Friday, March 20, 2015

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #15

Time to revisit one of Friday Blues Fix's most popular topics, but with a twist this time around.  For readers that are new to the blog, Something Old represents a blues artist from the Old School of blues.....could be from the 1920's through the 1980's.  Something New represents either a relative newcomer to the blues or a new album that you might enjoy.  Something Borrowed can be either a blues artists covering a song from a different genre (rock, country, jazz, etc....) or an artist from another genre covering a blues song (depending on which way I remember to do it).  Something Blue is an artist who we consider to be the epitome of the blues.  Got it?  Good!  Let's get started.......

Big Bill Broonzy

For the twist, we're going to focus on one particular song......."Key to the Highway."  This song was written by Charles Segar and Big Bill Broonzy and released by Segar on Vocalion Records in 1940.  Broonzy explained the song's development by stating that both were singing different variations of the song around the same time while performing in the Deep South.  Broonzy said that "practically all blues is just a little change from the way they were sung when I was a kid......You take one song and make fifty out of it.....just change it a little bit."  I'm not sure how far that reasoning would get these days in the wake of the "Blurred Lines" lawsuit, but that does sum up a lot of blues songs past and present.  Broonzy recorded his version in 1941 for Okeh, backed by Jazz Gillum (who also recorded the song in 1940) on harmonica, Horace Malcolm on piano, an unknown bass player, and Washboard Sam on, you guessed it, washboard.  Most later versions followed more closely to the Broonzy version, as you will see.  For Something Old, FBF presents both versions for your listening pleasure.

The Derek Trucks Band

For Something New, here's the Derek Trucks Band's version of "Key to the Highway," taken from the band's 2009 swan song, the live Roadsongs.  The song has been a regular part of Trucks' live shows, with both the Derek Trucks Band and Tedeschi Trucks Band, therefore keeping the song on the radar for new blues fans to hear.  While TTB is one of the most popular bands in the blues world today, it was really cool to watch and hear Trucks develop his sound over the years with his earlier band, eventually adding the excellent vocals of Mike Mattison to the mix.  Mattison still contributes vocals to the TTB and recently released his own solo album.

Derek & the Dominos

Over the years, "Key to the Highway" has been recorded by scores of blues artists, ranging from country blues artists like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee to jazz musicians Count Basie (with Joe Williams) to urban bluesmen like Jimmy Witherspoon and B.B. King, to rockers like Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Steve Miller and Eric Clapton, who recorded the song as part of Derek and the Dominos for his classic 1970's release, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.  Interestingly, their version of the song developed spontaneously after Clapton and Duane Allman had heard Sam Samudio ("Sam the Sham" of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs) singing it in a nearby studio while Layla was being recorded.  They started playing it while messing around in the studio and producer Tom Dowd overheard and told the engineers to start recording (which is why the song fades in at the beginning).  That impromptu performance ended up being one of the best songs on an album full of great songs.  We'll file Clapton's interpretation under Something Borrowed.

Little Walter

For Something Blue, let's go to my favorite version of the song......the one recorded by Little Walter Jacobs in August, 1958 for Checker Records.  Big Bill Broonzy died in 1958, and apparently, Jacobs recorded the song as a tribute to him, and what a band he had backing him.....Muddy Waters, Luther Tucker, Otis Spann, and Willie Dixon.  This version was the most popular, spending over three months on the Billboard R&B chart, peaking at #6.  It was one of his last charting hits, and it's really great to hear the combination of Spann's piano, Waters' slide guitar, with Walter's world-weary vocal and harmonica.

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