Tag Archives: Blues

Junior Wells and Buddy Guy


Junior Wells began working as a street musician when he was 7 years old, and when he was 18 he replaced Little Walter as Muddy Waters’s harmonica player.

In 1958 he started performing with the guitarist Buddy Guy, and their band became a fixture on the blues circuit until they went separate ways in 1978.

Some of Wells’s best recorded work came during this time, on tight, exciting records made for Delmark, like the 1965 Hoodoo man blues. The band became a favorite of rock musicians, and during that period Wells and Guy played to rock audiences at the Fillmore West and made a State Department tour of East Africa; in 1970 they toured with Canned Heat and The Rolling Stones.

This according to “Junior Wells, central player in Chicago blues, is dead at 63” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times CXLVII/51,040 [17 January 1998] p. A11).

Today would have been Wells’s 80th birthday! Below, Wells and Guy at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in the band’s heyday.

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Stevie Ray Vaughan, roadhouse king


The roadhouse is an American institution—the little bar on the edge of town that comes alive when the sun comes down with back-to-basics roots music. Texas is the honorary home of roadhouse music, and Stevie Ray Vaughan was its uncrowned king.

Vaughan arrived in a blaze of guitar glory in the early 1980s, following on the trail of his Texas forebears from electric guitar pioneers like Eddie Durham and Charlie Christian to blues legends like T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Albert Collins, and his own big brother Jimmie.

This according to Roadhouse blues: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Texas R&B by Hugh Gregory (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2003).

Today would have been Vaughan’s 60th birthday! Below, live in 1982.

BONUS: One of his legendary Hendrix covers.

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Gatemouth vs. the purists


Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (1924–2005) spent his career fighting purism by synthesizing old blues, country, jazz, Cajun, and R & B styles.

Asked in an interview about his early blues-based recordings, he gave a practical answer: “I had to sound like that because I was just starting out. Seeing as how I was a newcomer, I obliged.”

“But after a while, I thought, ‘Why do I have to be one of these old cryin’ and moanin’ guitar players always talking bad about women?’ So I just stopped. That’s when I started having horns and piano in my band, and started playing arrangements more like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, rather than some old hardcore Mississippi Delta stuff.”

This according to “Guitarist Clarence Gatemouth Brown dies at 81” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times 12 September 2005).

Today is Brown’s 90th birthday! Below, at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 2004.

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Bessie Smith analyzed

Bessie Smith 1923

An examination of Bessie Smith’s first two released recordings—Down hearted blues and Gulf Coast blues—demonstrates that her interpretative originality and expressive individuality were evident from the start of her recording career in 1923.

Full transcriptions of her vocal line on each of these recordings combined with detailed descriptions and analysis of the pitch content, the main rhythmic and melodic characteristics, and the melodic-harmonic and text-music relationships reveal the micro-components of Smith’s early vocal tendencies, demonstrating how, although Smith’s phrases display some similarities with each other, they constantly vary in imaginative ways, matching her with the great jazz improvisers.

This according to “Bessie Smith: Down hearted blues and Gulf coast blues revisited by Alona Sagee (Popular music XXVI/1 [January 2007] pp. 117–127).

Today is Bessie Smith’s 120th birthday! Above, the singer in 1923, the year of the recordings; below, the recordings themselves.

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Johnny Winter’s roots


In 2010 Johnny Winter decided to make recordings of some of the classic blues songs that had inspired him to become a musician. The result was his 2011 album Roots.

“The whole thing was a lot of fun,” Winter said in an interview. “They were songs I loved and grew up with, that I was influenced by.”

Recalling imbibing Delta blues from the source, as a sideman for Muddy Waters, he said “Playing with Muddy meant so much to me as an artist. It was a big pleasure, a big thrill. I loved every second I spent with him.”

This according to “Living blues talks to Johnny Winter and Paul Nelson” by Steve Sharp (Living blues XLII/5:215  [October 2011] p. 41).

Today is Johnny Winter’s 70th birthday! Below, Winter and his band plays Dust my broom, a song first recorded by Robert Johnson and later covered by Muddy Waters; the video is from Winter’s tour supporting Roots.

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Big Joe Williams nails it

big joe williams 1972

Today, on Big Joe Williams’s 110th birthday, let’s recall how he won over an audience of jaded rockers in 1965:

“Sandwiched in between the two sets, perhaps as an afterthought, was the bluesman Big Joe Williams…

“He looked terrible. He had a big bulbous aneuristic protrusion bulging out of his forehead. He was equipped with a beat up old acoustic guitar which I think had nine strings and sundry homemade attachments and a wire hanger contraption around his neck fashioned to hold a kazoo while keeping his hands free to play the guitar. Needless to say, he was a big letdown after the folk rockers. My date and I exchanged pained looks in empathy for what was being done [to] this Delta blues man who was ruefully out of place.”

