When It's Five O' Clock in Italy: A Cultural Catch-Up


Generally, I like old soul too much to have much patience for neo-soul, but I was impressed when I caught up with Gregory Porter on a youtube clip (the source was Later with Jools Holland), on a friend's recommendation. Marie-Claire recently saw him in person at The Lowry and was glowing in her praise. 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAC8UMMeSQo

As for prospective gigs, one of the most interesting is the Robert Glasper and Soweto Kinch double bill at The Academy tomorrow. I probably won't be there: at £17.50 plus booking fee, it's a bit out of my price range. 


I only caught three films at the Viva Festival this year: two were brilliant - Pelo Malo (Bad Hair) and La Jaula de oro (The Golden Dream), and one was rubbish (Pense que iba a haber una fiesta)

But the second week of Viva found me in London, researching and interviewing for the Bill Leader book, which is going well, thanks, albeit painfully slowly. 

Eva has just shouted from the next room that the new mayor of Paris is Spanish. Rising stars to look out for now include Gregory Porter and Anne Hidalgo. 

Two films need to go back to Lovefilm, both warmly recommended: Madeinusa (from Peru), and the Wim Wenders documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams



What else am I up to, culturally,speaking? Well, I'm hooked on repeats off Charles Chilton's Journey Into Space on Radio 4 Extra. There might even be a link with the book. Which is to say, the give-away sign that an Earth astronaut's mind has come under the sway of Martians is that they start to sing a particular song, and that song is an old music-hall ditty called 'When It's Five O' Clock in Italy, It's Night-Time Over Here'. 

Wild, eh? 

I thought it might be something Charles Chilton and John Foreman cooked up between them in a pub somewhere. John Foreman, a big music hall-man, was my interviewee in London. He denied it, but knew Charles Chilton. So I asked Bill, and he offered a nice Charles Chilton story which resulted in Confederate flags being festooned in a window display at that left-wing bastion, Collett's. For the full details, you'll have to buy the book (when it's out). 


10 Songs About Middlesbrough




1. I’m Gonna Stay A Long, Long Time - Back Door 


I often think of Back Door. Last night I dreamt I went to a Back Door gig again. I also dreamed that I was reading the obituary of Paul Rodgers, which proves that a) my powers of prophecy are rubbish (I hope), and b) Middlesbrough is on my mind

But Back Door now. They maintained a residency (this is the legend) in a pub in a remote spot in the Yorkshire Moors, namely Blakey Ridge, and in this splendid isolation created an entirely sui generis concoction of jazz and blues. The trio comprised Ron Asprey, a melodic yet tantalisingly skewed soliloquiser on saxophone(s), Colin Hodgkinson, who arrived at the slapping, plucking and strumming bass style independent of Larry Graham and ahead of Stanley Clarke, and Tony Hicks, who generated tight polyrhythms on the drums. 

With copies of a privately pressed LP as a calling card, they gained a slot supporting Chick Corea at Ronnie Scott’s and comprehensively blew the Spanish-tinged Scientologist off the stage. The subsequent buzz persuaded Warners Brothers to sign them. In short order the debut album was re-released in a gatefold sleeve, and the group were packed off to record in New York, where they received a ticker tape parade welcome (actually a cheerful piece of pre-Photoshop got up for the cover of the second album, 8th Street Nights). 

In fact, Back Door belonged to Middlesbrough. And so did I. Our paths crossed at a very surreal venue, the Little Theatre, on a very surreal bill - a Back Door and Stephane Grappelli co-header - on a very surreal evening: a street theatre troupe diverted bemused music-lovers outside the place. The next time I saw Back Door was at Redcar Coatham Bowl, on the launch of their third LP, Another Fine Mess

No longer so sui generis, it’s clear (with hindsight) that they were in a line that extended back to Alexis Korner’s jazzy mid-sixties edition of Blues Incorporated (the one with Herbie Goins and Art Themen), and were kin to the likes of Colosseum and Dick Heckstall-Smith. Their new-found populism extended to honking ‘Dashing White Sergeant’ to a party rhythm. I was dancing on a tabletop at Redcar Coatham Bowl to this one. Honest! 

Always happy to welcome aback  vinyl revenant, my heart leapt when, a few weeks ago, I came across a tattered and dusty copy of Another Fine Mess. Musically, I'd pegged it as inferior to Back Door and 8th Street Nights, and the judgement holds, but there are plenty of enjoyable moments. I’d completely forgotten the opening song, ‘I’m Gonna Stay A Long, Long Time’, which strays from jazz to pop, and celebrates the hometown where... 

