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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Blues Never Dies ... Only The Players!!

This is a followup to a rant that I wrote about a month ago (December 17, 2011). I was commenting about all of the media that continues with the mantra "Keeping the Blues Alive". The Chicago Tribune even thought it news worthy to do a 4 part story story beginning In June and concluding in December about the health of the blues. I'm confused! The writer in the Trib makes some valid points and discusses the health of the business of blues as a weather vane of health. I understand where he is coming from and of course... news is all about sensationalism [I don't get the Chicago Trib (in AZ)] and the article was brought to my attention after the publishing of my article. But I think the guy was calling up some good points. Here are links to his article for those who missed it.
Part 1: Can an ancestral art form survive?
Part 2: Blues 101: A new generation tries to learn | Photos | Video
Part 3: Playing the blues in black AND white | Photos
Part 4: Is This The Twilight Of The Blues Music
I think that there are a lot of different issues that are brought to light here, but keeping the blues music alive?
Let's start with exactly what we are trying to keep alive. Is it the music of Robert Johnson? Is it the music of Muddy Waters? Is it the music of Stevie Ray Vaughn?

Do you think that Muddy Waters lay awake at night worrying that the blues may not survive till the next day. All of the fathers (the real fathers) were dying or possibly already dead. No. He went out and burnt a new path. He did it when it was only marginally popular to a small crowd and luckily benefited from the 60's wave prior to his death. I mean I saw Albert King in a club with a crowd smaller than 50!

First and foremost, I think it is the business of the blues. Chicago may be the city that capitalizes most on the sales of live blues music. The baby boomer generation "found" the blues. It lay pretty dormant for a good 60 years, being played and listened to by small groups of people who enjoyed it until primarily young British players popularized it. This coincided with the "British Invasion" and a total break from what was the norm on the radio. Music being listened to by young people (this is the key) went from the 3 minute song to "Album Oriented" music. The average blues listener didn't go and search out the fairly rare Robert Johnson recordings... or Robert Pete Williams...are you kidding? They listened to Eric Clapton and then probably Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon and Albert King. There was never a mass exodus of listeners flying to see these artists. They just became accepted and more and more boomer players started to play a variation of the original blues. Great players like Duane and Johnny and Roy. I would bet that the "average" blues listener has never seen more than one or two of the "fathers" of the blues, who are actually the "sons' of the blues born in the 20's and 30's ... or later. As the boomers have gotten older, their desire to keep the music of their youth alive is understandable (the product of the modern blues). The blues music gave younger players in the boomer generation the opportunity to explore their inner feelings through music. But let's back up. If Son House were to listen to our absolute top players... he'd likely laugh. He'd say...that ain't the blues. But that isn't my point.

Wish I could find House's talk about the blues!
My point is, popular music goes in cycles. Think of all of the popular cycles that you can name from your own life... Album Rock?, New Wave?, Punk?, Power Pop?, Alt Country?, Metal?, Disco?, Rap?, Hip Hop?, Emo?, the list can go on forever. We're talking about the music that is in vogue. Fortunately for us, the rediscovery of blues music in the 60's and 70's changed the face of music in America forever. But the basis of popular music in the largest picture really is and always has been the short catchy tune. It's the similar thread that is constant for the masses throughout time. Like Frank Black (of the Pixies) indicated to his producer when they said his songs were too short at about 3 minutes he dragged them into a record store and pulled a Buddy Holly record showing the standard for music.

So what's really happening here... is the blues dying? Hell no! Are the boomers getting older... of course they are. Contemporary blues music players creating "new authentic" blues keeps the blues alive. Those players who only play the old standards (catchy tunes written by the fathers and sons) are providing a great service to their existing fans and they are entertaining, but to revitalize blues music, we need to look at ourselves and ask, what are we doing that is new? Led Zep playing a note for note copy of Otis Rush (among others) exposed an entire new generation to blues music...but the fan didn't know it for the most part.

And that same formula will work again and again as generations pass. But if we want the young generation to get excited about blues music, we have to give them something new to get excited about. I think that the White Stripes and the Black Keys are great examples. What kind of music do they play. In both cases their music more resembles the fathers than the sons and certainly more than the boomer generation music (listen to Jack White do Death Letter). He's digging at the roots... not what has been presented to the general public over the past 40 years in new form.

