Song of the Week – Mother Earth, (Tracy Nelson’s) Mother Earth

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Today’s SotW is “Mother Earth” from the band of the same name, a group led by Tracy Nelson. The song was written by country blues artist Memphis Slim and was included on Mother Earth’s debut album Living with the Animals from 1968.

Nelson was a pretty good blues singer and piano player that often drew comparisons to Janis Joplin – partly because she moved her band’s home base to San Francisco in the late 60s and partly because her repertoire leaned toward the blues and R&B favored by Joplin. I don’t think they sound much alike even if the pained shriek Nelson lets out on the word “go” on the last line of “Mother Earth” (“You got to GO back to Mother Earth”) does remind me of Janis’ scream in her classic “Piece of My Heart.” It’s beautiful.

Another “connection” to Joplin is through Powell St. John who wrote several originals for the album and, in the early 60’s, was in a Texas band with a young Joplin called the Waller Creek Boys.

But I must admit, the real reason I’ve selected “Mother Earth” for the SotW is because it benefits from a great performance by blues guitar master Mike Bloomfield who was originally credited on the album as Makal Blumfeld, apparently due to contractual obligations.

Bloomfield grew up in Chicago and knew from a very early age that he wanted to be a blues guitarist (much to the chagrin of his wealthy parents). He studied the seminal recordings and went a step further, befriending some of the idiom’s most important masters and picking their brains to learn the techniques they devised.

Just listen to the licks and solos he played on “Mother Earth” and you can tell this guy really understood the blues including its vices — drugs and alcohol. It has often been rumored that Bloomfield recorded his parts on Living with the Animals lying on his back, too drugged out to sit up or stand. Unfortunately his excesses led to an early death by overdose at the age of 37.

But I shouldn’t sell the album too short. It really is a pretty decent album aside from Bloomfield’s contributions. Other quality musicians were involved including his colleagues from the Butterfield Blues Band, keyboardists Barry Goldberg and Mark Naftalin.

Enjoy… until next week.

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