... the food is really bland 
And the air is funky 
Back home in the 'Boro 

It’s more self-deprecating than not (“We’ve got nothing really special in the ‘Boro”), which is probably the safest policy for ‘Boro apologists.

This set me thinking about other songs about Middlesbrough. 



2. The Valley of Tees - Vin Garbutt

When I first heard this - quite early on, as my first paying concert was a triple bill of Iron Maiden (not that Iron Maiden), Vin Garbutt and Tudor Lodge at Middlesbrough’s Little Theatre around the time of Garbutt’s 1972 debut album, also called The Valley of Tees - the idea that songs could be written about places you knew struck me as incredible. This is a paean to the Cleveland Hills and beauty spots like Farndale, given implicit poignancy by the contrast to deprived areas like South Bank, where Garbutt grew up. It was also unusual to hear someone sing in a local accent, although Vin Garbutt’s delivery is so declamatory, and his phrasing is so gnarled, piling on embellishments with gusto and wildly stretching and modulating vowel sounds, I didn’t recognise the broad South Bank brogue. 


3. Ring of Iron - The Teesside Fettlers 


This, or the album of the same name, and The Best of the Seekers, were the only folk records in my dad’s record collection. It was doubtless purchased in a fit of local pride. The theme of 'Ring of Iron' is the same as ‘The Valley of Tees’, contrasting the blighted industrial landscape with the beautiful countryside nearby. The central image is arresting: the town, almost certainly Middlesbrough, is surrounded by a ring of iron that must be penetrated to break through to air and light. It was written by the late Graeme Miles, who specialised in songs of his native Teesside and was rewarded with a Gold Badge from EFDSS for his efforts.

A close relation is ‘The Chemical Worker’s Song’ by Teesside Fettler Ron Angel, which details the negative side of Back Door’s funky air. ‘The Chemical Worker’s Song' can be found variously on Ring of Iron by The Teesside Fettlers and The Young Tin Whistle Pest by Vin Garbutt. 



4. Teesside - Tir Na Nog 

Not what I expected. 

Leave your own sad Teesside 
My love is like an ebb-tide…

Very fey I should say. 

It comes from the 1973 album by the Irish duo, Strong in the Sun



5. They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore - Vin Garbutt 


This fine song, a folk club standard, was written by Vin Garbutt’s mate and fellow South Banker Pete Betts (that's Pete and Vin above). It first appeared on Garbutt’s Tossin’ A Wobbler album from 1978, and has since been subject to a grab from the North West, with covers by The Houghton Weavers and Hanky Pank. Indeed, I first heard ‘They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore’ in a Lancashire pub in a rousing interpretation by John Howarth of Oldham Tinkers. It remains quintessentially Middlesbrough, however, treating of scatology and booze as much as nostalgia for pre-rock 'n' roll songs. Scatology and booze are the big ‘Boro themes.



6. Stainsby Girls - Chris Rea 

A description of Middlesbrough schoolgirls from the viewpoint of a Middlesbrough schoolboy. It might fool outsiders, but anyone with first-hand experience of Stainsby Girls will know that Rea's song is absurdly romanticised. Stainsby Girls were as scary as anything from St Trinian’s. Having said that, my brother reminds me that both his ex-wife and her sister were Stainsby Girls, so I shall draw a veil over the subject. 


7. Smoke of Home - Megson  

Debbie Palmer of Megson comes from Middlesbrough whilst her partner, Stu Hanna, was born in Stockton - in North Tees Hospital to be precise - and lived in Billingham, so, strictly speaking, County Durham is his county. Yet Durham is closer to Teesside than to Newcastle, and, I noticed last time I was there, that Durham University seems to have colonised all of Stockton. After this justification for entry, 'Smoke of Home’, the title track of their 2007 debut album, concerns Mary who leaves her parents’ home in Billingham, catches a bus to Stockton and a train to Waterloo, and then on to the Continent, only to find disillusionment on the streets of France. Broke and homesick, she longs for “the smoke of home”.    


