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jazz dance and modern blues harmonica
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408 posts
May 03, 2009
6:03 AM
When I stumbled across the following clip--some wild, ferocious Lindy Hopping from "Hellzapoppin'" (1941)--it led me into a couple of reflections. First, here's the video. Things get going at about 2:15, after a long prelude:

The reflections:
1) Although a contemporary culture of swing dancing has tried to keep this sort of dance form alive, the best productions of this contemporary swing dance culture are merely an afterlife, a series of annotations and elaborations on genius. The brilliance and originality and deep swinging soulfulness all happened years ago. There's no use in pretending. You can search YouTube far and wide; I'm willing to wager you'll find no contemporary (white) couple who can match the stuff the couples in this video are throwing down. Certainly the Canadian "champions" I found on line, good as they are (and they ARE good), don't come close. Still, brilliant originals leave long tails, so to speak. It's wonderful to know that subcultures come along in their aftermath and create perma-links, in a sense, to what the originals accomplished. That's what the contemporary swing dance subculture is: a perma-link to the black originals. (Which is not to say that white kids in the 1930s didn't go crazy to the Lindy Hop; they most certainly did, and it freaked out their parents. So perhaps it's a mistake to think of the Lindy Hop circa 1937 as "black culture." Or perhaps not. Worth thinking about. Certainly the movie stages this particular dance as "black culture," because it's blacks doing the dancing and whites watching the dance.)

2) It's worth asking whether the blues harmonica subculture hasn't, until the past decade or so, been content to subsist more or less on the same plane as the swing dancing subculture: mostly a thing white folks do, although of course "integrated" in the sense that black players have a curiously doubled presence--the ancestors (Sonny Boys, LW, Junior, etc.) are virtually all African American, there's a smattering of contemporary black stars (Billy Branch, Sugar Blue) and players--but also, for that first reason (the brilliance of the ancestors) heavily beholden to days gone by. This vision of blues harmonica would see it as an ancient art, kept alive by Kim Wilson, Joe Filisko, Mark Hummel, and the other usual suspects; the long tail, by and large, of a vanished period of black history, a vanished culture. In revivalist terms, the best we can do is more or less the best that has already been done--with, of course, some annotations and elaborations. If you veer too far from that track, you're "not playing blues." Thus the frequently uttered (white) anxiety about "keeping the blues alive." (It never seems to occur to people who use this phrase that it makes us all sound like vampires, content to live in the world of the living-dead. The basic premise of all horror is that the barrier between living and dead has become permeable: Poe's stories all revolve around this plot. So does DRACULA. By contrast, the dancers in "Hellzapoppin'" are simply....alive. Explosively vital.)

I've certainly felt myself to be locked in a complex struggle with my musical ancestors, and I make this clear in MISTER SATAN'S APPRENTICE. What makes my struggle slightly different from some--or perhaps not--is that the two African American mentors I was lucky enough to learn from were multiculturalists at heart: Nat Riddles in particular considered Kim Wilson and William Clarke just as important to his own artist development as the Sonny Boys and Big Walter. And Sterling Magee was influenced to pick up a guitar by Elvis! Too, the moment I learned to overblow in the late 1980s, I suddenly decided that all the contemporary blues harp players who DIDN'T overblow sounded old-fashioned. I could hear right through them. There was always something missing. So even as I listened to their records, stole their licks, went to see the living ones in concert, and learned my trade, I was simultaneously committed to creating something new. I was never, ever tempted to rest content in the revivalist mode, and I saw the great body of contemporary harp playing back then (1988-1996, say) as essentially revivalist--which is to say, overly beholden to the (black) past, and to a couple of very strong white players like Butterfield and Kim Wilson.

Thankfully, I believe the situation has changed. I think that some contemporary players have put the "modern" back into blues harmonica. You know the names: Sugar Blue (he's a sort of late ancestor to this new movement), Carlos Del Junco, Jason Ricci, Greg Szlap. Our own Buddha has certainly made contributions in this direction, although he poo-poohs his talents in the blues direction. Dennis Gruenling is a curious case: his musical sensibility in some ways is decidedly retro, and yet in JUMP TIME he made old jump-blues material very new by playing it on ultra-low harps and in non-standard positions. He's come up with his own distinctive take on the struggle between the ancestors and the moderns.

