Friday, August 13, 2010

Lightnin' Hopkins CD Release

On Monday August 16th Future Noise Music will be releasing a 3 CD compilation of the works of Texas blues great Lightnin' Hopkins.

The cover will feature a scratch-board painting of Hopkins I did in 2009. I'm simply busting.

I'm always a little nervous when someone requests some artwork of mine and I know they're going to crop it and/or add text. In this case the worry was unwarranted as I think they did a ripping job.


Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Otis Rush Painting

Well I finally got around to painting a portrait of my favorite blues singer all time- Otis Rush.
This baby went through several transitions as I tried to fit biographical elements into the painting. Since this is a young Otis I avoided some of the health issues he's been dealing with over the last several years- namely his stroke.

I fit the bio elements into the ominous moon hanging in the sky. The crow, who has become a fixture in several of my latest paintings is the trickster character. The raven is a trickster character in many Indian and Inuit mythologies-much like the trickster character Legba in African mythologies. That's why he's always looming as a character in my blues paintings.

The woman is obvious as I've more then once heard Otis talk about the heartbreak he has endured over the years. I'm thinking specifically of a clip on Youtube where he gives an interview and articulates his experiences with the opposite sex. he sounds as if his heart had been through a meat grinder. Fortunately for Otis he found his true love in a Japanese fan who sought him out. I plan to include this when I do a painting of Otis as an older man someday.

Finally the snake is coiled into the shape of a dollar sign9hopefully not too obviously). Otis has had his share of sour business relationships with record companies over the years -which led him to putting his guitar down altogether at one point in his life. It has also resulted in very few recordings for such an influential and important artist. Otis has seen his share of greedy snakes over the years I'm sure. I think most blues artists have.

The gathering clouds have also become a fixture in my latest paintings. In this painting they take on a more significant role (other then just looking cool). I've read in several articles and books that Otis can get down. Real down. Some have even gone so far to suggest that he might suffer from depression. I find that easy to believe when I hear him sing-it's a blue as you can get. I'm not romanticizing depression- I'm just saying I hear a genuine pain in some of his performances.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lightnin' Hopkins CD Cover

I can't give very many details as the CD is still in the production stages but it appears my scratch-board painting of Lightin' Hopkins will be featured on the cover of a new CD compilation.

Although I'd like to maintain an air of professionalism I have to admit I'm absolutely giddy with excitement.

When I receive a copy I'll post it.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, May 10, 2010

Keef and the British Blues

This is a clip, or rather a collection of many clips, from a BBC documentary called "Blues Britannia". I received a copy as a gift from my daughter's boyfriend who lives in Scotland, and it's fantastic . If it's at all possible to get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend watching it. If not, it can actually be viewed in it's entirety on Youtube(click link to view). It's a BBC production so it goes without saying that it's absolutely topnotch.

I was particularly impressed with some of the commentary by Kieth (Keef) Richards. Say what you will about him, the man knows his blues. This Youtube clip features many of his comments featured in the doc.

A lot of my reading is on the subject of the history of this great music form. I find the blues craze of post war Britain to be an extremely interesting and unexpected twist in the story of the blues.
Surreal in fact. I bet Muddy, Wolf et al., could have never imagined as young men, hollerin' at a Saturday night fish fry or picking cotton under the punishing Delta sun, that one day they would be performing in great halls for crowds of screaming white kids on the other side of the ocean.

Stranger still, is the fact that these pasty faced English kids introduced a generation of young Americans to a music that was born in their very own backyard. Irony is certainly not lost on the blues.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Charley Patton Painting

This is the exclusive to 12 Bar Blog unveiling of my newest painting.

I tried some thing a little different this time around. I took a picture after every painting session and turned those into a short video (see below). Enjoy!

I now turn my paintbrush to either Muddy Waters or my Favourite blues singer, hell singer period, Otis Rush.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chasin' That Devil Music

I've just recently finished reading a book entitled "Chasin' That Devil Music" by Gayle Dean Wardlow. Anyone who has ever read a book on the subject of blues history, at some point, has heard his name pop up.

Gayle Dean Wardlow was born on August 31st in Freer, Texas. At the age of 6 he moved to Meridian, Mississippi where he grew up and became interested in collecting old records. He originally sought out rare blues recordings to trade and acquire country and hillbilly discs.

Fortunately for blues fans the world over, Wardlow began to focus on blues recordings and investigating the lives of Mississippi blues musicians. He has since become one if not the most important blues researchers in the world. His investigations into the lives of blues legends like Charlie Patton and H.C. Speir have cemented his place as one of the world's leading authorities on country blues. One of his most illustrious discoveries is the uncovering of Robert Johnson's death certificate. Simply put, if not for his meticulous research and countless interviews with people like Ishmon Bracey, a great deal of the knowledge we have about the pioneers of blues music would likely have been lost forever.

