Friday, April 16, 2010

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Today’s theme is one I used a lot when I was sending out emails in the earlier version of FBF.  Pretty catchy, eh? The “Old” will be a tune from many years ago that you may or may not know from someone you may or may not know. The “New” will be something that’s just coming out (real cutting edge stuff, I hope). The “Borrowed” is a new version of an old classic tune, and the “Blue” is, well, self-explanatory.  Here we go.....

Let's go back in time a bit for Something Old, like the early 1950's.  Chester Burnett was in his 40's, an old geezer in modern terms, when he first stepped into the studio as Howlin' Wolf to record for Chess Records and Modern Records (with Ike Turner) in 1951.  He eventually signed with Chess and recorded some legendary songs like "Smokestack Lightning," "Spoonful," "How Many More Years," "Evil," and "Moanin' At Midnight." Wolf's menacing vocals and imposing presence (6'6", nearly 300 pounds) made for some exciting recordings. While he employed some impressive guitarists (Jody Williams, Willie Johnson, Pat Hare, and others) he was probably best complemented by Hubert Sumlin, a youngster who played with Wolf for three decades and whose idiosyncratic guitar sound was perfect for the Wolf's music. Wolf also enjoyed a long rivalry with Muddy Waters as each tried to upstage the other whenever possible when appearing together, most notably one year at Ann Arbor in the late 60's. He was featured in the recent movie, Cadillac Records, as well. Enjoy the Wolf, along with Willie Dixon and Sumlin, on a rare TV appearance in England in 1964, performing "Smokestack Lightning."

For Something New, let's stay in Chicago and meet Guy King.  Fans of the late Willie Kent may remember King from his tenure as Kent's guitarist and band leader. If you've heard Kent's Comin' Alive CD, one of the highlights was King's stinging lead guitar. When Kent passed away in 2006, King formed his own band and released his first CD, Livin' It, early in 2009. It was one of my favorite CDs of the year. King is an excellent singer and guitarist and employs not only the Chicago blues in his sound, but also elements of jazz and soul. He counts as his influences artists like B.B. King, Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy McGriff, Muddy Waters, Albert King, and Albert Collins, to whom you hear King paying tribute on this clip of the old Collins hit, "If You Love Me Like You Say," recorded at Andy's Jazz Club in Chicago in September of 2009. Check this guy're gonna love him, I promise.

Something Borrowed will feature either a blues artist or a rock artist "borrowing" a blues song and offering their own interpretation.  Over the years, scores of blues musicians have “borrowed” songs, lyrics, and riffs from others. That’s part of the tradition of the blues.  Many of the older, traditional blues songs (even some written by Willie Dixon) have their roots back in the days before recordings were made. One of my favorite older blues artists was Robert Lockwood, Jr., who as a youngster was taught some guitar by his mother’s boyfriend, one Robert Johnson. Of course, Lockwood took what the slightly older Johnson taught him and ran with it, becoming a guitar master whose taste ran from the traditional delta blues to jazzy, electric variations that also showed the influence of many of the early electric players. Lockwood played many of Johnson’s tunes, even recording an album of those songs, but his interpretations were always unique and always great.  Here's Lockwood's version of Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman" from his mid 90's CD, I Got To Find Me A Woman.

Now for Something Blue. There are some things in life that I am sure of…….death….taxes…..water is wet…… the sun rises in the east and sets in the west…….and Magic Slim plays the blues like no one else. In my years of listening to the blues, I’ve never seen a blues fan not smile when Magic Slim is mentioned. Simply put, he does what he does the best that anybody can do it. I own close to 20 of his CDs and can’t think of a bad one in the bunch. He’s been known as a human jukebox, capable of playing thousands of blues songs by other musicians and pretty much making them his own. As Bum Phillips used to say of Don Shula, “He can his’n and beat your’n, or he can take your’n and beat his’n.” He’s even gotten to the point that he writes his own material and guess what? It’s good, too. When you think of Something Blue, you have to think of Magic Slim. Here's Slim with one of his own songs, "Goin' To Mississippi." This is from the DVD release, Anything Can Happen.

One more thing before we go.  This weekend, if you're in the Clarksdale, MS area, stop by and check out the annual Juke Joint Festival that will be going on downtown.  It's called a combination of blues festival and small-town fair, with activities for all ages (including monkeys riding dogs and pig you don't find that just anywhere) and, of course, blues, blues and more blues.  Visit the site and find out more.  You can thank me later.

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