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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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Monday, February 20, 2012

Bman's Exclusive Interview with Craig Ruskey - The Real Blues Forum

As most of you who regularly read my report know, I'm always on the hunt for music that I don't know about, and that includes the roots of the blues where this quest started. A few months ago I was invited to join a group of dedicated enthusiasts who have such a wealth of knowledge and love for the music that it inspired me to do some additional investigation. As I am on Facebook (Bman's Blues Report) as a "page", I can't join a "group" so I fell back to my alter ego, Charles LoBue, who's page I administer, to join the group. I'll publish a separate story on Charles as time allows. My quest for blues music came from initially hearing Duane Allman, Johnny Winter, Jeremy Spencer and Eric Clapton and going backwards to their influences, becoming a rabid record junkie. It's always really great to find that my love for the blues masters isn't a solo endeavor and not only am I not the only person who loves this genre but there are actually people who have dedicated more time to it than me!!. I found this group who had really narrowed focus on a part of the blues genre that I love so much. One of the administrators agreed to share his journey with me.

Bman: Hi Craig. First I want to thank you for taking time from your schedule to talk with me. I want to take a moment to iterate the Mission Statement of the Forum:

“The Real Blues Forum is for everybody who wants to share information and enthusiasm about real blues. We don’t waste time debating about what is ‘real’ or isn’t ‘real’ – our simple definition is that it’s the work of those African American blues artists included in ‘Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943’, by Robert M.W. Dixon, John Godrich and Howard Rye; ‘The Blues Discography, 1943-1970’, by Les Fancourt and Bob McGrath; and ‘The Blues Discography, 1971-2000’, by Robert Ford and Bob McGrath (plus artists who have recorded since 2000, who would be eligible for inclusion in an updated edition). “

Bman: I was invited to join this group a few months ago and was thrilled. This forum from my perspective is made up of people who love deep blues music. Many participants are absolutely scholarly in their knowledge regarding this subject.

Craig: First off, thanks for the great words about The Real Blues Forum as well as your participation. You've been adding some nice stuff. One of the finest attributes of the forum is its make-up and membership. We’re comprised of authors and writers, discographers, promoters, internet and radio disc jockeys, record producers, label owners, researchers, collectors and dealers, artists, musicians, bona-fide Blues scholars, and hundreds of fans of the African-American Tradition in Blues. It’s global, too, folks from the US, the UK, Scotland, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, France, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Canada and almost everywhere in between. And as we continue to grow, we find we’re adding people from other countries.

Bman: Yes. It's interesting. My readers are from all corners of the globe as well. How did you get involved with the Real Blues Forum?

Craig: Paul Vernon, who started the RBF, invited me to join shortly after his initial brainstorm. Paul and I (as well as a good many more on the forum) go way back; actually 30-plus years when he was publishing a Blues magazine called “Sailor’s Delight.” Paul was a working record dealer (as well as a collector) who used to make frequent trips to the US from his home in the UK. He'd come over, buy out private record collections, juke box warehouses, record stores and more. Then he’d then ship the records back home to the UK, sort through them and start the huge task of listing them as auction or set-sale items in his magazine. Along with the auction and set-sale Blues lists were stories on artists (both Fiction and Non-Fiction), cartoons, jokes, the great British humor I've always loved, and all sorts of other bizarre goings-on. As a matter of fact, Paul and I first met back in 1982 when he was in the US on one of his record trips. We both attended a party at the home of a mutual friend who was another record collector.

Bman: We've all been down that road! What is the significance of these particular reference materials and how were they chosen.

Craig: Our "bibles" are the evolving discographies that have come from years and years of research. The late Mike Leadbitter (a true pioneer in my mind) worked with Neil Slaven, another Blues guru who's still at it today, to deliver the first Post-war discography, "BLUES RECORDS 1943-1966." A discography not only lists an artist's recorded output, but it also includes all pertinent information on the song titles, where the tracks were recorded, who the players were on those sessions (if known), matrix numbers, A and B sides, what labels issued the recordings, unissued tracks left in the can and more. Leadbitter & Slaven's original effort later grew into two separate volumes in the 1980s (volume one covered letters A - K while volume two covered letters M - Z).

