Sunday, November 30, 2008

B.B. King Drawing Fans South

Word has spread about the new B.B. King museum in Indianola. And the word is good. It's been open for less than three months and blues fans from all over are feeling a pull to the delta to pay homage to the man and the delta blues art form.

Tom Uhlenbrock of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a recent visitor. But he wanted to see more than artifacts and photographs in a museum honoring the past.

Here's an excerpt:

Rave reviews about the B.B. King Museum, which opened in Indianola in September, inspired me to head out on a road trip through Mississippi, which is busy setting up highway markers for a Blues Trail. But I didn't want to make a dead-man's tour of markers, museums and grave sites. I wanted live legends, "real-deal" Delta bluesmen.
Uhlenbrock also mentions the new documentary "M for Mississippi" and interviews one of the bluesmen featured, T-Model Ford:

"I was born in Forest, Miss., picked cotton, plowed mules, worked in a sawmill," he said. "Can't read, can't write, never been to school a day in my life. Taught myself how to play the guitar. When I was 18, guy tried to kill me. I killed him and went on the chain gang in Tennessee. It didn't make a bad man out of me, made me a good man. I been quiet ever since."

Although his doctor told him to cut back on the Jack, Ford still tours and just got back "from this place with a great big blue lake." He couldn't remember the name, but Stella, who is 50ish, yelled from the porch, "Barbados."
Read the full article here.

Click here to hear B.B. King's 3 O'Clock Blues

Monday, November 24, 2008

Forty Days With Muddy Waters

What would it have been like to watch Muddy Waters cut one of his many classic records in the legendary Chess Records studio at 2120 South Michigan in Chicago?

A new movie attempts to show us how "Forty Days and Forty Nights" might have went down in 1956 with Muddy and Little Walter.

Cadillac Records Exclusive Clip

The movie is Cadillac Records, the story of Chess Records. (see earlier blog mention) That's Jeffery Wright portraying Muddy Waters and Columbus Short as Little Walter. That's Buddy Guy's vocal on the soundtrack. The movie opens December 5th, just two days after Mississippi once again honors Muddy with a second blues trail marker. The first marker is placed at Muddy's cabin site on the Stovall Plantation in Clarksdale. This time around, a blues trail marker will be unveiled at his birthplace in Rolling Forks.

From the Clarksdale Press Register we find that the Delta Blues Museum has secured $1.8 million in grants to expand the museum, including a new home for the Muddy Water's cabin exhibit where it can be erected to its actual height. Right now, the top section of the cabin is not included, as the ceiling height of the museum is too low.

Will this star-studded new movie renew interest in Mississippi's blues greats like Muddy Waters? Absolutely. And many of those will come to check out the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and the blues trail markers across the state. With 58 markers now in place, to view them all, it just might take someone, oh I don't know, something like forty days and forty nights.

Click to hear Muddy's Forty Days and Forty Nights.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Elvis Gets Planted

Who is the greatest singer in the rock and roll era? In it's newest edition, Rolling Stone Magazine tries to settle the question, or at least start another worthwhile debate. The magazine polled singers, producers, journalists and other music insiders to find out who is the most respected singer. For Led Zepplin's Robert Plant, there is only one answer - Tupelo's Elvis Presley.

Says Plant:
"Anyway You Want Me" (click to hear) is one of the most moving vocal performances I've ever heard. There is no touching "Jailhouse Rock" and the stuff recorded at the King Creole sessions. I can study the Sun sessions as a middle-aged guy looking back at a bloke's career and go, "Wow, what a great way to start." But I liked the modernity of the RCA stuff. "I Need Your Love Tonight" and "A Big Hunk o' Love" were so powerful — those sessions sounded like the greatest place to be on the planet.
This of course means that when Rolling Stone's panel of experts looked at every remarkable singer from the past 70 years, they collectively decided on the top five singers, and three have Mississippi roots: Clarksdale born and bred Reverend C.L. Franklin's daughter Aretha finished first, Ray Charles second, and Elvis third. Sam Cooke, also born in Clarksdale, finished fourth.

Other notable mentions: Howlin' Wolf at 31, Muddy Waters at 53, and John Lee Hooker at 81.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vanity, Thy Name Is Blues

Who knew Vanity Fair was a blues publication? Last month the magazine which bills itself as one of of culture, fashion, and politics, published an extensive article on a purported new photograph of Robert Johnson.

And now this.

When Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel sat down at Ground Zero blues club to speak with Terry Harmonica Bean for their documentary "M for Mississippi", they weren't concerned with their own vanity. But they are today, after what can truthfully be called a vanity printing featuring the two.

Normally, that's a derogatory term meant to diminish the work of an artist as he or she builds up the ego with blatant and usually undeserved self promotion made at the artist's expense. But this is no slap at the producers of "M for Mississippi". Quite the contrary. While it's more than fair to call this latest interview a vanity printing, it's still nothing but a good thing and definately a tribute to the good work of Cat Head Record's Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel, owner of Broke and Hungry Records.

Both men sat down for an interview with a writer for Vanity Fair online to discuss their new documentary of Mississippi blues called "M for Mississippi". (see earlier blog mention)

And you know what? They didn't have to pay a single penny for this Vanity printing. Obviously Vanity Fair is loving it some Mississippi blues.

Here's an excerpt:

VF Daily: One of the interesting things about this movie is how well you captured the essence of real-life juke joints. I think many people nowadays think of a juke joint as being House of Blues or B.B. King’s club in Times Square.

Roger Stolle: I think that’s true. I think the term “juke” has just been abused. People started calling a regular old club a juke joint. But if you look at these real joints, these rag-tag places, it’s totally different. You get the crowds that talk back to the acts. You have lighting that’s very dim. There’s a real atmosphere.

Sometimes you see the spotlight behind the artist, shining in the audience’s faces, and sometimes there’s no real stage, just a patch of carpet, and when you look around, you can’t help but think, How is it possible that a fire marshal didn’t get involved here? But I’m grateful for that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The audience really becomes a part of what’s going on. They are not just the observer; they’re the participants.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Book on Delta Blues

Does the world really need another book about the history of the Delta Blues? Ted Gioia thinks so. "Delta Blues" is Gioia's sixth non-fiction book. His "The History of Jazz" was selected as one of the twenty best books of 1997 by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, and was also chosen as a notable book of the year in The New York Times. Gioia’s new book, "Delta Blues", published in October by Norton, is getting good reviews too.

Here's an excerpt from Ben Ratliff's November 7 review in the New York Times:

The chapter on John Lee Hooker — and here Gioia really hits his stride — deals with Hooker’s endless variations on a one-chord groove, but also with the profligacy of his recording career. He could make dozens of records in a single year, some under different names, sometimes lending himself to producers who had no idea what to do with him. There’s an embedded narrative here about the way certain blues musicians — not just Hooker, but Son House and others — might have taken too much pride in the quantity of their work, and not enough in the quality, as an emotional defense against exploitation. But there’s another, too, about the opportunism of both Hooker and his employers. Gioia follows Hooker to the end of his long life with a clear fascination for even some of his lesser achievements, through his ’70s recordings with Canned Heat and his Grammy-winning final days.

And in this YouTube video, Gioia himself explains what motivated him to write "Delta Blues."

Gioia is in Oxford tonight at 6 p.m. at "Off Square Books" 129 Courthouse. Tomorrow night at 5:00 he's in Jackson at "Lemuria Books" off I-55 North.

This may be the latest of many books, but it's certain that it will not be the last word on the Mississippi Delta blues.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cadillac Records

If you know who plays the bass drum on the Muddy Waters song "She Moves Me", then you can safely say that you do indeed know a lot about Leonard Chess and Chicago's famed Chess Records. This Christmas season, a lot more people will know a lot more about Chess Records.

There are a lot of great stories to tell about Chess Records. I'm not sure if this latest film is one of them, but we'll find out when TriStar Pictures releases "Cadillac Records" the story of Chess Records.
The movie stars Academy Award winner Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess and Shiloh Fernandez as brother Phil. Beyoncé Knowles is Etta James. With the exception of James and Chuck Berry, the musicians who made Chess records famous are almost exclusively from Mississippi, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, James Cotton, Jimmie Rogers, Hubert Sumlin, and more. Some of the filming took part in Mississippi.

Here's the trailer:

The film premieres on December 5th. Then we'll find out if like Muddy says, "She Moves Me." (click to listen to Muddy on guitar, Little Walter on harmonica and Leonard Chess on bass drum)