Israeli bluesman Andy Watts recently put out his fifth album Supergroove with guests including (BCI #2’s) Joe Louis Walker, singer Eliza Neals, Roy Young, and Israeli vocalists Danny Shoshan and Gadi Altman. Watts, 56, was born in Sweden and moved to Israel when he was 20 years old.
The record has had some chart successes remaining on the Roots Music chart for 17 weeks, reaching a peak of No. 6. It hit No. 9 in the U.K. and went top 20 in Australia.
Blues pioneer Gertrude Pridgett (1886 – 1939) began performing as a teenager and became known as “Ma” Rainey after her marriage to Will “Pa” Rainey in 1904. They toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later formed their own group, Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Her first recording was made in 1923 followed by over 100 more including “Bo-Weevil Blues” (1923), “See See Rider Blues” (1924) and “Soon This Morning” (1927).
Rainey was known for her powerful vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and a “moaning” style of singing. Rainey recorded toured until 1935 (including with Thomas Dorsey and Louis Armstrong) when she continued as a theater impresario in her hometown of Columbus, GA for the reaming four years of her life.
In 1982, August Wilson authored the musical Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – the title coming from Rainey’s song of the same name, which refers to the black bottom dance from the Roaring Twenties. Now it is a high production value Netflix feature with Viola Davis excelling in the lead role.
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 the blues is still with us.
100 years later things are going full circle. Female artists kicked down the door for this important music then, and now a younger generation is picking up the guitar and plugging in to carry the blues forward. In “Women created the blues. Now they are taking it back” in Christian Science Monitor Stephen Humphries discusses how 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.”
For more from Stephen Humphries CSMonitor article on women in blues today click here
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. And in 2020 it was renamed the Samantha Fish New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Festival.
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!
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.
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.”
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 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.”
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