Those have now evolved into "The Blues Discography 1943-1970" by Les Fancourt and Bob McGrath. There's also a Pre-war discography, "Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943" by Robert M.W. Dixon, John Godrich and Howard Rye. In addition to those, there's also "The Blues Discography 1971-2000" by Robert Ford and Bob McGrath which covers the more modern recordings of artists like Valerie Wellington, Big Time Sarah, Luther Allison, Hound Dog Taylor and loads of others. The amount of unselfish effort that has gone into these tomes is difficult to imagine, but let's just say it's a mountainous task to assemble discographical works of this sort. The compilers and writers had to pore over each and every detail left in session files, find reissued versions of original recordings, track down paperwork and so much more. The long and short of it is, that's why these reference materials were chosen.We learned early on at the forum, simply because of the sheer amount of info that was passing back and forth daily, that we were going to have to operate similarly to a library. Libraries have a system where they catalog every book, magazine and newspaper they have so people can find things relatively easily. If you need a book for research, you can go to a library and look it up by its title, its author or the subject matter. Shortly after The Real Blues Forum got underway, the realization was there that we were going to have to catalog posts in some way so that members could somehow look up what and who has been discussed on the forum. Because of the limitations of Facebook, and through trial and error, the best thing we figured out was to ‘index’ the artists. In short, if someone starts a discussion about John Lee Hooker with a youtube video or a song from any number of available sites like Soundcloud, Picosong, Spotify, or others, we index the name John Lee Hooker in the ‘comments’ box. What the indexing does is store Hooker’s name so that anyone can look him up in the forum by typing his name in Facebook’s ‘Search this group’ feature. Once you type his name in, every discussion where John Lee Hooker was mentioned will come up in reverse chronological order from the most recent back to the inception of the forum. Granted, it’s limited and takes time to trawl through everything posted about a particular artist, but it does work. At some point in the distant future, computer archaeologists are going to stumble on the RBF and find a wealth of information about the African-American Blues Tradition. And so much new information has been discovered and come to light in recent years that we're all beginning to realize it's ongoing. I think for a long time an awful lot of Blues collectors probably thought everything worthwhile had been found and there'd be no more real discoveries to speak of anymore. I was certainly one of them, but it's amazing how far research has come since the 1940s and '50s when people really began documenting the music and the artists. Long lost recordings from the 1930s have been found in flea markets and yard sales, photographs of Blues artists who were faceless names for so many years have been discovered, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses. All that by itself is truly incredible, because in a lot of cases we're talking about recording artists who were born in the late 1800s and the early part of the 20th Century.

Bman: Oh Yeah. It's absolutely incredible. I’ve been exploring and listening to blues music most of my life and I have to tell you some of the members of this group are downright amazing in this specific knowledge. I am regarded as scholarly in some circles but I couldn’t hold a candle to many of these people. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is terrific for those who are passionate about these recordings. I absolutely love it. It’s great not to see the same artist posted every day as on many pages. It appears to me most of the members are genuinely interested in digging deep into the “real deal”!

Craig: Absolutely true on all counts, Bman." The RBF is NOT for everyone, but there’s a reason for that. Our "Mission Statement" defines what the forum focuses on, and it’s very straight-forward. The Pre-war and Post-war Blues discographies (our ‘bibles’ as they are lovingly referred to) are strictly dedicated to the African-American artists - the first generation artists who laid the foundation in the 1920s and 30s and then the second generation who went on to re-shape the the music in the immediate Post-war years. With all the activity on all the music forums on the internet, there are plenty of places available for people who love Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Susan Tedeschi, Roomful of Blues, Rory Gallagher and anyone else under the sun, but the RBF is the first and ONLY Blues forum we are aware of with strict coverage and focus on the African-American Blues artists of the Pre and Post-war eras and beyond.In easy-to-understand terms, if you want to join the RBF to discuss your passion for Johnny Winter, you’d be in the wrong house. Johnny’s great and we’re not taking anything away from him or his fans, but his influence came directly from people like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Guitar Slim, Clarence Garlow and others. Johnny gets plenty of love at numerous other Blues forums and that’s great as well as needed, but the RBF is there for the men and women who influenced Johnny and all his contemporaries. To add to that a little bit, simply because of the cross-over and enormous influence of Blues music on other forms and styles, there are now off-shoot forums for real Country, Gospel, Soul and a miscellaneous forum where almost everything fits... including Blues. As opposed to being what some might consider an exclusive Blues forum, we prefer to look at what we have as a very focused group devoted to the history of first, second and third generation Blues artists.

Bman: That's exactly how I see it. My report focus specifically on what interest me. I review new recordings that are released and give my opinion on them but it is a small part of the research that I am doing for myself to find blues talent regardless of where or when it was created. I have found some really terrific artist in Australia and Spain and Brazil... many places! As I'm writing this interview I'm listening to an artist new to me named Reed Turchi. I really like it. My interest in blues music is fairly broad, as is my interest in music in general (probably not really). My writing endeavor is a personal search for interesting music that I haven’t heard or have been under exposed to. I’ve been doing it for a long time and have been exposed to a lot of early artists. It appears that you have been at this for a long time as well. Tell me about your background.

Craig: Like almost everybody of my generation (I’ll be 53 soon), I came to the real, deep Blues through the side door – sort of. Very few of us had a Robert Nighthawk epiphany because of the radio or randomly finding a record of his at a flea market or yard sale. By that, I mean many of us discovered Blues by-way-of the White bands who were playing and recording in the 1960s and ‘70s. It was my love for The Allman Brothers Band and early Fleetwood Mac that dropped me in the abyss I’m in with you and everyone else at the RBF. For most of us, listening to records by the bands we loved as kids made us want to find where they came from, where they ‘got it’ from. Writer’s credits and liner notes on my records directed me to Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, Little Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf and hundreds more. I was also very fortunate to have had a teacher in my first two years of high school who loved Blues, R&B and Vocal Group Harmony music. He was a world-class record collector who turned me on to tons of incredible Blues. It was through him that I got my first tastes of artists like Johnny Otis, Professor Longhair, Roosevelt Sykes, Pete “Guitar” Lewis and a great many more. And it was that high school teacher who hosted the party in 1982 when Paul and I were introduced.

Bman: I didn't have that advantage. It was me digging it out of the dirt. I'd share what i found with my pal Stilladog and he would find something cool and turn me back. I know he turned me on to James Cotton and Lightning Hopkins. Sure there were a lot more but I remember the specific days in my mind. It's funny. So are your personal tastes in music tightly focused in these areas or is your taste more diverse?

Craig: I still love The Allman Brothers Band, Rory Gallagher, early Fleetwood Mac (when Peter Green fronted the band) and more, but once I found my way to the real, deep Blues, it became my life’s passion, and it has been since I was about 13 years old. The first inkling I had of what it was goes back to a Duane Allman compilation that came out in 1972, the year after Duane was killed. The liner notes mentioned Duane being in awe of someone named Robert Johnson, who I'd never heard of until then. So I headed to the library to see what I could find. We had real hunting to do - there was no internet or Google back then! I came home with the two Columbia albums by Robert Johnson, put them on the turntable and had my mind permanently altered.Once I found RJ, I started digging more to find other the artists who influenced the Blues/Rock bands I dug as a young kid, and there was no turning back.

Bman: Yeah. I had live at the Fillmore start me off but then Clapton as well. Then Delaney and Bonnie and John Mayall. It just grew like a mushroom cloud. I searched for years to find the original Robert Johnson lp's. The second one wasn't that hard, but it seemed the first one took me years. But I also liked the newer stuff a lot. I got addicted to guitar and Alvin Lee and Kim Simmonds.

I have to say I read amazing insights almost every day. I mean the minutia that some of the members know is absolutely phenomenal. I’ve only been a member for a few months but I just hope to continue to pick up a few tips here and there and hope I can hold my own as to not be considered deadwood. What do you think that the average member is there for?

Craig: One thing is for sure - there is no 'dead wood' on the RBF. Everyone there learns something they weren’t aware of before, no matter how long they’ve been part of this world. And while there are members who are very focused in their particular field of knowledge, there are all sorts of others who are also very centered, but in different areas. So if someone has a question about Sleepy John Estes or Tarheel Slim, chances are very good that someone on the forum knows the answer to your question. In the short six months since this forum began, we’ve grown from a small handful of original members to over five-hundred at present, and we’re getting new folks on a daily basis. Of the entire membership, there’s definitely a steady flow of discussion among regular and very active posters, but there are plenty of people who joined that enjoy sitting back, reading and enjoying the daily activity and wild sense of humor that permeates the RBF. Paul and I have both received messages from members who don’t actively participate telling us that they love the forum and the staggering information that is exchanged every day.

Bman: I didn't realize that you guys have only been here as long as I have. Quite an impressive group of guys and an incredible bank of knowledge. I appreciate you sharing your insights. I absolutely love being a part of the forum and appreciate your time. Anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

Craig: I think you've asked some great questions! I just want to re-state that The Real Blues Forum is there for the study, preservation, discussion and exchange of information about the great number of African-American Blues artists who helped create Blues, whether it’s the Pre-war masters like Charley Patton, Willie Brown, Son House and others, to the Post-war greats like Muddy, T-Bone, Wolf and more. And we’re not only talking about those people, their music and styles, we’re there every single day discussing and honoring all the heroes who are lesser known, but no less brilliant; Otha Turner, Floyd Jones, TV Slim, Johnny Young, Eddie Taylor, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, Lefty Dizz, Hambone Willie Newbern…

Bman: Again, Craig. Thanks for your time. Son House thanks you and Robert Pete Williams thanks you!!

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1 comment:

  1. RBF is the most pretentious thread on facebook