Aug 03

Some thoughts on The Blues on it’s day

Well yeah I know, there’s a day for just about everything.  There’s probably a day for bi-polar one-legged unmarried groundhogs.  But today, of all possible things, is International Blues Music Day.  And, I’ve noted, New York City is the host city for this year’s inaugural event.  When I looked at the poster for the proposed performances, I noticed that I had not heard of any of the artists or acts slated to take the stage today, even though I have been an active fan and player of this genre for more than 20 years.  This is not much of a surprise.  The blues is not about being or getting famous.  You won’t find Shakira, Snoop Dogg (Lion or Groundhog), or any of the Kardashians where the flatted seventh and the bent minor third are resonating.  I thought I’d take a few moments and write about what it is about for me.

You won’t find the blues at the shallow end of the pond.  The blues, like the true color of the ocean, is where the deep water is.  Transparent and profound, the blues puts the timeless archetypical experiences of life to rhythm and rhyme so as to resonate with our own individual lives and experiences.  It does not need television, mass media, or itunes to do its thing.  I have found it to be the most effective in small un-amplified gatherings, just as it was traditionally shared.  It has been able to transmute grief and despair into joy and release for me personally, alone with a guitar in hand.

One of the most common misconceptions about the blues is that it is about sadness, or makes you feel sad.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Imagine the down trodden sharecropper and the barely paid laborer of the 20’s or 30’s spending the little extra money that they had to pass a Saturday night at some juke joint hidden out in the piney woods somewhere in the South.  They’re there to feel a little sadder?  I doubt it.  They’re there to let that magic combination of harmony and dissonance, and improvisation and repetition set to a driving beat (probably mixed with the ingestion of some illegal alcoholic beverages or smoking herb) free their emotions and souls for a while.

Hearing the blues for some folks is a like a child tasting wine or beer for the first time.  To the developed adult taste, the better examples of these drinks can bring sublime pleasure.  But that taste had to be developed, nurtured, and educated.  And one often drinks quite a bit of Budweiser before he tastes Westvleteren Blonde.  And he will never find the Westvleteren Blonde unless he educates himself and develops his taste.  In the same way, I was introduced to the blues in its electric form by groups like the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, and John Mayall in the ‘60s but now much prefer the music of Blind Lemon Jefferson or the rare brew of King Solomon Hill, for example.  Or, the modern day acoustic interpretations by some of my mentors like Paul Rishell, Mike Dowling, or Steve James.  Hey, thanks to you guys, and happy International Blues Music Day.

Let me leave you with a video.  I think this bangs home the “International” part of this Blues Music Day.  The blues belongs to everyone now. This is a piece by Robert Johnson, played on the 100th anniversary of his birthday at a club called Okurayama Muddy’s in Yokohama, Japan.  This Japanese guy, Hayasim, one of my favorite youtube artists, plays a nylon string guitar and captures the spirit of the blues as well as it can be caught.

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