Patrick Sweeney and McKinley James of The Tiger Beats join host Ric Stewart for the first episode of Soul Country. They talk blues, country, The Rolling Stones and pursuing blues purity in Nashville. Catch them every Monday at the 5-Spot in East Nashville.
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.
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.”
Buddy Guy won this year’s Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for 2018’s The Blues Is Alive And Well, featuring the Muscle Shoals Horns, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and James Bay. Buddy Guy has won 7 Grammy awards in his illustrious career.
In the speech Guy mentions the importance of recognizing blues heroes. “Every time I accept an award like this, I do it for some of my friends who maybe didn’t get ’em years ago, especially black people…the late Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Arthur Crudup…they’re still in my heart, and every time I look up, it’s like they’re looking down on me.”
Since not forgetting the greats is the name of the game at the Blues Center enjoy a #bcvaults T-Bone Walker story coming up next…
The 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is now in the books. This time around the blues tent was the place to be! Grammy winner Bobby Rush also stood out in the interview stage jamming with his producer Scott Billington on blues harp). John Mayall, the dean of British blues, regained his dueling lead guitar format with Carolyn Wonderland. And not to be left out Buddy Guy sizzled on guitar, as he took his case directly to the audience (see photo).
Lettsworth, LA native Buddy Guy with Mississippian Muddy Waters’ classic Louisiana Blues:
I’m goin’ down in Louisiana
Baby, behind the sun
I’m goin’ down in Louisiana
Honey, behind the sun
Well, you know I just found out
My trouble just begun
I’m goin’ down in New Orleans, hmm
Get me a mojo hand
I’m goin’ down in New Orleans
Get me a mojo hand (oh take me with you, man, when you go)
I’m gon’ show all you good-lookin’ women
Jes’ how to treat your love
Let’s go back to New Orleans, boys