Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chicago Blues A Living History - The (R)evolution Continues


Robert Johnson tapped out a Delta blues sound on harmonica and acoustic parlour guitar.  The sound caught on and made its way north up the Mississippi until it reached urban Chicago.  There, musicians were plugging in and turning on.  Rural electrification in the South was not yet complete but, in urban Chicago, the city was alive with light day and night.  With electricity came microphones for harmonicas and vocals and electric guitars, bass, pianos and organs. Thus, when the Delta Blues met electricity in Chicago a sub-genre of blues was created - Chicago Electric Blues.  This synergistic sound was, and is, full of power and emotion  It is the mother of all rock ‘n roll that came about thereafter.  The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton worshipped it.  Led Zeppelin stole it.  Jimi Hendrix was inspired by it and the Grateful Dead tried to recreate it.

Back in 2009 Raisin’ Music released  a Grammy-nominated twenty-two track compendium of early Chicago Blues interpreted by Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell and Carlos Johnson. The album traced the history of the early Chicago blues.

These guys are the real thing. 

Arnold learned to play the blues harp from John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, started making blues records in 1952, and played with a young Bo Diddley,  He was all but forgotten by the mid-1960’s although he continued to play. 

Primer learned to play slide guitar from Sammy Lawhorn, a Muddy Waters’ sideman.  He played with Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All-Stars and then with the Muddy Waters Band until Muddy Waters’ death. Thereafter, he joined Magic Slim and embarked on a solo career.

Branch was the blues harp player for the Chicago Blues All-Stars and played with guitarist Lurrie Bell in his band, The Sons of the Blues.  Later he formed a band with Carlos Johnson on guitar  Branch is well-known for creating the "Blues in Schools" program that has been endorsed by the Blues Foundation.

Bell is the father of blues harpist Carey Bell.  His guitar chops are direct from his time playing with legends Eddy Clearwater, Big Walter Horton and Eddie Taylor In the 1970’s he was with  Koko Taylor's Blues Machine before joining The Sons of the Blues.

Johnson is a left-handed guitarist who plays the instrument upside down..He is known for his aggressive blues sound which is probably why Billy Branch added him to The Sons of the Blues.

This 2009 Raisin’ Music release only told part of the story of the Chicago blues.  A second installment has been created,   Chicago Blues: A Living History - “The (R)evolution Continues.” The two CD set is to be released on June 7, 2011.  This one is a must have for any student of Chicago Blues roots music. The packaging is glorious.  It includes a wonderful explanatory pamphlet that contains a meticulous history of the music.  In addition, the disks are full of amazing surprise performances. 

Buddy Guy appears on “First Time I Met The Blues.”  Guy is a pioneer of the Chicago Blues sound, was named by Rolling Stone as one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and is considered the bridge between the blues and rock and roll. Hendrix said that “Heaven is lying at Buddy Guy’s feet while listening to him play guitar.” Clapton said "Buddy Guy was to me what Elvis was for others."

James Cotton shows up trading blues harp riffs with Branch on “Rocket 88” a song that gave Ike Turner his start in rock ‘n roll.  Cotton was taught to play harp by “Sonny Boy” Williamson and is probably best known for his work with the James Cotton Blues Band.

Blues guitarist and vocalist Magic Slim appears on “Keep a Drivin’.” with John Primer.  This is the first time the two have played together since the demise of Slim’s band “Magic Slim and the Teardrops,” 13 years ago after winning the W.C. Handy Award as “Blues Band Of The Year.”

Hot electric blues axist Ronnie Baker Brooks, the son of Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks, guest on his father’s song “Don’t  Take Advantage Of Me” and plays his own tune “Make These Blues Survive.”

Powerhouse blues vocalist Zora Young, a relative of Muddy Waters knowm as “The Princess Of The Blues,” belts out Sunnyland Slim’s classic “Be Careful How You Vote.” Young was one of Sunnyland Slim’s students and she can be heard singing on numerous recordings with him, Junior Wells, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Albert King, B.B. King, Willie Dixon and Hubert Sumlin.

This compilation is not just stellar performances; it is a history lesson. The tracks and the album packaging tell the story of the beginning of rock ‘n roll.  You can hear exactly what inspired, and continues to inspire, rock musicians. While you listen you can follow the Chicago Blues timeline in the cover notes.

It is fitting that the set ends with a bonus track, Muddy Waters’ “The Blues Had A Baby (and the Named It Rock and Roll).”  That seems to be the entire point of this sequel - Chicago Blues A Living History - “The (R)evolution Continues.” . 

- Old School

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