When I was just getting into the blues in the mid 80's, I would go about once a month to either Jackson or Meridian, MS and hit a couple of shopping centers. I wouldn't be shopping for clothes or anything like that though.......I would hit the record stores (nearly all the shopping centers and malls had at least one) looking for blues recordings. Yes, I am a geek......one who would probably have no clothes in my closet or shoes on my feet if it weren't for the love and patience of others, but plenty of things to read and listen to.
In the beginning, I was usually very successful at finding good music (of course you're successful in the beginning......you don't have anything of your own to start with, so everything is a find!) and would sometimes bring three or four cassettes of new, to me, blues home. I found great collections like Chicago! The Blues! Today! and Drop Down Mama and Sweet Home Chicago and The New Bluebloods this way. Later, when I grudgingly moved from cassettes to CDs, I not only got to find new music, but also repurchased an occasional disc that I had originally owned on cassette (Thank you, Ebay).
By doing this, flipping through stacks and stacks of recordings, I was able to discover and buy some great music that I would not have even tried otherwise. Had it not been for me flipping through stacks and stacks of discs and cassettes, I would not have discovered artists like Larry Garner, U. P. Wilson, Chico Banks, Eddie King, Ray Bailey, Grady Gaines, Eddie Cotton, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, and many, many others. Indeed, the first blues music purchase I ever made (Showdown!) was strictly an impulse buy that I stumbled onto while browsing in a music store.
Now......um, not so much. As I got older and added duties to both family and job responsibilities, my visits to record stores started slowing down to maybe five or six a year. When I did go, I started noticing that a lot of the stores I used to frequent were not updating their blues sections as much, if at all. There would hardly be any new releases other than many of the soul/blues acts who released albums locally (some I liked, some I didn't) and maybe a new Alligator release or two. In the past few years, several of these stores have either closed up or done away with their blues sections, sometimes combining it with another section like R&B or Jazz, so it was like an Easter egg hunt trying to sniff out a blues disc. It was quite a change from days gone by when you sometimes had to choose between several possible options to buy. Now you were doing good to find maybe one blues CD that you wanted to purchase.
Of course, there are lots of reasons why this happened. Many of the record labels specializing in blues went under in the late 90's for various reasons, like Black Top, King Snake, and Ichiban. Also, the advent of the internet took a toll, with all the websites that sold CDs, many that were hard for us to find locally, usually for lower prices. The economy has also played a big role in decreasing the number of stores (see Tower Records). There are lots of other reasons, too, but iTunes and other digital download sites were what put the final nail in the coffin for many record stores. For the younger generation, this was a great way to get their music in a short amount of time with little trouble (for them). For us older types, who enjoyed reading the liner notes to the discs (even when it went to microscopic type on CDs), looking at the album covers, and enjoyed flipping through stacks of old records, tapes, or CDs, it has taken some getting used to.
It's probably safe to say that the majority of blues listeners still prefer to hold their product in their hands as opposed to downloading it off the internet, but that majority is decreasing rapidly. As I get older, I find myself thinking back to how things used to be done. Some things I remember were a lot more fun than the way they're done now. I still miss stopping by a record store and just seeing what was new and maybe coming out with a tape or disc I wasn't expecting.
I'm sure that twenty years from now, some blues fan in their mid 40's will be talking about how great it used to be to download their blues music off the internet as opposed to inserting a microchip of blues songs into a storage unit at the base of your skull. Or maybe those large, round, black discs called records will be all the rage again in 2030 (or maybe reel-to-reel will make a comeback). Still, as long as the blues are available in any format twenty years from now, that will be a good thing.
Anyway, I've griped enough and most of you have probably moved on to another site by now. For those of you who stuck around, let's look at some new releases. As always, these reviews will soon appear in fleshed-out form in future issues of Blues Bytes.
You always know what you're getting with a Magic Slim album......hard rocking, good time, Chicago blues. Slim's latest, Raising The Bar, is no exception to the rule. There's nothing earth-shattering here, but Slim is the absolute best at playing the music he plays. Best of all, he never settles into a rut with his performances. He puts 100% into every performance, whether it's on stage or in the studio. My favorite track is the spectacular slow blues take on Roosevelt Sykes' "Sunny Road Blues," five and a half minutes of blues heaven, but picking one favorite track on any Magic Slim CD is a daunting task. We will be taking a closer look at Magic Slim and his catalog in upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, here's a clip of Slim performing "I'm A Bluesman."
Reportedly, The Derek Trucks Band will be going on hiatus as Trucks teams up with his wife, Susan Tedeschi for a while. If so, Roadsongs is a fine sendoff. It's a two-disc set, priced as one, showcasing performances from their most recent tour. There are many things to like about this set, but the sound is just outstanding. My favorite performances are "Down Don't Bother Me," one of the highlights or their previous release, Already Free, which features an outstanding vocal from Mike Mattison, the blues standard, "Key To The Highway," and the nearly ten-minute reworking of Clapton's (via Derek & the Dominos) "Anyday" that's almost as good as the one on the Crossroads Guitar Festival DVD. Check out this DTB performance from several years ago. This is their version of O. V. Wright's classic soul tune from the 60's, "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled, and Crazy."
Last, but certainly not least, there's Super Chikan. His latest release is Chikadelic and if you think he's basically a blues novelty act, you're sadly mistaken. He is one of the most vibrant blues musicians out there right now. He's incredibly talented on guitar and you should hear him play his electric one string guitar (homemade, of course). His discs are a mix of traditional blues with elements of soul, funk, even jazz gets thrown in as well sometimes. He's definitely one of the most original songwriters in the genre, with great tunes like "Bad Ass Bass," which can best be described as "the rest of the story" behind the blues standard "Catfish Blues," and songs like "Down In The Delta," which is the sneakiest blues tune you'll ever hear. Tracks like "School In The Field," describe the "school of hard knocks" that every Delta bluesman has to go through, and "Front Porch Boogie" recounts Chikan and his diddley bow on his porch watching the train go by. Best of all is "Fred's Dollar Store" (listen below), which has led the franchise to adopt Super Chikan as an unofficial spokesman and even carry some of his merchandise (in fact, I picked up Chikadelic in my local Fred's a few weeks ago). Please don't underestimate the Chikan.....he's the real deal.
We'll look at more new releases in coming weeks. This weekend, make a point to check out some live blues, or pick up a blues CD, or download some blues tracks (legally, of course). Do your part to help keep these blues alive!