Mississippi – The Blues Trail

We headed off down Highway 61. We were tracing the old Blues Trail, hunting out the markers, graves and monuments to the incredible Blues singers of yesteryear.

Tracking them down took us off the beaten track to fields, obscure towns and old plantations that we would never otherwise have encountered.

The Clarkesdale Mississippi Blues Museum was a pleasant stop! The murals by the railway track at Tutwiler.

I want to go back!!

Recommended Albums – Son House – Death Letter Blues

Recommended Albums – Son House – Death Letter Blues

537 Essential Rock Albums cover

This was number 20 in my book.

Son House – Death Letter Blues
Son House started it all. He taught Robert Johnson how to play. He was king back in the early thirties. That Mississippi bottleneck country blues played on that old beat up steel guitar created a sound that was going to beat its way all down the years to infuse Rock ‘n’ Roll and start up a revolution.

Son House was a leading exponent of the style. His playing was raw, sloppy and incredibly powerful. His anguished singing was equal to it. I was fortunate enough to see him perform even though he was an old man. As soon as he started playing it was as if someone had plugged him in to the mains. The energy shot through him and cauterised us. I have never experienced such a transformation and so much ferocity. The opening chords to ‘Death Letter Blues’ were like a thunder-clap!

This album was made after his rediscovery in 1964. He was already old and had to relearn the guitar and his own songs. You’d think it would be an insipid shadow of his old power but it wasn’t. It was awesome. The playing was crystal clear and startling. ‘Death Letter Blues’ is enough to send the hair standing up to the ceiling. He still had it in Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts.

Hearing him play was a revelation. The album had other great tracks like ‘Pearline’ and ‘John the Revelator’ but who needed more. This was plugged straight back into those steamy Mississippi nights.

This is a glimpse of where it all began. Heaven knows what he would have been like to hear as a young man! It must have been frightening!

 

Anecdote – Seeing the legend that is Son House

This is one of the highlights of my long gigging career.

Opher's World

Son houseSon-House-by-Dick-Waterman

Seeing the legend that is Son House

I’ve seen a few legends in my lifetime. Music has played a big part in my appreciation of the world.

It was 1967 the height of psychedelia and Acid Rock. I was all geared up with my discovery of Roy Harper and playing Captain Beefheart, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and Country Joe and the Fish. What a great year.

But it was the new sounds that had grabbed me.

I was eighteen and roaring with a lust for life. I was packed with energy and up for anything. Life was good. I had a motorbike and a new girlfriend. My hormones, endorphins and neurotransmitters were all firing on maximum. The world was glorious.

The motorbike conked out many decades back but the girlfriend is still going strong!

I had been into blues for four years ever since my mate Dick Brunning…

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537 Essential Rock Albums (I use the term loosely) – Number 20 – Son House

537-essential-rock-albums-cover537-essential-rock-albums-cover

Weighing in at number 20 on my all-time list is the great Son House. Took me straight back to where it all began.

  1. Son House – Death Letter Blues

Son House started it all. He taught Robert Johnson how to play. He was king back in the early thirties. That Mississippi bottleneck country blues played on that old beat up steel guitar created a sound that was going to beat its way all down the years to infuse Rock ‘n’ Roll and start up a revolution.

Son House was a leading exponent of the style. His playing was raw, sloppy and incredibly powerful. His anguished singing was equal to it. I was fortunate enough to see him perform even though he was an old man. As soon as he started playing it was as if someone had plugged him in to the mains. The energy shot through him and cauterised us. I have never experienced such a transformation and so much ferocity. The opening chords to ‘Death Letter Blues’ were like a thunder-clap!

This album was made after his rediscovery in 1964. He was already old and had to relearn the guitar and his own songs. You’d think it would be an insipid shadow of his old power but it wasn’t. It was awesome. The playing was crystal clear and startling. ‘Death Letter Blues’ is enough to send the hair standing up to the ceiling. He still had it in Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts.

Hearing him play was a revelation. The album had other great tracks like ‘Pearline’ and ‘John the Revelator’ but who needed more. This was plugged straight back into those steamy Mississippi nights.

This is a glimpse of where it all began. Heaven knows what he would have been like to hear as a young man! It must have been frightening!

