Without sound recordings, how will future generations surfing the Web have the chance to assess the half dozen years or so when James Blood Ulmer was onto something with his gutbucket take on rural blues, folk, and harmelodic jazz? As long as videos have been posted on the Web I’ve been searching for live, recorded concert performance evidence of the Ulmer music I’ve loved since stumbling on Are You Glad to Be in America through Odyssey and the countless live albums that recycled the guitar-drums-violin approach of that last great studio album. I’ve had no luck finding video evidence of the Blood I knew and loved…until now!
Chances are you won’t get it, but I thought this was somewhat visionary, mind-expanding music when I heard it in my late teens and early 20s. I still find the best of his work during these years to be inspiring and, somehow, representative of deep American values, as corny as that sounds. For this discussion, however, I’m not so much interested in focusing on my personal experiences with Ulmer, but in examining artists we loved who began to believe they were something else and sucked thereafter.
In Ulmer’s case, who’s to say? The man had to pay the bills. As real bluesmen kicked the bucket, he must have seen an opportunity to occupy a Last Man Standing position and earn a few long-overdue paychecks. When you’re James Blood Ulmer, forgotten hope of the early ’80s NY jazz scene and Martin Scorcese wants to feature you in his highly anticipated documentary on da blooz I guess you put down the harmelodics, suck it up, and crank out a pointless cover of “Spoonful.” While you’re at it, get Vernon Reid, another Great Black Rock Hope of your era, to plug in and jam along with you. If you run out of white folks to eat it up in the US, the French are seated at the dinner table, waiting for their serving.
So my example is James Blood Ulmer. He got to thinking he was an honest-to-goodness bluesman, and he’s sucked ever since. It saddens me. Has an artist ever abandoned him- or herself – and sucked thereafter – in your eyes? Do tell.