Once, in a letter to LIVING BLUES magazine in which I complained about the residue of blackface minstrelsy in the contemporary (white) blues scene, I said that I wished contemporary harp players could be as fearless and inventive as the white boys were when they jumped on skateboards and snowboards. I was prophetic. It didn't surprise me at all to learn that the most original and explosively creative player of our time, Jason, began life as a skateboarder. He's helped reinvent the art-form that this website is dedicated to.

An African American cultural critic named Nelson George, in a book entitled THE DEATH OF RHYTHM AND BLUES, wrote that in the field of American popular music, "Blacks innovate, whites recycle." It's not entirely true--bluegrass was a white innovation, I think, much as the banjos and fiddles owed to earlier black styles--but it's true enough that it's worth mulling over. That's a little of what I've tried to do here. But the exceptions, the countervailing trends, are interesting, and that's also what I've tried to sketch out here. I think that blues harmonica playing in the year 2009 has broken through, or is beginning to break through, to something much closer to a vital, cutting-edge art, driven by a multi-racial, multi-national free-for-all of talent. This is a good thing.

I like this clip from "Hellzapoppin'," in any case, because the extraordinary dynamism of those dancers can still inspire us. Imagine how explosively modern they looked at the time, to people brought up on sedate couples dancing! Now, after the swing dancing societies have had 60 or 70 years to work on this stuff, they still haven't improved on it. But of course R&B dancing has moved on; hip-hop dancing has emerged. Savion Glover has gone back to tap and reinvented it. There's "Stomp." There's "Blue Man Group." There's "RiverDance." There's Hammer. :) There's Michael Jackson.

Still, a contemporary harp player can still be inspired by this swinging art. What sort of harp playing could come along right now that would cause people to stand back and go "Damn!", the way that this dancing does?

Last Edited by on May 03, 2009 6:50 AM
347 posts
May 03, 2009
6:15 AM
I think the next area of modern harping will be Prog Rock rock. I've some stuff with King Crimson camp ie; Pat Mastelotto, Try Gunn, Tony Levin and I can see where this area could explode for the right kind of player. My playing isn't edgy enough for that style of music but I am sure a person with some serious edginess and ability could come by and do something. Jason Ricci would be perfect for this stuff if he could develop some serious "jazz" chops and develop his harmony. He has the energy unlike I've seen in others.

I also think smooth jazz and main stream pop music is another area that is ripe for good harmonica playing. It's still a heavy battle to get any kind of respect as a harp player but a least guys like Yonnet are getting on stage with the right people ie; Prince.

Last Edited by on May 03, 2009 6:17 AM
409 posts
May 03, 2009
6:47 AM
Well, Chris, you actually are one of the few guys who could make this all happen. Buy a bigger amp and turn it up louder!
232 posts
May 03, 2009
7:20 AM
I think there is a place for harp in punk rock also. I grew up on Dead kennedys, Sex Pistols, Clash etc and I didn't even think about harp until I heard
"Wine Women and Whiskey" by Dr Feelgood back in the late early 80s. Although a lot of people might throw up their hands and say it's sacrilige to play harp along with this type of music, to my ears punk is just a evolutionary off-shoot of blues. If you listen to some of those early 50s blues recordings they must have sounded as controversial and new as "God save the Queen" did when it was released in the 70s.
Although I love blues, you always keep a flame alive for your first love and someday I hope that someone (or even me!!) releases a ballsy punk song with growling harp which will interest some young kids in harp.
I agree with Buddha about prog rock being a road that could be travelled but my memories of prog rock kids at school were of all-male, interveted, anal geeks who spent too much time alone listening to 30 minute songs about Dragons. Not that much different to us harp players then!!

(BTW Buddha...I'm not implying your any of the above things!!)

348 posts
May 03, 2009
8:00 AM
I'm trying Adam and I even have the rig for it - 800w of pure power power power power. :-)

I would really like to get into mainstream pop music but it's such a hard game especially these days. Living in Phoenix I am actually meeting people who are very close to the scene meaning there are guys that tour and record with Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel and Sting, now I've played with all of those people but I need to get to the next step and I don't know how to do that.

I know for at least one day I was in several people's cell phones as Harmonica. That tells me they keep whomever they thing is the best player from moment to moment. I often wonder who I have replaced and know in once case my name replaced Tollak Olstad though I have yet to receive a call from that person. But for all I know perhaps You or Jason or Howard is the guy they have listed under harmonica these days.
410 posts
May 03, 2009
8:20 AM
Oisin: I believe that Jason says his first love was punk. His vocals have some of that, on certain songs: a Lou Reed snarl. I think your goal is a worthy one. Experiments are always worth making, and the best stuff comes from the stuff we're tempted to dismiss as "crazy" before we've actually tried it.

I should have put Paul DeLay on the innovators short-list above. Huge talent.
263 posts
May 03, 2009
10:39 AM
Can't disagree with anything you say, Adam.
I have three left feet and I hate dancing, yet I really admire dancers. I've seen really fat people on TV Lindy Hopping, and it's still fabulous to watch, nothing to laugh at. I'm just full of admiration. Here's the Nicholas brothers' most famous routine:

But I've seen two enormously fat twin brothers do the exact same routine on TV, and I want to know if it was the Nicholas brothers. But I can't find out if they got fat later in life.
Also, if you get the DVD of The Wizard of Oz, I seem to remember a very strange deleted scene of all the cast doing the Jitterbug!

I have a friend who doesn't think the harp has made any progress since the Sixties. I disagree - I agree with you about Jason, for a start. On the other hand, although I love this clip:

I can't help thinking the solo in the middle must be a parody of Deep Purple's Made in Japan or something, complete with obligatory classical music reference - in this case Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring! (P.S. Everyone get out your Eb harps and play along!)

Last Edited by on May 03, 2009 10:50 AM
Patrick Barker
263 posts
May 03, 2009
11:02 AM
Actually the musical allusion was minuet in G major (not that he played it in g major, that's just the key that the original song was written in) unless you're talking about a different part. I'm talking about at 5:05.
"Without music, life would be a mistake" -Nietzsche
264 posts
May 03, 2009
11:09 AM
I expect you are right - I haven't even heard Jesu for 35 years. I don't know what Richie Blackmore breaks into in Highway Star(? No, I think it's more likely to be Space Truckin'), all I can remember is it's a Scandinavian composer.
Jason's other favourite is Beethoven's Fuer Elise, and I know I've got that one right!

Last Edited by on May 03, 2009 11:12 AM
9 posts
May 03, 2009
12:17 PM
'Anxiety of Influence' seems to be driving force of most established artistic traditions; poets have had the same reactions to Shakespeare and Homer that kudzurunner et al have to the old men of the blues. It's tough to come in late, and tougher to avoid holding yourself as an eternal dilettante. Geniuses innovate, imitators recycle.

Just be a genius and the rest will take care of itself!

EDIT: It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

Last Edited by on May 03, 2009 12:27 PM
212 posts
May 03, 2009
3:48 PM
Indie Rock and Alt Country are two fields that MODERN blues harp are beginning to have a place. Check out the band "Cat Power", and also some of the newer albums by "Ryan Adams and the Cardinals" (older ones not so much, but Ryan has started to actually play the harp pretty well on recent albums). There's other good examples, but they escape my brain right now. Unfortunately, most "harp" playing you hear by bands in these genres is the lead singer wanking away on a harp during the bridge (I can think of Okerville River and City and Color as examples of this off the top of my head). It's beginning to change though!

