Monday, October 29, 2012

Cryin' and pleadin' won't do no good (Billy Boy Arnold)

I made a compilation of blues songs for Keegan recently and it occurred to me that I write a lot about pop and rock genres and jazz from time to time but seldom about the blues. And when I do venture into the blues it's usually from a white perspective: Alvin Lee; Rory Gallagher; Eric Clapton; Paul Jones, Hot Tuna and so on.

I am not sure why I haven't written more about blues favourites such as Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Muddy Waters. I love their stuff and I love the blues!

Here's the track listing on my CD blues primer for Keegan:

Evil Gal blues – Albinia Jones
Chicago breakdown – Big Maceo
I wish you would – Billy Boy Arnold
Shake your moneymaker – Elmore James
Dust my blues – Elmore James
You don't have to go – Jimmy Reed
Sittin' here thinkin' – John Lee Hooker
Mannish Boy – Junior Wells/ Muddy Waters
Young man blues – Mose Allison
Rollin' stone – Muddy Waters
Got my mojo working – Muddy Waters
That's alright – Jimmy Rodgers
Milk cow blues – Sleepy John Estes
I'm a king bee – Slim Harpo
Good morning little schoolgirl – Sonny Boy Williamson
Whoopin' the blues – Sonny Terry
Good morning blues – Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
The midnight special - Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
Smokestack lightning – The Yardbirds
How many more years – Howlin' Wolf
Moanin' at midnight – Howlin' Wolf
I'm ready – Muddy Waters
I was trying to cover as many bases as I could in roughly an hour and I think I got the balance pretty right - Chicago blues, boogie woogie, harp and guitar, white (Yardbirds and Allison), folk blues, shouters, women blues singers,  dirty blues, slow blues, country blues, electric, urban blues.
It's not supposed to be comprehensive at all (I figured Keegan had heard Robert Johnson for instance) and, of course, there are many omissions and it does show my bias towards Waters/Wolf/Sonny and Brownie.
My love of the blues began properly after I watched Sonny and Brownie playing at the Nambassa music festival (late seventies I think). I remember the moment well because I was standing about ten feet from the stage with not many other people around me.
Someone led Sonny on to the stage, they settled down on their seats and Brownie started playing his guitar and tapping his foot. I watched in awe. 
It was one of those epiphanies I have had from time to time as I listened and watched and grooved.
Obviously I am not alone in letting the blues strike it's chord in my soul. For some reason I never tire of the form, or get depressed when I hear it. In fact I find the tales inherent in the blues very life affirming in a Grapes Of Wrath kind of way. Hardships are overcome and have been sung about in a cathartic way since the genre began in the American south's slave plantations.
It's true that I came to many of these songs from white blues inspired acts like Hot Tuna.
Billy Boy Arnold's I Wish You Would is a case in point.
I first heard it on Hot Tuna's Hoppkov album and then they did a stonking live version on their live double - Double Dose.
I hadn't heard of Billy Boy Arnold until that point. I'm sure Jorma and Jack from Hot Tuna would be thrilled to know that they made Arnold's version accessible via their own, very different treatment.

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