In my last post on the blues I said this, “I think I’m gonna need a third blues post for the later British and American players. But I’ll do that one later on down the road.” So this is that. First post here.
Blues arguably had its most popular flowering, its heyday, in the 1960’s. While it wasn’t popular on a mainstream level, there were tons of great bands playing blues. If you weren’t around back then, I can’t emphasize enough that anyone listening to FM radio in the late ’60’s, early ’70’s was listening to and absorbing a lot of blues.
And by then blues had made its slow, gradual transition from black artists playing to black audiences to white or black artists playing to mostly white audiences. Conventional wisdom has it that black audiences associated blues with slavery from which it came and wanted no part of it.
About half the bands at the original Woodstock in 1969 either had a blues tune in their repertoire or were flat-out playing it. Two of the bands in this post – Paul Butterfield and Ten Years After – played there. In looking at the roster for Woodstock ’99, blues seems to be represented by only two bands – Los Lobos and – to some extent – Brian Setzer. And neither of them are pure blues bands per se. Sad.
In my very first post, I mentioned that the first blues song I remember hearing was “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Cream. That was it for me. Love at first hearing. But I realized later that Cream didn’t write it but it was first done a year or so prior by the great Albert King. A perfect match of music and lyrics:
Born under a bad sign.
I’ve been down since I began to crawl.
If it wasn’t for bad luck,
I wouldn’t have no luck at all.
But Cream was not Clapton’s first band. I didn’t find out till later about John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Mayall is one of the prime movers and shakers in the early British blues scene, having been indoctrinated by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, about whom I posted earlier.
The “Beano” Bluesbreakers album is one of the seminal albums in the British blues canon. (The album – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton – has a cover that shows the band with Clapton reading a Beano comic book). The song “Double Crossing Time” demonstrates Clapton’s great facility in soloing and total command of tone and vibrato.
Paul Butterfield (harmonica) and Mike Bloomfield (guitar) were two Chicago-based blues aficionados. They thought nothing of going to the all-black South Side of Chicago to hear the great bands. And they absorbed the lessons well. (That’s Bloomfield, BTW, that you hear on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited album).
Here’s “Born In Chicago” from The Butterfield Blues Band’s (pictured above) first album:
Ten Years After did some nice blues early on. They have a really good live album called “Undead” recorded at the now-defunct London club Klook’s Kleek in 1968. (Alexis Korner played here as did numerous other bands in its all-too-brief nine years run. This club is so significant there is a book that, in part, deals with its history).
So let’s do this one for Alvin Lee who we lost in 2013 to not nearly enough acclaim. Some insane guitar here, starting to peak about 6:12:
Since the ’60’s, blues has never had the same widespread success although it’s continued to hang in there. Sadly, most of the older greats are gone and Buddy Guy may well be the last of them. Fortunately a new generation is coming up, keeping the blues alive for a new generation. But it’s just too bad so many young people know little to nothing about it.
My series on the blues ends here but the blues itself is still alive and well, carried on subsequent to the ’60’s with artists like Robert Cray and now, Gary Clark Jr. Oh, and if you think I won’t have posts on Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughn down the road, well you haven’t been paying enough attention overall to this blog. 😀