If you would like to purchase one of my books:

Photography – The Mississippi Blues Trail – American heritage

Americans don’t seem to value the rich Blues heritage that sits on their own doorstep. Despite the fact that nearly all modern music stems from the roots of the Blues, R&B and Jazz that came out of Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee (Mixed in with a bit of Country and a few other flavours) they ignore it. If you talk to most Americans about the significance of Charlie Patton they will likely say – ‘Who?’. So I was heartened to find they had gone to the bother of putting up blue plaques all other the place commemorating where all the great Blues Singers worked, lived, played and died. It gave all us mad Blues lovers a reason to gallivant all over the countryside hunting them down.

I was a little chastened when looking for Son House’s plaque I stopped at a big tourist centre, right close to where it was, to ask and they’d never heard of Son House, the Blues Trail or anything to do with it. Asking around it seemed like it was mainly a bunch of fanatical Englishmen like me who were the only ones going round.

Great shame.

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This was Bo Diddleys plaque in McComb. One of my favourite guys. He used to busk in the street where this plaque was situated.

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This is a national steel guitar in the Delta Blues museum. The type many old Blues guys played in the days before amplification because it made a loud sound. I love the sound of a bottleneck guitar.

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This was the monument to Robert Johnson in Hazlewood

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This is the High Street in Yazoo – One of the Great Blues labels of the day.

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The fabled Highway 61 – along which all the Blues guys travelled.

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Muddy Waters cabin – re-erected in the Delta Blues Museum (I wish they’d left it where it was on the plantation).

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A plaque to Son House (I think that was in Clarksdale)

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The Riverside Hotel where everybody stayed. It used to be a hospital for Blacks and is where Bessie Smith died.

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Sonny Boy Williamson 2’s grave (Willie Rice Miller) outside Tutwiler

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Sonny Boy’s grave was hard to find – in the middle of nowhere, set back off the road.

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One of Robert Johnson’s supposed graves (according to Dave ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards not the right one)

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The Blue Café – a Blues Joint where it all happened (And still does)

Anecdote – Seeing the legend that is Son House

Son house Son-House-by-Dick-Waterman

Seeing the legend that is Son House

I’ve seen a few legends in my lifetime. Music has played a big part in my appreciation of the world.

It was 1967 the height of psychedelia and Acid Rock. I was all geared up with my discovery of Roy Harper and playing Captain Beefheart, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and Country Joe and the Fish. What a great year.

But it was the new sounds that had grabbed me.

I was eighteen and roaring with a lust for life. I was packed with energy and up for anything. Life was good. I had a motorbike and a new girlfriend. My hormones, endorphins and neurotransmitters were all firing on maximum. The world was glorious.

The motorbike conked out many decades back but the girlfriend is still going strong!

I had been into blues for four years ever since my mate Dick Brunning introduced me to Lightnin’ Hopkins. So it was no surprise that the poster caught my eye. There was a Blues package on at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was Delta Blues. Now I loved Delta blues. Robert Johnson, Skip James and Bukka White. I adored slide guitar. This package had a number of names that I was familiar with from albums I possessed – Skip and Bukka were there, Big Joe Williams, Hound Dog Tayler and Little Walter. It seemed like a dream come true. All I had to do was persuade Liz that it sounded like a fun night out.

That was cool. She was up for most things. We’d only been going out a couple of months. Anywhere was good if we were together. I’d played her some blues and she’d liked it.

On the night we all packed in to Hammersmith Odeon. There were so many on that they were limited to a few numbers each. Skip and Bukka were great. I was so glad I managed to see them before they died. Skip was extremely ill, but was still excellent. Big Joe Williams, who wrote Baby Please Don’t Go (the Them hit), went down so well that they couldn’t get him off the stage. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were great too though more folk than blues. It was an excellent evening and chance to see the originators. But the stand out act was a complete surprise. It came out of left field.

Most of these Delta blues singers had been performing in the 1930s and 1940s. They had stopped performing during the war and had been dug out of obscurity when the sixties blues boom hit.

This old guy, in his late seventies, struggled out on stage. He was stick thin and frail with someone bringing his guitar in for him. I think everyone in the huge hall wondered what on earth was going on. We’d never heard of Son House. It looked as if this might be a step to far.

Eddie ‘Son’ House sat himself down and adjusted his guitar. He mumbled into the microphone incomprehensibly. It was funny. He sounded like the cartoon character ‘Hillbilly Bear’. A murmur and chuckle went round the auditorium.

