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He had a left hand like God. He didn't know what key he was playing in, but he played them all. He could play the ragtime stride bass, but it bothered him because his stomach got in the way of his arm, so he used a walking bass instead. I can remember when I was thirteen - this was 1896 - how Turk would play one note with his right hand and at the same time four with his left. We called it 'sixteen' - they called it boogie-woogie - Eubie Blake remembering William Turk, from Giles Oakley's The Devil's Music, BBC

Author Topic: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account  (Read 5773 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« on: August 21, 2008, 11:54:36 AM »
The discussion elsewhere concerning the DVD of the 1967 AFBF reminded me of the lengthy account given by Paul Oliver of the event held at London's Hammersmith Odeon, October 26 published in Jazz Monthly, December 1967 (p. 9-11):

AMERICAN FOLK BLUES FESTIVAL

THE assembled line-up of the "Newport Jazz Festival in London" was in total extremely impressive? Max Roach, Dave Brubeck, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Roland Kirk, Charles Lloyd, Thelonious Monk, Clark Terry, Johnny Griffin, Herbie Mann, Ben Webster, Bill Coleman, Elmer Snowden, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Archie Shepp with a host of supporting musicians. Their respective concerts are doubtless being fully reported elsewhere and the musical worth of the performances discussed.
   Tuesday?s concert, featuring the "Newport All-Stars", was some consolation to the enthusiasts of mainstream, although this type of pick-up orchestra seldom seems to have a personality of its own. For the enthusiast of Chicago music, or of New Orleans and the traditional background of jazz, there was not even this sop to Cerberus. It was the more surprising, and gratifying for a select company, that the emphasis in the American Folk Blues Festival was very much on the tradition. But as this was the only blues concert it might be said that it lacked the balance of elements of the blues as did the total of jazz concerts for the instrumental forms.
  This said and acknowledged, the potential of the blues concert was unparalleled in the five years of the series promoted by Lippman and Rau. It is hard to convey the sense of anticipation and excitement shared among blues enthusiasts at the line-up of the concert. It is rather as if devoted researchers had followed up a chain of hints and clues to discover that King Oliver, Freddie Keppard and Johnny Dodds were indeed alive and capable of playing. If such a mythical concert was to take place one can imagine perhaps, the mingled disbelief, exhilaration and apprehension that would be shared by the devotees. With the complex of reactions, sympathies and hostilities which the rediscovery of Kid Rena, Mutt Carey or Louis DeLisle provoked in the past still in mind and the subsequent developments of jazz fresh in the memory, few critics could approach such a concert with impartiality and objectivity.
   Such was the case with the Folk-Blues concert, for here were appearing, in the flesh, Son House, Skip James and Bukka White. Son House is to Charlie Patton as King Oliver was to Buddy Bolden; his contemporary, part-successor and wearer of the crown. Bukka White is Keppard?s counterpart?rougher, primitive, unequal, capable of performances illuminated by flashes of real brilliance. For Skip James there is perhaps, no jazz equivalent: a highly personal and individual artist, fundamental to the tradition but at the same time a little aside from it in the way that a jazz musician in the New Orleans context of collective improvisation could never be. Could one coldly review the latter-day performances of a creative genius of jazz in its formative years, believed long dead and now revealed alive, playing in person? Maybe one could. But blues constitutes for a large number of the devotees of the music a life-long love affair, and love-affairs notoriously colour vision.
   To a jazz readership this qualification is essential, for there was no comparison in the jazz concerts to the significance of this blues evening. However, the blues concert also included familiar blues artists whose names and performances are well-known here though once their appearances were greeted with similar emotions? Little Walter, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. And there were, in addition, two or three others whose relationship to the veterans has no comparison even among the second line of jazz musicians in the main concerts. These may be considered first.
   Though a totally traditional concert would have been preferable to an attempt at a balanced one which put the lesser musicians in the scales, the self-made conventions of the Blues "Festivals" require "greetings from the Windy City of Chicago, Illinois" (cheers). The words were this time, Dillard Crume?s. Crume is a little-known Fender-bass player who also acted as M.C. Dimpled and smooth, he was an agreeable enough young Gospel quartet member whose condescending comments on the older men more people would have found insufferable if he had been white: "Son House, ladies and gen?men?a fine old gen?man, for his age . . ." The drummer for Chicago was Odie Payne, who kept time, swung sometimes, clowned and mugged a lot, and never had that elusive quality that distinguishes the implacable Freddie Bellow. Advance reports from Hamburg suggested that Hound Dog Taylor "murdered Elmore James?s best numbers". Forewarned, I was pleasantly surprised, especially in the second London concert, when, announcing that "I?m havin? me a ball" he played with spirit and humour. The Elmore James rhythms are certainly being worn thin by over-playing and Taylor is by no means an inspired interpreter. Competent, and good on It Hurts Me Too and Roll Your Money Maker, his is largely a visual act; not because he is entertaining but rather for the fascination of his canine, zoomorphic features which earned him, with characteristic South Side appropriateness, the name of "Hound Dog".
   The female spot?again there has to be one?was taken by Ko-Ko Taylor (no relation, I believe). Wigged and looking like a member of the Supremes or the Marvelettes, she wore a glittering viridian dress and wiggled her way through What Kind of Man is This. Echoes of a Lucille Bogan tune linger in the song and Ko-Ko almost had a voice to meet it, but her enforced growling harshness spoiled the theme. Rock Me Baby and Wang Dang Doodle, the latter in the tradition of "Pistol Pete" narratives, followed. Hearing them for the second time one suspected that her repertoire never varied. At least the group was capable of a gentle, rocking swing and Miss Taylor managed to drag the beat through every song.
   Little Walter was not amused. Suffering second-line musicians with barely concealed impatience, he did not exert himself. He mumbled the verses of You?re Fine Baby, worked through My Babe and put in a good Mean Old World with some fine harmonica-blowing. To be fair, Little Walter is too much of a professional to play less than well and his accompaniments to Ko-Ko Taylor were thoughtful and well adjusted to her singing. He has been working since the age of eight and the years are taking toll on his features. Little Walter is only in his forties?and he is already appearing as a "grand old man" of modern blues. Keeping time with his eyelids which snap continually as he plays, Little Walter gave good value but he was never really involved. Once he laughed?when Hound Dog Taylor took one more chorus than he bargained for; it was the laugh of the champion tennis player beaten unexpectedly at the net by a tyro.
   Topping the bill were Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry; Brownie had grown a fuller moustache and put on weight; Sonny had lost weight and was suffering from an arthritic knee, while the death of his wife earlier this year had doubtless contributed to the greyness of his hair. One realised that this seemingly eternal team was getting older and Sonny was pushing sixty. Their act was one which has become so polished by continual concert work in the States, in Europe, in South America, in Australia, even in the Far East, that to expect genuinely moving and original blues would really be unfair. They opened with Stranger's Blues and in the second concert included their familiar, somewhat ingratiating Living with the Blues, and Sporting Life. On both concerts they featured Rock Island Line and it was interesting, perhaps symptomatic, that though they had both worked memorably with Leadbelly their version derived from the Hays Hellerman-Seeger performances of the Weavers. Brownie was playing a good deal better than in 1963 I thought, and on Whoopin' the Blues Sonny Terry hollered and wailed phenomenally, proving yet again his incredible virtuosity. Predictably they walked off to Walk On, and to immense applause.
   Bukka White opened the show, a spot normally given to a singer experienced in the Folk Blues Festival tours. A little uneasily he played his first songs to much the same tune, the balance was not in favour of his immense voice and the strum of his guitar outweighed the melody line. A big, broad man with heavily jowled features, Bukka White has the type of voice frequently described as "heavy", though this does not convey the deep, growling vibrato he uses. He plays a steel National guitar with a long brass ring on his fourth finger, with a rough, crude attack which by his own admission breaks up his guitars. In the first concert, though he sang a strong Aberdeen Mississippi he never quite projected to the full. The second house found him more at ease, more conversational with the extrovert manner for which he is well-known, in evidence. He started with two unusual items, Way Out in Indian Territo' and Gipsy Hill and really relaxed when he played one of his train imitations, air brakes and all, Special Streamline. Encouraged by the response he placed his guitar flat across his knees and gave out with a tremendous Poor Boy, Long Ways from Home, chillingly reminiscent of the Library of Congress recording he made while a prisoner in Parchman Farm. This was the real Bukka White and greatly moving.
   Contrasting with Bukka's powerful, barrelhouse music, Skip James?s style is restrained, considered and infinitely gentle. A shy and reserved man, Skip James is very intelligent and young in mind. He is consciously proud of the individuality of his music, both in the complexity of his guitar playing on I?m So Glad, and in his use of falsetto voice throughout. Very sensitive to environment and audience reaction he was at his best in the first house when he sang Devil Got My Woman, Illinois Blues and a blues about his recent period in hospital in Washington. His uncanny, eerie voice is too singular to be ignored or just accepted. Though some do not like it I found his performance deeply touching. It was more the choice of his songs, including Cherry Ball and Crow Jane, than his degree of involvement in them that made his second appearance less satisfying than the first.
   And Son House. Smaller and more frail than one imagined, Son House communicated directly. His hands shake with ague and one could not imagine how he could find the notes, so that the moments before he began were clouded with apprehension. It took him a verse to settle down; a verse almost muttered to himself. Then his head was thrown back, his eyes rolled under the lids and he sang loudly and forcefully in a manner that seemed inconceivable after his barely inaudible speech. Death Letter, Levee Camp Moan, Empire State Express?the years rolled away and one was transported by the mesmeric rhythm of the guitar under the flailing fingers, the singing brass ring sliding on the strings and the powerful, musical voice. In his great days Son House had the finest voice in the blues and enough of it?s quality remains to carry his emotionally charged lyrics. Perhaps the fierceness has gone and the range shaded off but he still has considerable dynamics, the phrases ending in the forceful exhalation that links him vocally with Patton.
   Overworked the term "living legends" may be, but it is applicable in the case of these three elderly veterans. Some who were present were disappointed a little. Maybe it depends on what you anticipate. I was frankly anxious for the artists and found them happily in command, with more of their youthful abilities still present in their work than anyone has a right to expect. This was a truly memorable occasion, not just for the quality of the music of the older men but also for the dignity of their comportment. To have been present when they appeared together in Europe was both an affecting experience and a privilege. (less Oliver photos of James and House)


