Woman Blue by Judy Roderick

1965

In 2018, at the end of term, I sent an email to my colleagues at work which contained a slightly critical phrase. I was instructed by by Head of Department, who was less than half my age and prone to his own fits of pique, to apologise to all 17 members of the department. Whilst I regretted my email, I felt that the whole situation could have handled better. I duly sent the email but was quite angry. Roo and I went on holiday to Cornwall the day after I finished work for the six week Summer Holiday. I felt ashamed at the situation and rather than admit my own failings to Roo, I festered on the situation for a week until, on our drive back home, I opened up to her and, suddenly, all the tension, anxiety, anger and frustration dissipated.

At the time, I had just finished my Samaritans training and it’s a wonder to me now, that I hadn’t put myself in the position of a caller. One of the principles of The Samaritans is that it’s good to talk. A year or so later, one of my fellow Samaritans, whilst delivering some training, asked the delegates to spend 10 minutes listening to each other, in pairs. Afterwards, in the plenary, she asked for feedback and asked “How did it feel, to be listened to?” I thought that was such a brilliant way of putting it. Being listened to is powerful. How many people have the opportunity to be listened to?

I’m very lucky that, when I need to, I can talk to Roo and she will listen to me. She may make comments about my glasses or my checked shirt or my misguided sense of humour, but when it’s necessary, she will listen to me. I hope very much that she feels the same way about me. To have someone to listen to you is a privilege and I feel very lucky. As I answer more calls at The Samaritans, I am beginning to understand what a real honour it is to belong to an organisation with a good reputation for listening. Some of the calls I’ve taken recently have been quite intense and callers have really opened up their innermost thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes. To be able to help someone explore who they truly are and what their life means to them, is always astonishing.

The opening song on “Woman Blue” by Judy Roderick is “Someone To Talk My Troubles To”. It’s a complex story, told in three simply sung verses. She has come to realise that hanging out with a beautiful man may not be enough. What she really wants is someone to listen to her. This is how I interpret the song anyway. To my mind, this stunning song perfectly sums up the power of friendship and the healing that can be achieved by listening.

Judy Roderick moved to New York City from Michigan in 1964 and recorded an album called “Ain’t Nothing But The Blues” in 1964. Three of her songs were included on an album of performances from The 1964 Newport Folk Festival. “Woman Blue” is her second album and most of the songs feature her own acoustic guitar playing along with Artie Traum and Dick Weissman. The former recorded with everyone (The Band, John Sebastian, James Taylor and his brother, Happy); the latter formed The Journeymen with Scott McKenzie and John Phillips (of The Mamas And Papas). Also playing piano on a few tracks is Paul Griffin, who was one of the three piano players on “Highway 61 Revisited”.

Listening to this album, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that she had listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell beforehand but this album predates “Song To A Seagull” by three years. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Joni Mitchell listened to Judy Roderick and this helped her transform from using a vocal style reminiscent of a Joan Baez – esque purity into the emotional mezzo-soprano that featured on her classic early albums.

“Young Girl’s Dream” is even more sensational. It’s sung at a very leisurely place and the instrumentation is two simple acoustic guitars. The singer is looking back at the dreams that she used to have. “Would she ever get down to New Orleans?” In her childhood, she used to watch the steamships, she used to go to County Fairs and upset her parents with her aspirations. It’s a song of infinite regret.

There are a few different styles on this album. “Someone To Talk My Troubles To” and “Young Girl’s Dream” are folk songs; a majority of the songs are country-blues where her “white-blues” voice is remarkable. “Mistreated” is played on a steel guitar and asks the question “Have you ever been mistreated? You know what I’m talkin’ about” There is sorrow, urgency and anger in her voice as she sings about how her man had the nerve to throw her out.

In the 1960s, Dick Waterman founded a booking agency, representing Lightnin’ Hopkins, Junior Wells, Skip James and many others. In 2000, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as one of the first non-performers to be so honoured. He knew about the blues. He recalled first seeing Judy Roderick in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It seemed like someone else’s voice coming out of this woman with the petite frame, dressed like a Sarah Lawrence student about to do lunch with other proper young ladies from Westport. It taught me that seeing is not believing but hearing is for real.”  

Judy Roderick only released two further albums, “Nevada Jukebox” in 1972 and Judy Roderick & The Forbears (with Dr. John as one of the guest musicians) in 1984. She died in 1992, aged 49, diabetes hastening her death.

Dave Van Ronk was an important figure in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. He was nicknamed “The Mayor Of MacDougall Street”. He was the inspiration for The Coen Brothers film, “Inside Llewellyn Davies”. He knew about folk music. He said “Judy was the first of her generation of blues women, and still one of the best. To this day, her phrasing, tone and above all her originality are unmatched. A very important singer. Don’t miss this record.” Until now, I have never heard of her. Today’s listening has been wondrous.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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