I Ain’t Superstitious

I do not like this:

It could be a fresh take on a classic but it fails. It’s not Jack White’s fault. He sounds great, stuttering and raunchy and just a little sloppy. The singing is OK but perfunctory, neither adding nor subtracting. It’s the drums that ruin it. Unless you go for arrhythmic rhythms. I don’t.

Here’s a better sloppy version of the same tune, JT in his later days:

Andy Towns of the Slumlords said of him many years ago, “Johnny’s like an old ex-champ boxer. Once every 10 or 12 shows he gets up off the mat and shows everyone who’s boss one more time.”

I can’t tell you how pissed off I used to get when Johnny played a show and was too fucked up to play. That started in the late 70s. Eyes rolling in his head, he couldn’t even get the words out, abscessed and evil. I don’t use the word lightly, his attitude was “I’m a fucked human being and I’m bringing everyone down with me.” While I never exactly idolized Johnny, I was a huge admirer of everything he put into his music. To watch him turn to shit, and not give a shit, just broke my heart.

He had the best instincts – playing, singing and songwriting – of any rocknroller ever, and early Elvis is the only serious competition. I always thought the ultimate band would be Johnny, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, Steve Jones on rhythm guitar and what the hell, James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin on bass and drums. I wonder if it’s possible to use technology to assemble a real song with that band. I’ll ask around.

There are many other versions of I Ain’t Superstitious of course. Here is what I think is the original – who the hell really knows – by the incomparable Howlin Wolf. This is not one of Wolf’s great performances sez me, but it’s earth-shaking by normal standards:

4 thoughts on “I Ain’t Superstitious

  1. I hate to say as much as I dig Jack White, and even the Stripes, I have never been a fan of Meg’s heavy handy pounding (odd that Karen Carpenter was a much better drummer despite her genre being so different).

    To me one of the essentials of great rock drumming is to get that hard snare pop (like Stewart Copeland, for example) on the one and the three.

    Meg never ever seemed to get that. And, while I understand Jack sort of tutoring her to be his drummer, well, enough said.

    So, I am so with you Gene!

    • The curious thing to me about these three clips is that not one of them seems to nail the song.

      Criticizing Meg White for her drumming is silly. Jack White owns his sound and had a very serious reason (perhaps color coordinated) why Meg was playing drums in the White Stripes. Since the track under discussion was never released and the band became iconic, Jack White wins that one more by misdirection than some rather weak aesthetic choices.

      That said, the Thunder version sounds good to me, but the audience is clearly biding their time. And Johnny isn’t killing the crowd.

      And I found this Howling Wolf version, which must come from the London Sessions, but I only say that because of Youtube referrals rather than real history. http://youtu.be/DVlHYPi6AuA

  2. I will criticize the drums because they suck. I had no idea who was playing but now that I know I’ll call it Yoko Ono Syndrome. I agree that none of these versions really nails the song, or the London Sessions version. I don’t think that the song has ever really been nailed on record, including the Jeff Beck/Rod Stewart version, which was where I first heard it. That is a GOOD version tho.

  3. I wasn’t saying the drums didn’t suck, just that putting it on the drummer and praising Jack White misses the point that the whole show was Jack White’s. Praise and criticism are rightly his. It is his fault.

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