"Chasin' That Devil Music" is a collection of articles Wardlow has written since the sixties for magazines such as Blues Unlimited, Living Blues, 78 Quarterly and Guitar Player.

If you're looking to read a blues history with a comprehensive narrative, this might not be the book for you. For that I recommend "Delta Blues" by Ted Gioia, or the blues lover's bible, "Deep Blues" by Robert Palmer. This book is about blues research and it reads as such. Wardlow's writing style is nothing close to approaching lyrical, it's plain and to the point. Many of the articles are about obscure musicians that might not be of interest to the casual blues fan. This stuff is 100% proof rotgut. The real deal.

Although some of the articles seem esoteric, many are enormously entertaining and informative. For me the highlights of this book are the pieces on Patton(actually written by Benard Klatzko with GDW), H.C Speir, Tommy Johnson, Blind Joe Reynolds and last but not least, Robert Johnson.

Also included in this book is an audio CD of over 20 great delta blues performances, as well as clips from interviews Wardlow conducted as part of his research. Most of the tracks are from Wardlow's very own collection and serve as a great companion to the reading materials. Well worth the price of the book itself.

I recommend this book to anyone who is seriously seeking to learn about the history of this great music. The importance of Wardlow's research in this field cannot be overstated. In fact, in 2006, "Chasin' That Devil Music" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame as a classic of blues literature. Good enough for me...I'm sold.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Tale Both Old and New

The blues genre is filled with fantastical and colourful characters. Some are so fantastical they enter the realm of myth.

Most people- blues fans and non blues fans alike- are familiar with the mythology that surrounds Robert Johnson and his famous midnight rendezvous at the crossroads with the devil himself. His subsequent rise to blues legend and the circumstances surrounding his mysterious death are still debated today. Was he poisoned –down on all fours and barking like a dog? Had the devil come to collect his due? It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies.

As it turns out Robert Johnson wasn’t the only name scratched on the Satan’s calendar. Long before Robert Johnson’s nefarious meeting, blues pioneer Tommy Johnson (no relation) claimed to have gone to a crossroads a little before midnight. He'd been playing for a short time when a large black man walked and took his guitar, tuned it, then gave it back. For the mastery of the guitar Tommy had given up his everlasting soul.

Beyond the mythology however is a very real and human story of self destruction. Johnson’s story wouldn’t seem out of place in modern entertainment tabloids. Everyday we hear of talented musician’s hell bent on self destruction. One only need point to Amy Winehouse and her current struggles or the tragic lives of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain or Shannon Hoon. The list goes on.

One of my favorite Delta blues songs has always been “Canned Heat Blues” by Tommy Johnson. I really had no idea what it was about or what the title refers to. I just dug the quirky groove. Other than in reference to the sixties blues/rock band -I had never even heard the term used before.

As my interest in Blues music grew over the years I began to read more about it. I eventually learned that “Canned Heat“ was the end result of a process of straining the alcohol out of the popular portable cooking fuel Sterno. This was a common and potentially lethal practice amongst the harder-living men of Prohibition times.

If the Devil came to collect his due from Johnson- he did it in a slow and torturous fashion. The songs “Canned Heat Blues” and “Alcohol and Jake Blues” are testaments to that. They are agonizing howls from a man in the cast-iron grip of alcohol addiction. Johnson’s alcoholism was so absolute he was also known to drink Bay Rum(aftershave), shoe polish and Solo(paint thinners). Ledell Johnson, in an interview with Gayle Dean Wardlow, said this of his brother
"Tom, he was already embalmed before he died.

Ishmon Bracey a former blues musician turned minister and contemporary of Johnson, tells a heart-wrenching story of the last time he saw Johnson alive (audio clip below). Bracey’s story of redemption would not to be Tommy’s to share unfortunately. Tommy Johnson died on November 1st, 1956.

(Audio clip from companion CD/"Chasin'That Devil Music" by Gayle Dean Wardlow)

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lightnin' Hopkins Marker

Once in a while I’ll stumble upon some blues related news that leaves me shaking the ol’ noggin. Just such news came to my attention with the announcement that the Texas Historical Commission has agreed to award a historic marker in honour of Texas blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Now don’t get me wrong- it’s not that I don’t think Lightnin’ is deserving of a historical marker. My reaction was quite the opposite in fact. I was shocked by the fact that here we are in 2010 and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ legacy is just now being honoured with a marker in The Longhorn State. I would have thought that a historical marker in his honour would have been rusted, dust covered, paint peeled and in desperate need of restoration by now.

