Miles Davis and the Music of Rural Arkansas

Matthew Fluharty, Commonplace Notebook

But before I had [music] lessons, I also remember how the music used to sound down there in Arkansas, when I was visiting my grandfather, especially on Saturday night church. Man, that shit was a motherfucker. I guess I was about six or seven. We’d be walking on these dark country roads at night and all of a sudden this music would seem to come out of nowhere, out of them spooky-looking trees that everybody said ghosts lived in. Anyway, we’d be on the side of the road — whoever I was with, one of my uncles or my cousin James — and I remember somebody would be playing a guitar the way B.B. King plays. And I remember a man and a woman singing and talking and getting down!  Shit, that music was something, especially that woman singing. But I think that kind of stuff stayed with me, you know what I mean? That kind of sound in music, that blues, church, back-road funk kind of thing, that southern, midwestern, rural sound and rhythm. I think it started getting into my blood on them spook-filled Arkansas back-roads after dark when the owls came out hooting. So when I started taking music lessons I might have already had some idea of what I wanted my music to sound like.

— Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography, written with Quincy Troupe



Matthew Fluharty is the Director of Art of the Rural and a Research Fellow in American Culture Studies at Washington Univeristy in St. Louis.