Friday, February 3, 2012

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #5

It's time once again for one of FBF's favorite topics.  As always, Something Old brings you a real blast from the past, Something New brings you an up and coming talent, Something Borrowed features a blues man playing a rock tune (or vice versa), and Something Blue showcases somebody who is the epitome of the Blues.....a person whose picture might appear in the dictionary next to the definition of the Blues.  Let's get started, shall we.....

Lonnie Johnson

For Something Old, let's go back to the 1920's, to perhaps the most influential guitarist of all time.  Lonnie Johnson influenced the influences.  When you hear artists like B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson, Robert Lockwood, Jr., and just about anybody else that ever slung a guitar over their shoulder play the blues, chances are you're hearing a riff originated by Lonnie Johnson somewhere in one of their solos.

Johnson was not years, but decades ahead of his time, the first guitarist to play single-string solos and enjoyed a highly successful and prolific career that spanned five decades.  He played blues, jazz, and popular ballads with such fluidity and grace that even today's jaded listeners are still subject to goose bumps when hearing him.  He recorded jazz tracks with white guitarist Eddie Lang (as Blind Willie Dunn) and Louis Armstrong, and recorded hundreds of blues tracks well into the fifties. 

After a dry spell in the late 50's, he was rediscovered, working as a janitor in Philadelphia and was able to restart his career during the 60's, one of the high points being an appearance at the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival, where this video (complete with an introduction for the ages from Sonny Boy Williamson) was taken.  As you watch, please note that as good as Lonnie Johnson sounds here, he was simply a force of nature nearly forty years earlier.  Every blues fan needs a few Lonnie Johnson recordings in their collection.  After all, they've heard most of his guitar work from his disciples already.

Gary Clark, Jr.

For Something New, let me just say that there's still time to get on the Gary Clark, Jr. bandwagon, but it's taking off soon.  The Austin, TX guitarist has already had ample face time recently on projects like the 2007 John Sayles motion picture, Honeydripper, and on the most recent DVD of Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, but with a new release in the works, previewed by last year's Bright Lights EP, word is getting out fast.  With dynamic guitar work that brings to mind SRV and Jimi Hendrix, Clark is definitely turning heads.  If he chooses to do so, Clark could redefine the blues for the next few generations, taking it to a new level.  Thing is....he could easily move from the blues to other genres, so cross your fingers that he sticks with the blues and enjoy the ride.

Elvis Presley & B.B. King
For Something Borrowed, let's go to the King of Rock & Roll, Elvis Presley.  Everybody knows that Elvis covered lots of blues and R&B tunes over his career and did very well with them.  Not only were they hits, but he did a great job interpreting them.  Presley was raised around this type of music during his early years in Mississippi and during his coming-of-age years in Memphis, where he was a regular visitor to Beale Street.  Presley got sidetracked during most of the 60's, with the new popularity of the Beatles and his management's determination to corner the market on cheesy movies, but he managed to reinvent himself with his intimate 1968 TV special, featuring him and several fellow musicians on a stage surrounded by adoring fans.  Presley reached way, way back to his roots, to the music that he first embraced as a teenager, during this set.  One of his chosen tunes was an old reliable, Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do."  Just watch as Elvis slips into this song like he was slipping into a pair of house shoes.  It was an easy fit for him, obviously.

Honeyboy Edwards (seated) with Homesick James, Henry Townsend, Robert Lockwood, Jr.

For Something Blue, I don't think we can sum up the Blues any better than with this clip, featuring over 250 years of blues experience on the same stage.  Robert Lockwood, Jr., Honeyboy Edwards, Henry Townsend all played the music well into their 90's, and were witness to many events and changes to the genre over the years.  We've discussed the merits of Honeyboy Edwards here before, and Lockwood will be the subject of his own FBF post in the coming months.  Henry Townsend was the only blues artists who recorded over NINE decades, from the late 1920's to his last recordings shortly before his death at 96 in 2006.  He was also as indispensible as Edwards as far as being a source of the music's history, especially regarding the St. Louis scene, where he spent most of his life. 

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