But ain’t that the blues? Music pioneers such as Lightnin’ had to constantly live with such oversights in their own lifetimes- especially on their home turf. Many blues legends over the years have sadly passed away penniless and alone. Often unable to afford the medical care they desperately needed. All the while watching younger generations of mostly white musicians become international superstars and wealthy beyond imagining -playing the very music they created. No wonder Lightnin’ was inclined to pop the cork on a whiskey bottle.

The blues greats had to travel overseas to receive the accolades and adulation they deserved in their day. But hey- better late then never I say! That’s not to take away from all the great folks over the years who have laboured for wider recognition of the contributions of these music pioneers. People like Houstonian Eric Davis who was the driving force behind this particular effort. Kudos to you Eric!

Below you’ll find a link to the piece I came across regarding a money raising effort to finance a marker. It contains information on how you can donate to this most worthy and long overdue tribute to the great Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Lightnin' Hopkins Marker Donation Info

Bookmark and Share

On This Date in Blues History

A Blues legend was born on this date (March 30th) in 1914- John Lee Curtis Williamson. Blues fans will know him as Sonny Boy Williamson (not to be confused with Sonny Boy Williamson II- a.k.a. Rice Miller).

He was a giant in the Blues world and goes down in history as one of the greatest harp players of all time. In fact he's often referred to as "the father of modern blues harp.

So raise a glass to the memory of Sonny Boy!


Bookmark and Share

Welcome to Junior's Juke Joint!

Up here in chilly Canada, you don’t come across a whole lot in the way of genuine Juke Joints. Hockey arenas yes-juke joints not so much. So when a frost bitten blues fan like yours truly wishes to see some live blues at a genuine juke joint –well he best pack a change of boxers, gas up the car and point it south.

There is another option however. You can make your way over to Junior’s Juke Joint. This website was created John L. Doughty Jr., a Mississippi resident (on the Louisiana side) and self-described cultural anthropologist.

If there’s a juke joint in Mississippi, Junior knows about it intimately. Where it is, who owns it, even the price of a beer. These aren’t the “Juke Joints” you’ll find by clicking around Mississippi’s Tourism website either, as Junior explains " I’m not talking about white people blues bars filled with college students. I'm talking about edge-of-a-cotton-field juke joints filled with real Delta folks.”

If you’re a fan of not only blues, but the culture and history from which this great music form sprang- Junior’s Juke Joint will provide you with amplitude of great stories, pictures and even maps to, as Junior puts it,” Delta places the local chambers of commerce never heard of. (Heck, let's face facts: if the chambers knew about those places they'd want to shut them down.)”

Juke joint locations aren’t the only things Junior dishes out. He also gives you tips on how to camp around Mississippi on the cheap while travelling from juke joint to juke joint. He provides good southern recipes for stick to your ribs home cooking. Suggestions for side trips like great out of the way eateries and grave markers of the blues greats. Oh yes- and Junior spins a pretty good yarn also. There are stories of honkey tonk shoot ups ,living at a brothel and weekends spent under T-Model Ford’s shade tree.

The design and look of the site is rudimentary at best-but don’t let that fool you. This site has been honoured various times, most notably named "Most Entertaining Online Ethnography” by the Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives.

The deeper you delve into the Juke Joint the richer the material gets. Junior is definitely a character- a true original. It goes to demonstrate that sometimes the fans of blues are as much a national treasure as the musicians themselves.
"If you're in one of these places and you notice a tall white guy with a gray ponytail, that's probably me. Buy me a beer for directing you to such an awesome place." - John L. Doughty Jr.

Bookmark and Share

Bookmarking the Blues

Finding online materials on popular music figures is a pretty easy task. Google “Madonna”- and you’ll be awash in a sea of images and videos of the vacuous one, faster then you can say “pointy coned-shaped brassiere”. When you’re a Blues fan however, the search can be a little more daunting.

I came across a website a little while back that was an absolute bonanza for any Blues fan, especially those interested in the history and origins of the music. The site is called Folkstreams: The Best of American Folklore Films. As stated in Folkstreams’ Mission, it’s goals are simple, “One is to build a national preserve of hard-to-find documentary films about American folk or roots cultures. The other is to give them renewed life by streaming them on the internet.” Mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned.

