This was another song I’d taped for my European rambles, but it wasn’t till near the end that I felt ready to work out Blind Blake’s guitar part. It was by far the trickiest arrangement I’d attempted up to that time, but I finally got it more or less to my satisfaction — not exactly the way Blake played it, but a decent simulacrum.
So then I flew back to the United States. I’d been away for a bit over two years, and in those days before the internet that meant I’d been out of touch with all but the few friends who were willing to put up with the vagaries of transatlantic mail and the possibility that their missives would end up unclaimed in some poste restante bin.
The first thing I did was check in with Dave Van Ronk — I flew into New York from Brussels, called him from the airport, and he gave me couch space for a couple of days. I don’t remember if it was on that visit or shortly afterwards that he told me about a new organization called Hey Rube!, which was trying to function as a sort of folksingers’ guild or union. They were holding a fundraising weekend at the Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, featuring U. Utah Phillips, and Dave suggested I go, if only to meet Utah.
So I did, and met Utah, who over the years became a close friend, as well as Jane Voss and Hoyle Osborne, and Andy Cohen, who had hitchhiked over from his home in Kent, Ohio. Andy was and is a terrific ragtime-blues player, and I immediately gravitated to him, and we played a couple of things, and then he asked, “You play any Blind Blake?” I was primed and ready, but before I could respond, he added, “And don’t say ‘Diddy Wa Diddy.'”
Alas, Ry Cooder and Leon Redbone had both recently cut that song and their myriad fleet-fingered acolytes had picked it up and recycled it ad infinitum, so the serious blues aficionados were heartily sick of it. And that was that. I assembled a repertoire of more obscure songs, kept this around as a finger exercise, and by now my version has drifted quite a way from Blake’s original. It’s still a fun song, though, and an enduring mystery…