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

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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!


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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.

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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

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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!

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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 12BarArt.com 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.

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