Sunday, December 30, 2012

Part 1 - The Blues...

Welcome to the first of what will be a very irregular series of me exploring different musical genres.
As Muddy Waters said, "the blues had a baby and they called it rock 'n' roll". I'm no expert on the blues but after listening to Lead Belly in the latest "Song of the Week" entry I moved on to a few other artists.
Lead Belly and many early folk blues singers were recorded by a very famous man called Alan Lomax. You can look him up easily but to cut a long story short, he did many, many field recordings of music being played and sung by sharecroppers and prison inmates from the early 1930s. He then carried this on across the USA, Spain, UK and Italy. I've just ordered a book about his life and there look to be some really good collections of the recordings so I'll seek out a few. Apparently there are over 17,000 tracks available online. I'll report back.
Here's a track from 1933 recorded in a prison in Texas.
Lightning Washington & Prisoners – Good God Almighty (1933) -
I like the story that Alan went looking to record Robert Johnson, found out he'd died, and as a result recorded Honeyboy Edwards and Muddy Waters.
Honeyboy Edwards – Spread My Raincoat Down (1942) -
Muddy Waters – Country Blues (1941) -
Another story that tickles my fancy is the reason that Honeyboy started with the electric guitar in 1946. His National acoustic got stolen!
Son House is another famous bluesman. And I just love the Wikipedia entry about his life; "After years of hostility to secular music, as a preacher, and for a few years also as a church pastor, he turned to blues performance at the age of 25." ( ). He must've been hostile since he was quite young! My introduction to Son House was via an American band called Gov't Mule who covered the song "John The Revelator". It's a popular tune also recorded by John Mellencamp, REM, Nick Cave and lately Steve Vai.
Son House – Delta Blues (1941) -
Nick Cave – John The Revelator -
So what is it about the Blues that makes it interesting to listen to? You hear the same riffs, shuffles and time signatures over and over. The answer is delivery, emotion and authenticity. It's real music sung by real people. Of course there are pretenders in the mix but they're not that hard to spot. Or so you might think. Who would've thought that two Englishmen and a Scot would help bring the blues into the consciousness of a very, very wide audience.
Cream – Crossroads (1968) -
I remember hearing Billy Connolly saying that he saw a blues caravan come to Glasgow and suddenly everyone was growing their hair and buying cowboy boots. One artist he mentions is Big Mama Thornton. Aptly named no doubt but have a listen and I'm sure that you might agree that "Big" refers to her voice. That's Buddy Guy on the guitar – reminds me very much of Robert Cray.
Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog (1965) -
Just as an aside, here's Billy with some blues...
Billy Connolly – Stainless Steel Wellies (1972) -
You can hear the blues influence in so much rock 'n' roll even if you discount the obvious stuff like the Stones, Led Zeppelin and Hendrix. I remember at the age of about 15 being shown how to play a 12-bar blues shuffle in A or E. In any band it's a life saver. Here's a couple of variations on that theme. Simple yet so effective.
Little Richard – Long Tall Sally (1956) -
Georgia Satellites – Keep Your Hands To Yourself -
Bo Diddley and Tom Petty – Mona -
I guess anyone can use the riffs but the lyrics to that Georgia Satellites song would work just as well with something from the 30s or 40s.
A few years ago I had a chance to by an oblong guitar like Bo Diddley's – I'm still kicking myself that I didn't.
And then I guess there's guys who kept the blues alive. Not that it ever really died. Maybe it just went underground for a while. Artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan opened it up to a wider audience as did U2 when they widened BB King's audience. There's also a little band from Texas called ZZ Top who play some pretty fine blues as well – when they leave their synthesizers at the door.
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Mary Had A Little Lamb -
BB King (with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan) – The Thrill Is Gone -
ZZ Top – Jesus Just Left Chicago -
There's a thousand blues players and singers that I've left out and I make no apology for this. As I said at the beginning, I'm no expert.
In terms of Australian blues, it's hard to go past this...
Chain – Black & Blue -
Or perhaps this...Bob is American but lives here some of the time I believe – a virtuoso who plays the whole instrument!
Bob Brozman – Crossroads Blues -
I'll finish with a modern take on a musical genre that has been around since the early 20th century, and ageless lyrics that pre-date this version. I picked this song up years ago on cassette when they were being cleared out of a record store to make way for CDs. Pure genius. The keyboard sound really makes this tune.
Robben Ford – Born Under A Bad Sign -
That's it folks.
DJ Rob

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