Is the Blues Being "Loved" to Death

Tobias Henderson
Tue Jun 23 05:44:12 EDT 1998

Over here in England we have a problem with a type of fan called (lovingly,
mostly) the Anoraks. We also call them "Trainspotters". They manage to do a
couple of things and their attitude creeps into the promoters too.

(A.) They are extremely vocal and can be obnoxious if they decide that "You
are not playing it the way <insert the oldest style reference to whatever form
you're playing that you can conceive of> did it and so it is not BLUES.
Considering that I have been playing Blues for 44 years professionally and
some of my first work (and most of it until I was in my late 30s) was for
Black audiences with Black artists and I numbered folks who are/were famous
Blues artists amongs't my friends and they considered me to be a Blues
guitarist and singer, then the Anorak BS bounces off but it is there and it is
destructive. As I have quoted before..."What is the use of having ROOTS if you
cannot grow anything from them"

(B.) Because the folks described above do not (and apparently cannot)
understand that Robert Johnson, Son House, Blind Lemon, Lightnin Hopkins, John
Lee and Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Skip James, Leadbelly, Brownie McGee, James
Cotton, Muddy Waters, etc were playing "popular" music in their community and
trying to get people to listen and dance and thereby get a living, they
dismiss topical and relevant music (relevant to today's society) and the next
generation of Blues Musicians is dwindling, despite the fact that the reality
of Blues has always been its commentary on contemporary happenings and
situations. Prison songs are about prison life, work songs are about work (and
sometimes oppression), love songs are about love and sex and loss, sex songs
are about sex, love, sly humour, violence and loss and so on. They are about
human beings experiencing HUMAN FEELINGS and externalising those feelings and
thereby easing the pain and connecting to the rest of us. By these standards,
Lynard Skynard's "Mr. Saturday Night Special" which is anti-handgun and
illustrated with real incidents is surely a Blues Song and it will make you
dance. The point is that Blues is the cross-cultural, cross-economic, music of
the human heart and is sexy, funny, funky, deep, shallow, dirty, clean, and
all the other ways a human can be. Trying to make it into a museum exhibit and
put it in little boxes works destruction on those who make it and those who

Slagging people off because they do not play "traditional Blues" and do sell
records is just egregious. Who among us would not weep for the loss of a
child. The fact that Eric Clapton wrote a beautiful song about his son's death
and his feelings and then had the courage to sing it in public is laudable.
OK, so he isn't Freddie King but so what. None of the other folks who have
ripped off bits of Freddie's style are as honest about it. This is not because
I particularly defend Eric Clapton or his career. It is simply that the man
does know what the Blues is about and in his way, he has tried to play his
own. If, and I know that it does, an Eric Clapton record gets some teenager to
go to a record store and listen/buy the original folks then he has done us all
a huge favor. When I go out with my band and play Guitar Synthesiser as well
as guitar and the local record store owner thanks me for helping him to sell
his catalog of Blues artists to the students who frequent our (my group)
performances, then I am doing the Blues a favor. I am also pissing off the
trainspotters and paying the price for it.

OK, now I am off the soapbox except to say one thing. Every human being, from
high estate to low degree has or will have a recognisable case of the Blues,
at least once if not regularly in their life time. It makes us human and
despite the artificial barriers we erect to protect our fragile and often vain
pride, we are all the same (human) and all different (God Bless us Every One)
and always interesting.

Tobias Wood (TW) Henderson

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