Nothing But the Blues

So in eager anticipation of Malcolm Earl-Smith’s project, Nothing But The Blues, I am going to share 4 reasons why I love the blues and how it has informed so much of my music making over the last 40 years

  1. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Rocky Mountain Blues

My Granny came back from holiday in Spain with a classical guitar, I picked out E from a chord book and then I put on my Dad’s recording of Rocky Mountain by Lightnin’ Hopkins and got to work out what he was doing. This was my first encounter with the blues and was a giant step from the only other thing that I played on guitar to that point: Froggie Went a Courting in D.

Listening to Lightnin’s voice singing about, “Rocky Mountain, J.C. that’s the place I want to be” reminded me of that pre teenage desolation that I used to feel staring out of a suburban bedroom in Beckenham, South east London. The gentle but insistent groove providing a bed for Sonny Terry’s harp playing which nothing short of musical perfection, placing hollers and soulful responses to the mournful words sung as clear as a bell.

The song builds beautifully and Lightnin’ turns up the gas subtly as we are challenged to “Stop by Arizona Town” He then sings about how it was impossible for Indians to get a drink, thereby highlighting prejudice against non-blacks in America.

  1. Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lighnin’

The Mick Jagger effect is the term I use to describe for happens at a party when somebody everyone idolises walks in the door. The music gets turned up to 11 and everyone starts dancing around like they are also the wildest party animals you can imagine and they groove like this all the time. I have had the honour of witnessing this on three occasions with the great man himself.

Jagger however, is the most consistent lover of the blues that I have ever encountered. Once, I was playing at a private party with my trio at his Chateau on the Loire that had been built for Marie Antoinette, he came over and asked me firstly, do I like the fireworks? Yes they were great, especially as they flashed over the new lake that he’d just had put in and the second question, “what do I think of this record?” it was a rare edition of the London Sessions, well what can you say? His knowledge of the blues runs both wide and deep.

  1. Bessie Smith – Backwater Blues

As a teenager brought up by a single parent father, I used to spend hours playing the guitar and looking out of the bedroom window dreaming of escape and a different life. Bessie Smith says it all here in the classic Backwater Blues. “It rained five days and the sky turned black as night”.

Bessie Smith is the Queen of the Blues.

  1. Rev Gary Davis – Death Don’t have no Mercy

I learnt to play some of his guitar instrumentals as a teenager. He had a raw approach to fingerpicking ragtime guitar that I suited my homespun style.

“Death comes into the room and he don’t stay long” He knew what loss was all about being the only one of eight brothers and sisters to make it to adulthood. He later became a preacher and some of his sermons are really worth listening to.

The Colab Blues project will be performing on the night of the final CoLab Party. 20 Feb 19.00h at Blackheath Halls.

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