Monday, May 31, 2010

Recording Registry Blues

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1Memorial Day is for remembering, and last week on the show we honored two seminal blues people that have featured prominently in my own public radio work: singer Mamie Smith, born May 26, 1886, and guitarist Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, who centennial was Friday. T-Bone may be the more recognizable of the two, being more or less the wellspring of all modern electric blues guitar, the first one to make his mark playing single-note lead lines -- and making a show of it. Mamie Smith, on the other hand, was not even principally a blues singer; but her 1920 recording of Crazy Blues is generally acknowledged as the first commercially successful vocal blues record. In 2005 that recording was selected to be preserved for all time in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress; the following year it was the subject of one of the five features we produced for NPR's "All Things Considered." In 2007 T-Bone's Walker's Call It Stormy Monday was selected for the Registry, and was also the subject of one of our pieces the following year. Needless to say, those NPR features made for the obvious on-air tributes, since the voices telling the story of
The Complete Imperial Recordings: 1950-1954each of those recordings were far richer than mine. If you missed the show you can check them out, along with our first three years of Registry features, at this NPR website (the most recent suite of Registry pieces aired on PRI's "Studio 360" and can be heard at their website)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Playlist: May 26, 2010

Click to listen

Mose Allison, My Brain
     from the new album Way of the World
     Fri-Sat 5/29-30 @ Yoshi's San Francisco
Mark Hummel, Lord Oh Lord Blues
     from the new album Retro-active
     Sun 5/31 @ Yoshi's Oakland
Elvin Bishop, Red Dog Speaks
     from the forthcoming album Red Dog Speaks
     Sat 5/30 @ Cajun Creole Music Festival
Steve Lucky, Red Beans & Rice
     Fri-Sun 5/28-30 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee
     Wed 6/02 @ Ashkenaz

Special in-studio guest: Mitch Woods

Mitch Woods, Gumbo Blues
Mitch Woods, Blue Monday
Smiley Lewis, Big Mamou
Mitch Woods, Can't Stop Lovin' You
Dave Edmunds, I Hear You Knocking
Mitch Woods, Ooh La La
Elvis Presley, One Night Of Sin
Mitch Woods, Big Mamou
     from the forthcoming album Gumbo Blues
Mitch Woods, Big Easy Boogie
     Sun 5/31 @ Biscuits and Blues

T-Bone Walker, Call It Stormy Monday
Buddy Guy, Dedication To The Late T-Bone Walker
Derek Trucks Band, Back Where I Started
     Sun 5/30 @ Santa Cruz Blues Festival
Eric Lindell, Country Livin'
     Sat 5/29 @ Santa Cruz Blues Festival 
Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Miss Brown To You
     Sat 5/29 @ Cafe du Nord
     Wed 6/02 @ Savanna Jazz
Mamie Smith, Crazy Blues

The Band (w/ Bob Dylan), Don't Ya Tell Henry (live)
The Band (w/ bob Dylan)  Baby Let Me Follow You Down (live)
Bob Dylan, From A Buick 6 (live)
Bob Dylan, Grand Coulee Dam
Bob Dylan, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
Bob Dylan, (She'll Be) Comin' Round the Mountain
Bob Dylan, Forever Young
Mitch Woods, I Hear You Knockin'

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bob Dylan's 69th Dream

Song of the North Country: A Midwest Framework to the Songs of Bob DylanTomorrow is Bob Dylan's 69th birthday, and as listeners to the show may have guessed, I'm a bit of a fan -- a well-read fan, I hope, Dylan scholarship being one of the few genres I read without serious head-bobbing. My current project is a study looking at Dylan's lyrics from the pastoral Midwestern tradition, which is much more engaging than it sounds. Although there's some fast-and-loose linguistics in the analysis of Dylan's Minnesotan speech (as in, it's his singing on studio performances), it's otherwise somewhat arresting to realize just how much of a country boy this guy was and is -- at least according to the voice he inhabits on the records.

But this is blues blog, and of all the possible approaches to Dylan appreciation, the blues seems like a deceptively easy one. For the last few years I've been programming the House of Blues Breaks with Elwood Blues. Mondays are often "Blue Monday," where Elwood "digs up the blues roots of a classic rock song." Blues has always been an integral, if subtle, part of Dylan's repertoire, but he's been making this easier the last few years with some brazen rip-offs -- er, re-interpretations. On his most recent non-Christmas album, the music on two songs, Beyond Here Lies Nothin' and My Wife's Home Town, is straight out of a pair of classic Chicago Blues (Otis Rush's All Your Love and Muddy Waters' I Just Want To Make Love To You, respectively). 2006's Modern Times was even more obvious, with Dylan writing new lyrics but barely changing the titles of Memphis Minnie's When The Levee Breaks, Muddy Waters' Rollin' And Tumblin',
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs - Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006and Sleepy John Estes Someday Baby Blues (the last one is often more familiar as Big Maceo Merriweather's Worried Life Blues and Muddy Waters' Trouble No More). For what it's worth, I'm especially fond of Dylan's alternate arrangement released on the most recent installment of The Bootleg Series.

But as I suggested above, Dyan's blues pedigree has generally taken a more subtle form, from one-off covers in concert to rather oblique references and interpolations in his own songs. Books by Michael Gray, Clinton Heylin, and others have delved into this aspect of his writing -- and, often more importantly, his live performance. This website has an overview of the blues source behind Dylan originals (this one goes beyond straight blues), and I've certainly copped a few for recent House of Blues Breaks:
Street LegalLightnin' Hopkins' Automobile Blues as the source of some of the lines and phrasing in Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Son House's Pony Blues and Dylan's New Pony (from the generally neglected Street Legal, which also features a nod to Robert Johnson in Dylan's last Top 10 single, Baby, Stop Crying).

But to wrap it up for now, here is Mr. Zimmerman 34 years ago today (a day before he hit the same 35 as I am), performing in Fort Collins, Colorado at the end of my favourite of tour, the second Rolling Thunder Revue. As was becoming usual, it featured some radical rearrangements of tunes new and old: a galloping, slide-guitar-laden Shelter From The Storm, and a honky-tonk take (with Joan Baez) on I Pity The Poor Immigrant. He'd also been playing an up-tempo barrelhouse romp through A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall on tour the previous fall, but left it out of the set until this slowed-down epic turn in May. I especially love the move at 2:05 where he shakes the band off to draw out the refrain. Enjoy...