of pairs of those musicians deemed “Aces,” “Kings” or “Queens,” plucked from the flood of misery that segregation created to help change the New World for the better. They mentor and sympathetically resonate with musicians still alive, and working through their performances and recordings, seek to create a new vibe called the “big beat,” woven from different strands of music.
The old slave ship, “Paradiso,” is also home to the largest record repository in the world. Known as the “ARKhive,” it comprises two copies of all the recordings ever made in the New World, arranged year by year in the aisles of the original slave hold.