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Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Sun Jun 07, 2015 1:53 pm
by Alan Balfour
They appear to be coming thick and fast. Here's one devoted to life and times of Paul Oliver, also due November, but at a eye watering price.

https://www.press.umich.edu/8108011/blues_how_do_you_do

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Sun Jun 07, 2015 10:49 pm
by Adam Blake
A Paul Oliver story told to me by A.N.Other blues historian: One time when photographing a chain gang in the Deep South in the late 60s, Oliver was frustrated to see a couple of white hippies in his camera lens (who had probably been banged up for possession of marijuana). "Get out of shot!", he cried. "You're ruining the culture!"

Funny to see Oliver's work described as neglected. I thought it was taken as holy writ by the blues fraternity over here. Maybe less so in America. The predilection of British blues writers to decide what is and what is not the blues is, I suspect, a curiously British thing. Young Judith (of this parish), native of California, who has seen her fair share of blues legends en situ, as it were, told me that in her youth people like B B King and Albert King and Lightnin' Hopkins and Paul Butterfield and even (gasp!) John Mayall were all regarded as blues players.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 2:06 pm
by Garth Cartwright
I have to disagree, Adam. I have just finished reading Elijah Wald's new book - Dylan Goes Electric (essentially Bob's road to Newport) - and the most interesting part of it is the documentation of how Butterfield's band were received at Newport: Alan Lomax, who had been promoting Chicago electric blues as "the folk music of today", was very dismissive of them - thus his fistfight with Albert Grossman (band manager). As Wald points out, Butterfield had won some respect in Chicago for his harp playing and band but being white he quickly left the South Side clubs and got onto the rock circuit while Muddy, Wolf etc were all still down there playing the blues at blues clubs. It was partly this - and their volume - that so upset Lomax and others.

As for the lovely Judith: she was young and in SF and embracing whatever the Filmore put on as "blues". Lucky girl. But Lomax and Crumb and Fahey and others who knew their blues - no way would they have warmed to most of the new white blues players. Over here there is a weird kind of divide that finds the likes of you and me open to many things as "blues" but generally not to what the general public embraces as blues ie Seasick Steve, Gary Moore, Joe Bonamassa etc. So the debate goes on.

Wald's book is full of forensic detail on Dylan's early years. Great if you are a Bob obsessive. Less so, if like me, a little Dylan goes a long way.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:27 pm
by Adam Blake
I am deeply suspicious of anything Elijah Wald writes.

As for the blues, I tend to take it where I find it. I don't remember ever hearing Gary Moore or Joe Bonamassa play any, but I don't mind Seasick Steve. My problem is more with other people claiming loud rock music to be blues.

Judy often expressed surprise at the racial obsessions of us Brits, claiming that audiences were more or less colour blind in California. But perhaps not in Newport, eh?

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 6:17 pm
by AndyM
Whether something is or isn't 'the blues' is surely only another way of denoting what is good or bad in that genre. Gary Moore is blues, but just BAD blues (unless you don't admit that as a category!). GM certainly doesn't play polkas or Gregorian chants.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 6:34 pm
by Adam Blake
Yes, but I try to listen to the music with my heart rather than my head (not as easy as it sounds). Every blues lover's relationship with the music is entirely subjective and I daresay there are many people who are deeply moved by Gary Moore's music. On a purely formal level, I would maintain that it has far more in common with loud rock music than blues, however - although I accept that my definition may be very different from someone else's.

Coming at it from the other side, for many years I was puzzled by people describing Billie Holiday as a blues singer when, to my ears, she hardly ever sang blues. Now I understand that every note she ever sang is deeply infused with blues feeling.

I feel slightly ashamed at the vehemence I've been guilty of in the past in this area. If people want to enjoy Gary Moore or Joe Bonamassa, let them. I have no doubt that Moore was entirely sincere in his efforts to play as well as he was able. Bonamassa too, probably. I just don't care for it.

B B King is dead. I think Otis Rush is very ill (I may be wrong. I hope I am). Buddy Guy has long since thrown in his lot with the rock crowd - and who can blame him? I hope he makes good money. It's all over bar the shouting. It was very beautiful. But it's finished.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 6:40 pm
by Garth Cartwright
Agreed, Andy - "bad" blues is what Moore and co' serve up. To think BB King had to share the stage with that chump...

Adam, Elijah's book is not about setting an agenda, more meticulous documentation of that weekend at Newport. I'd say it is as accurate a reporting on what went down that weekend 50 years ago as you can find. And Grossman was grooming Butterfield/Bloomfield for rock stardom so encouraged them to play as rock bands insist on doing - too loud, too many guitar solos etc. No wonder the actual blues lovers in the audience were a bit affronted.

Hippies liked to be colour blind about them crazy "spades" when it suited. But knowing how racially divided LA and San Francisco are I very much doubt the white folk there are any less racist than those on the East Coast. Both would be a bit more subtle about it than those in the South - tho many a good ole boy loved his blues.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 6:47 pm
by Adam Blake
Garth Cartwright wrote:And Grossman was grooming Butterfield/Bloomfield for rock stardom so encouraged them to play as rock bands insist on doing - too loud, too many guitar solos etc. No wonder the actual blues lovers in the audience were a bit affronted.
.


I think our posts crossed, Garth. Have you ever actually heard the set that Dylan and the Butterfield band did that day? I don't know if it's ever been officially released but I've had it on a bootleg for many years. It's absolutely brutal! I mean, HEAVY! For the time, almost unbelievably so. I can imagine it must have gone off like a bomb. Bloomfield plays like a man possessed. Anyway... Onward (As Mort Sahl used to say.)

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 8:30 pm
by Garth Cartwright
Not heard and am sure it's not released (yet). You can play it to me next time I'm around yr gaff! I do like what Butt & Bloom did but I can absolutely understand why Seeger, Lomax etc were unhappy with their performance. Personally, i think it's fine that Oliver and Lomax and co stuck to their guns. They were scholars and so engaged in blues as African American art one can understand why they disliked the rise of the white heavies. Just as you and I dislike the rise of Moore and Bonamassa - we all have our ideas of what's good and bad blues.

PS Elijah quotes Bloom a lot in his book - good profile!

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 8:47 pm
by Adam Blake
Garth Cartwright wrote:Not heard and am sure it's not released (yet). You can play it to me next time I'm around yr gaff! I do like what Butt & Bloom did but I can absolutely understand why Seeger, Lomax etc were unhappy with their performance. Personally, i think it's fine that Oliver and Lomax and co stuck to their guns. They were scholars and so engaged in blues as African American art one can understand why they disliked the rise of the white heavies. Just as you and I dislike the rise of Moore and Bonamassa - we all have our ideas of what's good and bad blues.

PS Elijah quotes Bloom a lot in his book - good profile!


Good points, Garth, but just to play Devil's Advocate, for example, I prefer Cream's version of "I'm So Glad" to Skip James's original. I think the Rolling Stones version of "Love In Vain" is beautiful in it's own right etc etc etc.

Poor old Michael Bloomfield. He had perfect pitch, you know, it used to drive him nuts.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 9:07 am
by Garth Cartwright
Without the Stones where would we be? I bought albums by Muddy, Slim Harpo, Gram Parsons and others cos of them and love their blues covers. I like Cream's I Feel Fine too. We are of the rock generation so it's natural that we came to blues that way. That said, Big Joe Louis told me he has never owned a Stones of F Mac or Cream record - so there remain a few out there who got to the blues without the help of skinny white boys with lots of hair!

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 9:58 am
by Adam Blake
Big Joe Louis (hem-hem to those of us who know his real name) was born and raised in Jamaica. It makes a difference. He is also one of the biggest blues snobs who ever drew breath!

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 2:45 pm
by NormanD
Can I add my name to the list of blues lovers who has never bought any record by Fleetwood Mac, The Stones or Cream?

That didn't stop me being well aware of them, listening to them when friends had them, or they'd get played on the radio. I became aware of the original sources via them (and was disappointed when I eventually heard Chuck Berry's "Route 66" - not half as exciting as The Stones).

Back in that day, you'd buy the records if you had the cash (or, in my case, didn't), and would only be stopped from listening to them if you had a restrictive religious upbringing, had disapproving parents who controlled the tv, radio, and disc player, or were stuck away at some boarding school. There were certainly a few kids at my grammar school who made a point (pretentiously, of course) of ignoring everything but classical music, and it would be possible to be the blues equivalent of one of them, arguing that Jeremy Spencer's slide playing was not a patch on Elmore's. But they'd at least know what they were putting down, having listened to it in order to condemn. So - lack of ownership, I can believe; lack of listening, less so.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 4:07 pm
by Rob Hall
I think that there's one element in this discussion that has yet to be considered, and that is the language used and the way these things are labelled. It took me a while to get used to the idea that the term R&B when describing the music of, say Mariah Carey, is something different from what I understood R&B to mean. Maybe it's a generational thing, or maybe I had it wrong all along. But we're certainly not talking about the same thing.

I thought of this thread just now, when something prompted me to look up the Wikipedia entry for Creedence Clearwater Revival. It says: "Their musical influence can be heard in many genres, including southern rock, grunge, roots rock, and blues." CCR had an influence on the blues, eh? Who'da thunk it?

Maybe it's just that whoever wrote the entry has a different idea of what constitutes 'the blues'. My guess is that their idea of the blues includes the likes of Gary Moore and Joe Bonamassa.

Classical music can be analysed and pigeon-holed because it is codified and has been subject to generations of academic attention that - by and large - accepts those codes. Blues and jazz (and probably folk music too, for all I know) are, to my mind, resistant to codification, and any attempt at an academic approach which apes that applied to the classical canon (e.g., Paul Oliver*) is futile because of this. Part of the reason why they are resistant to being codified is that they cannot be meaningfully defined; and because these musics cannot be meaningfully defined, successive generations are able to define them in their own terms. Hence the confusion about what is, or what isn't 'the blues'.

* = Greil Marcus too, in respect of rock music.

Re: Blues, How Do You Do?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 6:36 pm
by alister prince
Many a good point there Rob. Often there is a tendency to use a music genre to describe something influenced by that genre. EG lots of rock acts are influenced by blues, so get labeled as blues acts. I'd speculate the Wiki guy (almost inevitably male) is not a blues fan, but a rock fan. For example, in my head, Zeplin are a rock band. Also labelling can be the result of lazy and/or opportunist record company hacks. I remember Ian Anderson complaining constantly about fRoots being inundated by CDs for review by dreadful singer/songwriters who were classed as folk. Ah folk, now how should we define that...
Aly