Friday, February 15, 2013

Mount Swampmore

Believe it or not, this week marks the third anniversary of Friday Blues Fix.  Thanks again to all you loyal participants who stop by weekly.  Hopefully, we will continue to make it worth your while for many more years to come.

Once again, it's time to visit one of FBF's most popular topics, constructing one of the various Mount Rushmores of the Blues.  Previously, we've covered Chess Records (Mount Chessmore) as well as an "All Time" Mount Rushmore of the Blues (Mount Bluesmore).  This week, Friday Blues Fix will focus on the Sounds of the Swamp...namely Excello buckle in and hang on while we look at what could be called Mount Swampmore.

(As always, your opinions may vary from mine.  I would love to hear from anyone who thinks there should be a different face somewhere in the formation, so drop me a line if you have soemtbody else in mind)

Lightnin' Slim - Slim (born Otis Hicks) was the Father of the Louisiana Swamp Blues sound.  His attack was pretty straight forward, gritty vocals with rudimentary electric guitar attack backed by harmonica and drums.....the country blues plugged into that magnificent atmospheric echo-ey production that was so exclusive to the recordings being produced by Excello in their Crowley, LA studios.  His music sounds easy, but if it was, everybody would be playing it, and there hasn't been anybody who played it quite like Lightnin' Slim.  Songs like "Rooster Blues," "I'm Evil," "Bad Luck and Trouble," and "I'm a Rollin' Stone" are Swamp Blues at their finest.  There may have been others who sold more records and maybe achieved a little more popularity down through the years, but Lightnin' Slim was the one who put the music on the map and paved the way for others to follow.

Slim Harpo - To me, there are a couple of no-brainers that will adorn this monument, and Slim Harpo (born James Moore) is one of them.  Though he came a decade after Lightnin' Slim, he achieved a bit more success than his predecessor.  His music wasn't as intense and cathartic as Slim's could be.....not even close, but his country-flavored vocals, mixed with the occasional rock & roll rhythms, and his laid-back delivery was appealing to a wider and more diverse audience, so Harpo enjoyed a bit more commercial success over his career with such classic tunes as "Baby, Scratch My Back," "I'm A King Bee," "Rainin' In My Heart," "I Got Love If You Want It," and "Te Ni Nee Ni Nu."  Harpo's music was not only covered by black musicians, but also numerous white musicians, both in the U.S. and over in Europe.  It was music that appealed to people of all colors, and it still does.

Lazy Lester - In 1987, I got to see Lazy Lester (born Leslie Johnson) perform with some of his biggest admirers, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, before I even knew what Swamp Blues was.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew I liked it after I heard him.  Lester started out backing Lightnin' Slim on harmonica and graduated to recording his own songs in the mid 50's, doing so until the mid 60's, resulting in such blues standards as "I Hear You Knockin'," "Sugar Coated Love," "The Same Thing Could Happen To You," "Ponderosa Stomp," and "If You Think I've Lost You."  Then, he just stopped playing music for a long time, resurfacing in the late 80's and recording five or six great discs that sounded like he'd never been off the scene.  He is still active today, and if you've not experienced Lazy Lester in action, I strongly recommend that you seek him out first chance you get.

The last choice was tough, because there are so many artists who could easily fill this slot, such as Silas Hogan, Lonesome Sundown, Raful Neal, Kenny Neal, Katie Webster, Larry Garner....see what I mean.  Any of these musicians would fit into that spot seamlessly.

However, I opted for one Ernest L. "Tabby" Thomas to fill the fourth and final spot and I don't think many could argue.  Though he didn't score a lot of hits over his career (the Crescent City-flavored "Hoodo Party" was his biggest hit in the early 60's), he is most widely known for his Baton Rouge blues club, Tabby's Blues Box and Heritage Hall, which he opened in the late 70's/early 80's.  The Blues Box played the blues and only the blues, mostly by local talent, so even when the music hit a dry spell, Thomas' club allowed most of these local Swamp Blues artists ample opportunity to play and a friendly venue to boot.  Most of the artists mentioned above played at the Blues Box and many others, too.  Even Thomas' son, Chris Thomas King (you may have seen him in O Brother Where Art Thou) got his start in the club.  Thomas continued to perform and record over time...his 1999 release, Swamp Man Blues, updated the Swamp Blues in an impressive fashion and wasn't heard by nearly enough people.  He suffered a major stroke in 2004, but has recovered to the point where he can sing.  The Blues Box had to close around that time as well, due to an overpass that was being constructed in the area.  Thomas still hosts a radio show on WBRH in Baton Rouge that plays nothing but the blues every Saturday afternoon.  For not only playing the Swamp Blues, but also providing a longtime venue for so many others to play them, Tabby Thomas gets the fourth and final spot on Mount Swampmore.

2013 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees

Soul/Blues singer Otis Clay

Pianist Little Brother Montgomery

Arranger/Songwriter Henry Glover

Early Chicago Guitarist Jody Williams

The Blue Yodeler - Jimmie Rodgers

Blues Guitarists' Guitarist Earl Hooker

Contemporary Bluesman Joe Louis Walker

New Orleans Studio Wizard  Cosimo Matassa

No comments: