Otis Taylor is one of the best blues musicians I’ve ever encountered. Which isn’t saying very much on the one hand because I’m a pretty simply rock and roller in my music tastes. Generally. Taylor is the real article, and has rekindled a long-dormant love I’ve had for blues. This song, “Ten Million Slaves” has recently been popularized by its appearance in the trailer for the forthcoming film about the life of John Dillinger, Public Enemies (which also looks excellent).
The album the song comes from is entitled Recapturing the Banjo, which refers to a lot of interesting musical and racial history in America. The banjo was actually adapted from west African instruments by slaves brought to the United States. However, the banjo was quickly embraced and appropriated by whites and, by the 1950s came to be thoroughly associated with Appalachian folk music and backwoods minstrel culture. As such it came to be somewhat ignored by the black blues community. Recently, however it has been making a comeback, and this album is explicitly focused on this retrieval. Pretty fantastic stuff, some of it with an incredibly incisive critical edge. This song in particular is incredible in its ability to reflect on the actual experience of slavery, drawing the listener into feeling the humanity and confusion of the enslaved. Great stuff.