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Mike McGonigal’s Crash Course On Sanctified Blues & Gospel

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Mike McGonigal writes for the cheerfully irreverent Vice media empire, and in this article turns the brand’s characteristic disdain against German filmmaker Wim Wenders (Wings Of Desire) and his depiction of the intersection of religion and the blues. Wenders produced a short film for a Martin Scorsese’s PBS series “The Blues,” and in it portrays blues audiences reacting in sheer horror to Blind Willie Johnson playing a spiritual. McGonigal bluntly rejects this revisionist history and responds:

“…the patrons of a juke joint in the ’20s wouldn’t have reacted that way. It’s well known that both spiritual and “saucy” subject matter were recorded by many blues artists, from Charley Patton to Rev. Gary Davis, which leads me to believe that this stuff co-existed in African-American culture (then, as today).

Modern gospel is a form of music younger even than jazz. It was promoted most heavily by Thomas A. Dorsey, a second-rate bluesman who recorded racy “race” records as Georgia Tom. After a conversion, Tom wrote a number of phenomenal tunes, such as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” In many ways, gospel forms more of the foundation for pop music than the blues does. But one of the most heady thrills in all of recorded music occurs when you combine the two.”

He goes on to suggest a listening regimen for those interested in this netherworld between the holy and the heavy. Listeners of Heavenly Sight will doubtlessly recognize some of the names and sounds from this well-curated list.

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