Monday, 11 November 2013


Britain's Other Blues show lead the way in being first to mark the fiftieth year this month since the shooting in Dallas of President Kennedy. We wanted to place those events in the context of the blues experience - ahead of what will unfortunately be a festival of ballyhoo about conspiracy theories and his celebrity lifestyle. The BBC is even promising a minute-by-minute reenactment; I've talked to folks who genuinely thought a nuclear war would start the next day.

I put some tracks into the playlist to set the scene by what was on the R&B charts in 1963: timeless music from Bobby Bland, Jackie Wilson and Little Johnnie Taylor made top spot (and weirdly / interestingly the R&B charts ended a week or so after the assassination). In May 1963 Elmore James died, in August Howlin' Wolf cut a classic session and in the summer Muddy Waters returned to his "unplugged" roots with Buddy Guy for his "Folk Singer" album. JFK was trying to find a way through some difficult times at home and overseas and he edged towards 1000 days in office.

Shortly after noon his motorcade turned right into Dealey Plaza and up towards the Texas Book Depository. In front of the building they turned left and moved away - within a few minutes the President was shot dead.

In the coming weeks of this half-centenary you'll hear and see plenty of theories and facts: his sudden death was felt particularly deeply in the African American community who were starting to believe that much needed change in Civil Rights legislation was coming. Boss of Testament Records, Pete Welding, became aware of a number of blues and gospel artists who had written songs about JFK the man and how they felt about his killing. The result was an album "Can't Keep From Crying " which was released in April 1964.- we featured just about all of it last night (just leaving out one of the versions of "Poor Kennedy" by Avery Brady). Husband and wife team James and Fannie Brewer did three songs and Otis Spann was cut twice. Johnny Young and Big Joe Williams captured the mood in their distinctive playing.

There's a full description of the artists and songs in a fine book compiled by the Dutch researcher Guido van Rijn ": Kennedy Blues ", this is a comprehensive survey of blues songs on contemporary themes recorded during the years of Kennedy's term in the Oval Office. There are similar books on all the US presidents since 1900 and the JFK one is particularly poignant.

I don't have a real sense of what actually happened and Guido's book and Pete's album have helped me understand how it affected a big part of America. I can't find a parallel for those events in my own purview and if we are lucky nothing like it will happen again.

My grateful thanks are extended to so many folks (who know who they are) for their help and patience while I did the background stuff for this edition of STAR BLUES; and to the Mighty Mark Peters and his team at Star Radio in Cambridge for doing this on commercial FM radio in the UK. The normal service of trivia, tomfoolery and blues will be back at 10pm (GMT) next Sunday until then take care of yourselves and take care of those that take care of you

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