It’s 8.30am on route to work in an overcrowded train from Clapham Junction to Waterloo Station London, headphones on, volume gentle, the train carriage swaying, the occasional cough from a passenger, frustrated telephone conversation, or the steel on steel wheels churning beneath my feet find a way into my private world. I’m standing and gazing around incidentally wondering about the lives of others. The sardine squeeze, people protecting their personal space, upholding their rights via the unwritten protocols of facial expressions. Obsessively we are all consuming the latest news, sports and A list gossip that is constantly streamed to our mobile devices. Smiles, sadness, hopes, regret and fears all canned up in a train moving slowly towards the City. It’s a pleasant day and the tensions of dark wintery mornings are starting to evaporate.
Oblivious to everybody Mogo Kutu is singing in my ears and I feel good.
4217 miles away it’s about 2.30am in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. A place renowned for its blues and jazz Music. Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Imrat Khan, Scot Joplin, Donny Hathaway, Fontella Bass, Grant Green, Tina Tuner (I forgive you for the 80s Tina) and the legendary Isley Brothers all have a connection back to St. Louis. Some happy and some not so happy connection, but regardless this creative rich list humbles any serious music fan and it is here where by accident I bump into Mogo Kutu.
So who is Mogo Kutu? As his aptly named blog One of Us is Lying (http://missouri-oneofusislying.blogspot.co.uk) states, “Mogo Kutu is just a name, It is me. It is something old, something new. One step forward, a lifetime back. To keep it simple. I make stuff. Sometimes I make music. Other times I capture images. Sometimes I write. I build up and I tear down. I regret and I laugh. I live and breathe. I want you to like this, to like what I create because I think it is good. I would not waste your time otherwise.”
I managed to catch up with the man behind the Mogo Kutu project, Rob Woerther who has been a key figure in St. Louis contemporary songwriter scene for several years. “I have kept and maintained a home studio and sang and played in a handful of bands through the 90s, recorded a few CDs and then got tired of packing up gear, playing in bars and smelling like smoke. Started recording local singer-songwriters as well as myself and put out 2 compilations of St. Louis singer-songwriters – Sweat Equity and Elbow Grease.” After getting married, pursuing a career as a special education teacher, starting a family and finishing his doctorate Rob decided to give his academic career a well earned rest and start to take his songwriting and music more seriously. In December of 2013 he started to uploading his music to bandcamp.
At this point I will leave it to the storyteller, songwriter and singer to explain what is behind his collection of songs, which are now available on Bandcamp.
“Somewhere in middle America. The days are long. The creeks change with the season and at night you can still see just how small we are in this universe. When you are young all you can think of is leaving. Now I would give anything to go back.”
“G. Letters #1 started after I had found a box of letters my grandfather had written when he went off to fight in Germany during World War II. The letters, completely forgotten, had been found as we were cleaning out my Great grandmother’s house. Well into her 80s she saved a lot of our family’s history. From the family bible to these letters I slowly started to learn of my grandfather as a young man going through basic training.” “Ghost Waltz was one of the first songs I had written on a banjo. It was also written at a time I was working through my grandfather’s letters from the war. This song is a bit different in that the characters drift away from my grandfather to a couple that was not as fortunate. The woman in the story is waiting for her husband to return only to be visited by his ghost. The war taking another victim as a wife mourns her loss. “God’s eyes came from reading a collection of short stories by Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Hurston began collecting stories from the black southern communities in an effort to save them from being forgotten and lost. Her work helped act as a foundation for the Harlem Renaissance. While not directly an interpretation of a particular short story the song follows the loose narrative of a young man pushing his luck to see just how far he can go to prove himself.”
“As my dad has gotten older his love of baseball has become more of his persona. I appreciate him more because of it. Baseball is America’s story. In this day of modern toys and access to any information with a few clicks of a keyboard we still will huddle around a transistor radio and catch nine innings of the Cardinals versus the Cubs. I come from a family of storytellers. Give us a good kitchen table, something to drink, and an unsuspecting audience and the laughter will echo through the house, out through the garage, and into the neighbor’s yard. It starts off innocent enough until some poor victim asks a question and then the yarns start to spin. I think I was always meant to be a songwriter because all those stories needed to go somewhere.”
“Mud dreams came out of the past. I spent my youth surrounded by trees, creeks, and mud. The thrill of an empty day along a wide and angry river puts me at rest. Take a sip and watch your pole. Feel the breeze. Listen to the water.”
Lyrics that make you smile and reminisce about the fights, scrapes, first teenage kiss, growing pains, sunny days, family, friendship, love and the tensions of adult relationships. Mogo Kutu is pursuing the noble art of observing life’s little swerve balls and transforming them into carefully crafted songs. I genuinely find this work endearing. There is lack of pretension and a sense of sincerity behind this artist who is writing and performing from the heart. It is indeed the type of songwriting that is a product or age, growing maturity and experience. I am thoroughly enjoying each release, which costs $1 (60p in the UK) for 3 tracks. Top quality music, a worthy addition to most collections, which comes highly recommended.
I walk into the office, sit down, take off my headphones, switch off the music, look around and smile. It’s a good day.