The blues are so popular now it is amazing.
Tourists from all over the world as far away as Japan flock down to Mississippi and follow the signs signifying the Blues Trail..everyone searching for the authentic experience.
All i can tell you about is my personal experience with the blues. My father was the main distributer and importer of the blues in Canada .He carried some 200 labels of music from all over the world of blues ,folk ,roots,world,classical ..it ran the gamut except for pop.That was the turf of the big labels like Capitol who had the Beatles and Columbia who had Dylan .
This was my playground this music where i learned my chops in life. We had a huge record collection dating back to the 50’s when i was born and indeed as i was being born my father hooked up a record player and played Porgy and Bess by Gershwin as Little Johnny came barreling into life …My first sounds were of music. It never stopped .At 2 years old both my brother and i had our own record players .At 5 i had maybe 50 or so records that were all kids music and story/songs. My earliest memories are of waking up each morning and putting on a record and either drawing a picture or just listening.
A day did not pass when my father wouldn’t bring home a new record and he would play it on the Hi Fi as we had supper. Sundays music boomed all over the house all day and what music..the Weavers and Pete Seeger,Leon Bibb singing Oh Sinner Man and Josh White singing One Meatball and Paul Robeson singing Shenandoah and Old Man River and Carmina Burana opera and ..and… There was no end….Sometimes we would all join in as a family and sing ,sometimes we would dance ,sometimes we would just sit on the living room carpet and listen quietly.This was my childhood …
I had reasoned at a young age that my family were probably aliens and i was ok with that.
I remember the feelings i had visiting my best friend’s house and scanning the maybe 12 records they had in their collection and being shocked….stuff like Liberace and Andre Kostelanetz and maybe a shelf of 10 books while our house numbered in the hundreds and hundreds. Yes we were different indeed and i just shrugged and kept all that to myself.
The blues i first heard when i was 7,8 .
Dad brought home a new line of records and it was mostly a young B.B. King but it was B.B. playing gospel which were his roots. He recorded about 60 gospel records and i listed to them digging his riffs on the guitar. This was on the United label . I was 10 when i heard Mississippi John Hurt and he became a favorite. Then my ears picked up Son House and Big Bill Bronzy and Charlie Patton …
By the way blues sales worldwide was just a 3 % fraction of all record sales so what has happened these days is phenomenal.
I was 11 when i decided to devote my life to digging the blues seriously.
I went down to the library and i must have taken out a dozen books about the blues and i pored over each page while i played my records.
I dreamed of going down South to Mississippi and the Delta and i hatched a plan to run away and hop freight trains to the South and join the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King ..
My parents found out about my plans to run away and i was stopped flat out. My brother ratted me out.
I was crushed !
I was a purist ,a snob and i refused to listen to white boys playing the blues.
I wanted the real thing and i held my nose high.
One of the records i pulled out of Dad’s collection was a guy named John Hammond and i really dug his versions of Robert Johnson and Muddy .
He played a mean harp and soon i too picked that up …
A year later i found out he was white and i was pissed off.
A number of years ago Tom Waits who was a frequent customer for 20 years in my record store came in with John and i told John that story and he laughed and said ,
“The same thing happened with me with Mose Allison.”
We both cracked up..
I was 12 when i sneaked downtown on my own for the first time and went to sit at the feet of Rev Gary Davis and i was smitten.I had come in early and found myself in a urine stained hallway and who did i come across but a drunk Rev Gary Davis talking on the phone to his wife i guess apologizing
,”Ahm sorry baby Ahm sorry ”
I stood there gawking until he turned to me and let out a roar,
“What the fuck do you want?”
and i ran away but i came back for his set ..I figured he was blind and he wouldn’t notice me .lol
I must have seen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee a dozen times the last time on a cold Sunday in an upstairs rented hall in Edmonton Alberta. I had pestered them enough over the years that they were familiar with me and they were surprised to see me there and greeted me heartily.
I got into the record business in my early twenties following my father’s footsteps and my first business foray was driving from Western Canada in my first car i could barely drive and i drove all the way to Oakland area in California d walked into the offices of the great blues and roots label Arhoolie an persuaded Chris Strachwitz to give me the exclusive distribution of his label for Canada. In turn Chris turned me on to all his friends labels after i did such a good job.
You see my education in the blues held me in good stead and thus my career was launched.
I got to know every president of every record label of the blues in America and at the Independent Record Conventions we would hang out sometimes until the wee hours of the morning watching old films of blues shorts that Bob Koestler of Delmark Records would show .
Here i was among many of the people the pioneers who went down to the South and revived the carriers of Mississippi John and Son House and the other greats who all would have died in obscurity if not for their dedication and fanaticism..
Another person i was raised with was the legendary Moe Asch of Folkways who worked with Dad in the importation of his label some 3,000 records which my dad was proud to stock each one .
I would visit Moe in NYC and listen to his stories about Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.
So i go back a long ways with the blues .
I ain’t no Johnny come lately but i welcome all the late bloomers as brothers and sisters in the blues.
It is an awful mighty music indeed.
Since those young days i have rambled in the Deep South and have gone into the small towns where nary a white person is seen and i have hung out in the juke joints and plantations and BBQ joints .I was there this past Spring hosting a friend from Switzerland the formidable Blues Woman of Appenzell Bernadette Mundy on a 5 week journey to the South showing her Memphis and New Orleans and Mississippi Delta…
I hear everyone pontificating and holding court on the blues and i mostly keep quiet.Everyone is an expert and that is ok too. I just remember when i was really young when most kids were playing baseball and hockey and i was content to play a record of the blues and be in my own world where no one entered lost in time…I ain’t no expert ..I just know what i know…