Professor Longhair, Dalton Reed) or with a musician who recently passed away (Big Jack Johnson, Pinetop Perkins, Gary Moore, Marvin Sease, Eddie Kirkland). As most longtime blues fans know, death is a big part of the genre. More so than any other genre, blues musicians play and and make significant recordings well up into their 80's, so lots of them, pardon the expression, die with their boots on.
On a positive note, however, there's really no "Oldie Tour" with the blues......artists like B.B. King (85), Honeyboy Edwards (95) and the late Pinetop Perkins (97) all have continued to play audiences full of new fans who had discovered their old recordings after hearing something that they had recently released (Pinetop won a Grammy three weeks before his death, and King is a perennial Grammy nominee). They're not just going through the motions either, living on past glories. If you go to see B.B. King, you're going to get your money's worth. The only thing different from twenty years ago is that B.B. stays seated. He and Lucille can still hit those chillbump-inducing notes with amazing regularity.
I had bounced around the idea of doing another Blues Legends post this week, with three possible subjects, but they all died young and at the peak of their careers, so I decided to postpone it. This week, I really just want to talk about some artists (all living) who have really put a hop in my step over the years from the first time I ever saw or heard them. If you've been been reading the blog for a while, some of these won't surprise you at all.
Can you believe that when I started listening to Slim, there were only a few recordings of his that were available?! Boy, how times have changed. The first recording I ever owned of Magic Slim was his Live at B.L.U.E.S. cassette from the late 80's (which I wish someone would release on CD sometime in the future...please). That was all I could find for a long time....his Rooster Blues CD was not available in cassette or CD, neither was his Alligator release, and the only other recordings Slim had done were for the Wolf label out of Austria, which was pretty hard to get here. Finally, Slim hooked up with Blind Pig Records and then he became prolific. Then, Evidence Records released one of Slim's European recordings, then the Wolf recordings began to show up, then Alligator reissued their CD and Rooster Blues. Now, Magic Slim is one of the most represented blues recording artists of all. From that first live cassette, I've been a Magic Slim fan. He can play anything by anybody and make it his own....his band, the Teardrops, has undergone major personnel changes on a regular basis, but still remains one of the best ever......he gives you 100% every time he steps on stage. Simply put, if you don't like Magic Slim, you don't like blues.
Daddy Mack Orr
Mack Orr didn't even start playing guitar until he was in his 40's. Can you imagine that....with all these teen wonders springing out of the woodwork, he didn't even start playing until he was in his FORTIES??!!! That's amazing to me. I'm 47 and would love nothing better than to learn to play an instrument, but the only time I could fit that into my schedule would be between 1:00 am and 3:00 am on Tuesday nights. Orr's determination paid off and now he fronts one of Memphis' most popular bands, the Daddy Mack Blues Band. They play some of the funkiest, greasiest blues with a touch of soul that you will hear these days. If you're in Memphis, you need to check them out. They also have four great CDs, one of which is Daddy Mack's version of numerous 70's rock tunes. Between Daddy Mack and Magic Slim, the blues is in good hands.
Before I started listening to the blues, I listened to soul music and Otis Clay was, and is, one of my favorites. From the first time I heard him sing "Trying To Live My Life Without You," I was hooked by his commitment to each song he performed.....the passion he brought to every verse of every song. It wasn't forced or contrived, just the way it should be. Clay's early recording in the 60's for One-derful and Cotillion, and his marvelous recordings for Hi Records in the 70's are, to me, the very epitome of soul music, but Clay isn't sitting on his laurels by any means. He continues to record and perform both secular and gospel music, both with 100% passion and commitment.
The first time I heard the Womack, it knocked me for a loop. I think I was in high school and stumbled onto one of his singles on the radio, probably "If You Think You're Lonely Now." I had honestly never heard anybody sing like Bobby Womack did. Chances are that you haven't either. He's as close to the blues as a soul singer will ever get. Once I heard, I checked into him and found out that he had influenced so many artists, not just in soul music, but also in rock and blues. He doesn't record as much as he used to, but as you can tell from the clip below, it's not because he doesn't have the goods any more. He's still a force to be reckoned with. It was the coolest thing when he got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (from where the clip below is taken). I find myself scratching my head a lot of times at their choices, but not in this case.
I first heard Eddie Cotton on a CD that I picked up by impulse. It was a live recording of one of his performances at the Alamo Theatre. I recognized some of the songs on the track list and I always liked to support Mississippi artists, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I didn't know anything about Cotton, where he was from, who he had played with...anything. The CD was a revelation. He had the crowd eating out of his hand with his fiery guitar playing and his incredibly soulful vocals. It was an inspired performance. I wondered where in the world this guy had been....how had no one signed him to a recording deal (the CD was a locally released disc that soon folded and made Live At The Alamo Theatre a collector's item for a while). I still wonder that because as far as I know, he's unsigned. Like I said earlier, I don't know anything about him other than what's on CD. His last appearance on CD that I know of was backing Grady Champion on his live disc a couple of years ago. I just know that everything I've heard from him so far has left me wanting to hear more. If that's not the sign of a great performer, I don't know what is.
One of the earliest blues artists I can remember is B.B. King. He's always been one of the most famous blues men, even before the resurgence of the genre in the late 80's. I can remember seeing him regularly on The Tonight Show, where the horns were so loud, you could barely hear Lucille. I remember seeing him on Sanford and Son (with his former love, Aunt Esther). He appeared on the Cosby Show, on Married....With Children, and on numerous commercials. B.B. King has been the face of the Blues for a long, long time. He has his own museum, which EVERY blues fan needs to go see. He has his own annual festival every summer in Indianola. Best of all, he has an incredible body of recordings that goes back to the early 50's, nearly all of it is worth hearing. To verify what I stated earlier, his last recording, One Kind Favor, recorded while in his early 80's, ranks with his best recordings. The only concessions to age that King has allowed so far, is that he takes a chair during his performances and he cut back on the number of shows per year he does just a bit. B.B. King has reached a lot of fans over his 60+ years of performing.....young and old, all races, all nationalities, fellow musicians, and even the occasional Muppet or two.
Of course, there are plenty more where these came from, but we'll save them for another post at another time. Meanwhile, if you would like to share your own favorite blues artists who are still with us, please share your thoughts in the Comments box. See you next week.