Monthly Archives: October 2009

Jibbs McAllister – Lost Master of the Zydeco Fiddle

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For much of the material in this essay I am indebted to online musicologist ‘Sean’, who also brought Jibbs McCallister to my attention.

In October 1972, 37 years to the day last week, a temporary worker brought in to the Yazoo offices to catalogue a job-lot of donated shellac sides failed to extinguish a cigarette correctly and, in what has now become known as the Great ’72 Barn Fire (although it was no barn but a lock-up in the West Village), an entire department of Yazoo’s archive was destroyed. It could have been worse, or so many have observed. Once the smoke cleared, almost all the destroyed records came from the section named ‘Problematic’. These were the scratched records, the poor performances by forgotten jug and hoss-tube artists, the discs without labels and, famously, a near-complete set of White Star shellacs by Jibbs McCallister. Rumours persist that this was no accident.

Jibbs who?

Exactly. McCallister is as forgotten today as he was notorious in his time. In the categorisation frenzy of the 60s folk revival Jibbs was most commonly referred to as a Zydeco fiddle player but even this apparently simple piece of information crumbles when examined. The reference originates from a taped interview with folklorist Stuart Palmer. Palmer asks Jibbs what style he plays and Jibbs, slurring, apparently replies ‘Zydeco fiddle’ but recent digital analysis has suggested he may have said ‘psycho fiddle’ or even ‘zygote feel’ although the latter theory has few adherents within professional studies (Greil Marcus excepted). Continue reading

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What happened

I posted this on October 2nd, in a rather distracted state. I may remove or edit it but will let it stand as it is for the time being.

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Just over two hours ago I was sitting on the terrace that overlooks the hundred-metre gorge of Ronda, eating supper with my beloved and her mother. We had been watching a family of wild dogs that seems to live amongst the cacti on a narrow ledge high on the cliff. A mother and perhaps eight pups, they troop in a line along ledges that are barely more than kerbs. We watched a wide-winged bird of prey circling above, spooking the swallows, or smugly gliding lower, frightening a giant flock of rock pigeons from their cliff face roost. We’ve noted the cycle of life, here, something one rarely notes in London. Now it’s October, clusters of starlings have begun to swerve back and forth across the gorge, between old and new Ronda. There are red-beaked crows that slide past in cool formation, dipping with the synchronicity of an aerial display.

The tourists, too, have their cycles. They flock in the morning across the bridge, as the first buses arrive, but lessen as the evening comes in. As we ate there were fewer, but still a steady stream, some stunned mid-wander by the vast, grey-scale mountains and the dizzying distance between the bridge and rocks and stream below. They crowd, lean over, take photos. One woman seemed, although it couldn’t be right, to be crouched atop the grille that curves outwards so that tourists can see straight down, arms out behind her like a diver. Then she jumped.

A short, high squeak, like someone leaping into a swimming pool that’s too cold, and then she was out of sight.

I’ve given a statement from the police station, over the phone to a woman who spoke English. Whilst waiting for my turn in the interview room I searched my tiny Spanish guide for the words to describe what I’d seen. I drew diagrams, with lines of sight and possible distances. They didn’t need them so I’ve brought them home, folded, to open by accident one day. My statement is useless, I saw nothing but a distant, nameless figure disappear. Now, it’s official.

Walking back, I met our landlord’s wife, who lives on the floor below. She had her three-month old baby with her, tiny, in a high-wheeled carriage. I helped her carry the child to her door then said good night.

It’s amazing how many clichés run through your head when you see something like that. I don’t know if I should write about this but, with her public death, this woman has sent little ripples through the lives of everyone who saw her jump. She wanted to be seen.

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