In Reverence of The Sidemen

Johnny Winter. Bonnie Raitt. Derek Trucks. Gregg Allman. Susan Tedeschi. Robben Ford. This is just a short list of notable blues players who appeared in the indie documentary, Sidemen: Long Road To…

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an ironic concept

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an ironic concept.   When going against the grain becomes elitist.   The most famous person behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jann Wenner, wa…

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In Reverence of The Sidemen

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Johnny Winter.

Bonnie Raitt.

Derek Trucks.

Gregg Allman.

Susan Tedeschi.

Robben Ford.

This is just a short list of notable blues players who appeared in the indie documentary, Sidemen: Long Road To Glory, sharing stories about three of America’s most influential musicians.

Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and  Hubert Sumlin should be among the most well-known names in contemporary music. Yet, very few people have ever heard of them or know where they fit into the lineage of music history — specifically the blues and rock and roll. Drawing a wide comparison, Perkins, Smith, and Sumlin are to the blues and rock what Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are to the Baroque,  Classical, and Romantic music eras, albeit under extremely different circumstances.

Filmmakers Jasin Cadic and Scott Rosenbaum weave together The Sidemen’s journey in 77 minutes of  interviews, music, film footage, and vintage photos. Each man was born into poverty under the austere Jim Crow laws of the deep south in the early part of the 20th century. The desolate and sometimes brutal circumstances they faced growing up drew them to music at a young age, until the point they found their way north to the Chicago music scene.

At different times each of them fell in with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters who are recognized as the pillars of Chicago’s blues movement, and who effectively forged the union between the blues and rock.  While Perkins, Smith and Sumlin had the benefit of a job as a sideman, Wolf and Waters were the rich beneficiaries of authentic southern roots in the soulful piano of Perkins, Smith’s percussive grooves,  and Sumlin’s rawly original electric guitar.

These guys were the trifecta, the authentic secret recipe to a strange brew.

What they contributed had once been a segregated sound out of the black juke joints. It was a blend of itinerant spirituals with traditional African American music that became the foundation rebellious white rockers like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin adopted early in their careers.

The profound impact The Sidemen had on contemporary music is epic. So epic, one should contemplate what the music of  Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton,  or anyone else in contemporary music might be like without them. Yet, their work went largely unnoticed, and unrewarded. Everyone else took the credit and the money.

The lifestyle of a sideman traditionally is living from gig to gig.  Perkins, Smith and Sumlin had disappointments and successes along the way, but they also suffered through  bouts of illness, depression, and abandonment especially after Wolf and Waters died. Even though collectively they were the dream team of Chicago blues players no one sought them out to keep the thunder rolling.

Consequently, Perkins, Smith, and Sumlin would never enjoy the security their contributions to a multi-billion dollar industry should have provided. In 2011, within nine months, each of them passed away. Perkins died in March, Smith died  in September, and Sumlin passed away in December.

Among other accolades over the years, Perkins and Smith won GRAMMYs for the Best Traditional Blues album, “Joined At The Hip,” just prior to their deaths. Though he’d won many awards and had four GRAMMY nominations to his credit,  Sumlin did not live to realize his dream being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Anyone who plays the blues or any variation of rock should see this film, especially emerging artists who need a deep sense of music’s evolution. If you’re serious about your craft and your memory of music only dates back to the  1960s or somewhat later — go see this film. Every university that schedules contemporary music history classes, as well as blues societies around the world should seek out this documentary to understand the long road the blues has traveled along the lines of race, cultural diversity, and the incredibly powerful position it holds in our culture.

As was boldly stated in the film, “The blues for [them] was life. Life! And it made ’em happy.”

 

 

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an ironic concept

 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an ironic concept.

 

When going against the grain becomes elitist.

 

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Sort of like the Louvre, but in Cleveland

The most famous person behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jann Wenner, was a rebel when he first published his magazine in 1967. But the success of his magazine made him part of the Establishment.   Once you are in the mainstream and rich, you are no longer a rebel. By definition you cannot be.

Over the years Wenner and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame cronies have tried to stay relevant and in touch – even though they’re too rich and too old.   Don’t feel bad, that’s how it goes. It’s happening to all those “heritage” rock bands, and it’s happening to me too. For as hip as I like to think I am with the cool rock and roll jobs I’ve had all my life, I have an 18 year old at home who reminds me without even trying that I’m soooo not cool.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has sanitized the glorious, dirty, loud and impolite bastard child that is known as rock and roll. The panel of voters – The Establishment – decides who gets into the Hall of Fame… and who doesn’t. I believe (but may be wrong) that the popular vote accounts for 1% of the final tally. 1%!! Business people who may know how to crunch numbers and write convoluted contracts have more weight and influence than the fans who invest themselves and their money.   99 to 1. The elite have more voting power than the musicians who these days barely make a living playing in crummy bars, often enduring less than ideal living conditions, simply because, like many of us, those musicians live and breathe rock and roll. There’s no money to be made unless you’re in an A-List act with a sponsor. I’m sure there are musicians on the voting panel, but it’s very likely that every single one of the voters has to follow a set ideology. How else could you explain Donna Summer being voted into what is known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? She’s so far removed from rock that Wynton Marsalis is probably closer to the rock and roll family tree. And I don’t expect him to be voted in anytime soon. But you never know.

I understand that a certain control on voting is required in order for the process to not get completely out of hand. After all the internet is a tricky beast when it comes to “audience participation”. But could the internet do any worse than what’s been happening with the Hall of Fame?

It’s disturbing to me that these pop stars have been inducted, while Deep Purple had to wait 25 years after their first year of eligibility. The list of actual rock stars not inducted is quite staggering. Read the list and you’ll be amazed, not that they all belong in there, but it’s mind boggling. After being snubbed all these years I was surprised, and perhaps a touch disappointed that Deep Purple accepted and politely showed up instead of, you know, going all Steve Miller on the Hall.

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The Joker

Steve Miller. You know you’ve sanitized the whole thing to death when a guy like Steve Miller, one of the most mainstream of rockers, shows up for his award and calls out the whole ridiculous concept. Sure he could have stayed home and written a press release as a form of protest. But to him I raise my glass for showing up and doing what he did and saying what he needed to say on their own turf. Steve Miller, of all people, brought swagger to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m not even a huge fan of his, but he scored a million respect points with me. On the moxie scale, he’s up there with John Lennon telling the Royals to rattle their jewellery.

The suits who vote aren’t rock and roll either in musical appreciation, vision, or in attitude.   Take a look at the board members. Although the powers that be would certainly be quick to try and underline the noble intentions of the Hall (these artists need to be immortalized and have their place in history, blah blah blah…), their sole reason for being is to make money.

Of course there is nothing wrong with making money. After all, it’s money that brought every musical genre to the masses, whether rock or country or whatever style you like. It is people with money who throw money at talent that has no money in the hopes of making money. Simple formula, and when done right everybody wins. But there’s a difference between earning money and whoring yourself out.

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Money, it’s a hit.

The pop hit factory generates a lot more money than rock and roll. This is why the Hall includes Madonna, Grandmaster Flash and Donna Summer. They’ve all sold albums by the truckload and left huge shadows on pop culture and music so surely someone will pay to see their old stage clothes and hand written lyrics. I have no doubt that Taylor Swift, arguably the most powerful person in music right now will be inducted one day. But is she rock and roll?

I have no gripe against Madonna, or the Queen of Disco, or N.W.A. My gripe is the words Rock and Roll on the building. Call it what it is, The Popular Music Hall of Fame or whatever clever name you can think of. Then you can induct anyone you want and I won’t lose any sleep over it. That’s obviously what the Establishment wants and what it’s been doing. It sells tickets.

Rock and roll at its origins was a form of expression from outcasts. That was the beauty of it. It was dangerous. It went against the Establishment. Your parents hated it. But that  “dangerous” element is gone. It’s been washed and disinfected and made to fit the mainstream box nicely – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – as opposed to altering the mainstream. How dangerous can something be if parents like it too? I recently saw Black Sabbath’s The End Tour. I spotted far more comfortable loafers in the audience than leather jackets – a timeless symbol of rebellion and certainly rock and roll.

There is very little that is rock and roll about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – the very concept of a Hall of Fame goes against what the music and its values originally stood for.

Rock and roll has been sanitized to fit the mainstream to such a large extent that many of its true flag waving supporters and believers have been shut out. Unless you can afford the $500 concert tickets, or the $10, 000 Hall of Fame ceremony tickets, you aren’t invited to the party anymore. Unless of course, you can play guitar.

 

Mike Lang loves rock and roll and generally sees the glass half full. No, really.

