For my first post, let's take a look at a response to some so-called Blues award show which I posted on a Blues scholar's website.
The website can be found at this link: http://www.tdblues.com/
"I should clarify my feelings/beliefs. Firstly, you are doing a great job with this website and I am well aware that it is not you who gave out these awards. Now, to get to the heart of what I’m saying. I have a lot of criticism I’d like to direct towards these awards. I also wonder if much of this music today can even be called “Blues”. Please let me know how you feel about what I’m about to say.
I certainly prefer “Country Blues” to the overdone, over-produced “Chicago” sound. Both of these terms are essentially meaningless because many of the musicians who are said to belong to the former category traveled to cities like Chicago, Memphis, New York, etc. When I think of Blues, I think of music that is either played on acoustic instruments or on electric ones in a fashion that is not obnoxious or dependent on the development of ’70s Classic Rock. Blues music is both a folk music, as is traditionally believed, and a form of popular music, as Elijah Wald states in “Escaping the Delta”.
The problem with Blues today is quite simple. There just isn’t any Blues around these days. Because of mass mechanization replacing traditional agricultural methods, therefore causing huge numbers of African-Americans to move away from where the Blues was born, as well as the fact that the Blues needs suffering, Blues music has essentially disappeared. This is an honest, brutal truth that we all need to face. When I say that the Blues needs suffering, I am most certainly not calling for the enslavement of blacks or a return to Jim Crow. I am not speaking from a racist or a pseudo-intellectual viewpoint. I am simply stating the facts that a music whose whose very definition is honesty, expression of great sadness, great happiness and unrestrained sexuality, cannot exist in a post-modern age in which instant gratification is ever-present. Nor can the music thrive or even exist in a world in which African-American “Blues” singers’ interpretations of Blues is based upon legends which Keith Richards and Eric Clapton helped popularize. In other words, the praise that a Robert Johnson receives is not built upon today’s elderly black “Blues” musicians knowing of Johnson in a direct manner, but is rather related to them jamming with and getting to know British rock stars in the 1970s who idolized Johnson. The reason why Corey Harris covers Robert Johnson songs from the 78 era, and not ones by George Carter or Bo Weavil Jackson, is quite clear. His understanding of Blues, however great it may be, is strongly influenced by Classic Rock stars’ understanding of Blues from the ’20s and ’30s.
There is nothing wrong with a good portion of the work done by Buddy Guy and B.B. King, two musicians who win awards year after year, but it is simply disconnected from what Blues really is, or, was. These days, Buddy Guy is a mess. He plays the same songs on every show, and what's worse, he never finishes a single song. When I saw him in concert five years ago, he performed some manure by Ludacris, the rapper. The aforementioned fact proves the total disconnect of which I speak. Why someone who is in this kind of shape should win award after award is unknown to me.
Even a genius musician such as Alvin Youngblood Hart, who plays and sings like the Bluesmen of yesteryear, cannot make a living off of releasing his own “Country Blues” material; quite a shame considering how his originals sound like covers (a compliment). This one shining pearl in an ocean of mediocrity will hopefully not throw in the towel.
And my comment about Hart’s singing is essential to my argument about Blues having vanished. Blues music’s primary function was to communicate, via lyrics, the troubles and happiness of a certain group of people (it was not to dazzle audiences with guitar pyrotechnics). Sure, whites such as Jimmie Tarlton, Frank Hutchison and Jimmie Rodgers sang and wrote marvelous Blues songs. It’s well known that poor whites and poor blacks regularly interacted, especially when playing music. However, Blues is (or was) an essentially African-American musical art form. To return to that word- “lyrics”- who is it today who can craft lyrics that stand up to the originality of J.T. “Funny Papa” Smith, or who can use a beautiful voice- the kind that Johnny Shines or Frank Stokes possessed- to deliver said lyrics to the masses? And who are the masses, anyway? The audience for the Blues is mostly white males, many of whom are hooked on post-modern sounds which pass for Blues but are not, in reality, Blues music.
There are a small number of Blues fans who actually “get it”: people who don’t think Robert Johnson is the best and who don’t believe the Crossroads story, people who don’t lump Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton together without considering their different styles of playing, influences, and whether they primarily play(ed) acoustic or electric instruments, people who know that regional classifications of “Country Blues” music are often meaningless, people who know that, as Muddy Waters once said, whites just can’t “vocal” (sic) like blacks, people who don’t view the musicians of yesteryear as noble savages but who enjoy reading biographies about the intricacies of their lives, and people who know that this music has been watered down to the point of extinction and must therefore be preserved through obtaining old recordings and playing them for any and all who will listen, and not by giving out awards to people who are as removed from Blues as I am from the soil of Mississippi."
Labels: Robert Johnson Blues Eric Clapton Buddy Guy