September  2002

Harmonica Frank Floyd - The Missing Link
Memphis International Records DOT 0201
Released: 2002

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on DVD]Harmonica Frank Floyd is a fitting name for the charismatic performer whose 1979 recordings make up The Missing Link, for Floyd is a virtuoso of the mouth-harp. But as good as his harmonica playing was, he could have also been called Funny Frank Floyd or Tricky Frank Floyd or Bluesman Frank Floyd -- he was an old-time carnival-circuit entertainer whose act consisted of stories, jokes, and tricks in addition to songs.

Floyd fended for himself from the age of 14, riding the rails and sleeping in roadside ditches. Born in Mississippi in 1908 and abandoned by his parents, he hit the road when his grandparents died. His work evokes a gritty, rough-edged existence. His raw humor might seem juvenile today, but in his milieu, it would have united audiences in laughter.

I would not want to give the impression that Floyd was just a joker. He could really play the guitar! His fingers dance over the frets in the opening track, the classic "Rocking Chair Daddy," not to mention "Deep Elum Blues," "It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'," and "Step It Up and Go." That last one highlights the call and response dialogue his singing voice often maintained with his guitar. He was a bold player -- he'd let his fingers carry him through what sound like new lines he'd never before tried. What at first sound like "mistakes" are merely different vistas in his bluesy trail.

On the disc, Floyd describes his repertory, explaining that he did a little bit of hillbilly, a little bit of blues, a little bit of western, a little bit of rock’n’roll -- everything but "grand opry, which I don’t play, I just hate it, I don’t like it at all." By performing such a wide range of popular music, he says, he gave every listener something to like. Since he is so fond of repeating his disdain for "grand opry," though, it seems to me what he most wants to convey is that he is dedicated to the individualistic, unpolished way of doing things, rather than high art.

But Floyd's claim to authenticity was beyond dispute. How else could he create anything remotely resembling "Without My Teeth" -- and I would take him at his word on this --  in which, for one 1:47, he imitates the calls of geese, crows, and other non-human animals, eventually doing a darned convincing human infant? The Missing Link is an engaging journey into an era when entertainment hadn't yet been subdivided into all numerous homogenized categories -- there was good stuff and there was bad stuff. Harmonica Frank Floyd had plenty of the good stuff.