There is a kind of odd selfishness here though – no epitaph? Really? Nothing with your name on it, at least? The singer is modest here, sure, but maybe also a little short-sighted. What he wants – no gloom, no doom – is almost by definition out of his control. The ease in his mind – that his woman and daughter will be safe – could only be the ease of someone who maybe doesn’t spend much time with them anyway, or else, wouldn’t they miss him? This seems to be a song sung by someone who is eager to be unattached to anyone or anything, even any marker saying they existed in the first place. This kind of selfish humility – the kind that doesn’t want to be remembered, even as they are telling others not to remember them – comes with a kind of pastoral bumpkin sing-a-long that sounds resigned, resolved, maybe even happy.
That this song may be about Robert Johnson makes some sense; it is a young man’s song, one where there are no strong attachments, to places, people, things; he doesn’t want a marker because he is everywhere and nowhere once he’s dead. And maybe he’s acted towards others so irresponsibly that they wouldn’t miss him once he was gone after all; he sold his soul to play like that, what did you expect, a long and happy life? But I feel this is sentimentalizing Johnson’s life, to claim he was so blithe about how things would be after his death. His records don’t sound like that; they are full of life and its struggles, to say the least, and profound joys and sorrows. He doesn’t sound, to me, like a man who wants no epitaph, no remembrance; he wants his own griefs to end, is more like it*.
That McGuinness Flint was a supergroup of sorts is obvious from their name**; that they struggled after this hit also seems with hindsight obvious, with Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle (who wrote this) eventually breaking away in 1971 to have their own success as a duo. Someone else must have picked up on the mandolin though, but soon enough a group that used to record hippie folk will appear here, because what the charts need is elegant boogie. And so begins 1971…
*That this should be a hit after “Voodoo Chile” went to #1 shows the difference between the faux-modesty here and the exultant claims of Hendrix, who had every right to sing what he did; and lest we forget, Eric Clapton is in the US with Derek and the Dominoes at this time, exorcising his own demons. Their music is alive in a way that this song isn’t.
**Tom McGuinness was ex-Manfred Mann; Hughie Flint was one of the many musicians who’d been in John Mayall’s group. They continued on until 1975, making good music but to less and less interest from the public.