Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

“The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing”

The blues giveth, and the blues taketh away.

David “Honeyboy” Edwards, one of the last of the old-time Mississippi Delta blues players, passed on August 29, 2011 at the age of 96. He worked on the road, playing through this year, until ill health finally forced him to slow down and officially retire—last month.

Born in 1914 in Shaw, Mississippi, Edwards was a contemporary of Robert Johnson‘s, as well as a friend.  He maintained that he was with Johnson on the night the legendary bluesman sipped from the poison bottle that would be the death of him, fueling the myth and legend with some actual fact. Edwards of course had his own style and sound too; I was at once honored and humbled to have seen him perform his slip ‘n’ slide renditions more than once in Southern California, where he appeared frequently in his final years. Mercifully, not only was he recorded aplenty, his story was documented in 1997 in his epic blues tale, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, a must-read for blues and rock ‘n’ roll devotees, and anyone interested in the music and lives of rural musicians in the pre-Civil Rights South.  “The blues is something that leads you,” he wrote.  “You got to go where it leads you.” Deepest condolences to his family, friends, fellow musicians, and many admirers, as Mr. Edwards rambles on to rest in peace.

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Filed under: Blues, , ,

Vibration is…Positive for Keep on Pushing

“A pleasing survey of soul music, from Lead Belly to Johnny Otis to Michael Franti to Louis Farrakhan . . . Sullivan offers a welcome exploration of how African-American popular music became America’s vernacular.”—Kirkus Reviews

Sullivan . . . combines impressive research and wide-ranging interviews in a multilayered narrative about the power of music within black liberation, civil rights, antiwar, and gender-related movements . . . This is for anyone interested in a thorough analysis of music as a commanding force in change as well as a continually evolving artistic presence.” —Library Journal

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Keep on Pushing Reviewed in July Print Edition of Under the Radar

“Reaching as well into the areas of punk rock, reggae, and finally hip-hop, Keep On Pushing admirably points out numerous key developments and connections throughout a vital, revolutionary element of popular music.” —Under the Radar

Filed under: Keep On Pushing, Reviews, , ,

Kudos For Keep on Pushing in Pop Matters


“…Sullivan paints with condensed strokes, documenting in succinct sections how the music segued with powerful protest movements to smash disfranchisement and rouse sometimes fleeting victories, daring “to question the new freedoms and the quality of life ‘freedom’ brought in the face of liberty’s inconsistencies and … costs.”  -Pop Matters

Filed under: Keep On Pushing, Reviews, ,

Big Audio Dynamite Far-flung as London Burns, 2011

“I guess you want to know what we think,” said Mick Jones at Wednesday’s Big Audio Dynamite show at Club Nokia. It was the fifth day of the London riots, but Jones was far from the frontlines of his native Brixton; he’s on the road this summer celebrating 25 years of B.A.D., the post-Clash project he launched with Don Letts, the punky reggae DJ and filmmaker who also bears the distinction of introducing Bob Marley to his “baldhead” friends. Thirty-five-years ago this summer, Londoner Letts faced-off police at the Notting Hill Carnival riot (that’s him on the cover of the Black Market Clash EP); the events there had once-upon-a-time inspired Joe Strummer to write, “White Riot”. What binds the civil unrest London sees now to then is of course police harassment of youth, particularly those in low income areas hard-hit by austerity measures that have decimated after school programs and depleted prospective scholarship funds. But there was no need for such heavy asides or stage patter from Jones or Letts: They rock the bells in their topical tunes largely from the ’80s which still spell out the matters quite plainly, whether the trouble is racial and with empire building (“A Party”), or the petty grievances and gross injustices that drive them crazy, which they call out in their eponymous theme song.  The pair also appeared to be having a blast playing together again, each of their compositions seemingly more pertinent than the last. Still sonically and sartorially sharp, Big Audio Dynamite’s old songs can easily be repurposed as songs for the New Depression, from the debt ceiling rap of “The Bottom Line,” to the new jam, “Rob Peter Pay Paul.” The audience with a mean age of about 40 was averaged with the help of kids who likely first heard of B.A.D. thanks to their appearance at the Coachella Festival this year.  Personally, I was just happy to be in the house with a friend, listening to two artists who I believe have merged music with message seamlessly for the duration of their respective careers, as well as during their time as collaborators.  B.A.D. are the true torchbearers of the work done by the Only Band That Matters, and I am truly sorry to hear that Brixton, an area with which the Clash was closely aligned, has been hard hit during yet another season of civil unrest in London. “I kinda wish I was home,” said Jones in answer to the question of the riots, then he struck up “Sightsee M.C.,” the 1986 B.A.D. song in which he and Strummer had as much as predicted the recent replay: “You can guarantee that she’ll burn tonight ‘cos England keeps the household white.”

Read interview with Don Letts, originally published in Crawdaddy! in September 2010.

More on Don Letts and the Clash in Keep on Pushing.

Filed under: Concerts, , , , , , , ,

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