The magnificent YouTube channel of the internet user known as "isaacullah"
349 posts
May 03, 2009
4:30 PM
good point Isaac. I forgot to mention that my playing with Hope Cassity is in the indie rock / alt country vein
40 posts
May 04, 2009
9:04 AM
Well, when it comes to where music is going I look to my 15 y.o. son and his group of friends. He has an interesting taste in music. He likes a lot of newer sounding groups (Caged Elephants, Cold War Kids) but he also is into some slightly older things like The Presidents of the United States and Cake. He even enjoys listening to The Who, Styx, Metallica. HOWEVER, I was able to capture his attention, and subsequent space on his IPod with some Son Of Dave. I haven't played any of Jasons music for him but I'll be interested in his thoughts when I do.
215 posts
May 04, 2009
1:23 PM
It's interesting to note that JR&NB and Son of Dave are two modern harp players in the blues vein whose albums don't get filed under "blues" at the record store. Most other moderately famous modern day blues harp players cd's DO get filed under blues (the exception being "blues traveler". Ironic, no?)

The magnificent YouTube channel of the internet user known as "isaacullah"
219 posts
May 04, 2009
11:57 PM
I just tried an experiment. I opened up LastFM and typed "harmonica" into the tags box, and kept a note of the genre of the songs it sent my way. Not what I was expecting! almost NO BLUES! Almost ALL Indie Rock and Alt Country! I was right! :)

By the way, do any of you European list members know of a band called Electric Six? LastFM threw them at me during my experiment. They weren't heavy on the harp contet, but what was there was good,a nd the genre was kind of hard rock with some punk aesthetic. It was really cool. The particular song that got plaed was called Pink Flamingos. apparently they are from Switzerland.
The magnificent YouTube channel of the internet user known as "isaacullah"
233 posts
May 05, 2009
2:14 AM
Isaac...Electric Six are an excellent band and wrote the all time classic "Gay Bar". They are the dogs bollocks and the video for this song is probably the greatest one ever made. Blues at its best!!!

13 posts
May 05, 2009
6:44 AM
yes, Electric Six - from Detroit I think (wasn't one or some of them ex-Detroit Cobras?) but they had an album called Switzerland if I recollect rightly

Going back to some of Adam's points made at the start, when reading it I thought about some of the leading white players of the last twenty or so years, especially guys like Rick Estrin, and wondered what Adam thought about their approach, then came across this interview


Interesting reading, even if I find Adam's views a little harsh. I've always thought that Estrin and Piazza were usually coming from a more swing/Louis Jordan type place, and would you accuse Louis Jordan of being jive? I think that Estrin and Piazza also play well to their limitations; neither have a particularly expressive or naturally soulful voice, so they're more effective of songs that rely on phrasing or (particularly in Estrin's case) wordplay. And having briefly met Estrin after a gig, if his thing is a shtick, then he's certainly a method actor.

And what about Southern guys like James Harman? Is it ebonics or just growing up in Alabama? Or take Ian Siegal, to my ears the best blues-based artist in the UK today, who sings in an American accent, but he's probably one of the most intense performers you'll see.

Anyway, apologies if I've hijacked this thread, I find the question of authenticity and appropriation an interesting one, especially for a white suburban guy born thousands of miles away from the source of the music I have the most affinity to.
413 posts
May 05, 2009
8:06 AM
That interview was my thinking on the subject as of 10 years ago, and you're right: I was harsh. I've subsequently come to know Rick Estrin a bit, and I've also heard some fantastic swinging playing that he did on chromatic on a harmonica collection CD--absolutely top-notch stuff. He's a very musical guy. Piazza, for that matter, swings like an SOB: harder than almost anybody out there (except me, Jason has said). I do find it curious that Rod never shows his eyes, since one's eyes are the windows to one's soul. His mentor, George Smith, most certainly DID show his eyes. Curious. But you're right about Estrin and Piazza picking up on Jordan's schtick. Jordan INVENTED jive, basically--Harlem jive, as they called it in the late 1930s. Zora Neale Hurston has a funny story on the subject. My original objection was grounded in the sense that blackface minstrelsy had shadowed the (white) blues scene to a greater degree than anybody was willing to talk about. Jordan's jive made sense in the 30s and 40s; as the blues became an element in American national propaganda with the Andrews Sisters "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B," Jordan reminded white America that police power was still trying to stomp down on African Americans with signifying songs like "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens." Comedy in THAT case had a progressive political purpose. Dressing in Jordan-drag and talking in "black" patter from the 40s, as Rod did, and doing so during the 1960s and 1970s, when actual black people were listening to James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and Proud," etc., is encouraging people to use the blues as a way of hiding from history, even while convincing them that they're somehow "blacker" than squares who don't listen to the blues. I pointed that out. It pissed Estrin off and he told me so, and we started talking. I moderated my tone. He continued to kick ass on the harmonica, and he went off on his own, without Little Charlie, and took some existential risks, traveling solo to Brazil, if I'm not wrong. I'm impressed by that. I've moderated my tone. He's my fellow professional; I respect him, as members of a family should respect each other. But my original point was valid, and I hope it continues to disturb people--you included.

