Monday, 25 October 2010

STAR BLUES on 24th October 2010 at 22:00

The fourth show in the series looking at notable blues albums chosen by Living Blues magazine gave us the widest range of styles so far. The Noughties has been a decade that has allowed our music to take note of its heritage in country-blues and jazz and then bring in elements of world music. It still retains the edge of electric guitar based Chicago blues.

B B King is still doing the biz, his "One Kind Favour" album is on the list and he brought a new version of a Howlin' Wolf song. We had chances to celebrate less well known artists like Johnny B. Moore, Andrew Jr. Boy Jones and Barbara Lynn as well as core show stalwarts like Phillip Walker and Robert Ward who never made a bad album. Moore's "Rockin In The Same Boat" from 2003 is his most recent project because of health worries and Koko Taylor died after her "Old School" album that did exactly what it said on the tin with a fierce slide guitar display from "Steady Rollin" Bob Margolin. Barabara Lynn is an amazing left-handed guitarist and singer whose work was sampled by Moby on his "18" album.

Last week we talked about some comments from blues-bored rock-based guitarists wanting to change the music, I hope the selections from Otis Taylor, Corey Harris and Alvin Youngblood Hart were enough to demonstrate that the future is in safe hands. One of the heavyweight Sundays proclaimed R. L. Burnside as "the last living bluesman" though his "Wish I Was In Heave Sitting Down" won him few friends with the purists when it came out in 2000. They objected to his use of samples, overdubs and seven producers and they bemoaned the lack of interaction with other players. Obviously there's been a re-evaluation to see the album in this list. Bettye Lavette and Joe Louis Walker came along with excellent contributions that back up their achievements with brand new albums we've featured on STAR BLUES.

I haven't felt the four shows have had enough of the full flavour of 40 years change in blues so I've added a fifth show to the quartet to look at how the music has been bucked up by folks like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore; at the effect of john Lee Hooker's "Healer", at the use of blues music in adverts and in tv series, and at how box-sets and public-domain recordings have added to the sustained popularity of blues. All that - and a white tee-shirt - next Sunday at ten. Until then take care of yourselves and take care of those that take care of you.

Monday, 18 October 2010

STAR BLUES on 17th October 2010 at 22:00

I have just about everything Bobby Womack has recorded, so I am at loss to explain why I thought his 1975 song Jealous Love was done by Syl Johnson for the Robert Cray version in last night’s 1990s blues album survey. I am suitably humbled. Elsewhere STAR BLUES heavily reflected the electric dominance of our music during the decade with just small pockets of down-home and acoustic sounds. Cray has been recording for thirty years and has a remarkable consistency that sees him (even as we speak) on the cover of the newest issue of Living Blues. Within the pages he’s pictured with B. B. King whose ‘Blues on the Bayou’ project was full of lovely relaxed unforced performances. My review in B&R at the time remarked on how it was the first whole album worthy of his talent.

Michael Hill’s Blues Mob currently have no record deal, yet their “Can’t Recall A Time” from their debut “Bloodlines” had a still-relevant social message showing blues has a vibrant future. Similarly at the envelope of the blues, Mighty Mo Rodgers’ big-label debut drew its influences from a number of places including the new-world and Alvin YoungBlood Hart and Corey Harris brought new sensibilities to traditional forms of blues. At the moment a couple of high-profile “blues” players have said the music is boring and needs to change, presumably by adding more free-form instrumental grandstanding – I think our music is in great shape with a younger generation that includes Robert Randolph and the Homemade Jamz band. This is a discussion that happens every now and again when second rate rock guitarists turn to blues to make a quick buck and then want to move on to the real money in the mainstream.

The other side to the 90s blues scene was the almost total replacement of vinyl with compact disc and with the indecent haste box-sets were assembled and pushed out to celebrate the legacy or make us buy stuff for a second time depending on your perspective. By their nature those projects were missing from Living Blues survey and I plan to do a fifth show in the series of four to “catch up” with the milestones for blues since 1970. That’ll be in a fortnight on 31st October and next week we’ll look at the Noughties decade, so I hope you’ll bring your best ears, the music and white tee-shirt is down to me; until then take care of yourselves and take care of those that will take care of you.

