One of the big players in Blues, the unique Skip James made the crucial recording of a ‘Special Rider Blues’, after which Dylan named his primary music-publishing company. (Unlike the common blues term ‘rider’, the phrase ‘special rider’ is more special: it seems to occur in only four pre-war songs and by implication in a fifth. One of these is Skip James’.) James is also one of those whose old records saw early vinyl release on the pioneering blues label Biograph, the name Dylan chooses for his 1985 retrospective box set. But Dylan’s inwardness with the blues is such that he cannot help but have imbibed things from this highly distinctive figure, and we can glimpse them all over the place in Dylan’s work.
On Mississippi to Mali, Corey Harris' sixth album, Harris returns to his roots, but with a whole new spin. "I really approached this as a student," he says. "I was going to go out and learn something, and deepen my understanding of what it is I do, and why I'm doing it." Harris had been planning to do an album of duets with blues elders. But after he accepted an invitation to visit Mali, and played a show with the great guitarist and troubadour Boubacar Traore, he got to thinking about collaborating with musicians over there. Then the Scorsese film came along, and Harris saw a way to bring the two ideas together.