8. The Procession - Graeme Miles   

'The Procession' tells how a (fictitious) royal visit to open a new wing of Middlesbrough General Hospital turns into a riotous pub crawl, with lots of evocative references to Middlesbrough places and pubs - St Mary's, Ayresome, Baltic Tavern, Cannon Street (see below) - which are as obsolete now as evaporated milk (also name-checked). ‘The Procession’ can be found on The Teesside Fettlers' 1975 album, Travelling the Tees, and on a 1977 cassette, The Smokestack Land, by its author, Graeme Miles. Securing Miles' credentials as the Godfather of the Teesside Tradition, Travelling the Tees also contains 'The Moulder's Wedding', “a parody of cloth cap festivities” and his ‘Blue Sunset’ about the unexpected beauty of industrial pollution. The Smokestack Land contains ‘The Banks of the Tees’ (“waiting for the ferry at Middlesbrough”) and ‘Old Middlesbrough Market is Being Pulled Down’. Other ebullient accolades to Middlesbrough, this time by erstwhile Teesside Fettler Richard Grainger, are ‘Teesside and Yorkshire’ (yet more local pride from Travelling the Tees) and ‘Middlesbrough, The Klondike Song’, which tells of the goldrush that created the town after iron was discovered in the Cleveland Hills in 1850, as every Middlesbrough schoolchild kno. 


9. Steel River - Chris Rea 


If ‘The Klondyke Song’ is the beginning, 'Steel River' is the end. Guaranteed to break the heart of every Teessider, this evokes a Middlesbrough upbringing (the line about making love with a Carole King LP playing - presumably Tapestry, every home had one - is a nice period touch), and treats of the death of the steel industry and the dispersal of a generation. “Say goodbye, Steel River”. It’s the 'Boro’s answer to the Springsteen blue collar tragedy ‘The River’, and every bit as good.


10. My Brother Jake - Free 


This might be pushing it, but I wouldn’t like to leave out Middlesbrough’s most famous son. I might also mention that I went to school with Paul Rodgers’ brother, Ged, and I once went around to his house in Saltersgill. Paul had moved on by then, although his traces could be detected in a record collection that contained every LP made up to that point by The Band (the first I was aware of them), alongside white label demos of early Free efforts. I always associate the song with Ged - it's a reasonable character study of the lad I knew - and might even substitute ‘Ged’ for ‘Jake’ if I sing it in my head. Perhaps because of the rough and ready piano, 'My Brother Jake' is the most offhand of all the Free classics, and hence the most soulful. The last time I saw Ged, he was enthusing about a new band he’d just seen called Dexy’s Midnight Runners, which tells you how long ago it was. 




Note, the Top Ten omits ‘The Stars Fell on Stockton’. I relaxed the nothing-outside-Middlesbrough rule for Megson, but wasn't minded to do the same for The Shadows. ‘Alice in the Streets of Darlington’ by Claire Hamill is excluded for the same reason. Hamill’s One House Left Standing isn’t a song but the title of her debut LP. This is a pity, because now I can’t discuss the demolition of old Cannon Street or Record Tony’s theory that the true Middlesbrough accent (i.e. Record Tony’s) was special to Cannon Street residents and is now virtually extinct. So no go, even if the cover of One House Left Standing depicts Claire as a Victorian urchin surrounded by Middlesbrough iconography like wagon wheels, heavy cranes and the Transporter Bridge (especially the Transporter Bridge).

And ‘Middlesbrough Man’ by Maximo Park simply transposes the lyrics of Mark E Smith’s ‘Edinburgh Man’, so doesn’t count, at the risk of further jeopardising the North East-North West connection. 


Roger Turner and Urs Leimgruber


St Margaret’s Church, Manchester, Jan 10, 2014 



 




Here’s a youtube clip of a gig I went to on Friday: - 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuRhYyvtXhE

People think of free jazz as non-commercial, but I think Turner and Leimgruber are missing out on a potential revenue stream here. The opening ten seconds would make a very good ringtone, and the music would make a very effective alarm call, being taut, prickly, attentive and generally wide awake. 

Actually, words can't convey how good this concert was. It was a privilege to see two masters at the top of their game. The music seemingly organised in discrete cells of sounds, so there was never repetition and nothing to interrupt the free flow, or impede the instant responsiveness of the duo. It was fascinating on a neurological level, and  simulated the fluidity of thinking. What a joy to witness thought that is open and can assimilate change, and how rare!  

The dynamics were extraordinary. That rimshot at 4.40 elicited a laugh from Richard Scott, who was sitting next to me (you can just hear it: Rina was recording on the other side of me). But such explosions were the more powerful for the contrast with the silence all around. At another point Leimgruber was playing his saxophone a few inches away from his mouth, so all you heard was the sound of air in his cheeks and the rhythmic clicking of his fingers on the keys. The musicians had created their own micro-cosmos, where every small, fragile sound was sharply defined. The effect was to magnify detail and stop time. Little gestures implied grandiose gestures: the outlay of energy was the same. And the music was rich in proportion to all the things one didn’t hear. 

