Friday, June 8, 2012

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #6

Welcome back.  It's time once again for one of Friday Blues Fix's most popular features.  In case you're visiting for the first time, or you just haven't been paying attention all the other times, FBF will take a look at a blast of blues from the past (Something Old), a shot of blues from the current scene (Something New), either a blues man doing rock or a rocker doing blues....whatever suits me at the moment (Something Borrowed), and someone who sums up the essence of Blues as we know it (Something Blue).  Are you with us?  Great!   Let's get it started.

Lightnin' Hopkins
For Something Old today, we will look at one of my favorite country blues men, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins.  Hopkins was one of the most prolific artists during his time, recording numerous sides and albums for numerous labels from the 1930's until his death in 1982.  The Centerville, TX native was an amazingly nimble guitarist and his fleet-fingered picking enabled him to play lead, bass, rhythm, and even percussion at the same time if he needed to.  He was as comfortable playing electric as he was acoustic.

Hopkins reinvented himself several times...starting out as a country bluesman with some excellent recordings in the 30's and 40's, charting on the R&B charts several times and releasing some great recordings for Gold Star and Aladdin.  In the mid 50's, he plugged in and recorded some stunning and influential sides for Herald.  Largely forgotten with the advent of rock and roll in the 50's, he became a folk-blues artist and suddenly he had a whole new group of fans and followers.

Hopkins managed to make his mark in country blues and in urban blues, too....something rarely seen back in his time.  If you would like to hear more from Lightnin' Hopkins, there are a boatload of CDs that bear his name and 95% of it is of such high quality that you really can't go wrong wherever you start.  Check out this performance from the American Folk Blues Festival in Germany from the mid 60's.  Hopkins hated to fly, but he overcame his fear to make the trip over and later toured most of Europe and Japan in later years, gaining even more fans in the process.

Toronzo Cannon
For Something New, we head to Chicago and meet up with one of the city's newer stars, Toronzo Cannon. Cannon grew up on the sounds of Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters.  His guitar style emulates the three Kings, as well as Hendrix, and a big dose of 70's R&B and funk.  He played with Wayne Baker Brooks and Joanna Connor before launching his own solo career and forming his own band, the Cannonball Express.

Cannon has become a mainstay of the Windy City blues scene and has toured nationwide and worldwide over the past couple of years.  He's developed into a fine songwriter, too.  With all this happening in his career, Cannon still finds time to work his regular day job, driving a bus for the city, but if things continue to get bigger and better for him, he might not be doing that for long.  His latest release, Leaving Mood, was one of 2011's biggest releases and spent a lot of time in my stereo over the past few months.  Pick it up and you will see why.  Meanwhile, check out this live version of the title cut of his new disc.

Eric Clapton and Freddie King
For Something Borrowed, we find a familiar face doing a familiar song.  Like many other blues fans, I got most of my early exposure to the blues via Eric Clapton.  When I first heard him in the mid 70's, I really enjoyed his guitar playing and didn't know or care about his influences.  As time passed, and I heard more and more of his recordings, some of the really good songs that caught my ear turned out to be blues tunes from years before that he was covering.

For example, on Clapton's live disc, Just One Night, he does an incredible version of Otis Rush's "Double Trouble."  When I first heard it, I had no idea who Otis Rush was, not to mention that he was only born about fifteen miles from where I lived.  There were other tunes as well, such as Sleepy John Estes' "Everybody Ought To Make A Change" (from Money and Cigarettes), several others from Just One Night ("Early In The Morning" and "Ramblin' On My Mind"), and "Crosscut Saw" (from Money and Cigarettes).

Clapton riding with the King
In the meantime, I had backtracked to some of Clapton's early work with Cream and the Yardbirds, and picked up ever more blues tunes.  Then I read a bio of Clapton where he paid tribute to a lot of the blues artists that influenced him as a youngster, like Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, B. B. King, Freddie King, Muddy Waters, etc..., so I started listening to their music.  I was amazed that I had been listening to music for years, and were it not for Mr. Clapton and the Blues Brothers (plus the occasional appearance from B.B. King on TV back in the day), it might have been years before I became familiar with this music called the blues.

One good thing about Eric Clapton that has always benefited blues fans has been the fact that he has honored his musical influences, appearing with them on albums, at festivals, paying tribute to them in print or on video.  During his Crossroads Guitar Festivals, the list of performers is always heavy toward the blues, a mix of his influences and newcomers.  That's one of many reasons that we blues fans should always tip our hats to Eric Clapton.  Meanwhile, check Slowhand out as he plays one of my favorite blues songs, Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway."

Terry "Big T" Williams
I didn't really have anything in mind for Something Blue when I started this post, but when I did find something, it seemed like really the ONLY choice to me.  This video by Clarksdale musician Terry "Big T" Williams has all the ingredients needed for Something Blue.....setting in the Delta (as witnessed in the opening shot), a delta blues man playing solo, and a classic blues tune that most blues listeners are familiar with ("C.C. Rider").  Folks, this is as blue as it gets.

A little background on Williams....he's a Clarksdale native who grew up hearing the sounds of B.B. King and Muddy Waters.  He got a guitar at the age of nine and was soon training under the legendary blues educator, Johnny Billington, who taught many of the current crop of Mississippi Delta blues musicians.  He went on the road with the Jelly Roll Kings when he was a teenager and was soon fronting his own bands.  He's released a pair of discs, the first one was a stripped down disc with Wesley Jefferson for Broke & Hungry Records (Meet Me In The Cotton Field) and the second was a more urbanized, funky disc a couple of years later (Jump Back Big T is in the House).


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