Authenticity from the Delta – the Blues

At the same time that my ear was getting attuned to the wonders of Mersey and Beat my friend Dick Brunning, who was evidently utterly immune to the marvels of Pop Music, seemed keen to introduce me to authentic Chicago Blues. I have no idea how Dick got into what was such an obscure thing as Chicago Blues. In 1964 it was still largely unknown and certainly not popular. It wasn’t even by some eccentric word of mouth as he did not seem to know anyone else interested in Blues. He was, like me, fourteen years old and living in Surrey. Yet he’d developed an obsession with Blues.

Dick was one of that small group of people who you might find wandering around clutching a Blues album under his arm. This was how Mick Jagger had met up with Keith Richard. If Dick had lived in the right place and been on the correct railway platform he might have ended up playing in the Rolling Stones – but then he probably would have needed to have mastered a musical instrument and I don’t remember Dick having any musical abilities or interest in playing any instrument.

Dick lived some way off in Aldershot so it was quite a bike ride to his house. Therefore, whenever I went, he had a captive audience. We sat on his bed while he extolled the virtues of various Blues Artists. His favourite was an album of Lightnin’ Hopkins called ‘Lightnin’ Strikes. It had an echoey quality as Lightnin’, unaccompanied, played highly amplified electric guitar and had nailed bottle tops to his shoes so that he could accompany himself by tapping his feet. I kinda wished he wouldn’t.

At first it was a noise. I couldn’t make out a word the guy was singing and it was raw and unsophisticated. After many hours during which I politely showed interest I began to get more attuned and had a revelation as I started to make out that it was actually being sung in English even if it was not quite the variety I was used to.

Lightnin’ sang in a rich, black, broad Texas drawl that seemed to deploy a novel approach to the English language. In fact it appeared that he was attempting to create a whole new grammar as well. I found it quite intriguing. Out of sheer boredom I graduated to carefully listening to the guitar. I liked electric guitar but had never listened to anything that was remotely like this. Lightnin’ was playing loud with a great deal of distortion. As my ear tuned in I gradually grew to love the type of fluid runs he was putting together. That was all it took. The door had opened.

It did not happen overnight. It took Dick many months of hard work to get me hooked but get me hooked he did. I grew to love it. I have since hunted for that old vinyl album of Lightnin’s (He released a whole slew of albums called Lightnin’ Strikes) but have failed to locate it. I got its sequel ‘Dirty House Blues’ but it’s not as good. I have all the numbers on CD but they don’t sound the same. Somehow I imagine that even if I tracked it down those sounds are trapped in Dick’s bedroom over fifty years back and it could not possibly have the same magic.

Dick went on to introduce me to Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Moaning in the moonlight’ and Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and a host of others. I am eternally grateful.

On one occasion I can remember we were at his local record shop and they miraculously had a John Lee Hooker EP in featuring ‘Dimples’ and ‘Boom boom’. Dick was debating as to whether he could really afford it while I was extolling the virtues of  ‘Ferris Wheel’ the new Everly Brothers single that had just been released. He ignored me and bought the Hooker.

On another occasion I found an old 78 of Muddy Water’s ‘Honey Bee’. I was really proud of it. Dick conned it out of me – promising me that he knew a place where he could get me a replacement. There wasn’t any such source but Dick was so insanely in need of the 78 that I let him have it. He still owes me.

Because of Dick I got into a lot of the Blues before the Beat groups brought out their versions. That didn’t stop me loving them though. I loved the way the British Beat bands did their often freaked out versions of old Blues. They made them different.

So there I was playing my Lightnin’ Hopkins in my bedroom along with my Searchers and Beatles. It seemed to make sense to me.