If you try to insinuate that I'm somehow hypocritical, though, in light of my own status as a palefaced blues performer, you're making a mistake, and you're misunderstanding the blues, too. Who said the blues come from the Mississippi Delta? (Not that you did, but I believe you'd probably agree.) All of the very earliest descriptions of the blues (prior to 1900) are set OUTSIDE of Mississippi: in St. Louis, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee. Harriet Ottenheimer delivered a paper on this subject at a Penn State blues conference in 1999.

The blues have always been at least as much about the urban North as the rural south. I was born in New York City, where, in 1920, black songwriter Perry Bradford recorded Cincinnatian Mamie Smith singing "Crazy Blues," a song that she'd performed as "Harlem Blues" for most of the prior year in Harlem vaudeville theaters. It was the first huge-selling blues recording. Bessie Smith, who hailed from a southern city named Chattanooga, recorded "Downhearted Blues" in New York City a couple of years later. The first blues recordings, though, were all by white artists, including Marion Harris. This is in the 1916-1919 window. Richard Middleton (Englishman, smartest popular music intellectual bar none) argues in VOICING THE POPULAR that white blues of the last 40-50 years makes no sense unless you understand that whites were in the mix from the very beginning, with the help of minstrelsy and thoroughgoing domination of the means of production (i.e., sheet music publishing and recording). Blacks, he argues, took the blues back for a particular and delimited historical period--the 1920s through the 1950s--and strongly inflected what it would become. But whites were there from the beginning. Virtually every important white songwriter in the 1920s wrote blues.

There is no "authentic blues." The term is meaningless. Black and white influences have been hopelessly mingled since the beginning. When Charles Peabody heard his black Clarksdale laborers (on an archeological dig) singing songs, including what we now recognize as blues, he complained that much of what they were singing was pop fluff, including "Goo Goo Eyes," which, if you google it, was a huge hit back then. Young black men in Memphis, complained a minister at the turn of the century, were singing coon songs, including white coon-shouter May Irwin's n-word-infested "Bully Song." The precursor to Janis Joplin had, with (white) songwriter Charles Trevathan's help, become a pop sensation by essentially doing what Vanilla Ice did: putting on a front. And the homeboys of her era, whose language she'd appropriated, appropriated it right back. Sophie Tucker, another white blues singer, was called "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas"--in 1910! Between 1912 and 1919, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and many other future blues queens toured with minstrel shows through the south, including the Mississippi Delta, and were billed as "up-to-date coon shouters." Minstrelsy, an inheritance of white appropriations of black music, has been a significant strain in the blues since the beginning. Louis Jordan and Rod Piazza both use minstrelsy; so did Victoria Spivey and Janis Joplin. It's just that the black artists, by and large, use it for somewhat different reasons and to somewhat different effect than white artists.

I'm quite clear about where I fit into the whole thing. If you've read my two books on the subject, MISTER SATAN'S APPRENTICE and JOURNEYMAN'S ROAD, you'll find that I've tried hard--much harder than most "white blues performers," frankly--to think critically about my own musical practice. And my views have, in fact, moderated in the last 10 years. What's also true, I'm proud to say, is that some white blues players have gotten the message I've been hammering at all this time, which is that innovation, experiment, modernization, has to be a part of contemporary blues musicking. Nobody makes a long term impact in any musical field, blues included, if they cast their bets 100% on the side of tradition. (Joe Filisko, as usual, is the brilliant exception that proves the rule: all cultures need a Library of Congress.) They can make a pretty good living that way, of course, but in the long run they consign themselves to Mannerist obscurity.

