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 making ‘The 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 Lewis, JD Short, Gus 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Dion Dimucci’s Blues With Friends teams him with fellow Rock Hall inductees Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Jeff Beck, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Gibbons.
“My first epiphany with the blues was when I was 12 and heard Hank Williams sing ‘Honky Tonk Blues’,” Dion recalled.
“My second was after I’d recorded (1961’s) ‘Runaround Sue.’ I was at Columbia Records, sitting on a piano stool in a producer’s office, singing with Aretha Franklin. John Hammond’s office was across the hall and he called me in. He said: ‘Dion, you have a flair for the blues.’
“He played me Robert Johnson’s (1927 recording of) ‘Preachin’ Blues’ and then some records by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Leroy Carr and Lightnin’ Hopkins. I just went crazy! I got very excited and resentful at same time. I was like: ‘Who’s been hiding all this from me? How come I never heard this before?’ Then I started collecting records by Big Joe Williams and all those guys who were coming out of that blues tradition, which is a living tradition that is passed along. It’s been a part of me since back then. People who hear my new record may think that I’ve changed, but I really haven’t.”
for more from The San Diego Union Tribune on Blues With Friends click here
While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s annual pilgrimage was missed this year, WWOZ filled the gap with highlights from the last half century. You can still check out some shows at wwoz.org.
Music has the ability to lift the spirits during these trying times. And the blues will get you through. For instance, try French vocalist Cyrille Aimée’s jazzy take of the Michael Jackson pop standard “Off the Wall.” The King of Pop ruled R&B and pop in the early 1980’s. And R&B always had B, and so did jazz. Many think jazz and blues were born together in New Orleans during the late 19th Century. And every once in a while a track grabs you with its minimalism, blue note management and knowing delivery and you stop to think about the blues involved. Enjoy Cyrille’s version and let her blues take your mind off your blues.
Just when we need a pick-me-up song and a way to help out, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy continues his ongoing and amazing collaboration with Stax-Volt soul music legend Mavis Staples.
“The song speaks to what we’re going through now — everyone is in this together, whether you like it or not,” said Staples. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race or sex you are, where you live…It’s hit so many people in our country and around the world in such a horrible way and I just hope this song can bring a little light to the darkness. We will get through this but, we’re going to have to do it together. If this song is able to bring any happiness or relief to anyone out there in even the smallest way, I wanted to make sure that I helped to do that.”
Pink Floyd, a psychedelic rock band with over 250 million albums sold has had a foot in the blues since day one. Founder Syd Barrett named the band after two Piedmont blues players, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council – settling the question “which one’s Pink?” The music brought blues riffs galore to the masses courtesy of the guitar stylings of David Gilmour.
Even casual fans may notice the fiery blues licks incorporated in many of the band’s anthems such as “Wish You Were Here,” “Money,” “Have a Cigar” and “Young Lust.” As Gilmour himself put it:
“I love blues, and every piece of music that I have listened to has become an influence. But you’re right, there’s a distinct blues influence within what I do, but at the same time I am not frightened to step out of that. I don’t even think whether I play the blues or not, I just play whatever feels right at the moment. I also will use any gadget or device that I find that helps me achieve the sort of sound on the guitar that I want to get.”