Is the White Stripes a blues band? I doubt that most of their fans think so... they have never heard the blues. I contend that this music is more authentic than a lot of the blues music played in clubs today. So should we all go out and copy the fathers. Hell no! We need to learn from the fathers and find our own road. That's where we are failing. We all hear contemporary pop singers pull out some 60's song and it is on top of the chart... and they play it like their own... but the contemporary pop artist can't survive in mass just playing pop music of the past...and the blues music can't either.

Another thing of concern relates to the sales of cd's. Well, I think that we all acknowledge that we had a closer relationship with our LP's. We studied them. We knew every LP by sight. Then came the convenience of CD's. Because we could now put the cd in a separate carrier and take it in our car and possibly dump the cover altogether we have lost this relationship. Now we are moving to totally digital download of music. We may not even know what an artist looks like. This may not seem important but I contend that many of the current pop stars who make the bulk of the money in the music business (who need 40 dancers in small outfits onstage to put on a decent entertaining performance) would be much less popular without the visual aid. I mean...if you could make as much money without a 40 person entourage that would be a lot more money for you. I think that the visual input is extremely important. So you have (blues) tunes that you may or may not be able to dance to ( my preference is to sit in a trance often listening to the soul of the player), sounding like mom and dad's music, without the booty dancers.

This all adds up to the 60's album oriented music and not likely to be of interest to the younger generation as a whole! But music appreciation by the masses is pretty much spoon fed to us on the radio and tv. It is catchy to promote sales and repetition. You can dance to it to promote closeness for teens.

In an interview with Partick Boissel, founder of Live Alivesound records last week, he made a very poignant statement. We were talking about the Black Keys and his publishing of their first album. Patrick said "Plus someone needs to save rock'n'roll from time to time!". Now I had thought prior to that statement that the Black Keys were a huge shot for the blues music but he is spot on! It's rock (as we know it) that is dying. Blues Music continues to morph and grow. It may not be the booming industry that it once was, but blues music is alive and well.

Why are blues festivals so popular? Because huge blues talents can't support a tour to large cities like Phoenix (the 5th largest city in the US). The promoters can get good groups of talent together in one spot for a few days and draw a big enough crowd to pay the players. But is it because blues music is dying? NO!! It's because the listeners re dying!

But the good thing is that the spirit of blues music is alive and well as proven by all of the young people entering the industry as they start to learn to play instruments. Guitar players start to play and then say... ok ... got these chords down. Hey... that music sounds cool... I wonder how I can play that! Each generation will have some type of outlet for musicians to stretch. Blues music is an ideal vehicle. This music which has grown in America is a world wide phenomenon.

I've been listening to blues music for the most of my life... let's say at least since I was 16. My tastes have grown and expanded... but I am a blues based listener. I believe that although album rock, which was blues based, helped to promote the blues sons and it is certainly well documented that these sons like Mud and JL Hooker, and Freddie King found themselves sharing stages with Fleetwood Mac and Johnny Winter. It's the basis to promote the established players to today's youth (because of the musical diversity) that is missing. The bridge is gone. We have new contemporary music that sounds a lot like the old blues and we have new versions of the old blues... but we have no conduit to provide to the young people.

Honeyboy or Hubert on stage with Steve Miller would be good for the boomer. Who is on stage with today's stars? Today's bridge stars are the White Stripes and the Black Keys. There are many more less famous, but this music is getting the word out. I saw Moreland and Arbuckle with Buddy Guy here in Phoenix. It's great promotion for Moreland and Arbuckle, but really to Buddy's (existing blues) audience. That doesn't much grow the blues music crowd. Moreland and Arbuckle playing with John Mayer may. I think that you get the idea.

So the concern that some of the sons of the blues passing may be the death nail in the blues music coffin, I call BS. It is in our hands. We have a number of terrific young players out there playing great blues music. Their music is unlikely to see the light of a pop music station. It is up to us to find ways to bind great blues music (not some watered down pop crap) to the better players in the pop market. The rest will take care of itself.

I'm guessing that Joe Bonamassa pays more taxes a year than Albert King made cumulatively in his entire lifetime.

Let's stop talking about it ... check out the new artists and appreciate some of the fantastic players that we have. I was chatting with my Australian blues friend Cheryl, and it came to me... the blues never dies...only the players! The well is far from dry! We have some great talents out there. They are the future!
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1 comment:

  1. Having read this I thought it waas rather enlightening. I appreciate
    yyou spending some time and effort to put this sjort article together.
    Ione again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But sso what, it was still worth it!