One of my favourite films is called “Born For Hard Luck: Peg Leg Sam Jackson”. This film was shot in 1976 by Tom Davenport, and tells the story of the one legged harmonica player residing in South Carolina. How hard is his luck really? Well Sam states that "If it were raining soup at this very minute, everyone would have a spoon. Why I’d have a fork.”
In his younger days, like many Bluesmen of the day, he hobo-ed across the U.S. on freight trains. He did everything from street busking, travelling with medicine shows selling snake oil, to working as a deck hand when caught as a stowaway on a boat headed for Cuba.

Oh yes- and he can blow the harp and sing the blues! I searched his name to see if he ever got into the studio and was pleasantly surprised to see he had. Apparently, Sam hit the studio with Louisiana Red around the same time the film was made. The recording was released by Labor Records and titled “Early in the Morning”. I listened to some song previews and it sounds great-both in the performance and quality of the recording. I’ll have to put that on “the list”.

Another gem is a short film called “Cigarette Blues” that features a live performance of Cigarette Blues by one of my all time favourites Sonny Rhodes and the Texas Twisters. I saw him a couple years ago and swear he wore the same salmon coloured suit. Sonny is always looking sharp!

The list goes on and on! There’s “Deep Ellum Blues” about a Dallas neighbourhood long since destroyed by the construction of an expressway. It was a Blues Mecca frequented by the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly, and even the notorious Bonnie and Clyde. It was a place where musicians black and white would get together after hours and jam all night long.

Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen” is a Bill Ferris film( I read a book of his called “Blues from the Delta”) that features some amazing footage of a youthful B.B King playing solo. If you’re from another planet and not yet convinced B.B. is one of the greatest blues performers ever- you will be after watching this film.

Another highlight is a Beale Street salesman who recites a poem of what the Blues is. One verse goes:

Last night I had a dream I died
The undertaker came to take me for a ride
I couldn’t afford a casket-embalming too high
I got up from my sick bed
Because I was too poor to die
Now ain’t that blue?

Other films on this site include “The Land Where the Blues Began” featuring the legendary folklorist Alan Lomax . He was only the first guy to record Muddy Waters for the Library of Congress- no biggie. Related to the origins of Blues are films on African-American works songs in Texas prisons, imaginatively entitled “Afro-American Work Songs in Texas Prisons”, and "Gandy Dancers" (African American Railroad workers), as well a film on the fife and drum tradition in the south. All of it riveting stuff!

Folkstreams is a goldmine for any serious Blues fan and well worth checking out. So-open a cold one, sit back and enjoy!

I’ll leave you with a short film called “Sonny Terry: Shoutin’ the Blues”.
FolkStreams » Sonny Terry

Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 29, 2010

Heroes Of The Blues

Growing up I loved to draw. Fortunately for me I’ve had the opportunity to work most of my adult life as a professional artist. Last year I started doing Blues themed artwork to express my passion for the music form. The culture, the history, the performers old and new- I love it all!

As a younger artist I had a great number of artists I admired. One of which I’ve always felt a special affinity toward because of our mutual passion for drawing and the blues. R. Crumb is an iconic figure in the world of popular culture- he’s probably best know for his “Keep on Truckin’” character in the 70’s and as the pioneer of the whole “underground” comic movement.

He’s also an accomplished musician and collector of vintage 78 rpm records. His love for blues has manifested itself in many of his works. He’s created graphic novels, books, and even a comic book biography of Charlie Patton based on a biography by Stephen Calt and Gayle Wardlow.

Heroes Of The Blues Trading Cards stands out as my favourite of Crumb’s forays into the Blues motif. The set of 36 cards depict the legends of early blues history: Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, Charley Patton, Jaybird Coleman, Big Bill Broonzy, Barbecue Bob, to name a few. Not only does each card feature Crumb’s fantastic artwork, flip it over and you get a brief bio of the musician on the back of each card. Brilliant!

I found this video of what is a basically a slide show of some of these great drawings. Words of caution- try not to slip into a seizure from the psychedelic transitions.

Enjoy the genius that is R. Crumb!

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welcome to the 12 Bar Blog!

Hiya blues fans! Welcome to my brand spanking new blues blog!
I guess a brief introduction of myself is in order. I’m Paul Lachine a professional Illustrator of almost 20 years now doodling away in the deep south- southern Ontario Canada that is.
I’m also the creator of a website called which features my blues themed artwork. Please feel free to poke around and peruse some of my paintings if Blues artwork interests you at all.
My vision for this blog is to explore different aspects of the blues- the old, the new and everything in between.
I hope you enjoy some of my blogs and please comment if the mood should strike you. I’d also like to extend an invitation to contribute to this humble little blog if you think blogging about the blues might tickle your fancy.
So- please check in every once in a while to see what the 12 Bar Blog is up to.

Bookmark and Share