Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mike Dollins of BLUESGUITARNEWS.com - Essay on the State of the Blues

#JazzBluesFlorida #jazz #blues #Florida #Concerts #Festivals #Clubs

*Editors Note* Mike Dollins' posted this note on his page and we thought we would share it with you...sign up for his emails, if you got/get the blues!

You know I spend most of my time blues spamming on FaceBook now. I’ve met tens of thousands of folks from all over the world that love the blues. FaceBook is a lot better than MySpace in my humble opinion now. MySpace is basically so slow and sluggish, you could cook breakfast before a page boots up. Then when you get the MySpace page up, it is full of commercial ads and narcissistic people begging you to look at their video, to listen to their CD or visit their web site. Hey, we all like our mug in the spotlight from time to time, but due to the graphic nature of MySpace everyone tries to look bigger than life, but most of the time they are out running their coverage on whom they are, or the gigs they got. Hey it’s the music business, and everyday a new music expert critic is born, and oh my gosh I’ve met my fair share of self-appointed music authoritarians. I try to keep focused on Blues, but the rockers and pop-country folks always seem to infiltrate over here in blues-land. All you can do is patronize them, and move on. I often feel that because I am a senior picker lost in the blues, ignorant to what is happening, the young ones are trying to enlighten me to higher ground. Most of the time, I try to be as friendly as I can, and drift back into the blues I’ve been lost into for over five decades.

This brings me to the fact that I’ve met so many great blues fans worldwide on FaceBook. The dialog exchange with other blues musicians is just great. I’ve blues spammed so much on FaceBook, I’ve had warnings from them saying they were going to shut my site down. Ha. 99.9% of the blues minded folks I meet, are just great people that love the blues. We share and share a like our blues experience. Good stuff here. I was spamming the current edition of Blues Guitar News, and got a message from one of those self anointed blues experts. I was basically told that he erased my message, and comment. He didn’t believe I was “real genuine blues” and he would have to further scrutinize my web site making judgment on my blues worthiness. I know, it was real anal stuff he was dishing out, and I tried running my 50 years of blues credits down to him in vein. He countered, that he had a bigger, longer and better blues expertise. I could see I was going nowhere quick with this guy. At the same time I was dealing with this self appointed blues authoritarian, I had received a message from Bruce Igluaer of Alligator Records, telling me hello on FaceBook, and saying he saw I was still at it; meaning banging away shouting to the world about blues. Simultaneously I was recognized by a genuine blues expert, but scrutinized by an amateur part timer. Hey, another day in the life of a blues journalist. All you can do in those situations is just pack your bags, and move on down the line. At least Bruce knew who I was, and my blues history.

I started thinking about the comment, “Real, genuine blues.” If you were to ask a hundred folks to define blues, you would get A to Z answers, and none two just alike. I surely wouldn’t ask a highly educated rich Anglo carpetbagger that has never been within a 500 mile radius of the Blues Epic Center of the earth, which is the stretch of Highway 49, from the crossroads at Clarksdale, across the Mississippi River, and over into the birth of blues radio in Helena, Arkansas. I also wouldn’t ask anyone that has never attended a Baptist church, clapped to Gospel music, sat on the banks of the Mississippi River catching catfish, or had a plate full of Black Eyed Peas, Turnip Greens with Pepper Sauce, Fried Okra, Cornbread, A Big Green Onion, Ham Hocks, Fried Catfish and BBQ Fat Back. Doing a little farm work in between wouldn’t hurt either. Many folks don’t realize that half of the Mississippi River belongs to Arkansas. I had a dear friend that was going to play a blues festival last year, and was criticized that his blues was “too” rock oriented. There were questions whether his blues was authentic enough for their festival. My friend and me talked about that for a long time. Most folks that make these types of absurd comments from their personal observations, and furthermore castigate about aspects of blues music most definitely are not blues musicians. They are called “Blues Snobs.” I’ve read the mission statements of too many blues societies, and know the slant too many folk embrace. A mission statement is to keep you focused on what you are doing. Fortunately, I never needed a statement, as I was on a mission with my natural love for the blues. If Robert Johnson were alive today, he would be playing a Fender Strat with Texas Specials, out of a Mesa Boogie Amp. If Jimi Hendrix lived in Robert Johnson’s time, he would have had to settle on an acoustic Gibson. Time and place, have a lot to do with the out come.

Muddy Waters started out in Mississippi on the same type of acoustic guitars Robert Johnson wanged on. In the late forties, Muddy went to arch-top Kay and Silvertone electric guitars. (See his Newport album cover) Then in the late fifties he switched over to, and spent the rest of his life on a red Fender Telecaster. Mr. Morganfield (Muddy) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muddy_Waters, brought the blues out of the fields, into the city and electrified it. He also coined the phrase, “The Blues Had A Baby and They Named It Rock & Roll.” One of the greatest living blues historians, Bernie Pearl, The God Father of Los Angeles Blues, and I have talked a few times on the history of “real” blues; where it came from, and where it is going. Also, where is the line between Blues & Rock. We don’t have the time or space to dive into the complete history of blues, but most of what you find written was not penned by working blues musicians, but rather by scholars of some sorts giving their interpretation and history view of blues. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blues Listen to the immortal Mr. Fats Waller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fats_Waller, and tell me he wasn’t playing blues. Listen to Fats Domino and tell me he wasn’t playing blues. Listen to Hank Williams, and tell me he wasn’t playing blues. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_Williams As I was drafting this article, I saw Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey on television. Many of the points and aspects of this article were mentioned in the program. They also talked about the “Line in the sand,” pointing out, the line keeps moving out. The show was basically tracing Bill’s blues history from around 1952, up to the present. Most of all that I saw and heard on the history of the blues, I was aware of due to my Delta family roots, and own blues history as a musician. A very enlightening show, so try to catch it if you can. The BB King interview is worth the time.