Monday, 11 October 2010

STAR BLUES on 10th October 2010 at 22:00

Jerry Wexler described Solomon Burke as "the" soul singer and the news came hard yesterday that the Bishop had died while travelling to his next gig in Holland to promote a new album he's recorded with Dutch band deDijk. Our STAR BLUES show last night remembered him with a pair of tracks, one from each end of his career. As a sixteen year-old, he recorded for Apollo in 1956 and we uncovered one of those sides and did a selection off this year's "Nothings Impossible" album, produced by legendary Willie Mitchell (who passed in January). I left the playing of his really well-known sides on Atlantic to the other shows who will remark on this great talent but we had chance to recall a couple of his entrepreneurial activities.

The rest of the show moved to the 1980s for the choice of albums in the second of four specials looking back over 40 years of blues. In that decade many afro-Americans felt pushed out of soul and blues music by white rockers and disco fans so there was a sense of holding ground with only pockets of artists trying new things. The blues market had moved towards albums and the mainstream labels had no real interest in our music. Z. Z. Hill bucked the trend with a ground breaking album on Malaco that opened up a "soul-blues" genre aimed squarely at the Southern States' chitlin circuit. Bobby Bland also moved to Malaco after parent-label MCA didn't know what to do with him or his music - he was persuaded to cut a Larry Addison song "Members Only" that gave a real kick start to his career.

Muddy Waters was enjoying an Indian Summer in fortunes too by dint of Johnny Winters production and help on four great albums: "King Bee" proved to be his last in 1981 but it was chosen by Living Blues for the 1980s list and onto our show. Winter also did some sessions with Sonny Terry and Willie Dixon for his own Mad Albino label that saw wider distribution via Alligator. Bruce Iglauer maintained the quality with offerings from Koko Taylor, Son Seals, the final Professor Longhair project and the debut of Lil' Ed Williams and his Rough Housin' Blues Imperials. Jimmy Johnson is 82 now, is still gigging and his "North South" on Delmark was featured - Magic Slim is up there in years too and is the bedrock for the current Chicago club scene, we had a track from his "Grand Slam" album. According to LB he is a national treasure and you wouldn't find any argument here.

Next Sunday our review turns to the 1990s and I hope you'll be able to come along, I'll bring the music if you bring your best ears. Until Sunday 17th at 10pm (BST) take care of yourselves and take care of those that take care of you

Gary Blue

Sunday, 3 October 2010

STAR BLUES on 3rd October 2010 at 22:00

Of all the blues magazines, few if any can match the longevity and influence of Living Blues, published 6 times every year to the world - and now celebrating the 40th anniversary. To mark the achievement they've chosen albums that define each decade and STAR BLUES reflects them yesterday and on the next three shows. We did music from twenty-two of the thirty in the Seventies selection to show the depth and quality of blues on offer.

1970 was a watershed for the blues purists and for our music in general as the emphasis moved away from singles on 45 or 78 towards the long playing vinyl format. It also meant that a blues song could be recorded in one than one studio at more than one time and pieced together later (previously blues was done in one or two takes with everyone present in the same studio for the session). Blues was documented as discographies showing who played with who and when, how players interacted to spark a unique or compelling performance. The Seventies for some meant the end of that "innocence" and a move towards a moguls-view of blues as a business commodity shifting emphasis away from artists. Not sure if I subscribe to those notions but it gives you an idea of the background to the birth of America's first international blues publication. (Prior to then we Brits showed our interest in blues, soul and gospel in a number of monthly magazines).

It was a great chance to remind ourselves how good the music was back then even if it was very hard to come by after the Sixties boom finished. Hound Dog Taylor set the tone with a rambunctious workout, Fenton Robinson, urbane and anguished followed and so lesser Muddy Waters opened the show. Bukka White, Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker all had substantial careers already by the turn of the decade so no surprise to see them in the list. Eric Clapton and Dr. John were on hand for Buddy Guy and Jr Wells seminal "play the Blues" album and two Alberts Collins and King did what they did best at opposite ends of the Seventies. Hugh Hefner kickstarted Phillip Walker's career by signing him to the Playboy label and Walkers old mentor Clifton Chenier was on hand with a vibrant zydeco version of "The Hucklebuck". Lonnie Brooks got his start in Chenier's band and his "Bayou Lightnin'" gave us "Breakfast In Bed". His energetic sound effects won't be encouraged or in keeping with the family image our slender man has on the weekday breakfast extravaganza.

The soulful side got a good representation from ted Taylor, Bobby Bland, Little Milton, McKinley Mitchell and Geater Davis. The last pair being very difficult to find on cd at the moment. You can make a white tee shirt very happy if you can come up with more info on discs on either man. I'll leave you with that conundrum as I set about putting an Eighties setlist together for next Sunday. Until then take care of yourselves and take care of those that take care of you.