Friday, September 6, 2013

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #10

This week, Friday Blues Fix takes a look at the world of the Blues from all directions.  We'll go back to the beginnings of the Blues, we'll see what's new with the Blues, we'll check out what has been influenced by the Blues, and then we'll give a listen to someone who epitomizes the blues.  This is a great way for blues fans to take in a lot of good blues music in just a few short paragraphs.  This is one of FBF's most popular departments, and we thank you regular visitors for making it so. 

Mississippi Fred McDowell
For Something Old, let's go way back to the beginnings of what became the north Mississippi hill country blues sound with Mississippi Fred McDowell.  Though he was usually associated with many of the Mississippi Delta blues guitarists of his era, he actually lived more in the north Mississippi area, east of the delta.  McDowell's style was different from the traditional blues guitarist with it's droning hypnotic style, though he was an impressive slide guitarist, too.  His style was a direct influence on other hill country guitarists that may be more familiar to modern blues fans.....R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, though he was obviously a more versatile guitarist than them.

McDowell had an interesting career in that even though he was active during the 20's and 30's, and boasted a deep repertoire, he never recorded during that time and was "discovered" in 1959 and wasn't even a full-time musician until the 1960's.  When he recorded in the 60's, he took the blues and folk worlds by storm because not only was he an unknown commodity to most (thanks to having no previous body of recorded work), he was also as strong a performer in the 60's as he was earlier, with some fiery guitar and emotionally powerful singing.  Also, he was somewhat nonplussed by all of the new attention he was getting....for years he had farmed and gone about his business in Mississippi and acted like it wouldn't have bothered him a bit to return to that peaceful life if the accolades faded.

Even though he famously said, "I do not play no rock and roll," he was a big influence on many rockers and blues rockers from that era, most notably Bonnie Raitt, whom he coached on slide guitar, and the Rolling Stones, who recorded his song, "You Gotta Move," on their Sticky Fingers album in the late 60's.  Over time, he began to play electric guitar and even toured overseas as part of the American Folk Blues Festival ensemble in the 60's, before succumbing to cancer in 1972 at age 68.

One of McDowell's most popular tunes over the years has been "Shake 'em on Down."  It has been recorded by numerous bluesmen and even a few rockers over the years.  While you listen, please note the guitar work and style that influenced many modern bluesmen, who fell under the hypnotic spell of the hill country sound.

For Something New, let's continue with traditional blues and check out Little G Weevil.  You might not have heard of him yet, but I can predict that you will know who he is soon.  He won the Solo/Duo competition at the 2013 IBC in Memphis, plus he also won the Best Solo Guitarist Award during that week.  A native of Hungary, Weevil has shown a fondness for the pre-war classics as well as artists like John Lee Hooker.  He recently released his third CD, Moving, on VizzTone Records.

For this CD, Weevil wanted to capture the authentic sound of the old classics, so he recorded in a tiny 20 x 15 room in an Atlanta studio near where Blind Willie McTell used to play for tips.  He set up microphones all over the room to capture the atmosphere and setting.  Was this extra effort a success?  I certainly think so.  Moving is a great listen and does an excellent job capturing that raw, down-home feeling of early blues recordings.  If you haven't heard Little G Weevil yet, this is a great opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.

Dan Penn
For Something Borrowed, we turn to the music of Dan Penn.  Penn is one of FBF's favorite songwriters and his songs have been recorded by a huge and diverse set of soul, blues, rock, and country artists for nearly fifty years.  Chances are that you've heard at least one of his songs if you're a music fan.  The coolest thing is that as good a songwriter as Dan Penn is, he's an equally great performer with a voice that rivals many of the soul and blues artists who covered his songs.

One of my favorite cover versions of his songs was done by the Derek Trucks Band a couple of years ago on their Already Free album.  "Sweet Inspiration" was originally a hit in 1968 by a soul group called, appropriately, The Sweet Inspirations.  The group consisted of Cissy Houston (Whitney's mom), Lee Warwick (Dionne and Dee Dee's mom), plus several other singers over the years, including Judy Clay.  The group was in demand as studio session singers and actually provided backing vocals to Van Morrison's classic tune, "Brown Eyed Girl."  The rendition below is from a recent Tedeschi Trucks Band appearance and features former Trucks lead singer and current Tedeschi Trucks backing singer Mike Mattison with Susan Tedeschi on vocals and the incredible guitar of Derek Trucks.  Check it out, and while you're at it, you must listen to their new release, Made Up Mind, one of the standout albums of 2013.

Little Milton Campbell
For Something Blue, I don't think you can get any more blues than Little Milton doing his legendary track, "The Blues Is Alright."  A native of Inverness, MS, Milton Campbell was the total blues package, deep soulful vocals, a fiery lead guitar, and peerless songwriting skills.  That potent combination resulted in Little Milton recording with not one, not two, not three, but FOUR renowned blues labels.....Sun, Chess, Stax, and Malaco.

The list of hit records that Little Milton released is impressive...."We're Gonna Make It," "Grits Ain't Groceries," "If Walls Could Talk," "Little Bluebird," "Walking The Backstreets and Crying," "Annie Mae's Cafe," and his anthem, "The Blues Is Alright."  He was often compared to B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland and truthfully, his talent combined the best of both of them.  His guitar work was heavily influenced by King and Bland's soul/R&B approach to the blues was also a factor in Little Milton's development as a performer.  Sadly, he left us in 2005, and though he was one of the most successful blues artists, and one of the most prolific over a fifty-year career, he's not as well known as many of his contemporaries, which is a shame.  Something tells me that we might be seeing a future FBF post dedicated to him.

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