Blues Sisters: Women Created the Blues. Now they are taking it back.

Samantha Fish w/Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathus at the 2020 Samantha Fish New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Festival, January 2020.

When the first gramaphone recordings of blues hit the market in 1920, black female singers surged to success. However, once guitar caught on in the following decade, men predominated popular blues. While the blues has remained in the popular music picture at all times in the intervening century, it is often behind the scenes powering rock, R&B, country and funk, but there is still a genre or two called blues. 

Now one hundred years after female artists kicked down the door for this important music, a younger generation is picking up the guitar and plugging in to carry the blues forward. Stephen Humphries adds some backstory in a recent article “Women created the blues. Now they are taking it back.” for Christian Science Monitor in which he discusses Larkin Poe, Samantha Fish, Joanne Shaw Taylor, and Jackie Venson are reinvigorating the music. 

Humphries adds this backstory:

The most popular blues performers in places like Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, and Tuxedo Junction in Birmingham, Alabama, were Black women. Notably, these singers bent their voices to sing something unheard-of in staid European music capitals: minor “blue” notes in between major notes over 12-bar shuffles. The blues drew on the call-and-response of spirituals. …Yet the women who helped pioneer the genre were shut out from the recording industry. Then, in 1920, vaudeville singer Mamie Smith convinced the Okeh label there would be a huge Black audience for her recordings. Her second release, which included the song “Crazy Blues,” made her the Adele of her era.

“It’s the first song to bring in a million dollars, and it really set a precedent for women taking the stage and starting to become recording artists,” says Lynn Orman Weiss, head of the Women of the Blues Foundation. “Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, and Mamie Smith were huge stars.”

Samantha Fish stars often in BC’s coverage of the New Orleans blues scene. Here is a clip of her in action at the 2018 NOCBGF. The Blues Center has been an official sponsor of the event since 2017.

For more from Stephen Humphries CSMonitor article on women in blues today click here

BCI #21 – Phil DeGruy

Phil DeGruy, in Blues Center Interview #21, reveals some of the secrets of his brilliant, idiosyncratic guitar style. In the series finale (BCI #21 shot in January of 2020) Phil DeGruy shows off some jazzy licks on guitarp and talks Chet Atkins, Lenny Breau, Larry Carlton, Steely Dan, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Beatles, Kinks, Eric Clapton, Hollies and more. Phil alternates a couple of originals with a Beatles medley, “Sunny Afternoon” and “Mr. Sandman.” A tour de farce with strings from the erstwhile funnyman. Host Ric Stewart rides the blues and country fences for containment!

Gabrielle Cavassa – Blues Center Interview #19

Gabi Cavassa drops by PineCohn and D.J. Maraca’s Soul Country show in an amazing crossing of the beams in BCI #19. In footage shot in late 2019 and January of this year, host Ric Stewart leans in on the radio, guitar and camerawork at the Starlight to bring you a portrait of the young artist. We discuss future collaborations, making a debut album and country’s Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and Dolly Parton. A blues duo jam highlights the start of something big.

 

#jazz #blues #gabriellecavassa #neworleans #bci #shotatpinecohn

That Spanish Tinge

Jelly Roll Morton at the keys
Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe a.k.a. Jelly Roll Morton

The New Orleans roots of blues and jazz always featured an Afro-Caribbean element. Writer Ashawnta Jackson offers a look back at what Jelly Roll Morton referred to as a “Spanish tinge.” It emerged from a cultural cross wind including Mexico and re-incorporated Cuban and Spanish sounds.

Mexican influence also found its way to New Orleans’s music scene in the late 1800s and early 1900s through groups like La Orquesta Tipica Mexicana and the Mexican Artistic Quintet, Narváez writes. Musicians like pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton and his future bandmate Lorenzo Tio Jr., a Creole clarinetist who also had Mexican roots, also combined those influences. As Morton told ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, “[I]f you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.”

read more here:

How Mexican and Cuban Music Influenced the Blues

Papa Mali – Blues Center Interview #20

At long last! BCI is back with a new episode. Shot in January – March of 2020, Blues Center Interview # 20 offers a portrait of the artist, Malcolm Wellbourne. Better known as Papa Mali, herein you can find out just how. A lucky trip to Jamaica began a lengthy reggae run for the bluesy, swampy, surf-guitar happy camper.

Along the way a keystone highlight is the collaboration with two of the Grateful Dead, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and songwriter Robert Hunter. Together theydrove the 7 Walkers forward for an album and several memorable years of touring.

Some peak concert moments from the last few years propel the soundtrack – from Chickie Wah Wah, Maple Leaf and PineCohn with interviewer Ric Stewart. Catch the whole series including #10 with Joe Krown, #18 with Alvin Youngblood Hart both playing along with Mali here and at our YouTube Channel.

“Searching for Heroes” – Sam Charters blues documentary

Samuel Charters recording Sleepy John Estes, Summer 1962

Searching for Heroes contains late blues and roots music author and producer Sam Charters’ gathered footage and stories in the rural south in the 1960’s and 1970’s. His widow Ann Charters has mounted a documentary from the archives including a long-lost 25 minute film called “The Blues.” This footage is the only documentary he ever made – shot with a wind up camera in impoverished rural Tennessee and South Carolina.

Searching for Heroes adds interviews of the Charters telling of makingThe Blues’ – also the first film to be made on location in the homes of legendary figures from the Halcion days of “pre-war” blues recordings; Furry LewisJD ShortGus Cannon, and Pink Anderson, in addition Sleepy John Estes is filmed only days after his re-discovery. Following a tip off from Pink Anderson, Baby Tate is recorded for the first time. None of these musicians had been filmed before and for some, this was to be their only filmed legacy.

For decades Sam Charters was a leading blues historian who produced records by Buddy Guy, Country Joe and the Fish, Bill Haley and the Comets and others. He was blues long before the mass audience caught on. As Allen Ginsberg put it:

“Allen Ginsberg once looked at me and said, I know the work you and Sam are doing; you’re looking for America’s secret heroes and that was Kerouac and himself,” she says in the film. “And definitely the people like John Estes and Furry Lewis.”

For more click here

Brother Robert

Robert Johnson’s step-sister Annye Anderson recounts the blues guitar legend with a new book (and photo seen here). At 94, she recollects some of the details and comings and goings of Robert Johnson. This sheds light into the very murky history of 1930’s Memphis and Delta black culture this posthumously famous bluesman. A must read for fans of Robert’s playing who want to get a non-mythologized take on the man.

100 Years of Blues

The new release from Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite 100 Years of Blues combines the guitar and harp prowess of two blues stalwarts. Roughly a century of the music officially known as blues has gone down. Now a couple performers with over a hundred years of playing pen some new tracks to summarize their findings. Among them the track “What the Hell?” above:

As JD Nash puts it:

This entire 12-track release is just two good-old-blues-boys sitting together and jamming. It’s absolutely brilliant. Most of the songs on 100 Years of Blues were written by either Bishop or Musselwhite, and they teamed up to write the title track. Along the way they also pay homage to Roosevelt Sykes with “West Helena Blues,” an appropriate song given the amount of times each artist has played at the King Biscuit Blues Festival. The duo also cover Leroy Carr’s “Midnight Hour Blues,” and Willie Dixon’s “Help Me.”

Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite Kick Out ‘100 Years of Blues’

The Blues Brothers @ 40

Filmed at the end of the Seventies when the new  Oldsmobiles (for 1980) were “in early this year,” the Blues Brothers revitalized the careers of Ray Charles, James Brown and Aretha Franklin and raised the bar for big budget comedies.  With Booker T. & The M.G.’s Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper in an all-star band, there was a base of R&B and blues cred. that lifted this funny film into a music space at once rooted and fancifully imagined. John Landis directed this opus (now extended by many minutes of additional footage) at the height of his powers, and John Belushi stole the show while only showing his eyes for a few seconds. But the music numbers captured the rapture. Thanks to all involved as they kept the music alive for another generation.

The Blues Brothers is a Saturday Night Live sketch, a Looney Tunes cartoon, a demolition derby and an R&B musical revue all rolled into one, and it works you over by force.

read more in the guardian

Pete Carr (1950-2020) – Muscle Shoals Guitarist

Pete Carr
Photo: Dick Cooper

Pete Carr’s lead guitar work graced many of Muscle Shoals’ most memorable tracks. In the late Sixties he joined Gregg and Duane Allman in a pre-Allman Brothers Band, Hour Glass, and later became a session guitar ace, the city’s first call option.

Carr’s work on 1976 Bob Seger hit “Mainstreet” is his signature track and, now, epitaph. The echoed guitar intro, periodically recurring throughout the song, is brilliant. Not a lot of notes. But all of them take you somewhere. A melody like a memory, perfect for Seger’s nostalgic ballad about an exotic dancer. The 27-second fuzz guitar solo is “Eat a Peach” sweet. In ’76, Carr’s six-string also stung Rod Stewart’s come-hither hit “Tonight’s the Night.” This time, Carr’s tone is colored with a woozy, phaser effect. Outro solo, a harmonized pirouette motif.

Read More about Pete Carr