There are a few things in this world that I truly covet. I covet the Cubs. I covet the career of Cal Ripken, Jr. I covet the writing of Kerouac and Fitzgerald. And, this should come as no surprise, I covet music. More than anything, I covet music that comes from the heart, music that embodies a polaroid snapshot in a person's life. In my seemingly infinite quest to reduce music to it's purest form, to its essence, I always come back to the blues, to songs written by men who encountered hardship on a daily basis because, when you put it into context, you realize that these guys couldn't go to "whites only" restaurants or water fountains. They recorded music at a time when they were seen as second class citizens, a time when Jim Crow dictated their participation in the public forum. Despite all the roadblocks, they still made music. They played in tiny bars throughout the south that were lovingly referred to as, "jukes." They cut records then went back to the fields where they were simply sharecroppers. But, all that aside, they made music that not only endured, but laid the foundations for every single sound, every single song, every single thing that's considered American music today.
The blues is, in every possibly aspect of the word, the beginning of music for me. Without the blues, there is no Rolling Stones. There is no Doors. There is no Zeppelin, no Aerosmith, no AC/DC, no Stevie Ray Vaughn, no Bob Dylan, no Springsteen, no Otis Redding or Public Enemy . . . for me, the blues is the absolute genesis of music as I know it today and this past week, March 21st, to be exact, the world lost a disciple of American music in Pinetop Perkins.
Pinetop Perkins died March 21st, 2011 at the ripe old age of 97. His age never stopped him as he'd just won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. For a man born July 7, 1913 in Belzoni, Mississippi, Pinetop was the undeniably perfect example of the blues. He spent more than a decade playing and touring with Muddy Waters and is, for all intents and purposes, the raison d'etre, the standard for any piano player in music today. To put it quite simply, Pinetop played the hell out of a piano. I don't care who you are, you can't deny his impact on the world of music. Without him, there never would have been a Little Richard. There never would have been a Ray Charles. There never would have been a Jerry Lee Lewis or a Stevie Wonder. That's how important this man is to music, not to mention, he was probably one of TWO living people that actually knew Robert Johnson (the other being David "Honeyboy" Edwards).
We lost a legend, a TRUE legend, and that deserves a moment of our time. Rest in peace, Pinetop. The world lost you, but we'll never lose your music.
The loss of Pinetop and and short twitter exchange I had with a friend really inspired this weeks music. My friend, the one and only Penelope Quick, is expecting her first child, a girl that she's so lovingly named Hallie Grace, after her mom and her best friend. The day that Pinetop died, we mentioned the blues and the musical education of her unborn daughter. She said, via Twitter, about Pinetop: "His piano skills were boss but I loved the gravel in his voice. I wish more young people appreciated this era of musicians." I mentioned a few other blues players and she came back with this, "& RL Burnside, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf... I'm definitely feeling a Baby Blues Mix. A playlist for my fetus. Yeah....," and I immediately began thinking of how i would introduce someone to what I consider the basis for all music today, the blues.
I'm sure that if you ask anyone who you consider to be, "in the know" about music" to name a blues song that they can. They'll mention Stevie Ray Vaughn because he was popular. The might even mention a song like, "The Sky is Crying," because it was just the absolute epitome of the blues. What they wouldn't mention, probably because they were too ignorant to actually do their homework, is that Stevie Ray Vaughn was borrowing a song or "covering" a song that was recorded by Elmore James in 1960. THAT is what gets me about people. Know what your listening to. Know the importance of each and every song because THAT is what gives us the grand idea of music.
With that, I put together a little blues for you. Have at it.
"I'm a King Bee" - Slim Harpo (1957)
This song is simply perfect, so much so that The Rolling Stones saw fit to cover it and include it on their debut album.
"Devil Got My Woman" - Skip James (1968)
Simply put, Skip James was a D-minor genius who recorded music in the 1930's, disappeared, then reappeared in the 1960's, in the middle of a "folkie movement" that he absolutely abhorred.
"My Time is Expensive" - Slim Harpo
Probably more famous for his song, "The Things I Used to Do," Harpo recorded music that, early in his career, was produced by and up and coming musician named Ray Charles.
"I Can't Quit You Baby" - Otis Rush (1956)
The song was written by the legendary Willie Dixon and was revered so much by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page that they covered it for their self-titled debut in 1969
"All Your Love" - Magic Sam (1957)
Chicago was never the same after, what some consider to be the "trinity" of the Chicago blues was spawned with Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and the icon Buddy guy reinvented the blues.
"Call It Stormy Monday" - T-Bone Walker (1947)
"Classic" isn't enough word for this song. Just ask guitar legends like Albert King and Eric Clapton. They recorded covers because it's that damn good.
"Juke" - Little Walter (1952)
Recorded when Little Walter was only 22 years old, "Juke" has become the standard for the harmonica, PERIOD.
"The Sky is Crying" - Elmore James (1960)
The song is, to put it mildly, 12 bar brilliance. Most people associate this song with Stevie Ray Vaughn, but Albert King got there before SRV. Elmore delivers a masterpiece, plain and simple. SRV was great, but Elmore made it all possible.
So, for Pinetop and the unborn Hallie Grace . . .I put together some blues for you. Some you'll know and some you may not.
DOWNLOAD - Volume 1
DOWNLOAD - Volume 2
So, at a time when we lose a legend, we're graced with new life. Listen to your mom, Hallie Grace. The woman has good taste.