Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dusting The Blues

The Savoy is mostly known for its amazing jazz music and extraordinary jazz DJs. However, there are two DJs who are known for their blues - Hy Gynoid and Isobela Capalini. I am not either of them and do not even imagine myself in their class when it comes to blues.

Someone once told me if you are feeling down then just turn on the blues and you will be feeling better real soon. I didn't understand this, but it was probably because I really didn't understand the blues. Most people, like me, believe that to be considered blues the songs must be depressing. This couldn't be further from reality. While many of the songs do tend to have a more depressing content, not all of them do. Blues, like the various "sounds" of jazz describes the music more than then the lyrics. To really see this and how it works you need to spend time with what I have dubbed the dusty musites.

Vintage blues, or as some call them "the scratchies", tell stories and come from the depths of a person's life. One of the best visuals of this is the Empress of the blues, Bessie Smith. From songs of despair and dying like Send Me To The 'lectric Chair to the ravings about the famous southern musician Charlie Green in Trombone Cholly, the blues were equivalent to life. Reaching into the depths of your soul and bringing what is there to the surface and pouring it into an envelope of music is what the blues and especially the vintage blues is all about.

Most people today who enjoy the blues do not want to venture back to the roots. These are usually the vinyls that no one wants to touch for fear of marring them; kind of like the best china that is saved for only the most special occasions that never seem to come around. Today a lot of this music has been digitalized and yet people are still afraid of playing it. They would rather play contemporary blues like Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee hooker, Van Morrison and yes, even Cyndi Lauper. There is nothing wrong with any of these performers. I enjoy listening to their music very much as the Savoy's King and Queen of blues can attest to.

As a history buff I love exploring the roots. When discussing blues this means gong back and experiencing those who came before and paved the way for the contemporary artists. The women, or queens of the blues especially paved the way and made it possible for others to pick up where they left off. Bessie Smith earned her title as Empress as she could be considered the original blues diva. This gutsy lady, upon being told that the KKK was coming to break up her tent concert did not run and hide as she was advised to do. Instead, she walked off the stage and right out toward the hooded mob and stood her ground telling them that they would have to fight her, her band AND her tentful of fans. This five foot nine inch woman who could cuss the wallpaper off the wall turned the KKK on their tail and sent them running. She lived every word and every note she sang.

Billie Holiday was another Queen of the blues. She, too, felt every thing she sang and continued to light the path for many others just like the woman whose music inspired her, Bessie Smith. Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton also laid some mortar of her own. In fact, you could say she was responsible for one of Elvis Presley's hits, Hound Dog. The song was actually written for Big Mama and is about a man. Mr. Presley took it and made it about a dog and had a hit. If you listen to Big Mama's version you can really feel why this song was written for her. Ma Rainey is another lady who gets my applause and humble curtsey as a queen of the blues. She was not afraid to sing about anything. From being a Slave To The Blues to Countin' The Blues, Ma Rainey knew what she was providing to the world. But she could also sing songs like "Ma" Rainey's Black Bottom with style and class.

Now, before anyone begins to think that I am partial to the women of blues (I suppose I am as they had to do more to open doors for the women who came after them) I must mention some of the men of blues. While he is mostly known for his jazz (and what some considered a career ending move to pop) Louis Armstrong also provided the world with wonderful blues. This man did more for music in general than anyone else in my opinion (yes, I am partial). Bind Willie McTell is another mason who cleared the way for the future generations. A recognizable voice his music told of life and all that it can bring.

The list of kings and queens of vintage blues could go on for the next ten generations. However, reading about these great oldies would take away from actually experiencing them. Take out the vintage and dust them off. Spin them on the turntable or MP3 player or whatever your chosen mode is. Reaching back and touching your roots from time to time will only serve to strengthen your core and enlighten your soul.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post, Parker! And I know you won't admit it, but you've become a great blues DJ in SL. I'm very proud of you and grateful to call you friend...a vintage friend. (But not dusty or musty) :-P