Friday, April 9, 2010
Once Upon A Time
I started thinking last week, while reading Roger Stolle's post about how he got into the blues, about my own discovery of the blues. There were a lot of similarities between my story and Roger's, but then that's probably the case with most people in our age group.
In my case, I sort of backed into it. Growing up, I listened to lots of soul and R&B, beginning in the early to mid 70's. I guess I had a bit of a background in it, family-wise. My grandfather used to fish at Lake Mary and Scott Dunbar often served as his fishing guide and evening entertainment. My mom listened to a lot of New Orleans R&B and rock and roll growing up and I heard it a lot on the radio around the house when I was growing up. Also, my uncle would often give us old 8-tracks that he didn't listen to anymore, so I was exposed to lots of popular music, ranging from Elvis to Motown to the Beatles to Sly and the Family Stone. I also listened to the Top 40-formatted stations that were the norm in my area.
Looking back, my musical tastes as a youth was a serious mess, jumping from pop to rock to soul to R&B and even other genres in between like jazz, new wave, and (gasp) disco (Yes, I still have my shiny white shirt. No, it doesn't fit anymore). How in the name of John Lee Hooker did I ever move from this mishmash to the blues?
Of course, the Blues Brothers were prominent in all this.....I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that. I first saw them on Saturday Night Live around 78 or 79. I was not so much taken by the antics of Jake and Elwood as I was by their band. Say what you will about Belushi and Aykroyd's antics, they did themselves fine when putting together the band that played behind them. From the beginning, I was absolutely enthralled by Matt "Guitar" Murphy's liquidy (is that a word?) tone, Steve Cropper's crisp economical solos, and those pulsating horns. However, I didn't stop with them, I started trying to retrace the music they were playing.......I figured that the originals had to be even better than the Blues Brothers versions.
That's how I ended up listening to Stax-era artists, like Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Booker T & the MG's, and soul legends like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and James Carr. I had one friend in college who got me into Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and another friend who turned me on to Bobby Womack. I loved all of them, but still hadn't found what I was looking for. What I really wanted was something that had the best of those artists combined. It happened completely by impulse.
I was in a record store in Columbus, MS, browsing through some cassettes in the jazz section. I ran across a tape with an intriguing cover....three guys laughing and grinning with guitars slung over their shoulders. It was Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray, and the tape was called Showdown! I didn't know a single song on the tape, or anything about any of the three guys on the cover, but I snatched it up and went straight to the cash register.
It was the best move I ever made. That was the sound I was looking for, all in one neat package....the screaming guitar, the gritty, downhome vocals, the great songs. I had honestly never heard anything like it.
From that point on, I started buying every cassette I could find that was like it. I started buying books (several by Peter Guralnick) and music magazines looking for articles about the artists. Best of all, I kept retracing, trying to find the artists that these guys listened to, so I could hear what they sounded like. That was the way I discovered Chess Records, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Son Seals, Otis Rush, and so many others.
I even started going to blues festivals. We had one within fifteen miles of my house, basically on the backside of a pasture, but I got to see some great performers there, like Buddy Guy, Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials, Lonnie Mack, Lonnie Brooks, Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers, the Kinsey Report, Omar and the Howlers, and Koko Taylor. Going to see these musicians live only made me love the music even more.
Today, I don't get to see many live shows anymore, but I still love to listen to whatever I can find, and while a lot of the acts I started listening to have passed away, there are still great young acts coming out to replace them. The blues is nowhere near being a dying genre. It continues to grow and evolve and it still attracts younger fans who hopefully will do the same thing many of us did.....find out where all this great music came from and rediscover those earlier artists who paved the way.
So take in a live show somewhere, and while you're there, buy one or more of their CDs. Join a blues society if you can. Visit the online sites like Amazon, CDBaby, or Bluebeat Music that sell the music and pick up a CD or two if you're able. Support the blues.
One more before I go. When I started listening to Eric Clapton, I picked up his cassette, Just One Night, and my favorite track was his version of "Double Trouble." Later on, I found out that Otis Rush was the original composer of the song. When I got to hear Rush do it himself, it was on the Antone's 10th Anniversary CD from the mid 80's and even though it was a much shorter version than Clapton's, it absolutely blew me away. Thanks to hearing Clapton's version and thanks to my curiosity about where it originated, I went on to discover Otis Rush. Here's the pair of them from Rush's Live At Montreux 1986 DVD performing, what else, "Double Trouble."