@theemikelang

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Fat Man Blues

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Depending on what day or decade you focus on, American music has given rise to some historically significant art forms, but none more important than The Blues. Born along the Mississippi Delta, widely known as the cradle of American music, The Blues emerged with the legend of Robert Johnson, a dirt-poor, African-American who would come to be known as the King of the Delta Blues decades after his untimely death at age 27.

Fat Man Blues is a fictional account of Hobo John, an Englishman who sets out on a journey down at The Crossroads, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The Crossroads is the exact place legend tells us Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become a great musician.

As Hobo John acquaints himself with colloquialisms and surroundings in Clarksdale he continually, and surprisingly runs in The Fat Man, who is  full of hubris and presents an ultimatum to Hobo John.  The Faustian-style ultimatum is where the story builds momentum as Hobo John travels through the afterlife of the 1930s, the period of time when Robert Johnson’s legacy was born.

This book significantly highlights some of the most interesting moments in the birth of The Blues through imaginary characters and events. In doing so, author, Richard Wall has accomplished a highly significant point in creating a parallel between music and literature. Very few people recognize the similarities between the two in that music and prose of any style are bound by notation. Both are literate art forms.

While it’s highly unlikely the pioneers of Mississippi Delta Blues were totally , or even partially literate, the music speaks to a time when this was common along The Delta. The Fat Man speaks in a rhythmic dialect you hear in the rhythm of The Blues as easily as you hear how lonely, often hopeless, life could be.

Fat Man Blues is available at Amazon.com in two formats: paperback and Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

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Folk Music and What’s Real and True: Wood, Wire and Words

 

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It’s the rare occasion this blog features a review of a CD, but with the gracious gift of a new release from Wood, Wire & Words who are based in Hampshire, United Kingdom, an honest appraisal seemed the perfect way to say thank you. It is also an opportunity to write a review apart from the cookie cutter style we’re subjected to regularly from leading publications and blogs.

Listening to music is a big part of life for most of us. Those who grew up on music we love as an art form make time to truly listen. The music never becomes a backdrop or wallpaper in the design of our lives because it is a living breathing thing and deserves our undivided attention.

One particularly stormy afternoon I needed to be in the kitchen standing over a few one – pot creations, so the music came with me, and David Rozzell, Clare Rozzell, and Pat Francis kept me company with 12 new songs from their release,  It’s A Barbecue Day.  Their music was at the forefront, while I occasionally checked on the evening meal. This became a very intimate situation listening to incredible harmonies, expertly crafted songs, and fine acoustic musicianship.

David is the lead vocalist on guitar, and his voice is captivating. There were deja vu moments in his phrasing and intonation that I couldn’t place right away, but finally it struck me he sounds quite like classic Gordon Lightfoot in many ways. He has a moving, honest expression engendering a true listening experience. One wants and needs to hear the story he’s telling. Clare complements him with beautifully rich harmonies as she keeps things grounded on double bass, and Pat adds all the necessary colors on dobro and mandolin.

Perhaps it was the mood of the day with high winds and rain in the background that drew me especially to those songs in minor keys like “Broken Soldier,” Green Fields,” and “This River Runs Deep.” Given to listening on a different day, I’m still drawn to those deeply smoky folk tunes.

Other songs are more upbeat and bright in notation, but still styled from the same influential cloth the United Kingdom is known for throughout Americana and bluegrass circles. This is where the sound originated before immigrants took their folk traditions and instruments to other parts of the world.

To the degree it’s difficult for anyone to separate what is genuinely Americana — and bluegrass is typically classified more on instrumentation — Wood, Wire & Words stand squarely on the folk tradition, and what a great place to take a stand at this moment in time.

As music styles roll around and around fitting into various slots like a pinball machine, all music emerges from traditions of those that came before us. Folk music should have our highest level of respect for life affirming qualities that are real and true to every living soul.

When listening to this CD you’re suddenly reminded of all that is real and true in you.

To purchase the CD please visit:

www.woodwireandwords.com

Amazon.com: https://amzn.com/B011VYKNOG

Amazon.co.ukhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0113OGKMS

ITunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/wood-wire-and-words/id1013935867

Also visit:

Twitter – BluegrassHippie

Twitter – Wood, Wire and Words

Wood, Wire and Words on Facebook

Wood, Wire and Words on YouTube

 

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Harper Lee

The wind is blowing ferociously in Nashville.

Upon hearing the news that Harper Lee passed away today, I can only believe the winds of justice are blowing in her honor, and the spirit of Scout will live eternally.

Nelle Harper Lee

April 26, 1926 – February 19, 2016

“I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but  make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 

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