I just discovered my good friend Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunter’s CD “Big Boss Man.” www.kentuckyheadhunters.com It is 80% blues tunes, but “get down” the Kentucky Headhunter way. It is their interpretation. Valid, cool and right on. Just like Ray Charles interpreting Country & Western songs, and making them as blue as blue can be. Ray could hear the blues in Country Swing. (Cow Jazz) If you can’t feel the music, and it has drifted too far away from a I, V, IV format of some sort, then it may not necessarily be blues. For a stark contrast listen to some Lead Belly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_Belly sing and play his 12 string guitar blues like “Take This Hammer,” then put on Miles Davis' “All Blues.” Interpretation is for the genius of the artist. You may like your Chicago shuffles, with a Mississippi Sax honking away, or SRV jamming his socks off, but those aren’t the only pockets that blues reside in. I do not like pigeon holing the blues. I speak for musicians, as I am one. We all have taken bits and pieces from our elders, and all those that preceded us – those innovators, and creators of the American phenomenon known as Blues. It is not for a commercial market, nor a hyper hip media venue to determine what musicians are playing is real blues or not. We are musicians first, and bluesmen second. Blues is our palette like other media artists work in charcoal, clays and oils. Nuf said on that.

It is difficult for me to relate to anyone in music, except blues musicians. I skim the surface, and babble blah-blah in general, as others talk about music and guitars. I am so lost in guitar blues la-la land, I don’t even own or listen to non-blues music. I’ve been hung up on Albert King and Otis Rush, with a dash of Chris Cain most of the times these days. I’ve got a lot of blues loaded in my MP3 player, and on the road that’s all I hear. The brotherhood of lugging PA speakers, amps and gear into a club setting up, trying to keep a crowd into the blues and then packing everything back in the van at 1:00 AM is like moving your living room furniture four times every night. All that, not to mention the long road back home. You are putting your best shot out every night, and then you get the cold shot from someone in the crowd yelling, “Play Mustang Sally.”

Being self taught sitting on the back porch picking away trying to emulate what I heard as a kid, I eventually bought some Mel Bay books, studied and learned to read music. When in college, my minor was music, and did receive classical training. I taught guitar for many years, and even wrote a couple of guitar instruction books. I am not a snob toward other musical styles. I just figured out early in life what I liked to hear, and play. I’ve dabbled with every aspect of music you could possibly imagine, played in church and gospel groups too. I did the pop music as a kid in high school, then cover bands as a young adult, the California coffee houses, and the beach clubs all up and down the West Coast. The toughest aspect of trying to play blues as a white kid on the West Coast back in the 60’s, was everyone else wanted to play top pop rock. Trying to get guys to play blues back then was like asking them to get deep gum cleaning without anesthetic. Then telling club owners you were a rock cover band, to get gigs. We always picked up a few pop cover tunes to keep the club owner happy, and then played the top ten club songs like “Mustang Sally” “Sunshine of Your Love” “Sweet Home Alabama” “Proud Mary,” etc., you know. It was all just a cover, to play the blues. Most club owners didn’t mind, as long as you could keep a crowd. That was your job.

I know many of the musicians that may drift on down this article, and grasp what I’m talking about, know exactly what I am trying to express. Too many blues snobs are taking a snap shot in time, where we are now, and don’t have a clue to the road less traveled by working street level blues musicians. It isn’t the blues societies, record companies, producers, agents and publicists that have perpetuated the blues to the degree we have in the world today. Oh sure, they have helped spread the word, and work their hearts out in a labor of love currently, but there was no one there in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when blues guitar player was a dirty word, and we were discriminated against for being such. Although more widely accepted today in our times, blues is not, nor will it ever be a mainstream music. A bubble that drifts along, and difficult to find in most cities around the world. Just go to Wal Mart, and see how much “blues” is stocked in the CD section. You can find more foreign artists than you can blues or jazz. If you want to “Make It,” in music, then play country-rock or pop rock. The massive distribution is there to support top pop music, not the blues.

If you disagree with me, then you need to buy a guitar, learn to play it. Then practice to where you can host a four-hour blues jam session. After that put a band together, book gigs and do it for at least ten years. Once you’ve done this, come back and let’s talk about it. Not to be a real anal jerk here, but I’ve had this conversation only with long term working blues guitar players, as no others understand, know what we are talking about, or care about what we’ve gone through over a long period of time - decades. I can talk to another picker for thirty seconds, and just know if he is in the brotherhood or not. The modern blues guitar playing is an attitude, more than a style. The current status of blues guitar is defined by generations of pickers on Gibson and Fender guitars, out of Fender Tube Amps, and playing in every conceivable joint you can imagine. We have heard everything that BB, Albert and Freddy King ever recorded, and know most of their songs by heart. This is not learned from books, record liner notes or out of magazines. This road has to be traveled, and learned first hand. You got to play the game, to understand full contact of the sport.

Love y’all lots, and God bless.
From the Arkansas Delta, Mike Dollins
Main Site www.mikedollins.biz

1 comment :

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