Let Me Hold You In My Arms Tonight (Jesse Fuller)

This was the second Jesse Fuller song I learned, after “San Francisco Bay Blues.” I’m not sure why — there were a lot of good songs on that album, and in retrospect it seems like several of them would have attracted my teenage fancies before this one did… and yet, there was something about this lyric. It is such a wonderful hodge-podge, traveling with Bernadine in his “flying machine” to Jesse Fullerthe beach at Waikiki, and that charmingly odd locution, “We’ll all get together, spend a little while/ Walking down that little old church aisle” — which I recall singing as “orchard aisle” for several years before I figured out what he was saying.

As far as I can determine, this was Fuller’s own composition, and is an excellent example of why it is so silly that historians have classed him as a blues musician. He did play some blues, but he was a magnificently varied jack of all trades — and not just when it came to music: he had a shoeshine stand, and also carved bendable wooden snakes that he sold on the street. If I’ve got the dates straight, that was when he was living in Hollywood, a period when he notably struck up an acquaintance with the world’s most popular movie star, Douglas Fairbanks, and played a bit part in The Thief of Baghdad.

Then he moved up to Oakland, where he became a professional musician for the first time, in his fifties, having hit on the gimmick of building himself a foot-pedal-operated bass and becoming a one man band. He also raised chickens, and did carpentry, and refitted his car to carry all the instruments and also serve as a sleeping space. He called himself “The Lone Cat,” with good reason — when he became a nationally known figure, he toured by car, getting where he needed to go, sleeping in his own quarters, dependent on no one. I even heard a story, which I gather is apocryphal but shouldn’t be, that he wouldn’t tour Europe until the bookers arranged for him to travel by ship, and he drove on board, slept in his car all the way across, then drove off the boat in Europe and did the tour.