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Blues Convention, September 1968

PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 10:14 am
by Charlie
Alan Balfour unearthed this piece from Shout Magazine, October 1968, some time ago, and we posted it in the gigs section here. It disappeared when that section spontaneously destroyed itself, so here it is again.

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TALKING THE BLUES Charlie Gillett

If you had 35/- to spend on the 1st week-end of September, and more than a passing interest in popular music, there was what seemed like a difficult choice to make about how to spend your money. From 7.00 p m. Saturday to 7.00 a.m. Sunday, the Jefferson Airplane and the Doors were playing two sets each at the Round House and from 10.00 a.m. Saturday to 5.00 p.m. Sunday with a nominal break through the night, the blues were being talked, sung, eaten, smoked, and played with very little pause in most of the halls and chambers of Conway Hall.

I had the dubious fortune of spending my money once and going to both events, and with the experience of one, one was able to better appreciate the quality of the other. As you passed into the cavernous arena of the Round House, you were warned with cruel simplicity that you would be allowed no pass out - twelve hours you were expected to endure, breathing other people's cigarette smoke and resolving the tantalising quandary of whether to sit hunched on one square foot of floor close to the stage or stand on your toes in the freedom behind ten rows of other craning necks. There was some consolation in the Jefferson Airplane's performance, which made a mockery of Mike Vernon's assertion earlier in the day that "the British white blues groups are doing and saying more than their American counterparts, excepting perhaps Canned Heat." The Airplane used only the fire and rhythm of the blues - the harmonies, moods, and choreography were all their own. (The Doors, in contrast, seemed like the Troggs, with intellectual pretensions.)

Mike Vernon had opened the Blues Convention with a rather charming, lazy selection of records he'd produced, establishing an atmosphere of sympathetic appreciation of opposite opinions which lasted throughout the weekend. While we listened to him, we took stock of the scarcely credible efficiency with which Chris Trimming had organised the event. I had just time to note with wonder that we even had a biro to make notes with, before I lost it - I couldn't handle that kind of systematic consideration of my comfort. While we perused the lists of recitalists and their credentials, we absorbed the sounds of Mayall, Green and the rest; if they had to be played, this was the best time, as they could hardly have survived comparison with some of what followed.

Paul Oliver came next in the main hall, a polished speaker whose sociological interest in records leads him to overstate the importance of the words - I'd argue his assertion that "Negro audiences listen to the words not the music." I left him and searched for Paul Vernon and his "Pre War Blues Obscurities." He seemed to have a fantastic collection of bottle-neck guitarists, but after a while they began to merge into each other, so that now my memory confuses Fred Sproule, Curley Weaver, Buddy Moss, Fred McMullen...

An irritating young American in shades chattered through Paul's records and talked about "Spade Music", so I left. I later discovered he was Nick Perls, to whom we're all grateful for his part in finding Son House and others. But I couldn't help wondering why he was interested.

Back in the Main Hall, James Hamilton, a dashing young man straight out of Charterhouse or some other Public School, did a nice disc-jockey show with Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim and other Jay Miller superstars before moving into another of Hiller's enterprises, called Rebel Yell (Reb-Rebel?) Records. This is a series of hillbilly records with disgusting lyrics which keep the Governor of Louisiana happy and which would probably start making the Hot 100 if Wallace makes it as President. The singers go by the names of Happy Fats, the Son of Mississippi and Johnny Rebel, and their songs range from attacks on niggers - "the only reason they go to school is to learn to write their names on welfare checks" - to long and remarkably boring situations which show how stupid niggers are.

By the end of an hour of this kind of thing, I was sick and ready to go home, but it was lunch time and the pub was only fifty yards away.

Later record recitals included an intriguing contrast in the styles of Blues Unlimited editors: Simon Napier serene and generous in his praise as he talked about the undervalued work of various pioneer post war country blues field workers; Mike Leadbitter seeming on the brink of departure to some private world as he amiably played a seemingly inexhaustible selection of cajun and zydeco records, of which only a grunting song by Nathan Abshire sticks in my memory. Will someone soon come out with a properly researched analysis of the social, family, regional, cultural, and environmental background of these two editors, and explain their differences?

Between the "BU Personalities" we had a predictably authoritative survey of female classic blues singers from Charles Fox, and a rather hesitant discussion by Mike Rowe of some Chicago blues records which were for me by far the most exciting of the weekend. A record by Baby Face Leroy and Little Walter seemed much more important than anything else we’ve heard. Robert Nighthawk, Big Boy Spires .and Elmore James (the Meteor version of "Dust My Broom") were almost as good.

(For reasons beyond my control I missed the David Evans recital )

By the end of the weekend, our admiration of the organiser, Chris Trimming, had not diminished, but I had begun to feel that we would need a slightly different organisation next year.

The two most important improvements would be greater controversy, and more audience participation in the discussion of the records. If we’re interested enough to go to that kind of event, we've probably heard a lot of the records; some of us may like to say something about them. A way to solve both problems might be to have two people talking on stage about the records - or rather arguing about them. A moderator would prevent them coming to blows, and would also encourage comments from the floor.

The subjects for debate might include black blues vs. white blues, with two speakers playing alternate kinds and, insisting theirs is best; one singer vs. another; blues vs. soul; blues vs. rock and roll; blues vs. rhythm and blues; female vs. male, etc.

For those who preferred music without argument, there could be a. parallel series of straight recitals like those we had this year, which might ease the problem some of us had this time of choosing between two similar and equally attractive recitals.

Although I couldn’t get myself away from the recorded black singers to hear live white ones, it seemed that the ''guitar workshop" was very popular, and obviously this should happen again next time. I was very bothered by the patronising way Mike Raven and others treated Jack Dupree, and by the way Jack felt obliged to play the clown (his response was the right one in the situation - but can't we ease the pressure off somebody like that, just a bit, and give him time to relax?). The white singers didn’t need more than a couple of songs to show us how good they were; but Dupree, and any other blues singer we might get, needs at least half an hour to establish his own mood on the place. If we’re going to invite such celebrities, let’s treat them right. And if Canned Heat can be persuaded to come again - let’s get them.

(We discovered that Bob Hite is helping Stove LaVere at Liberty Records compile some LP's of Imperial/Aladdin stuff, including an LP of unissued oldie group stuff by the Bees, Kids, Spiders, Buccaneers.! Also an Urban Blues LP with unissued Smiley Lewis, Fats Domino – Rosemarie, Amos Milburn etc.! Can you wait?)

(Shout Magazine #34 - 19 October 1968)

PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 2:00 pm
by trisonic
Interesting piece of history, Charlie!
Actually I agreed with Mike Vernon back then that most of the American bands (but particularly the then much vaunted San Franciscan variants) were actually pretty insipid......but then I was just a very young man......
I've got to know Barry Mitterhof of Hot Tuna in the last couple of years (literally he is a neighbour of mine and our daughters attend the same school and grade over here), we've been swapping stories and books back and forward to keep him amused whilst on tour. He told me that Jorma Kaukonen (apropo of the recent Cream book) acknowledged that seeing Eric Clapton and the band in SF early on was a real wake up call for them (Jefferson Airplane).

Best, Pete.