Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

BONUS: That's All

CHARLEY PATTON, Grandfather of Rock 'n' Roll

A mean, hard-hearted mean, Patton's blues inscribed all the experiences of a Mississippi man into the rough and sometimes barely audible sounds he made for Paramount. He was one of the oldest of the major bluesmen - born in 1887, he bridges the gap between the blues and songster generations - and he sounds like a gruff, irritable figure, a self-taught musician but someone who knows he's damn good, even if he has his own manners. Blues didn't start with Patton, but he personified its expressionism - in the heat and flood of "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues" and "High Water Everywhere" - and lived out its tissue of "saints and sinners" with an intensity which still strikes through these ancient records.

Mississippi Fred McDowell

Robert Johnson

If we didn't have these scratchy etchings it would have been necessary for someone to fake them. This is how the blues sound in the root of every imagination. Johnson was of an age with several still-surviving bluesmen - but his work, preserved from a moment in time in an anyway short life, supersedes all the journeymen traces the bulk of the recorded blues is every now and then heir to. The sessions had always carried with them the whiff of legend - when this set, augmenting the original releases ever so slightly, came out, it outsold every other record in America that same week. Johnson's guitar is as polyphonic as the wheels of a train, his voice as elemental as the wind; they pass the listener at an unbiddable distance and leave only the faintest trace, like steam on a window. This music is all about impermanency, which is possibly one reason why Johnson looks like a jaunty black tulip on the cover.

T-Bone Walker

Aaron Walker pioneered the electric guitar sound that helped create the blues and thus influenced all popular music that followed.

He played one of the first electric guitars in the mid-‘30s, recording with it in 1939. His “T-Bone Blues,” recorded as a member of Les Hite’s Cotton Club Orchestra, and “Stormy Monday” both became blues classics, demonstrating his jazz-based blues style.

His single-string solos influenced blues players like B.B. King and such rockers as Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Walker continued to perform through the ‘70s, dying of a stroke in 1975 after suffering ulcer and alcoholism problems most of his life.

Elmore James

Bluesman Elmore James was inspired by the local performances of Robert Johnson to take up the guitar. It was, in fact, a number by Johnson ("Dust My Broom") that became James’ signature song and laid the foundation for his recording career. First cut by James in August 1951, “Dust My Broom” contains the strongest example of his stylistic signature: a swooping, full-octave opening figure on slide guitar. His influence went beyond that one riff, however, as he’s been virtually credited with inventing blues rock by virtue of energizing primal riffs with a raw, driving intensity.