Written by John Kessler
In 1942, Alan Lomax discovered a community of musicians in North Mississippi, who played their own hybrid music that was unmistakably African-sounding. Called “Fife & Drum” music because of its military background, it hearkens back to post Civil War days, when this special and local tradition originated.
Although drumming is a central element of African music, drumming was generally banned during the slavery era. With restrictions easing after the War, and the availability of one-time military drums, Fife and Drum music became a key part of North Mississippi culture.
Ed & Lonnie Young were some of the most active Fife and Drum performers when Alan Lomax recorded them playing “Chevrolet” in 1959. Though the subject matter may be modern, it’s likely their music is very similar to what would have been heard in the late 1800s. Luckily, Lomax also filmed them, because simply listening to the music does not convey its full power. The musicians are in constant motion while playing, dancing throughout the performance. Here is a short film of Ed & Lonnie Young from 1959:
In the mid-1960’s The Jim Kweskin Jug Band were popular folk music revivalists, specializing in tunes from earlier eras. In the band at the time they recorded “Chevrolet” in 1967 were Geoff Muldaur and Maria D’Amato, shortly before their marriage.
Taj Mahal has been a major force in Blues since he started making records in the 1960’s. He’s always embraced and embodied music from many different cultures and regions, while at the same time being very creative and original with his presentation. His musical travels have led him to the Caribbean, Hawaii, West Africa, and to the many varieties of American folk, blues and jazz. His 1967 recording of “Chevrolet” is a funky, electric re-invention of the song. Here’s Taj Mahal performing the song with The Black Crowes from 1995:
Derek Trucks is a modern day guitar hero and bandleader. With the Derek Trucks Band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band and the Allman Brothers he is known for his fiery and soulful “voice” on the slide guitar. In some ways Trucks has taken after Taj Mahal, looking for ways to bring ethnic sounds and music into his original music. His 2006 recording of “Chevrolet” features Mike Mattison on vocals.
Here are the complete versions of “Chevrolet”: