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.”
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 n 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.