The Golden Age of Blues - was there one?
Thu Sep 2 14:50:43 EDT 2010
I really hope that this does not come across as arrogant or self-serving but I think that I lived through a Golden Age of Blues.
It had nothing at all to do with me other than the coincidence of birth. I was born in 1935 (same year as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis) so I was already old enough for fresh new Leiber-Stoller hits of the 1950s.
I got to Greenwich Village to see Brownie & Sonny, Jesse Fuller and Josh White in the late 1950s and I was a newspaperman and almost 30 years old when The Rooftop Singers had a huge hit with "Walk Right In," written by Gus Cannon.
I was involved in the rediscovery of blues artists and formed a booking agency to take care of their work. So I was listening to the music as done by the originators, not the second generation.
I heard Arthur Crudup sing "That's All Right, Mama" and "Mean Ole Frisco," Skip James do "I'm So Glad," Fred McDowell do "You Go to Move," Big Mama do "Ball and Chain" and countless others.
I met Muddy when he was just turning 50 and B.B. King was about 42 when I first met him.
The fact that I want to stress here is that a few of us were acutely aware that we were seeing giants performing an art form at its highest level. That's important because we could take it all in and know "This is as good as it's going to get. Remember this moment because it is never going to pass our way again."
Son House (among others) was incredibly difficult to work with because hiding his alcoholism and getting great music from him was a job that took intense focus and effort. But I realized just how great he was and knew that I had undertaken the responsibility of getting him before an audience.
I heard Jimmy Reed sing "Oh, Baby, You Don't Have To Go" and the memory still brings chills.
I met Bonnie Raitt when she was in college and when we would go to see Muddy, he would always sing "She's 19 Years Old" for her as his next song.
Remember that the American Folk Blues Festival brought some of the greatest blues artists of all time to Europe for a number of years and that should be recognized as being a "Golden Age" for that audience.
There was a time when Son and Skip and Booker and Lightning and Mance and Mississippi John and Sleepy John and Robert Wilkens would all share the same festival stage just like there were nights when you could see Junior Wells, Lefty Diz, Otis Rush, J.B. Hutto, Little Walter and a bunch of others on the South Side.
I have artists that I really enjoy hearing today and I make it a point to go to their shows.
It's just that I heard the Big Boss Man sing "Big Boss Man" and it'll never be as good as the real thing.
Again, this is not intended to be a "been there, done that" post. By coincidence of birth year, I think that I was fortunate to watch the parade of "The Golden Age of Blues."
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