Where the Blues rears its beautiful and ugly head.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
A Blind Lemon & A Victim Of The Red Scare
One Of The Originals
Blind Lemon Jefferson had fascinating, humorous, engaging lyrics, fluid, flamenco-like guitar playing, and high, emotive vocals. He was one of the original Bluesmen. Unfortunately, he recorded for Paramount Records, which was notorious for their records' horrendous sound quality. I feel that this album represents Jefferson's music in the best sound quality possible. The first half of the man's career was his most creative period. The originality of his music declined as the 1920s ended, but this is still fantastic music. Almost 100 hundred years later, there is still nobody alive who can successfully reproduce Blind Lemon Jefferson's guitar technique. If you're interested in other early Texas Bluesmen who were true poets, check out J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith and Texas Alexander.
Elijah Wald & I Have Something To Add To The Johnson Legacy
What else can I add that hasn't already been said about Robert Johnson? Actually, there is a lot of information and observations that have long been ignored by the Blues community and magazines and newspapers like Rolling Stone and The New York Times. He was a lyrical and musical genius who, as Elijah Wald has pointed out in "Escaping the Delta", perfectly crafted his songs. In other words, his songs were intended to reach mass audiences and were not necessarily expressions of his torment as a black man living in Mississippi. At any rate, "Crossroads Blues", "Stones In My Passway", "Love In Vain" and "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil" are masterful. There is one important thing to keep in mind, though. It is something that so-called Blues fans often forget. Johnson consciously imitated Kokomo Arnold, Son House, Scrapper Blackwell, Skip James, Leroy Carr, Peetie Wheatstraw and others. He was a synthesis of all that had come before him. Another artist he greatly admired was Lonnie Johnson, even going so far as to tell people that he was related to the man. "Malted Milk" and "Drunken Hearted Man" are closely related to Lonnie Johnson's style of playing during this period. Unfortunately, Johnson died at the age of twenty seven, and just as unfortunate is the fact that a man of equal brilliance, Johnny Shines, has never been given his due as a brilliant slide player, lyricist, and much better singer than Robert Johnson. People who say they love Robert Johnson's music and believe that he made a deal with the Devil should honestly look into Johnson's roots and realize that men like Willie McTell, Lonnie Johnson and Johnny Shines were just as talented as young Robert.
Greatest Live McDowell Album
This album is much better than McDowell's work at the Gaslight Cafe. His playing on this record is ferocious and his singing is excellent. The lyrics are of great meaning and reach way back to the very beginnings of the Blues. Unfortunately, the last track, "Kokomo Blues", is cut off at the end. Despite this minor setback, this album is deserving of five stars. The packaging is also very nice, and is complete with spelling and grammar errors that we've all come to find in Blues albums' liner notes. I urge everyone to pick up "Live at the Mayfair Hotel" or "London Calling", which is the same record. This is truly excellent music that I couldn't stop tapping my feet to. "Standing at The Burying Ground" is one of the greatest songs McDowell ever recorded, and perhaps one of the best of the Blues Revival period.
More Than A Bluesman; A Great Human Being
Josh White was a wonderful human being who didn't see the world in terms of color or political ideologies. There were many chapters to his life. He was raised in a God-fearing, respectable home, took to leading blind Bluesmen across the south and collecting change for them, while being abused, became a Blues star in the 1930s, a darling of the folk scene in New York City, a man whose talent and humanity were rejected because of his supposed connection to Communism, and there is a great more to tell. Unfortunately, the left perceived him to be a sell-out, and the right kept hounding him about his supposed ties to Communist groups. He gladly answered their questions each time, because he had nothing to hide, but this made him seem like a traitor to the hardcore left wing community. In Europe, he was a superstar, performing in front of thousands, and a very dear friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. In the 1960s, it was very hard for him to find work in America, both because of the previous decade's scare over Communism and Josh's supposed softcore Blues, which many white Blues enthusiasts who supported the Blues Revival were not interested in. Josh was a man who always took care of his family, and although he had many affairs with women of all shapes, sizes, and races, he loved his wife dearly. I cried while reading the ending of this book. Any and every American should read this book cover to cover, and also own the Yazoo dvd of his performances, which is five-star material, in which every facet of this man's act is meticulously planned and pulled off magnificently. He is an unforgettable individual who paved the way for countless black entertainers of a much lower quality.
I am a rather eclectic human being. I enjoy classic foreign films and studying East Asian religions.
My life changed after listening to Led Zeppelin's BBC Sessions cd and going out and buying "Sleepy" John Estes and Muddy Waters records.