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"What about Robert Johnson?" "What about John Shines?" - Johnny Shines, answers a request from the audience, Sydney

Author Topic: American Folk Blues Festival 1969 London  (Read 2390 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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American Folk Blues Festival 1969 London
« on: February 03, 2009, 12:16:54 PM »
Daddy Stovepipe stated elsewhere in regard to the new DEV set, "I especially liked the 69 festival. You'll see Chris Strachwitz presenting the artists in german!  Great backstage footage as well (Earl Hooker crooning and playing a CW song)"

The UK concert had its trials and tribulations as Paul Oliver reported in Jazz Monthly, December 1969 (p. 24-25 less photos)


THE LUCK wasn't running for Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau on October 3rd, when the seventh annual American Folk Blues Festival appeared in London. It was the first concert of the tour and it was preceded by an intended rehearsal and recording session for C.B.S. at the Albert Hall, that afternoon. There were the musicians, the engineers, the A-and-R men from Britain and Germany, the organisers and of course, the critics. But the amplification equipment was missing. And when it arrived in odd bits of orange or grey amplifiers and a clutch of microphones like forlorn flamingos, the wiring and balancing and arrangement of the stage consumed valuable hours. Tempers ran high, accusations filled the air, and the musicians gloomily sat in the auditorium or answered the questions of the blues researchers who, with notepads at the ready, were having a field day?if they could get past the security guards at the Artist s entrance. So eventually, the recording session was called off, and Dave Howells of C.B.S. decided to record the concert live. If the instruments arrived. For though Clifton Chenier s electric accordion and brother Cleveland s specially made chest-vest washboard were seen on board the plane at Houston they didn't arrive in London. Earl Hooker had one guitar, but his twin-fingerboard, twelve string electric guitar didn?t arrive either. Cleveland Chenier, washboardless, was miserable. Naturally all the musicians were keyed up and ready to record and the long waiting added to frustration. Only Alex Moore, the veteran of the company, took it philosophically and limbered up quietly on the upright piano which had been dragged on from. backstage?the grand not having arrived, of course.

When the concert was about to begin little had improved. But they d hired an accordion for Clifton which was a regular type and with an unfamiliar action. A grand piano was wheeled on to the stage though it was years since Alex Moore had ever touched one. At the very last minute, Beryl Bryden breezed in and asked to see Cleveland s washboard and learned the sad story. She hopped a taxi and returned with her own metal model literally seconds before the Cheniers come on stage. But it was Juke Boy Bonner who opened and they were still having trouble getting him wired up for sound as the show began. Between explanations of this problem Horst apologised for the non-arrival of the programmes, still held up in Germany. Backstage Fritz Rau exploded and the normally equable Chris Strachwitz, who had brought the package over, fumed helplessly.

With all these disasters it was surprising that there was anyone who felt up to playing, but strangely, Horst Lippmann's explanation to a slightly restless audience, put over with no excuses, took them into his confidence. The somewhat handicapped musicians coped with the odd difficulties and their modest, untemperamental behaviour (imagine Miles Davis under similar circumstances...), dignified rather, brought the audience entirely on their side. Somehow they managed to do the impossible and made the inhospitable shell of the Albert Hall positively intimate.

Some critics apparently weren't too happy with the festival; for myself, I enjoyed it greatly and thought it one of the most musicianly (in the blues sense, I hasten to add) of any we have seen. The names weren't big (who s heard of any of these guys? Jack Higgins asked me) but they were bluesmen without publicity gimmickry and that s what 1, and a lot of other people, liked about it. Bonner opened as I said, and swung into a fast boogie, played on guitar and harmonica, She can turn me on. He sang a couple of slow blues on the Dirty deal theme and concluded with a rocking Jumpin' For Juke Boy. There was considerable applause and for an encore he swung into a Howling Wolf-type number, whoops and all, Running shoes. In his red shirt, light-skinned and good-looking, the thirty-seven year old singer went off to further applause. He made a striking contrast to Alex Moore, nearly twice his age (seventy this month) who settled at the piano looking old and grey. His first item, Rack 'em back, was a medium fast train blues based on the Sundown blues theme. Underamplified it sounded like a distant recording from the twenties, but listening hard one could detect the genuine dynamics of his unusual blues patterns. It was a long number, five minutes, and got steadily better. He switched to a slow version of Groceries on the shelf, his foot keeping solid time as he explored configurations on the keys. I d guess it will come out better on the Ip when the balance is right, but anyway the audience gave him a very good reception and he swung into a variation on Miss No good Weed. Then on came the Chenier brothers.

Robert St. Junior, with hair cropped like an astrakhan cap, played socking drums and Cleveland rattled with his spoons on the borrowed board while Clifton gave out on Zydeco n'pass sale. His old 1955 hit Ay-Te-Fe betrayed its date with a Hey-ba-ba-re-bop chorus, and then further back still with a stunning performance of Pinetop's boogie which was a whole lot better than that might seem. Some of the audience were taken aback by a zydeco interpretation of Dreaming which Clifton manage to make into an eight-bar blues but were reassured with Let the Bon Ton Roulay. It was the real zydeco sound with strong rhythm and French words; they finished with a stomping dance to a delighted audience.

A short break and Magic Sam, accompanied by Mack Thompson and Robert St. Junior, came on. His sound was pure Chicago on, appropriately, Sweet home Chicago, and his voice melodic and with surprising range as he sang All your love and a fast blues, Feelin' good. An exceptionally good musician he played his guitar with consummate ease, frequently working welt above the twelfth fret, as in his solo on a particularly fine item, Every night about this time. Swaying and playing, he seemed totally in command of his voice and his guitar; as yet, I feel, he has not really been adequately represented on record, at any rate on general release. His Easy babe made an excellent conclusion to his set which was almost drowned in immense applause. After this, Little John Jackson, solo and playing acoustic guitar, would not seem to have stood much chance But he rapidly dispelled any sense of anti-climax, slipping with confidence into his John Jackson's breakdown. Wearing his flat cap the forty-five year old gravedigger seemed an unlikely figure in the vastness of the Albert Hall, but he was unperturbed: he swung into Nobody's bizness but my own. A Jim Jackson number, I'm a bad, bad man, didn't mean, he explained that he himself was bad, goin' round cuttin' people; it was just the song. Getting out a knife handle he played to conclude, a beautiful Poor boy the only blues singer I have ever seen actually to use a knife when playing knife-style!

After John Jackson, Earl Hooker, wearing purple suit, purple ruffles, shocking pink pumps, and looking very pale and ill after a five-year battle with tuberculosis. Most of his items were unannounced but he played well; fast Chicago items with rather more clowning, leg-waving, and playing with the teeth, Hendrix style, than was necessary, Carey Bell, stepson of Charley West no less, wailed on harmonica and at times they both seemed to be trying to steal the limelight. Hooker unexpectedly played Steel guitar rag in Texas country-and-western fashion and both he and Bell played hard on the final items, some twenty minutes after the unwelcome ten o clock curfew imposed by the Albert Hall. Hitches then, rough in a few spots, but with the problems ironed out, a great show on the Continent I'm sure.   

Offline daddystovepipe

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1969 London
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2009, 03:28:41 PM »
Thanks BH for that article.  Indeed, the concert looks a bit like a shambles but has nevertheless fine performances.
The cd that came out of this tour is even better.  Carey Bell and Earl Hooker, who's much more relaxed on the cd, did wonderful duets.


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