Over the years I've shared my favorite vintage 78s with friends who are not part of the hard core 78 collector crowd. While we might share a taste for the same films, books and restaurants, we're not quite on the same page with music, at least not yet. Since I'm fondest of music from the 1920s and 1930s, and that's a long way from the 21st Century, it's a challenge to break in those who live with contemporary sounds. Not that I'm hoping to make full converts, but if I share some of my favorite 78s, maybe some will cross the accessibility threshold and they'll acquire a taste for more. Inevitably, when it comes to 1920s jazz, most fall flat – it all apparently sounds like cartoon music. With blues singers, the all too familiar refrain is that it's three chords and the same song over and over. Even though I always play those I consider "can't miss winners," in principle I can't totally disagree with them as I've spent many hours squirming my way through what I consider “formulated” blues 78s by lesser, second tier blues singers.
The great country bluesmen seldom recorded a formulated dud, but in acquainting myself with their body of work, I discovered that those few 78s where country blues singers chose to work their magic on popular tin-pan-alley hits were some of my favorite 78s. It was refreshing to hear the different tempos, more varied melodies, and new notes coming out of the instruments of these masters once outside the confines of the blues idiom. The best selling sheet music for these songs could be found sitting on pianos in middle class homes. Orchestras in every podunk town were playing stock arrangements of them at dance halls. And in a few rare cases, they made it onto “race” records by blues singers. Some of my purist blues collector friends pointed out with a sneer, those were POP records, eyeballing me like there was a cancer hanging over my blues collecting impulse, yet I prized these performances over many of the straight blues sides, and whenever possible I would swing a trade for some of these pop records by blues singers. So I'm of a different ilk, not strictly a blues collector, but a music collector who likes great blues singers, especially when they are not singing the blues.
In 1956, Willie Dixon was lured from Chess Records to be the musical director of the newly formed Cobra label. He signed the relatively unknown Otis Rush, and the stage was set for some of the deepest Chicago blues ever recorded. Otis had amazing pipes and played a mean left-handed blues guitar. Perhaps more importantly, Willie Dixon was able to get an otherworldly sound on his singles.
|Otis Rush in a 1957 Cobra publicity shot.|
Keep On Loving Me Baby
Etta James "I'd Rather Go Blind" (live 1992)
As part of the ongoing Amoeblog series honoring Women's History Month (Which ends today, March 31st), this blog is the second part of the two celebrating women blues artists. The first, earlier this week, focused on women from the classic blues era (circa 1920s), while this one takes a look/listen at women blues artists spanning the decades since.
Koko Taylor "Blues Never Die" (1975)
Big Mama Thornton "Bumble Bee Blues" (with Muddy Waters Band, 1966)
"When you in trouble blues is a girl's best friend" sings Koko Taylor on her 1975 recording of "Blues Never Die" (audio above). Taylor, like many of the longtime blues women here (including Big Mama Thornton, whose track "Bumble Bee Blues" with Muddy Waters Band is also above) have also been categorized over the years as rhythm and blues, rock & roll, and jazz. The late great Etta James, who we lost just two months ago, is an example of a blues artist who was also classified as jazz, rhythm & blues, rock n roll, and gospel too. A 1992 concert version of her singing "I'd Rather Go Blind" - written by Ellington Jordan and co-credited to Billy Foster but first recorded by Etta James in 1968 - appears above. As we know, the moving song has in the years since become a standard for countless artists to cover.
Ethel Merman’s voice makes my stomach acids sour and the very idea of shopping for clothes gives me a panic attack; despite these and other suspicious facts, I am a member of the LGBT community. For this reason, the issue of equal rights is ever-present in my mind.
There’s been a lot written and said about comparing the history of intolerance between racial minorities and the gay community, most especially in late 2008 when Prop. 8 was passed in the state of California amidst reports that large numbers of black people, urged by their church heads, voted to end the briefly instituted marriage equality of the state.
There were, of course, many exceptions to this and I don’t mean to angle this as a blacks-versus-gays situation – it's far more complicated than anything I'll do justice to here – but it did shine a light on an issue that often ruffles feathers. Knowing my place here on the Amoeblog as “light entertainment,” I will eschew any prolonged essays on the matter (for great, long-winded crap like that you should check out Charles Reece’s blog), but I will say that equal rights for all people is not only a victimless proposition, it’s one that benefits all people. Whether you think it’s appropriate to compare the struggle for gay equality with those of racial minorities, the fact is that everyone should have the same basic, human rights.
It would be one thing if a child was struck with bone marrow cancer every time two lesbians kissed, but kids, that’s just not the way it is and the sooner we let the gays get married, the sooner they can set up homes that will raise the property value of your block.