Born in Mississippi and immersed in the sounds of the delta, the legendary Elmore James (1918-1963) learned to play both acoustic and electric guitar at an early age. After the war, he began a professional career in music that brought him to Chicago by the early 50s. There he participated in the birth of some of the most enduring electric blues music ever, earning the title “King of the Slide Guitar” and recording classics like 1959’s “The Sky is Crying.”
Otis Redding’s third album, Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, was released on September 15, 1965. It took less than 24 hours to record, with Otis and the Stax house band of Booker T. & the M.G.’s (joined by Isaac Hayes on piano and an ensemble of horn players including the Memphis Horns) entering the studio on July 9 and wrapping up on the 10th.
The album contains an assortment of covers, mostly songs written and recorded previously by Sam Cooke. Cooke was Redding’s idol. His death the previous December brought a palpable level of emotion to those songs. The standout from the album, at least in my opinion, would be a song written by Otis and Jerry Butler. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” would be the first big hit for the big ‘O’.
Eddie James “Son” House (1902-1988) grew up around the Mississippi Delta, one of the homes of blues music. By his own account, as a “churchified” young man, he held the blues and other secular music in low regard. At the age of 25, he experienced a blues-related conversion and began a musical career.
His career was characteristic of bluesman of the time, which is to say not very lucrative. He served time in jail. He made a few recordings during the Depression. He was also recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941 and 1942. But much of his time can’t even be reconstructed with the historical record. The 1960s resurgence of interest in the blues, in particular the interest of white teenagers in Europe, made a lasting difference for the last quarter of his life and career.
Here he is singing his legendary “Death Letter Blues” in 1967, as part of the touring ensemble billed as “The American Folk Blues Festival.” This performance is preserved from its original broadcast on German television.
Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (2009) is a “classic” in the Summers Sandoval household. It was the first movie my first two kids ever saw in a movie theater, and became part of our “regular rotation” in the spring of 2010 when the DVD came out.
You might be surprised to learn that relentlessly repetitive viewing has its perks. When the movie in question has some talent behind it (and this one does) you start to discover little bits here and there that would otherwise be missed. Some are clever, some funny, some dramatic and complex. In a movie paying homage to New Orleans jazz culture, some are downright educational.
I had never heard of Mr. Sidney Bechet (New Orleans, 1897-1959) until his name popped up in a lyric to the song “When I’m Human,” featured in the above movie. When I learned more about him, that ignorance became startling. Bechet is one of the fathers of New Orleans jazz. A contemporary of Louis Armstrong, Bechet was a virtuoso jazz saxophonist, known for his amazingly expressive solos. He also seemed to have lived quite a personal and professional life. A taste of his bio can be found at the website of The Sidney Bechet Society.
It’s sad that a Disney cartoon brought this music to my and my kids’ ears, but I’m glad something did. Here’s Bechet playing “Old Stack O’Lee Blues,” a recording from 1946.
In the more than 40 years since they released their first album, a variety of line-ups have played as The Allman Brothers Band. Playing their classic “Whipping Post” at one of their 1970 shows at the Fillmore East (before the March 1971 shows that would make up their third album, Live at the Fillmore East), the line-up featured here is the strongest of their career: Greg Allman on organ; the late-great Duane Allman on lead guitar; Dickey Betts on lead guitar; the late Berry Oakley on bass; Butch Trucks on drums; and Jaimoe on drums.
Paul McCartney (Liverpool, 1942- ) wrote “Oh Darling!” and recorded it in 1969 for what would become The Beatles last recorded studio album, Abbey Road. It’s a standard blues tune, reflective of the foundation of a lot of popular music of the 1950s and 1960s. This video features the vocals of the song with the music stripped away.
Samuel Maghett, more famously known as “Magic Sam,” was born (1937) and raised in Mississippi. He moved to Chicago at the age of 19 and, even though his career was cut short by a heart attack at age 32, he is considered one of the master’s of the Chicago blues sound.
Here’s his “I Don’t Want No Woman” from his 1967 debut album, West Side Soul.
Been busy working, but I ain’t forgot about ‘cha!
“Death Letter,” by the immortal Son House (Mississippi, 1902-1988).
Lenny Kravitz (New York & Los Angeles, 1962- ) performing “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” at the April 1994 taping of his MTV Unplugged special.
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (Louisiana & Texas, 1924-2005) performing with Canned Heat at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1973).