Several months ago my son, Mike, told me about a video I needed to watch of a young Taiwanese ukelele player named Feng E. I found it on YouTube and was blown away. Later he told me to check out Feng E playing a duet with Tommy Emmanual, the great Australian guitarist. Then yesterday he said I had to watch a jam between Feng E and Queen guitarist Brian May.
Keb’ Mo is one of the most talented, loving, and caring performers on today’s blues scene. Yesterday he performed an hour-long free concert from his home just to give us a break from all this virus stuff.
If you know me you know that I love blues music and blues history. Thumbing through YouTube recently I came across a wonderful documentary about the birth and growth of British blues and thought I’d share it with you fellow blues lovers.
When people would ask her about her music, she would say, “Oh, these kids and rock and roll — this is just sped up rhythm and blues. I’ve been doing that forever.”
– Gayle Wald, author of Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe
What do rock and roll pioneers Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard have in common, besides belonging to the inaugural (and all-male) class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees?
They were all deeply influenced by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Godmother of Rock and Roll, and the subject of the collage-happy Polyphonic video essay, above.
(I’d rethink the essayist’s choice to obscure Tharpe’s right hand with an unnecessary cut out of a floating guitar superimposed over archival concert footage. Here’s an unobstructed view.)
When I was a kid and visiting South Carolina relatives in the 1950s it was a common thing to see chain gangs working along the roads. These gangs were mostly made up of African Americans who were often arrested for no other reason than the local road commissioner needed cheap labor to cut weeds or dig ditches.
NOTE: This is a reprisal of a piece I published in 2012 and while it remains informative and accurate it astounds me how positive I sounded eight years ago and how pessimistic I feel today. Eight years ago we had the hope that arrived with our first African American president. Today we have a president who wouldn’t hesitate to fertilize the seeds of strange fruit if he thought it would advance his fortune and fame.
I’ve been a student of American History for most of my life. The thing that draws me to history is the constant challenge it presents to one’s perception of reality. We all live in a comfort zone and make assumptions that everyone is experiencing what we are and that things have always been as they are. Studying history never stops pulling the rug out from under one’s feet. Just when I thought I couldn’t be shocked, bam!, I’m laying on the floor!
Yesterday I began watching a new DVD on the history of Chicago’s Maxwell Street. In the middle of explaining the black exodus from the South during WWI the front page of a Louisiana newspaper, the New Orleans States, popped up and shocked me. Continue reading Strange Fruit – Reprised
Jessye Norman was a force in the world of opera. My knowledge of her is limited and came from watching a PBS special about the history of the song, Amazing Grace. She helped tell the story of John Newton, an English slave trader who sought redemption by, in part, authoring what may be Christianity’s most popular and well-known hymn. During the program, Norman and others performed various renditions of the song.
I later watched a PBS recital of operatic music performed by Norman and was enthralled.
Jessye Mae Norman died in September of 2019 at the age of 74.
While I can’t claim to be a great devotee of jazz I have been aware of it since being a teen in the 1950s. I remember people like Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and that’s probably where my limited knowledge of jazz began. I also need to mention Mad Magazine since they often featured cool characterizations of players like Dizzy Gillespie and Charley Parker. I mean, if jazz was good enough for Mad, it must be something I needed to be aware of.
I was an early convert to folk music back in the 1950s and one of the first songs I learned to play on my cheap Harmony guitar was Freight Train. Like so many folk songs I just assumed the author was long gone and long forgotten.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered Elizabeth Cotton, the very old and very talented lady who on her cheap Sears & Roebuck guitar, wrote the folk classic, Freight Train.
A friend recently posted an audio recording of country music performer, and Greenfield native, Brad Martin performing the hit record, Before I Knew Better, he cut back in the early 2000s. I dug a little deeper and found a video of Brad being introduced to a Grand Ole Opry crowd by Little Jimmy Dickens.
My son introduced me to a very young Taiwanese ukelele player named Feng E. It was a video of him sitting in the back of his mom’s car doing unworldly things with a uke.
The next day I did a search on YouTube and came across this kid playing a 6-string guitar and performing a very complicated number he’d written. I remarked to my son that the boy’s style reminded me of Tommy Emmanuel and my son told me that this kid has appeared on stage with Emmanuel doing the old Mason Williams number, Classical Gas.
Back in 2005, I decided I’d like to judge a BBQ contest so I did a little research and discovered I’d have to take a class through either the Kansas City BBQ Society or the Memphis BBQ Network. I decided on Memphis because it was closer and I’d heard more about the Memphis in May events which included a huge BBQ festival and competition.
So, off to Memphis went I and after the training session, I decided to meander through the Delta for several days. I’d been there before but always with family and always on a schedule. I was retired now and my time was my own.
There was a time in the American South when juke joints were to be found at every dirt road crossing. Sometimes they were ramshackle houses or abandoned commercial buildings but often, they were small buildings assembled from whatever could be found. Rough cut boards, disassembled shipping crates, and rusting metal roofing were common.
Inside these places could be found fried catfish, smoked pork, cold beer, corn liquor and a couple of guys with cheap instruments pounding out the rhythms that we know today as the blues. If there wasn’t live music there’d be a jukebox playing records and thus the name, juke joints.
Most music lovers have probably never heard of Sam Hopkins. But call him Lightnin Hopkins and maybe the light bulb switches on. Hopkins was from Texas and before his death in 1982 he became one of the best known of all the early blues pioneers. He was also one of the most prolific and frequently recorded.
People always reference Robert Johnson’s style of guitar playing as being the best but best is something hard to define. I personally don’t know any blues picker better than Hopkins.