In honor of The Blues, the coming series of films on PBS sponsored by Martin Scorsese on that most fundamental of American art forms, I offer some select thoughts.
There are really about five kinds of people when it comes to the blues:
- There are those who think that Ralph Macchio really played the blues in the 1986 movie Crossroads (not to be confused with the Britney Spears film of the same name.)
- There are those who buy blues-influenced rock by the likes of Led Zepplin, the Rolling Stones, or Aerosmith, and think that is the blues.
- Some buy discs by the likes of John Hammond, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, or Charlie Musselwhite and think they know the blues.
- A few worship men with nicknames like "Blind Lemon", "Leadbelly", "Flathead", "Cleanhead", "Lockjaw", "Blind Willie", "Sonny Boy", "Howling", "Little Milton", and "Mississippi" and claim to understand the blues.
- A select group living in basements create blues web sites and collect 78's from long defunct labels like "Vocalion", "OKeh", and "Black Swan" because that 1927 recording of "Blind dog" Walker singing "Leaky Radiator Blues" just hasn't gotten the artistic recognition it deserves.
More seriously though, blues is the underground aquafer that feeds into nearly all American forms of music: jazz, rock, and country. It is ultimately simple -- a progression of chords across eight or twelve bars. Yet, it is also incredibly complex in the range of improvisational forms it inspires. It is the flour and oil that makes the roux of American music, and turns stew into gumbo.
The one thing that truly saddens me about the blues is that more of it isn't being made. Where are the young artists of this new generation? There are the Jonny Langs and the Alvin Youngblood Harts of this world... but the old masters are passing away, and their like may not be seen again.
on 2003-09-25 at 8:28 p.m.
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