It’s a testimony to the intimacy of the space, and St Margaret’s - a veritable art church, with paintings and sculptures outnumbering the sacred decorations - has near-miraculous acoustics. 

Roger Turner’s modus operandi is to load super-abundant energy onto tiny detail and small noises. The results are infinitely more expressive than any amount of bombast. For evidence, look at another extraordinary performance, captured on youtube:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee4tOupNNvg

It’s a non-verbal Sam Beckett. The human condition in stark abbreviation. Marvellous.  

Whereas this (following a trail through)… 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BylAXsm4nE

is paradisiacal and sublime.  

Contrary to recent experiences (and returning to St Margaret’s), the free jazz youngbloods acquitted themselves well, with Julie Kjaer, Andrew Cheetham, David Birchall and Seth Bennett making the trajectory from tentative exploration to confident exhilaration with nary a slip. 

Richard Scott, who occupied the interval slot, crouched boffin-like over an electronic circuit that sprouted a fecundity of wires. It would be an understatement to say that Scott is really onto something here. His first, purely improvised, contribution made me think of the gurgling test-tubes from The Man in the White Suit. Praise doesn’t come higher than this. His second and third pieces, a little more pre-meditated apparently, displayed more gravitas and evoked ‘Gesang der Junglinge’ by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Again, praise doesn’t come higher than this. 


Why P.J. Harvey has risen and John Humphrys has fallen



I realise that the subtext of all my comments in the last blog (A Christmas Medley) could be summarised in a paraphrase of a Clash song: “I’m so bored with the BBC”. Whilst they didn’t redeem themselves totally with the PJ Harvey-edited edition of Today it gave a very rare glimpse of a more radical worldview. 

The first thing I heard when I tuned in, assuming it was a normal news day, was someone (John Pilger, it turned out) deriding Barack Obama for the crocodile tears he shed in Nelson Mandela’s prison cell in Robben Island. This from the keeper of keys at Guantanamo. And then he turned on Mandela himself, lambasting him as one of the boys whom the Western powers felt they could do business with. I was amazed. I was stupefied. I turned up the radio full blast so that Lozenge could hear it in bed. 

“Tomorrow we’ll have an alternative view of civilian deaths in Iraq,” said presenter Sarah Montague hastily. Yes, I’m sure we will.  

The songs were apropos, showed the taste of a pro musician and were not inchoately angry. The match of song and news is a forgotten art and I welcomed its partial return (a note for Today producers: Stanley Accrington is a genius at crafting topical songs and is more consistently funny than 'Thought For the Day'). The poems were more successful still, thanks to Ralph Fiennes' beautiful diction. Rowan Williams’ contribution actually clarified some of my thinking about the limitations of the protest song. And Charles Simic’s ‘Austerities’ could make you weep. Or not. The reading took about thirty seconds but not one second was spared for it to resonate. Instead, the weather forecast was given its customary breathless trot to meet those inviolate pips on the hour. It's the rigidity of the format (of Today in particular, the medium in general) that makes thought and reflection impossible. 

Find it at 01:56:55 on http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03mhyzh  

Anyway, it’s business as usual today, I notice, with news of Tesco’s poor Christmas sales performance delivered in grave tones and the usual line-up of politicians, economists and weasels. The official version has been reinstated, as on all the other 364 days of the year. 

I do have a vague recollection of a news programme with a left-wing agenda. BBC2. It boasted contributions from John Pilger, James Cameron (the sainted late journalist and not the bombastic film director) and the late great Ivor Cutler. The thought makes me sigh for long gone yesterdays of hope. Can anyone remember what it was called?   

A Christmas Medley

Including Dr Who, University Challenge, the British class system and gender difference; together with a comparison study between the seventies and now...




I didn’t see much TV this Christmas. I don’t know anybody who did, except that Alex disappeared at 7.30pm on Christmas Day to tune into Dr Who in his room. When he came down he was skipping, and chanting to a tune of his own creation, “Matt Snow is gone”. It seems the current team in charge of Dr Who have turned Alex’s passive adulation into something like betrayal, with poor Matt Snow as the lightning rod of his seething resentment. So the Doctor’s regeneration was the cause of celebration. For me,  Dr Who is too slick by half - some of the Christopher Eccleston episodes are among the best TV ever (oh, those children in their gas masks!) - and a return to wobbly sets would be welcome. 