Picasso. Little Walter. B. B. King. Bonnie Raitt. Gladys Knight. All instantly recognizable, indebted to tradition without ever succumbing to it, and thus irreplaceable originals. They're great models.

Last Edited by on May 05, 2009 8:38 AM
277 posts
May 05, 2009
8:14 AM
Or to put it another way "The best way to be temporary is to be contemporary".
I heard a wag say that in The Seventies, and I've never been sure if I agree.


And to Adam's list I'd like to add Jacques Tati. If a genius is someone who can be indebted to a genius
and yet still add something, then Jacques Tati was indebted to Buster Keaton and yet still added plenty.

Last Edited by on May 05, 2009 9:19 AM
21 posts
May 05, 2009
9:06 AM
The actual title of this thread could open a huge seperate debate, too much to deal with here.
Its amazing how all of us at times perceive and interptret the forum posts differently.

Every one of us learns differently and that is to some extent why lecturers and teachers continue to teach the same things and enjoy it because of these many different challenges.
Punk happened because of the social and economic time frame all round and about Britain 1976. A lot of what I would call an excuse for music and was totally manufactured.
Folks have a habit of distorting history right across the board.
Jazz dance and blues harmonica in the future, yes I can see that to a point.For me however I would like to see the freedom of expression exposed to its limit on the Artist, ie blues muso,thats where its at for me.
14 posts
May 05, 2009
11:30 AM
Adam - firstly thanks for the response, appreciate the time and thought put in to replying to a less-than-well-thought-out post; and secondly, there certainly was (and is) no insinuation on my part.

My questions were intended to get other's take on the issue rather than a critique of the views of an old interview, but as I say my post wasn't particularly well composed. And in hindsight I should have contacted you directly to ask whether you were comfortable with the interview being used to further the discussion on a thread that you originally started.

For the record, I most love those modern artists that (to my ears) filter this music through their own sensibilities, which often means painting outside of the lines a little. For that reason I own and listen to more Harman, John Mooney, Ian Siegal, Otis Taylor, William Elliot Whitmore than say Estrin, Piazza or Kim Wilson. But then every once in a while I hear those latter artists and get blown away by their musicality.

As for the simplicity of a blues = African American = Mississippi Delta world view I think my take is a little more nuanced. I've heard enough of say, Jimmie Rodgers, to realise that historical strands and genres get so intertwined to make definitive classification near-useless, let alone think that there was a clear-cut case of appropriation going on.

And as for Mississippi Blues, well I love the stuff, but always thought that the simplistic musical/narrative arc from Charlie Patton, to, I don’t know, Cream or Led Zeppelin, ultimately unconvincing. I haven’t read widely on the subject, but while Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues was excellent, the book that I found most challenging to my misconceptions was (I think, it’s been a long time) Michael Bane’s “White Boy Singing the Blues”. I can recollect a review (in Living Blues?) that criticised its historical errors, but the soulfulness and love of the music that came through in the writing is what I take from it.

Hmm, all over the place with this post, but the main point is to apologise for the earlier easily misconstrued posting.
315 posts
May 05, 2009
4:56 PM
IMO, the importance when you play music (and especially blues) is that you capture the essence, the groove of the music...
It can be compared with learning a language: The essence is to the music what the accent is to the language. You may have studied your vacabulary with excellence (the riffs), but when you talk your native accent makes it sound as if you were speaking a different language... It is very similar with music.

