Friday, January 7, 2011

Blues.....Off The Beaten Path

This week, Friday Blues Fix steers away from the norm just a little bit to show you the blues going in different directions than you might expect.

Deep Fried SatisfiedClaude Hay's Deep Fried Satisfied was one of my favorite discs this year.  A native of Australia, Hay is a virtual one-man-band, playing all of his own instruments, along with the funkiest drum machine you've ever heard. Just think Muddy Waters meets George Clinton and you've got the idea about Hay's music. This disc is just loaded with great moments, such as his absolutely mind-boggling version of Queen's "We Will Rock You." "Get Me Some" is the opening tune of his latest disc, the title of which describes his love for fast food. File this under "Brave New Blues."

One of the great things I've discovered about the blues over the years is that the possibilities are endless for ways that artists can express them. For years, it was mostly accessible by means of listening to records or juke boxes or radios or seeing artists performing live. Today, there are so many different ways to experience the genre.

Most artists now have DVD's available for purchase, so you can see them perform in the comfort of your home (which is not the same, I'll admit, but for those who don't live within driving distance, it's pretty handy). Also, you can download tunes via the internet and iTunes or some other service, or even watch a performance via the internet......Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale had a link for a while that allowed you to view their performers on selected nights (unfortunately, it's no longer available).

Still, those options can be considered pretty mainstream. There are other ways to experience the blues....ways that you might not have expected.

For example, take Oregon blues guitarist Pete Herzog. Herzog has been playing the blues since he was 8 years old and has spent most of his life around the genre. All of his life, he's been attracted to the blues, especially the delta and country blues. Over the past year, Herzog has composed an opera, called Steel Guitar. It's a one man show with 22 original songs that tell the story of a guitar as it is passed from owner to owner, whether it's bought, sold, stolen, or won. According to Herzog, the guitar's sound is colored by each person who plays it and in return, the musicians absorb the history of the instrument, and the blues itself. The songs provide the link between the stories of the lives of the various characters and the guitar. Here's a couple of selections from the performance.

Even though Herzog is currently performing Steel Guitar as a one man show, he composed the opera with the idea that it could be performed by either one person or by a number of people. The possibilities are endless with this sort of concept, provided enough people are aware of it. So far, Herzog has performed the piece primarily on the West Coast (California, Oregon, and Washington state) for the past nine months, working out the kinks, and will be traveling to Hawaii later this month. He's hoping to work his way east later this year to Austin, New Orleans, and, hopefully, Mississippi.

Pete Herzog
In December, Mr. Herzog sent me a copy of a performance from late in 2010, plus a CD of the songs. He plans to release the "official" CD in late winter/early spring, but is undecided on when (or if) he will release a DVD. Watching the performance that he sent me, it's obvious that he has a solid grasp on delta and country blues. It's a nice, relaxed performance that could only be better if seen in person. If you'd like to hear more about Pete Herzog, please visit his website and check out his clips at YouTube.

Another unusual format used to present the blues is the graphic novel.....the modern version of what we old-timers used to call the comic book.  For the uninitiated, a graphic novel is a book that contains either a collection of a series of comic book stories or an extended comic book story itself.  BB Wolf and the Three LPs is an epic retelling of the old Three Little Pigs story, but with a decidedly more violent edge. 

Years ago, artist Art Spiegelman penned the two volume Maus, about his father's trials and tribulations during World War II as a Jewish man in Poland.  Spiegelman used funny animals in place of his human characters....mice represented the Jews, cats represented the Germans, dogs represented Americans, etc.....

Writer J. D. Arnold and artist Richard Koslowski take a similar approach with BB Wolf and the Three LPs.  In this case, wolves represent the oppressed blacks and pig represent the domineering whites of Money, MS.  BB Wolf is a farmer and family man by day, a blues musician by night.  The story as told by Arnold and Koslowski, deals with what happens when Wolf tries to stand up to his oppressors, his fierce and terrible revenge, and the retribution that goes along with the revenge.  This is not a comic book for the kiddies and all does not end well for some characters, but it's a great story that will hold your attention.  Like the characters in Maus, Arnold and Koslowski succeed in making you forget that you're reading about funny animals as the story progresses.

Also, if you order the book directly from the publisher, you get an accompanying CD that features "lost" recordings of BB Wolf, plus modern versions of the same songs.  These are actually recordings done by some Milwaukee area blues and rock musicians. They provide a pretty good soundtrack while you're reading the book.  Check out this acoustic "performance" by "BB Wolf" and his band, the Howlers.

Brazilian KicksAnother interesting recent release that strays from the norm is actually pretty mainstream as far as blues goes, but West Coast jump blues artist Lynwood Slim's latest release, Brazilian Kicks, finds Slim performing his brand of American roots and blues with backing from Brazil's finest blues ensemble, The Igor Prado Band. 

Lynwood Slim is one of the foremost proprietors of the West Coast Blues sound and has recorded with Junior Watson, Kid Ramos, and the Mannish Boys in recent years.  The disc is loaded with excellent performances.  Slim is at the top of his game and the band is phenomenal. 

Slim was contacted by Prado about doing some production work on one of the band's recordings.  After listening to some of their recordings, Slim was impressed enough to make the trip to Brazil.  Prado's band consists entirely of musicians under the age of 25 and Slim was blown away by their musicianship and rapport with their audiences.  Slim ended up not only doing production work on the album, but also singing and playing harmonica and flute.  Check out the opening cut, Junior Well's "Shake It Baby."

So, as you can see, there are many different ways for you to get your blues fix these days.

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