Blues to ward off the lockdown blues

Sarthak Kaushik | Updated on May 22, 2020 Published on May 22, 2020

Leading man: Some of the finest musicians to have come out of the British rock and blues scene found their feet on the stages they shared with John Mayall   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Let’s press play on three blues albums extending their hands in a bluesy greeting

*Even as the lockdown continues, here are three albums drawn from the blues genre to help beat quarantine fatigue

*Chester Arthur Burnett’s Moanin’ was the introduction to the blues for an earlier generation, and it remains essential listening even today

*John Mayall crafted the modern rock and blues scene along with contemporary greats such as Eric Clapton

The lockdown has almost turned into a bit of a classical piece, hasn’t it? With every crescendo comes the expectation of a grand closure to the endeavour, only to segue into another nuance that extends the experience.

As we await another imminent lifting of restrictions, it seems like a good idea to drive the blues away with the help of artistes and their oeuvre; work that might help with widening the rather vast doors to the possibilities of the genre.

The sheer magnitude of mastery in the blues renders this list personal, and is meant to merely be a gateway to the vistas. There will definitely be a feeling of some obvious names being conspicuous by their absence; but then, the journey of that discovery can be a personal one. For now, let us gather around and press play on some albums that are extending their hands in greetings.

Moanin’ in the moonlight

The album fixed the spotlight firmly on a man who can only be described as a force of nature — Howlin’ Wolf or Chester Arthur Burnett. His debut album is a punch in the gut with a velvet glove: Simple, straightforward, but drenched in the Chicago blues. He was to later take his enviable skills to the Delta and give a whole new impetus to the Delta blues, but Moanin’ was the album that first drenched the eardrums of a whole generation with the taste of raw blues.

John Mayall: Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton

This was modern blues crafted by the masters themselves, at a time when one was at the peak of his powers, and the other was just about learning to tame his incredible skills. John Mayall’s music was considered by the occupants of conference rooms in radio stations not worthy of the airwaves, but some of the finest musicians to have come out of the British rock and blues scene found their feet on the stages they shared with Mayall. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie — who went on to form Fleetwood Mac — did glorious time with the Bluesbreakers, as did Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, Aynsley Dunbar from Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, and Jack Bruce, who went on to create Cream with Clapton and Ginger Baker. But Slowhand’s chops underwent the spit-n-shine routine with Mayall. On an interesting side note, Clapton got his nickname Slowhand because, in the initial stages of his career, he had a very heavy-handed playing style that would lead to broken guitar strings. And since he would take a while changing those strings, the audience would start the slow hand clap, which was then abbreviated to “slowhand” and stuck to Clapton as a nickname. But when the strings were whole again, the blues magic that was crafted can be heard quite clearly in this effort with Mayall.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Texas Flood

Clapton said of him, “It had gone past the point of being envious or depressed, because I knew no one would expect me to be that good”. His journey was as difficult as the ease with which he could coax the guitar to do his bidding. He struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, almost losing his skill to the addictions, but fought back valiantly to top the charts and the list of blues icons, writing rousing celebrations to life with his music. Often he would sit on a chair and play while his bandmates took a break at the bar, crying while making his guitar talk. And it all started with Texas Flood, his debut album, making it quite the opening paragraph of SRV’s story, and a great way to taste the blues.

The pantheon of the blues, though, is bubbling over with names that evoke the most ardent of emotions. It includes the legendary Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker in the classic blues mould, with tales as interesting as the notes they crafted together to make the story of the blues that much richer. The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Paul Butterfield fired up electric blues with robust rhythms and soaring vocals. Johnny Winter came out of Texas and got the mojo working with his raspy vocals and teeth-clenching guitar playing.

The current crop of the bluesmongers is also waving the flag rather lustily. Kenny Wayne Shepherd got his first album out when he was all of 17, and set the charts — and the imagination of blues aficionados — on fire. Derek Trucks, with nothing but the slide and the tube amp that he had been using since he was nine years old, has not only carried on the massive legacy of the Allman Brothers but also forged his own identity on the shoulders of eye-wateringly spectacular guitar-playing skills. The idea of the three albums was but to pour some fuel on the fire of inquisitiveness about the blues. Which way the fire will burn is entirely up to the listener’s ears!

Sarthak Kaushik   -  BLink


Sarthak Kaushik is an RJ at Ishq 104.8 FM, Delhi

Published on May 22, 2020

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