“It’s the right time to sing the blues”: Pragmatism and Blues Community

Handy Randy

Ramiro Garcia Flores aka “Handy Randy”

“Pragmatism must be made to sing the blues.”[1] Eddie Glaude offers pragmatic thought and blues music as a site of reflection on black identity because “it locates identity formation in the messiness of our living and the problems we confront.”[2]

My dad, Ramiro “Randy” Flores, considers himself a simple man.  Most of his meals consist of fried eggs, tortillas and milk.  He loves nothing more than sitting on the back porch and talking to his family and friends while smoking a Marlboro cigarette.  His favorite moment of the day is hugging his wife or any one of his three daughters.  A closer look at his life reveals a man with a complicated history.  My dad has had as many identities as he has baseball caps: father, husband, farmworker, artist, laborer, unemployed, alcoholic, recovering alcoholic, working poor, Mexican, American, Mexican-American, Catholic, and Denver Broncos fan.  He finds expression for all of these identities in blues music.  He spends copious amounts of time practicing in his makeshift studio in the corner of our basement. Here he rehearses his music and identities, finding fuller modes of expression in between the metal frets of his bass guitar.

“Pragmatists express a profound faith in the capacity of everyday, ordinary people to transform their world.”[3] Blues music and identity are both community projects best forged amid everyday joys and challenges.  Just over a decade ago, my dad helped found the Denver-based blues act Sonny Boy and Money.  This multiracial, multigenerational band came together primarily out of necessity: they needed each other to make the music they love.  In their quest for a band they found a brotherhood.  Regardless of their identities, these men have almost uniformly experienced poverty, imprisonment, racial discrimination, substance addiction, and marital strife.  They are deeply frustrated by constant war, rising gas prices and “Taxes.”[4] Prodding deeper, they found other broken hearts mourning the death of parents and children, chronic illness and injury, and shattered dreams of justice. As they share their struggles for freedom, they know its “The Right Time to Sing the Blues.”[5] “The blues is a healer,”[6] allowing them a space to lament, to dream and to jam.   Time and time again, they find their own tragedy reflected in the soul of their band mates: just as troubled, just as resilient, just as blue.

“…Our identities turn out to be the products of efforts to dispose of problematic situations.”[7] Glaude hopes that pragmatism colored blue will help untangle the dissonant chords of racial separation in the United States.  In this same spirit, the members of Sonny Boy and Money have forged a blues community, a brotherhood that pays little mind to narrow racial ideologies that raise an eyebrow when a bunch of Mexicans and black guys set up their gear on stage.  Their group identity is rooted in a common resolve to transform tragedy into harmony, building the discordant notes of their identity into a dazzling moment of blues fluency.  But not before taking a moment to consider the “absurdity of a nation committed, at once, to freedom and unfreedom.”[8]

[1] Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., In A Shade Of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 8.

[2] Glaude, In A Shade Of Blue, 9.

[3] Glaude, In A Shade Of Blue, 7.

[4] Sonny Boy and Money, “Taxes,” Big City Roller (Independently produced, 2004).

[5] Sonny Boy and Money, “The Right Time To Sing The Blues,” Big City Roller.

[6] Sonny Boy and Money, “Don’t Disrespect the Blues,” Big City Roller.

[7] Glaude, In A Shade Of Blue, 9.

[8] Glaude, In A Shade Of Blue, 48.


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