Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Ah Woke Up This Lunchtime...

I have a very dear friend who once made me a compilation of old blues records, on cassette, in the days when TDK C-90s traded between teenagers were the closest any of us could dream that we'd ever get to Napster.

I liked almost everything on that tape, so much that I leapt at the chance of going to a Blues Festival in London, at the Hammersmith Odeon as it was then, to see John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Albert King and I think there was somebody else dead famous in the 'blues community' as well. It was terrific, really exciting, and the memory has stayed clear and strong enough that I can still smell the interesting tobacco being smoked by the party to the right of us - this being back in the days when it was acceptable for people to attempt to set light to the hair of the people in front of them in theatres and cinemas.

Trouble is, even after this epiphany, although I can quite happily listen to blues sometimes, I still find that I don't get terribly excited about any but the 'greatest hits'.

Most of the songs, I find, sound rather similar to most of the others, and most of the singers had voices which in their early twenties sounded as lived in as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen's these days.

Meanwhile, I've been musing on the idea that the very worst people to compile 'best of' collections are those who feel passionately about their subject. Rather it should be left to those without emotional involvement, who are prepared to edit, brutally if necessary, and who will not stick a challenging b-side or five in to either tempt completists or test the patience of anyone attempting to find an entrance to the world into which they are peering for the first time.

Assuming my theory to be correct, this, of course, seems to make the blues a pretty good project for me to have a go at.

I've skipped Robert Johnson on the grounds that - cue heretical comment - any but purists will probably struggle with the sound quality of even the cleaned up versions - and even though all his recordings will all fit onto a single CD, time seems to stand still while it is playing.

Another thing that an introduction should be, in my opinion, is short - and this is short. I'm talking 'back to vinyl' here, and a single album at that.

Recently I've been downloading lots of 'best of' CDs with a view to discovering new music, but the temptation of the artist, compiler or record company to fill every available byte of space on a disc to give punters their money's worth seems to be overwhelming these days, no matter how slim the canon, or - in the case of new albums - if there are only 40 minutes worth of good ideas.

And so, today I present - for all those who, like me, just don't really 'get' the blues, or for anyone who fancies it but doesn't know where to start - a fairly random selection of what I remember being on that compilation of what started me off down that stoney old passway, even if I didn't get very much further.

This lot, though, ROCKS!

Tracks are:

1. Elmore James - Dust My Broom
2. Slim Harpo - Scratch My Back
3. John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillun
4. Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign
5. Leadbelly - Midnight Special
6. Lightnin' Hopkins - Baby Please Don't Go
7. Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightnin'
8. Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley
9. Jimmy Reed - Bright Lights Big City
10. Muddy Waters - Hoochie Coochie Man
11. Mississippi Fred McDowell - You Gotta Move
12. Blind Lemon Jefferson - See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
13. Sonny Boy Williamson - Fattening Frogs For Snakes
14. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells - Messin' With The Kid

Woke up this mornin', de-dum-de-dum

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