31 January 2010
R.i.P. DEEP BLUES FESTiVAL.
“As soon as the needle hit the groove I felt a chill run down my spine.
It was the blues, no question about that. The ferocious clawing at the steel strings, the .44-caliber slide guitar, the voice a cross between the howl of Tommy Johnson and the otherworldly whine of Skip James. The ancient apostolic voice of the blues that could raise up Lazarus one more time, but sing in a way I’d never heard before.”
Excerpt from Been Here and Gone A Memoir of the Blues by David Dalton
Chris Johnson, influenced in part by the info he found on my Deep Blues web page and elsewhere has founded and curated The Deep Blues Festival to be held in River Falls Wisconsin on August 18th. The DBF, the first of its kind in this country, will present nearly a who's who of bands and artists that fall under my vision of the Deep Blues sound. What the heck is the Deep Blues sound? The easy answer is check my web page. The harder answer is to say that it's music that has been influenced by Robert Mugge's documentary film Deep Blues which was hosted by Robert Palmer who wrote the book Deep Blues. It's artists whose lives were changed when they heard the groundbreaking R.L. Burnside/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion recording Ass Pocket of Whiskey and/or the first Gun Club album Fire of Love. It's bands who wallowed in and had their little punk rock minds blown by the hardass dirty raw hill country blues presented by Mississippi's Fat Possum Records. Ask any of the artists that will appear at this fest who their main influences are and from each you'll hear names like Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, R.L. Burnside, Robert Cage, Johnny Farmer,and Robert Belfour. -all of them Fat Possum artists. And let us not forget the power of artists like Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey, Memphis Minnie and countless others known and unknown. Another name you'll hear from many of these artists is The Black Keys. This is interesting because while The BKs were a Fat Possum band they themselves were heavily influenced by the same Fat Possum artists that many of the folks playing the Deep Blues Festival were. And while we're gettin' all incestuous you should know that the BKs were originally on the Alive-Total Energy label which is now home to some of the artists playing the fest as well.
There are several long running sites that are geared towards this music. These are: Too Bad Jim, a Yahoo group now known as Real Punk Blues and my own Rick Saunders World group as well as Chris Johnson's RSW Vines (a live show traders site), Tweeds Blues, and My Space. Many of the artists playing the festival have frequented these sites for years as members and plain ol' fans before they came out of the blues closet as artists in their own right. As an example Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys was just a kid who had his life changed by listening to Junior Kimbrough. He discovered the Too Bad Jim site and, like many of us, found he was not alone in his love of this music. Through these on-line communities strong friendships have developed. It's through the Too Bad Jim site that I became friends with Chris Johnson and many others and we've been able to watch as artists like Dan Auerbach and others have grown from the basement to the international stage. Fans and artists around the world have been able to gain access to and share information and insight about real, raw, hard blues and punk blues bands through these sites which has, at least in my case, made the world much smaller. I now have in my collection as a result music from artists throughout the U.K. as well as rural parts of Norway, Hungary, Sweden and elsewhere. And don't get me started on the debt owed to our friends in the U.K. coalition Not The Same Old Blues Crap which is bringing punk blues to England and beyond. Thanks for selling the Deep Blues back to us.
Which brings us back to the question, "Just what the heck is The Deep Blues?"
Let's see if we can't suss that out. For me it’s a feeling. A vibe as opposed to merely a label or some sort of sub-genre. So what it means is whatever I want it to mean. Like some sort of shade-tree cultural imperialist I’m co-opting the term and using it to describe the indescribable. An umbrella term I like to use to attempt to understand what My Blues and My Soul music are. Hellfire, you can even apply it to country music. (But then we’d have to go into a big thing about country music not being country music and how music called alt-country is closer to being country than music which is lazily called country and which is really Nashville pop in most cases and that’d just be a big headache. But the same argument over country music can be applied to the blues in this sense. Tired of what many blues fans saw as an evil bastardizing of the blues - represented well by the film Ghost World's souless white boy blues band Blues Hammer. The image of the conch-belted, bolero-hatted, bottom-lip-biting, eyes to the sky, cigar and fern bar white boy wanksta doing another gutless version of Robert Johnson's Sweet Home Chicago or ripping off another tired attempt at Stormy Monday and acting as if that represented The Blues. Oh Hell No!) As Stephen Davidson has written "...the epitome of deep blues for me is the legendary 'unknown convict'. It's all about the feeling...an open doorway to the soul...it's not polished and clean...it's dirty and raw...an open wound covered with wagon wheel grease...it's pain and ecstasy, it sounds like a tornado, the rainbow after the storm... ". The Deep Blues in the context of The Deep Blues Festival is, just like punk rock, about realness, rawness, soul, and true emotion. Oh indeed there will be what most would call traditional blues artists performing. But there will also be artists there that would not call themselves blues artists but would certainly admit to the deep influence their search for true blues has had on them and their music. And there will be artists there that are deeply moved by their love of old timey country and rural country blues but would not hold either title out of respect. Some more punk than blues. Others more blues than punk. Others just some sort of plain ol' punk blues hybrid. But what unites the whole thing for every artist playing this festival is a soul felt passion for a kind of music that moves them deeply. Music that makes them, like the artists that came before them, have to play this music as if their lives depended on it- and for most of them it does. And it's that same insatiable passion to hear real true honest soulful expression that unites fans of this music to support these artists.
(Tons o' Thanks to my Wife and Editor Leslie Robison!)
(Tip o'the hat to David A. Stewart without whom the film Deep Blues would not have been possible. Thanx Dave!)
Labels: The Deep Blues Festival