germanharpist, harpfriends on Youtube

Last Edited by on May 05, 2009 4:58 PM
1 post
May 05, 2009
5:59 PM
Hi All, I am a new member and this is the first message I read. I have to reply because I have been doing swing dancing since 2000, always as a hobby. Blues harp is something I started this year after watching Adam's inspiring tutorials. I sometimes wonder where are the black folks in the swing dancing scene(I am from Toronto and probably know who the Canadian champion is)
Yes, these original African art form seems adopted by whites mostly these days. To me, it does not matter. Art is colour blind.
My Blues harp journey is still young and I look forward to make it a fruitful one as Lindy Hop has given me through these years.
Btw, I am Asian so I am sort of oblivious to the whole black/white racial dynamics.
Ok, back to practice.
52 posts
May 06, 2009
7:28 AM
First I want to say that was a cool dance vid. I also would like to say I agree more with your(kudzurunner) first statement about the state of blues music. I love to play the harp in the blues vein, but don't like to listen to much blues music! In my opinion a high percentage of recorded blues music isn't very good and for variety of reasons! So many people are trying to keep the blues alive when it clearly wants someone to pull the plug.
OK stay with me here. In late 70's and 80's country music was dieing and music exec. were losing jobs left and right. A lot of people took thier money and went Bradford Missori and to somewhere in eastern tenn. The joke around Nashville was last one out of Nashville turn out thr lights!
Ok this is were it all ties into what Adam was talking about.
Some music execs. got together and came up with a game plan to reinvent country music so it would appeal to a younger crowd. Oh and guess what IT WORKED!!
Why don't we do this with blues music? Blues music is in such a fucked up place right now. I don't know if it is possible, but I do know something has to be done.
First country music has a city. A place of origin. What does blues have? Tell me what city is willing to put on all out advertising launch to promote blues music, festivals, a museum or even an amusment park. Adam when you were condeming clarksdale for wanting to build the crossroards amusment farse, you should have been down there telling them how much you loved the idea! Who gives a shit who's running it or for the right reasons. Modern blues harmonica can't live without a vehicle. We all need somewhere to play and in front of people. That's the real issue. One of these cities has to make blues music its calling card and ride it like a prom queen(well you know what I mean)!
That would open all kinds of stuff up for all of us. Memphis does it a little with beal street, they don't have the financial resorces and the city itself has bigger problens than that.
Chicago could do it, but doesn't seem to care!
Maybe clarksdale is the perfect place. Maybe you should rethink the crossroads and try getting involved! Maybe a conference room, a small club inside and a small 5,000 person amputheatre in the back of the property. We need some kind of ground zero to build apon! Big execs like Bruce Iglaur, the people behind living blues magazine, the blues societies and people like you! There has to be a organized effort buy the people the would gain the most. All of the blues recorded in the forties and fifties was done because white people found a way to make money off black music. They cashed in on that music then! Let it go. That was a long time ago. WE have to repackage the blues or its going to be on a shelf in a museum for good and that might not be to far away. This web site you started is basically the same thing, but with harmonica. Blues music has to do these same things you preach or young people(on their way home from work passing by that guy on the side of the road playing guitar, stomping his feet and singing songs) will never even stop. Because without aportunity there is little ambition!
I know it is not an easy road to travel and nothing is garanteed, but the road is getting rougher as we speak(and I seemed to have dropprd my glasses)!
293 posts
May 06, 2009
8:14 AM
Adam's made some interesting points about white people being involved from the earliest days, but surely the question is why they ended up the driving force behind something that up 'til then had been very heavily driven by the Southern black experience.

Is it a coincidence that blues as a black oral tradition began its decline at the same time as the Civil Rights movement?

If it wasn't for the white college kids that rediscovered 'the music of the oppressed' then I think the 'oppressed' themselves would have happily let it die peacefully in exchange for the more optimistic (both musically and commercially) Soul music.
415 posts
May 06, 2009
8:55 AM
Gambler: No hard feelings, and thanks for your spirited and thoughtful contributions. I'm always grateful when somebody pushes me (even inadvertently) to clarify!

Hepcat: Welcome to the board, and thanks for the first post. Art is indeed color-blind, but the history of the reception and production of African American musics (however you want to take that term) in America is a terribly vexed one, beginning with the fact that newly-enslaved Africans were forcibly "danced" on the slave ships during the ride over while the white crew watched. Wanting to protect their profit margine, the slave traders had learned that dancing alleviated depression. After the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina in the early 1800s (I believe), southern whites panicked and forbade slaves to use drums, since it was believed they had communicated plans of the rebellion that way. So much for "hot rhythm"! And of course most of us are familiar with the so-called "cover" phenomenon in the 1950s: a black R&B artist would come out with a catchy song that started rising fast on the charts; a white artist such as Pat Boone would quickly be found to record the same song with the same arrangement; that song would then hit #1, killing the sales of the black original. There's lots more like this. In the late 1960s, when big concert at Madison Square Garden featuring Janis Joplin and Steve Winwood was going to crown the "King and Queen of the Blues," black intellectuals got extremely--and rightfully--pissed off. Paul Whiteman got to be the King of Jazz while Fletcher Henderson was pushed aside; Benny Goodman was "the King of Swing"; Chuck Berry and Little Richard were downgraded as rock originators while Elvis was construed as the King, the Sun God, of early rock. Vexed history, indeed. It would be nice if art were color-blind, but in this case there's a long and extremely problematic history to contend with, too.

