Off-Ramp | Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Peter Stenshoel's album of the week -- "I do not play no rock and roll" by Mississippi Fred McDowell

Kevin Ferguson
The box Peter Stenshoel's field recording was in.
Peter Stenshoel


When Mississippi Fred McDowell switched from acoustic to electric guitar, the universe smiled. Already he was a master of blues slide guitar, as his Arhoolie albums documented. With "I do not play no rock and roll," McDowell, now on electric axe, proved superior to all the rock and rollers working the same groove. 

If you can listen to the sample from the album above, notice how many different shades of timbre, or tonal texture, his guitar displays -- with no pedals nor overdubbing. Check out the way Fred flats a note to give it added pathos. Savor the way he lets his instrument finish his sentences. Don't neglect his singing voice--ebullient and loaded with color.

I also have a soft spot in my heart for Fred McDowell since he was the subject of my very first field recording. It happened when I was fourteen, just after this album was released. With a free concert and guitar workshop looming, brother David suggested I record it all. So we lugged David's impossibly heavy Craig reel-to-reel deck, headphones, and two microphones to the workshop, and asked McDowell's permission. He readily assented, but concert impresario Mike Justen (the man whose Scholar Coffeehouse shepherded young Bobby Zimmerman and Leo Kottke) insisted that Fred get a copy of whatever we recorded. And Justen restricted it to the workshop only, which turned out fine, because in that relaxed atmosphere the slide guitar maestro played several of his pieces all the way through. 

And so it happened that, between workshop and concert, I was sitting in Justen's Oblivion Record Store back office, watching Fred smile broadly as he listened to my tape on headphones. It turned out surprisingly well. You can hear a sample of my field recording here

You can hear me as budding journalist, asking McDowell three questions.

Rest easy, Fred McDowell. I will never forget the gracious kindness you bestowed on this young teen.