As the music supervisor for "Black Snake Moan," Scott Bomar worked with director Craig Brewer on capturing the steamy, sweaty feel of the northern Mississippi blues music in his score for the film and its soundtrack. One of Bomar's main tasks was to educate the film's star, Samuel L. Jackson, on the history and feel of this raw and relatively underappreciated subset of the blues, which is a far-off and haunted cry away from the slicker, better-known Chicago blues style. Speaking from his home in Tennessee, Bomar spoke with Salon about Jackson's ease with the material, blues music's place in modern culture and reviews that have called out the film's sexually provocative themes and imagery (view the poster here) as being offensive.
How familiar was Samuel Jackson with blues music?
He was a total natural. He came to Memphis before we started production on the film and Craig [Brewer] and I took him on a road trip through Mississippi. When we went on that trip, we were driving down the highway and Sam started talking about how his family in Chattanooga had owned a juke joint and how he had been exposed to this kind of music. The more Craig and I showed Sam photos and played him music, the more he totally got that we were trying to capture the spirit of his grandfather's juke joint blues. He knew where we were coming from.
Are the blues taken for granted?
I do think they're taken for granted. I think many people consider the blues to be a derogatory, old-fashioned, throwback style of music. One thing Craig and I both wanted to accomplish with "Black Snake Moan" was that we wanted to show people that the blues are relevant, sexy -- it's the roots of rap. A song like "Stackolee" shows how the roots of blues and rap are the same. That song is racy, it's dangerous. There are common threads between the blues and rap music. Getting crunked is the same thing as going out to the juke joint on Saturday night and getting some whiskey and dancing with your girl; the culture and lifestyle are very similar.
They say that the blues had a baby and called it rock 'n' roll -- well the blues had a grandchild, and it's called rap.
Are you worried about criticism that the film traffics in stereotypes?
I wouldn't consider seeing an African-American man in his 60s with a young white girl in chains at his feet to be stereotypical. I've never seen anything quite like that. I don't give that kind of criticism much thought because this is the music I grew up with. When I was 15 or 16 years old and other people were going to see punk bands I was going to see [blues musicians] R.L. Burnside and Jessie Mae Hemphill. That music was such a love of mine and this film is a really a great opportunity to expose it to a wider audience.
-- David Marchese