MrVeryLong: You're quite right. It's probably also no coincidence that Robert Johnson's collected hits CD, released in the early 1990s as gangsta rap was blowing up big-time, became a huge seller. It was a lot easier for many people to deal with the surreal "devil" of RJ than the all-too-real fear and anger expressed and conjured up by actual living young black artists in Compton and elsewhere.

chromatic: I don't agree with you that a 5,000 person ampitheatre (which isn't small, BTW) at the crossroads in Clarksdale is needed. Why centralize? That simply encourages big capital to come in and administer from above. This replicates precisely the dynamic that drove the sharecropping system in the South during the period when black folk were squeezed out of property ownership. I'm from the small-is-beautiful school. I'd much rather see an underground movement of street musicians take over major and secondary urban centers, North and South, and create a YouTube channel where they upload their videos. Keep is small and de-centralized.

And above all, my cry to the world: please do NOT tell young black kids that they need to keep the blues alive. If they feel like playing the blues, great. If they don't, that's also great. Don't dance the slaves. You dig? I don't want anybody telling me I need to "keep alive" the klezmer music that my Russian-Jewish forebears probably used to listen to in the old country. If a bunch of well-intentiond klezemer playing folks from BET converged on my house and told me I HAD to keep alive the music of my people--sheesh, I'd run. Fast.
294 posts
May 06, 2009
9:44 AM
Absolutely, it is as anachronistic as keeping alive English culture through folk music and Morris Dancing. You can sing about Thomas the miller's son and his love for the lord of the manor's daughter as much as you like, but it doesn't mean much in the 21st century.

I'm like Oisin - a punk at heart - but I'd rather remember it as it was for me in the late 70s early 80s, not relive it with a bunch of 40 and 50 somethings; I'm too tired to pogo (think I'll get that on a T-shirt)

Some things are best left to the history books. Revere, respect and preserve it if you want, but let it continue it's musical evolution into something relevant to 21st century kids.
23 posts
May 06, 2009
10:54 AM
Chromaticblues:Don't agree man don't agree with selling out.

My take on this speaking for jazz and blues in part the artist HAS to be something of an anachronism.

To create a wider audience for any form of music successfully you have to embrace the youth and the youth have to embrace it.
Whether that happens through the current economic and social conditions folk find themselves in or whatever, there has to be a natural progression.

Sometimes the music dosen't help its self by constantly preaching to the converted.

Thats why the street artist as I call it or buskers playing Jazz or in this case Blues is so so important.

If I play to a full house of converts in the jazz club
and they dig it, that feels good sure.

The biggest satisfaction for me is when someone hears you playing Blues, jazz or whatever for the first time and lets you know they dig the music and there going to attend more clubs, or if your a street Artist they give a donation.

hepcat: welcome i'm pretty new to the forum too I'm a jazz player by trade not on harp I have to confess,
I am with you man I see everyone the same,a musican is a musician.

I'm not interested whether its the white green blue red who nowadays predominately play the Blues.Its where its at because it is.

You should remember and learn from the past but you should live in the present.A blues player is a blues player.
416 posts
May 06, 2009
11:31 AM

I absolutely love your line: "You should remember and learn from the past but you should live in the present."

It's so good that I'm going to shorten it slightly and make it the official creed of this website: "Remember and learn from the past, but live in the present."

Thanks. This constitutes my official acknowledgement of your contribution, but if you'll email me privately (asgussow@aol.com) I'll send you a digital product or two.

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