Offline doctorpep

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2008, 01:13:38 PM »
Sorry to more or less re-post the same question (I hope this isn't a big problem), but what kind of shape is Walter in on this dvd? I know he died a premature death. I'd be interested in picking this up for Skip James and Walter, if Walter is in good shape.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2008, 06:36:54 AM »
I hate to admit this but I attended the first show at the Odeon and was only really there to see House, James and White...the other acts seemed to wash over me. However I did make a point of going to see see LW perform at a pub in Bexley, Kent at which he seemed tired and disinterested but those present loved every minute of it.

Charlie Gillett writing of the first show that evening:

The blues, often absent from entire performances of jazzmen, had their own night on Thursday when the annual "Folk-Blues Festival" was slotted into the jazz week. The wonder of the night was Son House, undoubtedly the most important of the recently "rediscovered" country blues singers. He sang only two songs, but immediately revealed a highly sophisticated yet unselfconscious style, which magically integrated a soaring, intense voice into complex rhythmic guitar patterns. After him, and Skip James, the pseudo-blues of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee left a sour taste, but the contemporary Chicago blues band proved to be the most satisfying of all the rhythm and blues bands to have appeared in these shows. The way in which drummer Odie Payne constantly varied the patterns was a revelation to drummers who feel constrained by the apparently obligatory 4/4 pop music beat. Little Walter, on harmonica, gave a wonderfully self-effacing display as a supporting musician to singers worse than himself; and the guitarist Hound Dog Taylor and bassist Dillard Crume helped create a very warm atmosphere which contrasted starkly with the detached approach of several jazz groups.

Gillett's review of the entire Jazz Expo 1967 week can be read at http://www.charliegillett.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=5600&highlight=expo

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2008, 10:57:05 AM »
However I did make a point of going to see see LW perform at a pub in Bexley, Kent at which he seemed tired and disinterested but those present loved every minute of it.
Oh my God. I've backtracked through my pocket diaries and to my horror this event took place on Sunday 20th September 1-9-6-4. Senility setting in methinks!

Offline Slack

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2008, 01:16:54 PM »
However I did make a point of going to see see LW perform at a pub in Bexley, Kent at which he seemed tired and disinterested but those present loved every minute of it.
Oh my God. I've backtracked through my pocket diaries and to my horror this event took place on Sunday 20th September 1-9-6-4. Senility setting in methinks!

Never fear, the surest sign of senility is when one starts quoting themselves.  :P

Offline dj

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2008, 02:22:27 PM »
Quote
this event took place on Sunday 20th September 1-9-6-4

According to Glover, et. al., the pub was the Black Prince and the backing band on this date was the Sheffields, a band who actually managed to cut 3 singles and who had backed Memphis Slim earlier in the year.  A young guitar player by the name of Jimmy Page was also at the pub and recorded 3 songs on a borrowed portable tape recorder:  "Everything's Gonna Be Alright", an unknown instrumental, and "My Babe".  Not recorded, but performed at the show was a version of Roscoe Gordon's "Just A Little Bit".

BH, feel free to confirm or correct.
 
« Last Edit: August 24, 2008, 12:21:10 PM by dj »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2008, 12:47:23 AM »
Quote
this event took place on Sunday 20th September 1-9-6-4
According to Glover, et. al., the pub was the Black Prince and the backing band on this date was the Sheffields, a band who actually managed to cut 3 singles and who had backed Memphis Slim earlier in the year.
My copy of the book has been on loan for months, however "Black Prince" is the name written in the diary. As for the band, can't remember a thing about them, but a news item in the February issue of Jazz Beat states that LW would make his debut at the Marquee on September 17th with the Sheffields. Slim had been the previous month to appear at the annual Richmond Jazz & Blues Festival which also featured Jimmy Witherspoon and Mose Allison rubbing shoulders with the Rolling Stones and Manfred Mann! Well you did ask!
« Last Edit: August 23, 2008, 12:48:58 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline doctorpep

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2008, 08:08:54 AM »
Guys, I'd love to have been born in the forties and be "senile" like you, if it'd mean that I would have gotten to these old Country Blues and electric Blues legends perform. You should feel honored and happy, and not elderly!
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Offline Rivers

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Re: American Folk Blues Festival 1967 - a written account
« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2008, 04:15:18 PM »
The penultimate para of the first post, describing Son House's performance, sent an involuntary shiver right up my spine.

 


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