“After three or four songs the unseen announcer came on the p.a. system and said ‘Lets have a big hand for Big Joe Williams, ladies and gentlemen; thank you, Big Joe.’ But Big Joe wasn’t finished. He hadn’t given up on the audience, and he ignored the announcer. He continued his set and after each song the announcer came over the p.a. and tried to politely but firmly get Big Joe off the stage.”

“Big Joe was having none of it, and he continued his set with his nine-string acoustic and his kazoo. Long about the sixth or seventh song he got into his groove and started to wail with raggedy slide guitar riffs, powerful voice, as well as intense percussion on the guitar and its various accoutrements. By the end of the set he had that audience of jaded ‘60s rockers on their feet cheering and applauding vociferously. Our initial pity for him was replaced by wondrous respect. He knew he had it in him to move that audience, and he knew that thousands of watts and hundreds of decibels do not change one iota the basic power of a song.”

This according to “Big Joe Blues” by Marc Miller (Blues for peace, 2005). Above, Williams in Hamburg in 1972; below, a close-up performance with his celebrated nine-string guitar.

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Evental aesthetics

eventual aesthetics

Launched in 2012, Evental aesthetics is an independent, interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to philosophical perspectives on art and aesthetics.

Publishing three times each year, the journal invites experimental and traditional philosophical ideas on questions pertaining to every form of art, as well as to aesthetic issues in the non-artworld, such as everyday aesthetics and environmental aesthetics.  Each installment of the journal reflects on specific, but broadly defined, aesthetic issues.

This publication is entirely independent and unaffiliated with any institution, and therefore is unimpeded by political or financial agendas. As a non-profit organization, Evental aesthetics operates completely without funding or advertising. The journal is open-access, available for download free of charge.

The first issue includes the music-related article “Hegel’s being-fluid in Corregidora, blues, and (post-) black aesthetics” by Mandy-Suzanne Wong; the full text is here.

Below, John Lee Hooker presents a fine example of blues philosophy.


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Blues and theomusicology


The designation of blues as “devil’s music”—a notion that has been largely unquestioned since the publication of Paul Oliver’s Blues fell this morning (1960)—imposes Christianity’s dualistic views on the holistic cosmology of an African-derived culture.

The supposed atheism of blues is simply a polemical means of opposing oppression, a stance that does not contradict blues’s fundamentally religious nature. White blues scholars have misrepresented blues by reducing its meaning to the language of ethnomusicology, a theoretical methodology that is not indigenous to the culture of blues; theomusicology, an indigenous approach, offers a deeper understanding of the people who created blues.

This according to “Blues and evil: Theomusicology and Afrocentricity” by Jon Michael Spencer, an essay included in Saints and sinners: Religion, blues and (d)evil in African-American music and literature (Liège: Société Liégeoise de Musicologie, 1996 pp. 37–51).

Above, Reverend Gary Davis, photographed by Bill Smith; below, Blind Willie Johnson’s Jesus make up my dying bed.


Filed under Jazz and blues

Honeyboy recognized


On a log sheet typed in the 1940s, Alan Lomax identified a man in a 50-second segment of silent color footage shot in Mississippi as “Charles Edwards” (above).

Mystified folklorists have been unable to find further references to Charles Edwards in Lomax’s materials or anyone else’s; but recently two American Folklife Center staff members noticed that he closely resembled a young David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and even played his guitar in the same way; perhaps Lomax had made a simple error.

To verify their theory, they sent screen captures to Honeyboy’s former agent, who shared them with Honeyboy’s stepdaughter. Her verdict: “That’s my daddy!”

This according to “‘That’s my daddy!’: American Folklife Center staff members identify early color film of David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards” by Stephen Winick (Folklife Center news XXXIII/3–4 [summer/fall 2011] pp. 8–9).

Below, Honeyboy performs in 2005.


Filed under Jazz and blues

Bumble boogie

Bee imagery has long been a prominent element in song titles and lyrics. Bumble boogie: 100 years of bee imagery in American sound recordings—A discography by William L. Schurk and B. Lee Cooper (Popular music and society XXXIV/4 [October 2011] pp. 493–502) explores several bee themes featured in more than 200 commercial recordings released in the U.S. during the past century.

Themes cited include references to scent, terms of endearment, analogies to bee-related structures and hive-oriented treasures, allusions to romance, sexuality and reproduction, and fears of physical pain and emotional rejection. The discography features recordings released over the past ten decades either as singles (45 or 78 rpm records) or as songs compiled in albums (33⅓ rpm records) or on compact discs.

Below, the sublime Muddy Waters with his classic Honey bee.

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