Apr 112011

Each Sunday while preparing dinner I greatly enjoy listening to Nick Spitzer‘s American Routes show on NPR. He plays American roots music, much of which I would not listen to without Spitzer as my guide. I don’t know what it is about the guy, but he’s one of those DJs who just sounds so nice, knowledgeable, and inviting that I even find myself enjoying the occasional zydeco song. As if to prove how much of a non-American roots enthusiast I am, rarely does a week go by that he doesn’t throw in one Rolling Stones cover of a blues or Chuck Berry chestnut so I can think to myself, Man, young Mick Jagger was the best blues singer ever!

With Spitzer’s focus being on American roots music and the term “American roots music” usually excluding the “roots” music from my northeast city boy perspective, I’m bound to be faced with a challenging episode now and then. Yesterday’s episode, Living With the Blues, was probably the most challenging one to date. Here’s the description:

This week on American Routes, we’re roaming the highways, byways and crossroads of the Magnolia State, looking for all kinds of blues. We sit down with noted blues scholar Bill Ferris to talk about his lifelong obsession with the music of his home state, and visit with Delta piano blues chanteuse Eden Brent to learn about her music mentor Boogaloo Ames. We set out north for Holly Springs and some Hill Country family jams. Then we head towards home to hang out at Teddy’s Juke Joint, and catch up with the master of the gut-bucket blues, Little Freddie King.

I didn’t make it through the entire episode; I had to bail when he got to Little Freddie King, near the end of the first hour. The “Delta piano blues chanteuse” really wore on my nerves, and before her I was already bugged by Clifton Chenier doing a pointless zydeco version of the great “Walking to New Orleans,” but retitled “Walking to Louisianna.” What’s his beef with New Orleans? What point did it serve to have to cram in the state name? If he wanted to walk to some place other than New Orleans, couldn’t he have substituted another Louisianna town name, somewhere specific? Ugh! It couldn’t have been any more generic and kiss ass than that cover. What’s next from Chenier (if he’s still alive), a zydeco version of Elton John’s “Pennsylvania Freedom”?

I forget what exactly bugged me about the blues chanteuse, but her music, too, was so generic. For how long must blues musicians sing about their babies having done them wrong, being broke, etc? We get it, it’s da blooz, but isn’t it time someone gets sad about something else, or expresses those emotions in some novel ways? Where’s the Bob Dylan of the blues, the Beatles of the blues? Hell, where’s the Wire of the blues? The structural limitations within which so many blues musicians work is tight enough; must all modern-day blues practitioners also lack any sense of poetry and originality? I hear musicians wanting to “pay homage” to their blues heroes. That’s awesome, but show the spirits of deceased heroes that you’ve learned something from them other than how to play tabs of their work. The ghost of Muddy Waters wants to know he’s inspired you!

I believe it’s time to place a cap on da blooz, retroactive to 1965, when the British and American rock bands had exposed enough music fans to the works of blues artists to kick off the reissues/blues festival craze and get these cats at least a small portion of the earnings that were due to them in their prime. Unless commissioned by historical societies, no more blues should ever have been recorded. If you’re on the fence about my proposed cap on da blooz consider this: Buddy Guy would not have had time to release his first solo album.

Would you support a cap on The Blues?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

  26 Responses to “Placing a Cap on Da Blooz

  1. tonyola

    I agree that da blooz have been over-recorded and overplayed at live venues with not enough originality and too much respect for the past. However, I think it’s still an extremely important and useful style for any rock/soul/R&B musician to learn. The blues are a great way to learn how to express yourself within the limits of a standard progression and form. I’m a pretty decent keys player, but when it comes time to play blues, I’ll want to pull out the sax. Besides, if it weren’t for the blues, we wouldn’t have that immortal question of the ages: Can blue men sing the whites?

  2. As a musician who plays in a blues group as well as two non-blues groups (garage rock and power pop) and being a white guy from New Jersey with lilly-white collegiate hands (credit:KITH). I understand your frustration with “Da Blooz”

    In Atlanta we call the white boy blues “Kittens With Sunglasses blues”, basically if The Blues Brothers is your blues influence (or even SRV) and you are more about the gear and bowling shirts, play the three “blues” songs (Sweet Home Chicago,Mustang Sally and Goin Down) then you are in this club. (basically everyone at a blues open mic)

    Of course nobody SAYS they are in this club, they say ” I may wear a bowling shirt, hat and sunglasses and have a $2,000 strat and play those three songs, but I am a REAL bluesman (of course you are).

    I consider myself outside of this group because I write original music in an overall blues style but no song has “my baby done left me” crap that sounds like the “Kraft Maccaroni and Cheese blues” TV commercial. Also I take my blues from Hendrix, Cream, ZZ Top, Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Chris Whitley and other next generation guys and do not pretend to be a sharecropper.

    Buddy Guy, BB King, Freddy King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Slim Harpo, Willie Dixon and the worlds greatest blues voice, Howlin’ Wolf are worth getting to know. Of course Chuck Berry is a bluesman, the most successful one in history.

  3. “Unless commissioned by historical societies, no more blues should ever have been recorded”

    This is the blues I hate the most, University Blues -these guys tell you who wrote the song and what year before they play their white bread version

  4. Does this proposal ban Captain Beefheart’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” (recorded in 1965)?

  5. No, because Captain Beefheart didn’t position himself as a bluesman. The best of the blues graduated to rock ‘n roll. I think the historical/educational importance of the genre, as tonyola pointed out, is valid.

