Caught by the River

Jeb’s Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 12th November 2018

Ill Do The Best I Can
James Phelps

Winter winds are pushing over the hills, leaving damp clumps of leaves on the ground.  I stand on the porch and watch; November hits hard.  I step inside and put another log on the stove.  Smoke curls into the room.  Itll be another hour before it warms up.  I cross the room and do what I always do when I need to kill time.  I pull out records and let them talk to me.  The first record I pull out is by James Phelps. 

It was another autumn in another country when I first heard James Phelps.  I was staying, briefly, with friends in Barcelona.  I didnt want to be there.   I was young and homesick for the hills of southern Missouri.  I was lost among people that meant little to me.  I waited for something, anything, to force me to leave.  I spent most mornings at a junk store/record shop practicing my Spanish.  One morning the woman who owned the shop handed me a bag of records and said, make yourself useful.  I was told to clean them, put them in new sleeves, and display them in the shop.  James Phelps was among them. 

 Two weeks later a friend said he was going to the UK.  He asked if I wanted a ride to London and I jumped at it.  I put my single bag of possessions into his ancient Seat and off we went, crawling across Spain and France.  It took two weeks.  The car broke down twice, the days were short and we had no headlights, we seemed to be perpetually lost.  We spoke in a jumble of sign language and clumsy Spanish.  Finally we rolled into London and I went to the flat of a friend.  I collapsed on his sofa wondering what the hell I would do next.  My friend was cooking and listening to a selection of reggae twelve inches.  The second one he played was a Channel One version of the James Phelps record Id been playing constantly in Barcelona.   

I look out the window at leafless trees, at heavy skies, at wetted grass.  I watch crows cut through the mist.  I listen to James Phelps and go over all this old business, making the trip from Spain to London, from London to here.  I also, in some unlanguaged way, follow the record on a series of other trips; from Chicago to Jamaica, from New York to Barcelona, from 60s R and B to 70s reggae, from then to now, from now to whatever might be waiting next week.


You can follow the Jeb’s Jukebox Spotify playlist here.