Anyway, the one exception to the TV ban is Christmas University Challenge, which I catch up with on iPlayer. I’ve gotten into the habit of tuning in at lunchtime. I’ve found Paxo goes well with soup. 

What happens here, as I'm sure you know, is that competitors are drawn from the past alumni of some academic establishment rather than the current crop. I like it because it conclusively demonstrates how the great and the good, the opinion-formers, the Oxbridge elite and the chattering classes are actually very, very dim. Or, to be fair, they're just as thick as the rest of us. 

This might be intentional. Jeremy Paxman, a master of scorn, once exposed the hollowness of power with a book called Friends in High Places: Who Runs Britain (I seem to recall). Now he's utilising the quiz show format to make the same point. 

As I get older, I grow more impatient with representatives of the ruling classes, even liberal ones; even those who donate their services free to the BBC. Poor loves, public ridicule is a price worth paying for self-publicity.

I come from Middlesbrough, a magical place where the middle classes didn’t exist. Sigh! 

Meanwhile, a poll the other day showed that a majority (I can't say how many exactly: my attention wanders when numbers are mentioned) believed that the world would be a better place if women ruled. 

It seems obvious to me that the world would be nearly as bad, but in different ways. I have a suspicion that the changes that have crept into the workplace - the rise of Health and Safety, the new Calvinist work ethic, the smiling exterior that masks bad behaviour and skulduggery - are simply the outward signs of women’s higher status in the workplace. The problem is, it’s the wrong women who gain power. 

Back in the seventies, when men dominated, the day’s labours ended as soon as the pubs opened at eleven o’clock in the morning, and we had power cuts for four days out of seven and no one noticed (at least I didn’t, even though I know all the words to ‘All Right Now’ by Free). And Saville and Hall et al went around molesting girls with impunity. Hmm!  

Sweet Emma and a New Orleans Mystery




Sweet Emma, otherwise Emma Barrett, was a powerhouse pianist and affectless singer from old New Orleans. A recent find, New Orleans’ Sweet Emma And Her Preservation Jazz Hall Band (Preservation Hall, VPS-2), has, with one bound, just joined Echoes From New Orleans (Bunk Johnson et al: Storyville 670 203) and Bille and Dede Pierce, New Orleans: The Living Legends (Riverside RLP 370), not to mention Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines (Philips BBL 7046), as defining statements of the miracle of New Orleans.  

Sweet Emma! What a performer! Immediate, direct, indomitable, and with a hint of defiance. This, doubtless directed at the ones who patronised her because of her unconventional looks - she was expressive, slouchy and skinny, with bells literally tied to her garter - in a city dedicated to hedonism. Whilst Emma embodies the pleasure principle in music, and, indeed, in existence, it didn’t prevent her from essaying a desperately vulnerable and moving ‘Closer Walk With Thee’. 

New Orleans’ Sweet Emma And Her Preservation Jazz Hall Band is wonderful, and unreservedly recommended to anyone keen to go back to the source of the music, away from all those hearty revival copycats. It swings with exuberance. 



But, and this is what I’m leading up to, my copy is signed on the back not by Sweet Emma and band but by a later aggregation of New Orleans musicians. I vaguely recognise some of the names, and a little research on Google has fleshed out some gaps in my knowledge. 

Among the more legible of the autographs, Chester Jones, played drums with the Eureka Brass Band, and Jeanette Kimball is a doyenne of New Orleans pianists, maintaining the New Orleans tradition of leaders recruiting femme pianists (see Lil Armstrong and, indeed, Emma Barrett herself). Louis Nelson, a trombonist, and Joe ‘Cornbread’ Thomas, a reed player and vocalist, were old-timers active in New Orleans up until the seventies. 

This just about exhausts my sleuthing and leaves two signatures unaccounted for. James ‘something-or-other’ Boaz (?) and the dominant scrawl on the centre right vertical. This latter is too flamboyant to be understood, which was also the fate of many a New Orleans jazzman. 



Can anyone help? 

Further viewing: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo6MGV-i2IU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=RDuo6MGV-i2IU&v=xhtG5YrQ-lY



An A-Z of the Blues



A is for Africa, which is where it all began, and for Angola, the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary which rang with prison worksongs, an echo of African call-and-response. 



B is for Blind, a prerequisite for any self-respecting bluesman, and also Bullfrog, as in, “I got those Bullfrog Blues”, a mysterious ailment common in parts of the Deep South and Ireland (Rory Gallagher, you dummy).   


C is for Cripple, probably as a result of hopping all those trains (see also H for ‘Honky Tonk Train’). And also Chicago, of course. 



D is for the Devil and the deep strain of hellfire and brimstone that permeates the country blues. Think ‘I’d Rather Be the Devil’, ‘Me and the Devil’, 'Hellhound on My Trail’, etc. 


E is for Estes. Sleepy John. Broke, Hungry, Ragged, Dirty yet Undefeated. 


F is for Furry, as in Furry Lewis and the effect of moonshine whiskey on the larynx. 


G is for Gutbucket, which is as low as you can go. 


H is for ‘Honky Tonk Train‘ and the eternal steam engine, an enduring symbol of romance and escape. Great Railway Journeys of the Blues include ‘Bald Eagle Train’ by Bukka White, and ‘Travellin’ Blues’ by Blind Willie McTell. 


I is for the first person singular, as in “I Feel So Bad”, or, more unusually, “I’m So Glad”. which brings us neatly to… 


J is for James. Skip James. For his ethereal falsetto voice and startling individuality. J is also for Jug, the poor man’s bass fiddle.  



K is for King. BB, Albert, Freddie. In fact, all sharp electric blues guitarists are called King, except for Eric Clapton, who isn’t. 


L is for Lucille, the name of BB’s guitar, and also Lucille Bogan, who explored the far frontiers of filth with the incomparably obscene and surreal ‘Shave ‘Em Dry’, recorded in 1935. 


M is for Memphis. Home to Bukka White, Furry Lewis, Bobby Bland, BB King, the Memphis Jug Band, Nathan Beauregard (see ‘O for Old’), Willie Mitchell, Elvis Presley and the Ancient Egyptians (oops, sorry, that’s another Memphis). 


N is for Nawlins, the cradle of jazz and romper room of R’n’B, as demonstrated by Professor Longhair, Guitar Slim, Huey P Smith, James Booker, Dr John (not to mention the Crescent City Soul Brigade: Irma Thomas, the Dixie Cups, the Meters, Allen Toussaint &tc &tc). What a town! 

  

O is for Old, as in Old-Time Blues, Old Friends and Old-Timers like Nathan Beauregard who made his record debut - on The 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival (1968, Blue Horizon) - at the age of 102. “It seems amazing that no-one should have recorded this unique artist before” wrote the sleeve-note writer.  



P is for Pony, as in ‘Pony Blues’ and ‘Stone Pony Blues’ and Patton, Charley, the Founder of the Delta Blues and creator of the Pony Blues tune family. I also remember Gus Cannon exhorting “Mule Get Up in the Alley”. A similar beast and the same idea.   


Q is for Queen of the Blues, that’s Koko Taylor, as opposed to the Empress of the Blues (Bessie Smith) and the Mother of the Blues (Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey). 


R is for ‘Rolling Stone’, the Muddy Waters tune that gave the popular UK combo their name. 


S is for Smith. Just as early religions worshipped women, so did early blues fans. And an unfeasibly high number were called Smith! Notably Bessie, but also Mamie and Clara and Trixie.  


T is for Hound Dog Taylor. The infusion of raw punk energy into the blues, generally credited to RL Burnside’s 1996 record A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, has an earlier source in the eponymous album by Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers, a waxing on Alligator Records in 1971. Hound Dog Taylor radiated chaos and ramshackle charm up to his dying day (December 17, 1975).   

U is for Underdog, which is the root of the blues condition.  


V is for Victor. That’s Victor Brox, the veteran UK bluesman. When he found out I was writing a book about Bill Leader, the folk producer, and not Victor Brox, the veteran UK bluesman, he took it on the chin. “Did you know I used to sing with the Spinners?” he said, referring to the popular Liverpool folkies. No, I didn’t. “Of course they weren’t called the Spinners then. They called themselves the Sheep Shaggers.” Typical Victor. I might get round to that book yet.  


W is for Williamson, Sonny Boy. He appropriated another singer’s name and adopted the pinstripes and bowler hat of the London city worker of the time. He was foul-mouthed (“Little Village, muthafucker”), never sang a song the same way twice and played blues harp like no other.   


Y is for Yazoo, a peerless label founded in 1960 by Steve Perls, and dedicated to early US blues, country and even a little jazz. Robert Crumb cartoons graced some of the covers, as in the celebrated 'Truckin' My Blues Away' (above).    


Z is for Zydeco, the Louisiana offshoot of the blues. 

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