  6. As with power-pop, I feel like whenever an artist transcends da blooze — that is, “expresses those emotions in novel ways,” as Mr. Mod puts it — he/she no longer becomes a blues artist. I really don’t consider Chuck Berry blues for this reason. (Though I willingly admit I may be flat-out wrong.) Nick Cave is another artist who has drawn heavily on blues for almost his entire career, and is never, ever playing da blooze. Same with his erstwhile ladyfriend PJ Harvey.

    Jungleland2 mentioned University Blues. Hilarious. Reminds me of this book I read a few months ago; it wasn’t bad, even though I initially thought the premise was kinda dopey.


    Much better at that sort of book, though, is Jesse Sublett, former member of The Skunks. Anyone heard of him?


    Sorry for that little detour. As some of you know, I have a side obsession with detective/noir/crime fiction.

  7. Also, I just read an online article about The White Stripes. They are releasing their final concert (from 2007) on vinyl, and it apparently leans heavily on blues covers. Like you, Mr. Mod, I am ambivalent/indifferent about a lot of what Jack White does, but I do feel he tries to do something interesting with da blooze.

  8. Agreed, Oats. With White Stripes’ penchant for minimalism, maybe they were the Wire of the blues.

  9. I have a decent amount of blues recordings and I voted for the cap, although I put the date at about 1962 because I think that was the year that Howling Wolf put out Killing Floor. I can’t even listen to the Blues anymore except for an occasional song by Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Robert Johnson.

    I don’t like Buddy Guy and in fact walked out of a show a few years ago (I was there to see Los Lobos, who opened and were great). He personifies the formula: two or three fast blues songs followed by a slow one, all with some majorly wanking solos, then repeat. To be fair, the breaking point came, not after a guitar solo, but when a woman in the extremely white and privileged looking audience yelled out “You’re the real deal, Buddy!”

    I also think that Jazz and Country could be capped at about 1962 without many major losses, but I recognize I might be in the minority here.

  10. BigSteve

    Chris Whitley, now there’s a guy that took the blues in a whole new direction. Another recommendation would be Little Axe, the name Skip McDonald (Sugarhill Gang, Tackhead) uses when he records blues-based material in a more modern electronic setting.

  11. 2000 Man

    I’m kinda with you on this, Mod. I have a friend that adores the Blues and not in some university way. He goes out of his way to find the crazy one man bands, guys with “curiously tuned guitars” like T Model Ford and every now and then some white guy that’s all twenty minute guitar solos. It could be worse, but I don’t want to put a cap on it since he seems to enjoy it so much.

    Did you hear the new track The Stones did with Bill Wyman on bass? It’s a cover of a Dylan song, and I think it’s pretty good. I think at this point in their career, I’d just as soon hear them do a solid album of blues songs, covers and originals.


  12. Wow, that’s actually good! Yeah, bring on the covers album.

  13. If they can put out a record that sounds this alive, then any style is fine by me.

  14. hrrundivbakshi

    Go listen to Jimmie Vaughan’s extremely excellent new album, then tell me modern white-boy blues is dead.

  15. Why bring race into the discussion?

  16. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey, that “Stones” track is great!

  17. No cap. Blues hasn’t had the peoples’ ear in while but it is a traditional form and somebody’s keeping it up. Look at it this way, how do you decide when you are going out to see some music and don’t know who it is or what it sounds like. I’ll usually go for the Blues Band. I can tell if they are proficient and it generally works for most rock fans since it is kind of a common baseline.This guy (who I learned about on movie soundtracks) is trying to do something current: http://www.youtube.com/user/ChrisThomasKingTV#p/u/14/NDcCA_J5L0E Why stop him? No benefit to cutting the stem here.

    And nice Dylan cover by the Stones! Good to hear.

  18. I think we could cap jazz and country in 1973, but a lot of good stuff in both genres came out throughout the sixties. I agree with the consensus regarding the blues.

    When can we cap rock?

  19. bostonhistorian

    I find modern blues unlistenable. Maybe as a historian I’m too concerned with time and place, but once I get out of 1960s Chicago, the blues are spent as a creative force.

  20. bostonhistorian

    I’ll also point out my own hypocrisy in loving Professor Longhair’s “Rock and Roll Gumbo” which was made in the 1970s. Perhaps it’s because the good Professor was MIA for so many years….

  21. I think that the line between the Blues and Roots music can be blurred but I don’t consider ‘Fess a blues guy even if a lot of his songs technically follow that form.

  22. 2000 Man

    Well, there was a time, before A Bogger Bang, when I’d have said, “Of course it’s good! It’s the Rolling Stones!”

    But in this post Bigger Bang world, I was just very happy to hear how good those guys could sound when they want to sound good.

  23. bostonhistorian

    Longhair is sui generis.

  24. diskojoe

    This is a great post. A dear friend of mine has been doing a blues show for nearly 25 yrs. now on our local college station & I actually substituted for him several times back in the day (& have the tapes to prove it).

    I do respect the blues, but I don’t care too much for those “Kitten w/Sunglasses” type of blues bands. I remember going to a blues show in Bosstown where I spent the whole time sleeping through the show (the couch where I sat was rather comfy as I remember).

  25. Otis Taylor is a modern blues musician who isn’t playing it by numbers. I think his records are great. Here, read this, and also check out the link to his site:


Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube