Today's feature guest post is from author Richard Wall who describes the inspiration for his novel Fat Man Blues below. Enjoy!
Fat Man Blues began as a conversation in Red's Lounge in Clarksdale, Mississippi. My wife and I were in town to celebrate my landmark birthday with our friends.
On this particular evening, my mate, Kyle and I stepped out for a beer (or several) and wandered into Red's Lounge. The place was empty, except for Red and an obese black man who was obviously outside of many drinks.
Anyway, we enjoyed a couple of beers and chatted about the blues and how the Mississippi Delta had become a blues "theme park", it's clientèle being mostly of the white, middle-aged and European variety.
As I fit all of these criteria I began to wonder what it would have been like for someone like me to have been around in the 1920s and 1930s when Delta Blues was in its heyday.
As we talked, I asked the large gentleman if I could take his picture. He said no (which was cool) and so I asked him his name. At this point, conversation stopped as the "Fat Man" stood up and said, "I'll get back to you on that" and then walked out of the bar.
Soon after, Kyle and I finished our drinks and left to explore the rest of Clarksdale. At the end of the evening, Kyle said, "That scene in Red's, that would make a great opening to a short story."
We flew home a couple of days later and I begin writing. At first, I had no idea where the short story would take me, and other than a vague idea I had no real structure to work to. I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote.
Soon, any notion of a short story went out of the window as the tale began to develop.
Before I began writing, I used to read comments by authors about "characters leading them through the story" and dismiss it as pretentious nonsense.
How wrong I was.
For a long time, I had no real direction for the novel, let alone any idea as to how it would end. Hobo John, Travellin' Man and (of course) Fat Man allowed me to tag on to the adventures that appeared like holograms about six inches in front of my eyes.
I began to gather as many books about blues history that I could get hold of, collect as many recorded interviews with blues singers as I could and listen to the music with a new ear.
All of these sources gave me a wealth of information but for me it was the old records that provided the clearest insight.
Recorded on primitive equipment, what you heard was what went on in that room; Charley Patton’s ad-libs and spoken asides in his own songs, the sound of a train during a Son House recording and Charley Patton and Son House providing background entertainment while Louise Johnson was recording her songs.
All of these moments provide a brief glimpse into delta life, a door slightly opened to a world unknown.
These recordings have a raw honesty, an honesty that has been lost as recording technology has advanced.
As a self-confessed blues fanatic, I have to confess that my early notion of a Delta bluesman was that of a carefree vagabond wandering from town to town playing the guitar – how cool would that be?
As my research progressed, the grim reality of everyday life in Mississippi for a black person soon became apparent and so I tried to imagine how I would react to seeing this first hand and wrote these feelings into the main character
Fuelled by this information that I was absorbing, the story began to take on a darker, more serious theme as I introduced these harsh realities into the story.
Much of what went on in the 1930s still happens today and I realised that the actions of the white protagonist (Hobo John) mirrored those of countless white people who have exploited (intentionally or not) the blues to their own advantage, making a great deal money while the musicians who made the records - often receiving only a few dollars for each recording - lived impoverished lives, many of them dying in squalor.
All of this went into the mix, inspired part of the plot and has, I hope, maintained a level of authenticity throughout the story.
Writing Fat Man Blues was a labour of love and, I must admit, an indulgence for me. It has also allowed me to share the stories of the artists whose outputs were the building blocks of popular music.
As one reviewer to Fat Man Blues phrased it: “This book is a reminder that some of the greatest pieces of music have come from the most wretched of situations.”
I'd like to thank Richard Wall for his contribution to my blog today. If you'd like to know more about the author and his books you can find him on twitter, and here is a link to his website. Below are the links to the author's books: