Guest Blog : Black Zombie: Hollywood and the 80’s Voodoo Revival by J. Malcom Stewart

guestblog2

Black Zombie: Hollywood and the 80’s Voodoo Revival

In the beginning, there was the Zoumbie.

What began as a mixture of the ancient spirituality, chemical sciences and social control practices of West and Central Africa ended up stranded in the former home of the Arawak and the Carib by way of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Just as water wears down stone, what started as historical reality became whittled into mythology. And where there were deep roots, the stalk that grew from that dark, fertile soil became forever altered by the gaze of the European Other.

The legendary flesh-and-blood inspiration for the modern cinematic motif arose and walked through the jungles of Haiti and other Caribbean islands in those days, allegedly bringing terror and destruction to those not wise enough to avoid the paths of voodoo, the false cognate for the misunderstood, syncretic systems of religion alternatively called Vodou, Vodun, Vaudou or Santeria.

So, naturally, someone had to make a movie about it.

In 1932, Hollywood came a’ knocking and our beloved Zoumbie left his sun kissed isle to star alongside Bela Lugosi in the black-and-white Golden Age horror classic, White Zombie. A title truly intentional in its contradiction as Lugosi plays a white Haitian landowner who discovers from his black peonage the secret of Zoumbie creation through a process of hypnosis and drugs.

Lugosi then, of course, uses his powers to cement his control over the black populace while subsequently terrorizing his white neighbors, kidnapping a visiting American co-ed and daring her beau to brave the terrors of his plantation to save her.

The strange, occult powers of his character are almost of secondary concern to our heroes given his over-familiarity with the way of “natives,” causing the boyfriend character to exclaim that if the damsel-in-distress were to accidentally fall into the hands of the black workers “it would be a fate worse than could be imagined!” His comrade-in-arms admonishes him strongly not to even consider such a horror.

Never fear… The movie going audience of 1932 was spared the threat of racial miscegenation when the aforementioned boyfriend confronts Lugosi and breaks the spell of the Zombie. All was again right in the world. Except it started a bit of a craze for more cinematic distortion of the Zoumbie tradition, the biggest of which was the mispronounced cultural appropriation of the Zoumbie name.

For a while, our hero held sway in the imagination of filmmakers wanting to explore the field of culturally incorrect exotica. He had regular work in those days, showing up in such forgotten gems as I Walked with a Zombie (1943) Voodoo Man (1944) and the Plague of the Zombies (1966).

Then came George Romero. And like a lot things in the 60’s, there was a changing of the guard.

With Night of the Living Dead, the (pseudo) Scientific Zombie became the king of the block and our hero was forced back into semi-obscurity, through perhaps Romero gave a slight nod of sympathy by casting Duane Jones as a protagonist who shared some heritage with our ancient hero. But mostly, the original item ended sitting around the house, downing bottle-after-bottle of Red Stripe, waiting for his next close up.

Thankfully for him, the 80’s came along. And with it, a “real-life” novel length account from Harvard researcher Wade Davis called The Serpent and the Rainbow. Davis’ book, presented as his actual experiences with so-called “zombie masters” in Haiti during the final years of the Duvalier dictatorship. And with its publication came the most pointed scholarly disagreement among anthropologists since Carlos Castaneda’s “Don Juan” thesis that stole the 70’s.

How could it not help but start a new, focused sensation about the Zoumbie and the Voodoo system?

First up in March of 1987 was Angel Heart. The all-star cast of Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro and Lisa Bonet was steeped in both anticipation and controversy. It brought together two of the most respected “Method” actors of the era, one of whom (DeNiro) had already won his Oscar and the other (Rourke) was an odds-on favorite to be the next “great American actor.” It also was greeted with tabloid buzz as Bonet was on thin ice with her TV dad and employer, Bill Cosby, due to the erotic nature of the film. Angel Heart was nearly slapped with the emerging NC-17 rating before some compromising cuts were made.

The film itself was an atmospheric exploration of the “Hoodoo” belief system, a American near cousin to Voudon and Santeria. The Hoodoo concept and practice, prevalent in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, sets the background for the New Orleans location for Angel Heart, as Rourke is a noir-cut detective tasked with finding a semi-famous singer who doesn’t want to be found. The set up, while simple sounding, is a complete misdirection for twists and turns, including bizarre symbolism, weird sex and DeNiro as a Brill Cream infused version of the Devil.

The film, which got a fairly favorable critical reception, was less than a box office sensation, perhaps weighed down by all the expectations of fireworks between Rourke and DeNiro and the gossipy infighting over Bonet’s role. Angel Heart has grown in prominence in the decades since, with many fans citing it as a conversation piece for unconventional horror. However, the really frightening thing maybe what happened to Rourke and Bonet’s careers after the film.

Hot on the heels of Angel Heart came The Believers. The May 1987 Martin Sheen vehicle attempted to explore the dangerous side of Santeria, the Spanish Speaking cousin of Vodun, as Sheen plays a skeptical psychologist who is drawn into the world of Caribbean mysticism when his son is threatened by a group of evil Santeru.

While The Believers brought some big budget production values to the subject, the script and direction fell back into some dominant culture stereotypes as the ultimate group of villains revealed had only a flimsy link to the actual Santeria tradition. Apparently, Hollywood hadn’t found much new material for practitioners of African traditional spiritualism in the intervening 55 years between it and White Zombie.

Fortunately for traditional zombie fans, the next year of 1988 contained a much more positive development as one of the decade’s legendary “Three C’s” took on adapting Wade Davis’ book. Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow brought the spotlight back to the place where it all began for our beloved friend, Haiti

Released in Feb. 1988, Serpent took advantage of Hollywood’s renewed interest in voodoo. Craven, then at the height of his powers and popularity, dove into the trend by giving us the most “naturalistic” Hollywood zombie movie to that date.
Set on the island in the early 1980’s, our hero (played by Bill Pullman) is a biologist/ anthropologist /chemist (the script is never sure which) who comes to the island nation in order to find the ancient, narcotic powder used by voodoo masters to put their victims into a state of living death.

For Pullman’s trouble, he is kicked, beaten, buried alive and has a nail driven through his scrotum. But for his tribulations, he manages to do something thought impossible. Bring the undead back to life a second time.

Shot on location around Hispaniola in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Serpent still stands as a glorious, although slower-paced, exploration of the Haitian “voodoo” culture. The film takes considerable time to explain the theology and worldview of the Zombie Makers while also delving into the culture and politics of the proud yet troubled nation.

Freaky undead doings abound, making for some killer scenes. Zombie hands in pea soup, crazy chicks eating glass, a corpse-bride with a python tongue The topper of an undead Paul Garfield pulling off his own head to throw it at a freshly returned Bill Pullman was one of my personal favorite horror moments of the 80’ . And while it wasn’t a big hit for Craven, it’s remembered fondly by many fans as one of his most unique films, despite its over-the-top ending.

Despite the flurry of interest at the end of the Reagan years, Hollywood quickly returned to the modern Zombie model, pushing out the Romero clones with frightening efficiency during  the last 30 years. There haven’t been a ton of films Hollywood exploring the flavors of the voodoo belief (2005’s The Skeleton Key comes to mind), but that’s not to say our hero’s time won’t come again.

In 2017, you can’t go anywhere in the horror genre without finding a Romero style cliche showing it.

 

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Once Upon a Scream Special Edition Pack

HorrorAddicts.net Press is proud to announce that we have special edition favor packs for our 4th anthology entitled Once Upon a Scream. This book is edited by Dan Shaurette and it takes the classic fairy tales that you grew up with and gives them a horror twist.

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OnceUponAScreamFront Once Upon a Scream

…there was a tradition of telling tales with elements of the fantastic along with the frightful. Adults and children alike took heed not to go into the deep, dark woods, treat a stranger poorly, or make a deal with someone-or something-without regard for the consequences. Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it.

From wish-granting trolls, to plague curses, and evil enchantresses, these tales will have you hiding under the covers in hopes they don’t find you. So lock your doors, shutter your windows, and get ready to SCREAM.

A return to darker foreboding fairy tales not for children.
Not everyone lives happily ever after.

 

HorrorAddicts.net Press

HorrorAddicts.net 124, Once Upon a Scream

HA tagHorror Addicts Episode# 127
SEASON 11!

Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich

Intro Music by: Valentine Wolfe

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j. malcolm stewart, phantom of the opera, peter scartabello

Find all articles and interviews at: http://www.horroraddicts.net

141 days till halloween

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An Interview With J. Malcolm Stewart

Our featured author for Episode 127 of the Horror Addicts Podcast is J. Malcolm Stewart no stranger to HorrorAddicts.net. We have reviewed his books The Eyes Of The Stars and Look Back In Horror: A Personal History of Horror Film. He has also had stories in The Horror addicts Guide To Life and Once Upon a Scream Recently we asked J. Malcolm Stewart to tell us more about his writing:

13798345What will you be reading for episode 127 of the podcast?

I will be reading from my novel The Eyes of the Stars.

What is your story in Once Upon A Scream called and what is it about?

The name of my story is “Mr. Shingles” and it concerns some Bay Area boys who go searching for a wish granting troll under the Carquinez Bridge in order to solve a life or death problem. Of course, given the way this anthology works, this little meeting of the minds goes horribly wrong.

What inspired the idea?

Actually, given the fragmented way my mind works, I had been wanting to write a horrific tribute to Dr. Seuss. Thanks to the editors, I was able to live the dream.

When did you start writing?

Some might say I am still not started yet… But those buttheads aside, I started writing down stories and ideas sometime in elementary school. I also spent my youth reading anything I could get my hands on and watching the worst kind of horror, monster and exploitation movies I could. This life of mind crime lead me to where I am today.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

Folklore, mythology, religion and fantasy are my bread and butter. But I’ve tried writing almost every type of genre except for a straight romance ( at least, not it yet…)

What are some of your influences?23200641

King, Straub, Barker and Lovecraft on the horror side. Tony Morrison and Don Delillo on the legit side (though I have no delusions that I do anything like them, other than speaking English). A score of horror comic book writers of ages past like Moore, Wein, Wolfman, Goodman, Starlin and DeMatteis. If you have written a low-budget horror movie in the last 90 years or so, you have a special place in my heart.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

Horror fiction deals with people as they are rather than how we aspire for them to be. Every other form of genre fiction requires a hero. Horror is not caught in that convention, so you can work outside of the box.

What are some of the works you have available?

My novel-length thriller “The Eyes of the Stars” can be found at Double-Dragon-ebooks.com in both e-book and paperback. My short story collections “Exodus From Mars” and “The Last Words of Robert Johnson” are available now on Amazon.com along with my non-fiction collection of horror film essays , “Look Back in Horror: A Personal History of Horror Film”

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished two short story pieces, one for another anthology and one for general submission. I also have an insane dream to finish my next novel, a prequel to “The Eyes of the Stars” and my follow-up to “Look Back in Horror” before 2017.

Where can we find you online?

https://about.me/jaymal is my webpage, Sabbx’s Retro Reviews is my blogsite, my twitter is @sabbathsoldier, my YouTube feature where I review indie films is SEVEN MINUTE TAKES, I have a Facebook page, an Amazon author page… Uhhh, that’s probably everything other than my home phone number.

Once Upon a Scream now on Kindle!

HorrorAddicts.net Press is proud to announce that our 4th anthology entitled Once Upon a Scream is now on Kindle! This book is edited by Dan Shaurette and it takes the classic fairy tales that you grew up with and gives them a horror twist.

Once Upon a Scream

OnceUponAScreamFront…there was a tradition of telling tales with elements of the fantastic along with the frightful. Adults and children alike took heed not to go into the deep, dark woods, treat a stranger poorly, or make a deal with someone-or something-without regard for the consequences. Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it.

From wish-granting trolls, to plague curses, and evil enchantresses, these tales will have you hiding under the covers in hopes they don’t find you. So lock your doors, shutter your windows, and get ready to SCREAM.

A return to darker foreboding fairy tales not for children.
Not everyone lives happily ever after.

Stories include:

“The Black Undeath” by Shannon Lawrence: There was a plague no one speaks about, one much worse than the Black Death. “The Black Undeath” combines the ravages of the plague and leprosy with the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

Shannon Lawrence is  a fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy,  You can find her at thewarriormuse.com

“Melody of Bones” by Nickie Jamison:  This is a delightful mashup of the German tales of the “Singing Bone” and “The Pied Piper of Hamlin.” Death can make beautiful music.

Nickie Jamison’s erotic fiction has been published in the Coming Together Among the Stars and the Coming Together Outside the Box anthologies.

“The Godmother’s Bargain” by Alison McBain: This story is based on Cinderella but instead of relying on a fairy godmother, Cinderella makes a deal with the devil.

Alison McBain  has over thirty publications in magazines and anthologies. You can read her blog at alisonmcbain.com

“Leila” by Dan Shaurette: This is a story about vampires and an old witch that lives in a haunted forest in a far away land.

Dan Shaurette is a goth-geek from Phoenix, AZ and he is the writer of  Black Magic and
Black Jack, you can visit him at: MattBlackBooks.com

“Nothing to Worry About” by Charles Frierman: Nothing killed Old Smelty, don’t let it kill you too.

Charles Frierman is  works as a children’s storyteller at the local library, but writing has always been
his passion.

“The Cursed Child” by C.S. Kane: Witches do what they must to save a child.

C.S. Kane’s debut horror novella, Shattered is out now. You can find out more about her at: http://www.cskane.com/

“The Healer’s Gift” by Lynn McSweeney: A pale boy with a whiff of the uncanny begs admission to a wounded healer’s cottage just before sunrise, conjuring her darkest fears of who – or what – he may be.

Lynn McSweeney writes mostly horror, fantasy, and science-fiction, or a blend of them, with an occasional foray into erotica.

“Briar” by K.L. Wallis: “Briar” is the story of a man who is lost deep in a mythical Black Forest, where he stumbles upon an abandoned fairy-tale palace with a forgotten sleeping beauty

K.L. Wallis  writes gothic fiction, high fantasy, mythological fiction, and
contemporary folk-lore you can find her at: https://restrictedquill.wordpress.com

“Curse of the Elves” by Sara E. Lundberg: This story gives a horrifying spin on the old tale “The Shoemaker and the Elves.” What if the elves were grotesque murderers and you wanted them to go away.

Sara E. Lundberg  writes and edits primarily fantasy and horror. She is also an editor and contributor for the Confabulator Cafe. You can find her online at SELundberg.com

“Lake Tiveden” by MD Maurice: The modern retelling of the legend of Tiveden and the epic encounter between a fisherman, his daughter and the fearsome Nokken.

MD Maurice has been writing and publishing erotic, Dark Fantasy and mainstream fiction since early 2001. She has been previously published in several print anthologies

“Wax Shadow” by Emerian Rich: Horror fairytale modern retelling of “The Shadow” by Hans Christian Andersen.

Emerian Rich is the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights, and Artistic License. You can find her at: http://emzbox.com/

“Without Family Ties” by Chantal Boudreau: This is a modern horror tale based on the story of Pinocchio.

Chantal Boudreau is a  member of the Horror Writers Association, she writes and illustrates horror, dark fantasy and fantasy. You can find her at: http://chantellyb.wordpress.com

“Commanding the Stones” by Laurel Anne Hill: A murder, a troubled marriage, a mysterious benefactor and a Russian fairy tale add up to terror and redemption in the sewers of Paris.

Laurel Anne Hill’s award-winning novel, Heroes Arise, was published by KOMENAR in 2007. You can find her at: http://www.laurelannehill.com/

“Gollewon Ellee” by DJ Tyrer: Two young girls follow the Gollewon Ellee, Fairy Lights, and discover that not only are the Fair Folk real, they are stranger and more sinister than they imagined.

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA and elsewhere His website is: http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/

“Mr. Shingles” by J. Malcolm Stewart: Bay Area boys meeting with a certain rhyming troll who may or may not still be living under the Carquinez Bridge.

J. Malcolm Stewart is a Northern California-based author, journalist and marketing professional. He is the author of several novels and short story collections. http://about.me/jaymal

“The Boy and His Teeth” by V. E. Battaglia: A cautionary tale against deceiving the Tooth Fairy.

V. E. Battaglia is primarily writes Science Fiction and Horror. His work can be found in the Zen of the Dead anthology from Popcorn Press and in the SNAFU: Hunters anthology.

“The Other Daughter” by Adam L. Bealby: It’s nice to see Hannah looking her old self, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The problem is Hannah – the real Hannah – with her black nails and even blacker attitude, she’s already upstairs…

Adam L. Bealby writes weird fiction leaning heavily into fantasy, horror and arch satire. He dabbles in stories for children too. His short stories and comic work have been published in numerous anthologies. Find him at: @adamskilad

“Old and in the Way” by Wayne Faust: Atmospheric tale about an old man who can no longer do his duty.

Wayne Faust has been a full time music and comedy performer for over 40 years. While on the road performing he also writes fiction. You can find him at: www.waynefaust.com

HorrorAddicts.net Press

Press Release: Once Upon a Scream

HorrorAddicts.net Press is proud to announce that we have just released our 4th anthology entitled Once Upon a Scream. This book is edited by Dan Shaurette and it takes the classic fairy tales that you grew up with and gives them a horror twist.

Once Upon a Scream

OnceUponAScreamFront…there was a tradition of telling tales with elements of the fantastic along with the frightful. Adults and children alike took heed not to go into the deep, dark woods, treat a stranger poorly, or make a deal with someone-or something-without regard for the consequences. Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it.

From wish-granting trolls, to plague curses, and evil enchantresses, these tales will have you hiding under the covers in hopes they don’t find you. So lock your doors, shutter your windows, and get ready to SCREAM.

A return to darker foreboding fairy tales not for children.
Not everyone lives happily ever after.

Stories include:

“The Black Undeath” by Shannon Lawrence: There was a plague no one speaks about, one much worse than the Black Death. “The Black Undeath” combines the ravages of the plague and leprosy with the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

Shannon Lawrence is  a fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy,  You can find her at thewarriormuse.com

“Melody of Bones” by Nickie Jamison:  This is a delightful mashup of the German tales of the “Singing Bone” and “The Pied Piper of Hamlin.” Death can make beautiful music.

Nickie Jamison’s erotic fiction has been published in the Coming Together Among the Stars and the Coming Together Outside the Box anthologies.

“The Godmother’s Bargain” by Alison McBain: This story is based on Cinderella but instead of relying on a fairy godmother, Cinderella makes a deal with the devil.

Alison McBain  has over thirty publications in magazines and anthologies. You can read her blog at alisonmcbain.com

“Leila” by Dan Shaurette: This is a story about vampires and an old witch that lives in a haunted forest in a far away land.

Dan Shaurette is a goth-geek from Phoenix, AZ and he is the writer of  Black Magic and
Black Jack, you can visit him at: MattBlackBooks.com

“Nothing to Worry About” by Charles Frierman: Nothing killed Old Smelty, don’t let it kill you too.

Charles Frierman is  works as a children’s storyteller at the local library, but writing has always been
his passion.

“The Cursed Child” by C.S. Kane: Witches do what they must to save a child.

C.S. Kane’s debut horror novella, Shattered is out now. You can find out more about her at: http://www.cskane.com/

“The Healer’s Gift” by Lynn McSweeney: A pale boy with a whiff of the uncanny begs admission to a wounded healer’s cottage just before sunrise, conjuring her darkest fears of who – or what – he may be.

Lynn McSweeney writes mostly horror, fantasy, and science-fiction, or a blend of them, with an occasional foray into erotica.

“Briar” by K.L. Wallis: “Briar” is the story of a man who is lost deep in a mythical Black Forest, where he stumbles upon an abandoned fairy-tale palace with a forgotten sleeping beauty

K.L. Wallis  writes gothic fiction, high fantasy, mythological fiction, and
contemporary folk-lore you can find her at: https://restrictedquill.wordpress.com

“Curse of the Elves” by Sara E. Lundberg: This story gives a horrifying spin on the old tale “The Shoemaker and the Elves.” What if the elves were grotesque murderers and you wanted them to go away.

Sara E. Lundberg  writes and edits primarily fantasy and horror. She is also an editor and contributor for the Confabulator Cafe. You can find her online at SELundberg.com

“Lake Tiveden” by MD Maurice: The modern retelling of the legend of Tiveden and the epic encounter between a fisherman, his daughter and the fearsome Nokken.

MD Maurice has been writing and publishing erotic, Dark Fantasy and mainstream fiction since early 2001. She has been previously published in several print anthologies

“Wax Shadow” by Emerian Rich: Horror fairytale modern retelling of “The Shadow” by Hans Christian Andersen.

Emerian Rich is the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights, and Artistic License. You can find her at: http://emzbox.com/

“Without Family Ties” by Chantal Boudreau: This is a modern horror tale based on the story of Pinocchio.

Chantal Boudreau is a  member of the Horror Writers Association, she writes and illustrates horror, dark fantasy and fantasy. You can find her at: http://chantellyb.wordpress.com

“Commanding the Stones” by Laurel Anne Hill: A murder, a troubled marriage, a mysterious benefactor and a Russian fairy tale add up to terror and redemption in the sewers of Paris.

Laurel Anne Hill’s award-winning novel, Heroes Arise, was published by KOMENAR in 2007. You can find her at: http://www.laurelannehill.com/

“Gollewon Ellee” by DJ Tyrer: Two young girls follow the Gollewon Ellee, Fairy Lights, and discover that not only are the Fair Folk real, they are stranger and more sinister than they imagined.

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA and elsewhere His website is: http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/

“Mr. Shingles” by J. Malcolm Stewart: Bay Area boys meeting with a certain rhyming troll who may or may not still be living under the Carquinez Bridge.

J. Malcolm Stewart is a Northern California-based author, journalist and marketing professional. He is the author of several novels and short story collections. http://about.me/jaymal

“The Boy and His Teeth” by V. E. Battaglia: A cautionary tale against deceiving the Tooth Fairy.

V. E. Battaglia is primarily writes Science Fiction and Horror. His work can be found in the Zen of the Dead anthology from Popcorn Press and in the SNAFU: Hunters anthology.

“The Other Daughter” by Adam L. Bealby: It’s nice to see Hannah looking her old self, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The problem is Hannah – the real Hannah – with her black nails and even blacker attitude, she’s already upstairs…

Adam L. Bealby writes weird fiction leaning heavily into fantasy, horror and arch satire. He dabbles in stories for children too. His short stories and comic work have been published in numerous anthologies. Find him at: @adamskilad

“Old and in the Way” by Wayne Faust: Atmospheric tale about an old man who can no longer do his duty.

Wayne Faust has been a full time music and comedy performer for over 40 years. While on the road performing he also writes fiction. You can find him at: www.waynefaust.com

HorrorAddicts.net Press

The Sounds of Horror in Black American Music

The Sounds of Horror in Black American Music

by J. Malcolm Stewart

            Somewhere between screams of torment that came from the Door of No Return and the groaning of the slave ship, between the seller’s cries in the flesh markets and the scorching fields of the American South, came the Blues…

Born of brutality and brutal honesty, the sounds of work gang chants became entwined the twist and the twang of the guitar string, mixing the call and response structure of the West African storytellers with the rhyming couplets of the French and the English languages and coupling the cosmology of the ancient Oriesha  with the Apocalypse of Daniel Belteshazzer and John the Revelator.

Chains were broken but oppression was not… So the Blues traveled from plantation to plantation, from work camp to work camp,  from roadhouse to roadhouse, until the thumping of wood and string and voice created a roaring tide that rivaled the sea itself.

And Hell came with it…

Charley Patton may have been the first. A man stuck between two worlds, denied and hidden by his celebrated white musician father, forced by Jim Crow to hit the dirt roads between sharecropping plantations to ply his special brand of full contact entertainment.

He was the first show stopping Bluesman in the years after Reconstruction, screaming at the top his lungs for 35 years, giving words to the pain and injustice of a people who, like him, could not claim their rightful inheritance in a color struck world.

Once, when a sharecropping plantation owner asked one Patton’s listeners about the massive appeal of the Blues player’s distinctive howling, the man simply said to the landowner, “Boss, you’ve never been a nigger on a Saturday night…” A statement as starkly insightful to the black experience as it is disturbing.

Around the firelights of those cotton field work camps, the next generation was already watching and learning. Robert Johnson was also an exile of sorts, kicked out by his mother’s second husband at 14 to wander the crossroads of life on his own. In his way, Johnson was living the Blues, following the masters of the form, making great and glorious plans of his own.

In his self-told story, he made up his mind one day to go the crossroads and invoke something that could help him be the best Bluesman of all time.

Whether it was the Leguba of ancient times or the Devil of Christian vintage has always been up for debate. In fact, the story itself may have been the one of the first, best examples negative image marketing.Whatever the source, Johnson became the next sensation, with the Library of Congress trailing him in down in 1936, (before the Hellhounds apparently), as they recorded perhaps the most mysterious 41 songs in American history. His strange death in 1938 is now the stuff of legend and speculation, a story that mixes fact and fiction together in generous amounts.

Johnson also became an inspiration to another generation as a fellow Mississippian took Bad Bob’s sound with his electric guitar to the South Side of Chicago in 1946. Muddy Waters took the folk traditions of the black South along with him, drawing inspiration from its wellspring of enchantments, spirits and ancient artifacts. In his songcraft, the Wise-Women of the Mystery Traditions became the “gypsies” of the modern South, casting spells, granting favors, creating Mojo-hands of luck for worthy adherents.

In his 1957 song “Evil,” Waters imagines himself as a past practitioner of sorcery, walking through the jungles of Africa using his will to tame and rebuke every man or beast he meets. About the same time Waters sang of terrorizing the Motherland, the airways were alive with “Screaming” Jay Hawkins’ novelty hit “I Put a Spell on You.” In the song, the theatrical Hawkins (he, at times, would rise from a coffin during his stage show) describes with loving menace the way he intends to keep the object of his affection by using strange powers of his mind.

Though the result was indeed very scary, it also was masterfully crafted and given Hawkins’ powerful vocals, it remains a favorite of Halloween celebrations to this day.

However, the next wave is always building and one of the musicians on the scene at Muddy Water’s nightclub became the Vanguard of its sonic emergence. James Allen Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix often “sat in on side” (in the musical parlance) at Muddy’s. Or at least, he did during the times he wasn’t being fired by Little Richard for stealing “The Originator’s” on-stage thunder. Muddy gave the talented Seattle vagabond several lengthy discourses about the strange majesty of the Blues. Hendrix took that advice and ran with it… All the way to London, England where he ended up re-writing the rules for popular music.

After becoming an international sensation, Hendrix wrote his ticket back to the States and settled down in NY’s Electric Ladyland studios to record his third album. Perhaps inspired by his lengthy conversations with the electric guitar pioneer, Hendrix decided to make a 15 minute deep blues jam the centerpiece of his upcoming 4 disc “concept album.”

The rock magician decided to borrow the “gypsy woman” trope from Waters, but instead of him “being born for good luck” like the hero of the Blues-player’s  “Hoochie Coochie Man,” the opening stanza of Hendrix’s creeping blues tells us, this time, the prophecy of the Wise-Woman brings death to a distraught mother as the “Voodoo Chile” is born.

Hendrix’s version of the Bluesman’s fantasy extends beyond the boundaries of the terrestrial as he travels in his spirit from this life to next, present both in the far reaches of outer space at the same time he sits watching from his lover’s picture frame. The screaming, crashing crescendo of the piece sends the impromptu audience, who stuffed themselves in the recording studio that Friday night in 1967, into a frenzy, cheering and clapping while Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Mitch Mitchell and Steve Winwood riff and roll until the tape runs out.

It may have been that enthusiastic response to Hendrix’s cosmic voodoo that inspired him to bookend his sprawling album with a thunderous coda. “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” is as short as its predecessor was long and as aggressive as the first song was ponderous. In it, the lyrics imagine Hendrix as a giant of Creation as he retells the ancient formation myth of the Canary Island chain.

“I stand up next to a mountain,” he sings. ” And I chop down with the ledge of my hand….” His guitar explodes and growls as he proclaims “If I don’t see you no more in this world, I’ll see you in the next one.. Don’t be late…”

Hendrix’s untimely death in 1970 ended the Age of Aquarius before it started, making him, along with Robert Johnson, a member of the now legendary 27 Club. In the decades after his death, the sound of black America went from the mind expanding psychedelic music of the 1960s to the angry boom and thud of Hip Hop and Rap during Reagan’s 1980s.

Those years brought political anger, racial confrontation and soaring disenfranchisement to the black urban communities of America. Many of the Nation of Millions, whose grandfathers and grandmothers heard Charley Patton howl  and scream, now had different horrors to consider. But even the mega-cities and sprawling ghettos of the North and South could not divorce themselves from the terrors of the past. The evil things of days past changed and morphed, emerging again into the light altered like Frankenstein’s Monster .

No greater example of this musical mutation between old and new is found than in the 1987 song “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by the Houston based rap group, The Geto Boys. In the song, each member of the group, caught up in some form of street crime, describes being chased by a relentless evil, which in turn could be either supernatural or psychological in nature.

The final verse of the song, rapped by Bushwick Bill, sums up the fear and paranoia of the theme as he describes a Halloween weekend spent bag robbing and terrorizing the neighborhood. Suddenly, a terrifying figure of the night appears behind them, causing Bill and his companions to attack in self defense. The following violence ends up with Bill coming to realization that the whole incident had been a hallucination, and in reality, he had been pounding his hands to bloody shreds on the concrete by himself.

This new reality of crime, unjust policing and poverty changed the sounds of fear again by the 1990s. Tupac Shakur, between his prison terms and diss-raps, oft described being driven and pursued by demons in his music. Shakur’s great rhetorical rival, The Notorious B.I.G., reminded his fans that “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You,” before being shot dead himself in the streets of Los Angeles. NYC rap duo Mobb Deep entitled their third album “Hell on Earth,” as a reflection of the concrete inferno of their native Queensbridge neighborhood. Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA started and then rejected a rap school of expression some dubbed “Horrorcore.”

The turn of the calendar to the 21st Century brought with it even more terrors and madness. The Twin Towers fell and the Orwellian reality of the deep Security State emerged. The horrors of the day also took a more pleasing shape as artists began exploring the Faustian bargain of obtaining fame and wealth by all means, perhaps even at the cost of one’s eternal spirit.

Whether it be metaphor or magik, Bahamian pop sensation Rhianna explores this topic in depth on her 2016 video-album offering, “ANTI.” Where some see the alchemical triumph of a descendant of slaves becoming a trans-humanist superwoman, others see the mark of a Luciferian pact, literally mapping out for her viewers an occult game plan on how to sell one’s soul to the forces of the Abyss.

Maybe she met Robert Johnson on the way there…

Regardless, music has served as a mirror to the souls of Black Folk in this land far away for nearly four centuries. In it, good or ill, we see the concerns of the day and our fears for the future.  Whether we are mastered by these terrors or we rise above them depends on how we respond to what we see in that aforementioned image.

If we do not find they way to that higher path, the howl and scream of history may just be beginning…

 

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jaymal_1423800549_46 - Edited.pngJ. Malcolm Stewart is an author, journalist and media professional who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His short fiction has appeared in the Pulp Empire Series, Heroes of Mars, Twisted Tales, Temptation Magazine as well as on the Smoke and Mirrors podcast. His novel-length thriller The Eyes of the Stars can be found at Double-Dragon-ebooks.com in ebook and paperback. His short story collection The Last Words of Robert Johnson and Other Tales is also available now on Amazon.com along with his non-fiction collection of horror film essays , Look Back in Horror: A Personal History of Horror Film.