Then Son started to play.

It was as if all the years dropped off him. I was hit by the power and driving chords of that guitar. I had not heard anything as forceful as that. His rich voice cut in and it ripped into me. This was the real thing. I had not heard anything like this before. There was such authority in his performance that I wondered how such a frail body could command so much from the audience. It shook everybody. Death Letter Blues was the most incendiary blues I had ever heard. After that first number we were up on our seats shouting for more. The whole hall was baying. Son performed a second number and then straggled off the stage dragging his guitar along the floor behind him. The roof went off the place. They were short of time but there was no way we were going to allow him to get away with that. Eventually he came back out without his guitar and sang a foot stomping John The Revelator. Then he was gone.

I never saw him again.

But I had seen a legend. I found out that Son was the start of it all. This was the man who had taught the great Robert Johnson to play, who had influenced the young Muddy Waters, and provided that impetus into electric blues and rock. You could trace it all back.

Whether it was Roy Harper, Captain Beefheart or Jimi Hendrix, this was where it had begun. Son House had been the flame that lit the touchpaper.

I had seen and heard the man who had started it all.

Son House was a legend.

Check him out here:

Recommended Albums – Son House – Death Letter Blues

537 Essential Rock Albums cover

This was number 20 in my book.

Son House – Death Letter Blues
Son House started it all. He taught Robert Johnson how to play. He was king back in the early thirties. That Mississippi bottleneck country blues played on that old beat up steel guitar created a sound that was going to beat its way all down the years to infuse Rock ‘n’ Roll and start up a revolution.

Son House was a leading exponent of the style. His playing was raw, sloppy and incredibly powerful. His anguished singing was equal to it. I was fortunate enough to see him perform even though he was an old man. As soon as he started playing it was as if someone had plugged him in to the mains. The energy shot through him and cauterised us. I have never experienced such a transformation and so much ferocity. The opening chords to ‘Death Letter Blues’ were like a thunder-clap!

This album was made after his rediscovery in 1964. He was already old and had to relearn the guitar and his own songs. You’d think it would be an insipid shadow of his old power but it wasn’t. It was awesome. The playing was crystal clear and startling. ‘Death Letter Blues’ is enough to send the hair standing up to the ceiling. He still had it in Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts.

Hearing him play was a revelation. The album had other great tracks like ‘Pearline’ and ‘John the Revelator’ but who needed more. This was plugged straight back into those steamy Mississippi nights.

This is a glimpse of where it all began. Heaven knows what he would have been like to hear as a young man! It must have been frightening!

 

In Search of Captain Beefheart – a memoir of a rockin’ life.

In search of Captain Beefheart cover

If you are looking for more of a memoir of a unique experience with Rock Music – into the Abbey Road Studio, to early Hendrix, Cream, Roy Harper and Bob Dylan, the British and American sixties Underground, then maybe this is the book for you:

This is the blurb:

The sixties raged. I was young, crazy, full of hormones and wanting to snatch life by the balls. There was a life out there for the grabbing and it had to be wrestled into submission. There was a society full of boring amoral crap and a life to be had in the face of the boring, comforting vision of slow death on offer. Rock music vented all that passion. This book is a memoir of a life spent immersed in Rock Music. I was born in 1949 and so lived through the whole gamut of Rock. Rock music formed the background to momentous world events – the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, Iraq war, Watergate, the miners’ strike and Thatcher years, CND, the Green Movement, Mao and the Cultural Revolution, Women’s Liberation and the Cold War. I see this as the Rock Era. I was immersed in Rock music. It was fused into my personality. It informed me, transformed me and inspired me. My heroes were musicians. I am who I am because of them. Without Rock Music I would not have the same sensibilities, optimism or ideals. They woke me up! This tells that story.

If you want to read more then you can purchase it here:

Rock Routes – the definitive book on Rock Music.

Rock Routes

This is the introduction to my book Rock Routes. The cover is a photograph I took in Bill Graham’s auditorium in San Francisco in January 2013. It is the remains of the Grateful Dead – now called Furthur.

We were only in San Francisco for two days and had no idea they were playing. We were staying in a little ‘hotel’ (I use the word tentatively). The ‘landlady’ was clearing stuff away. I asked why. She told me that there was this band playing down the road and all the weirdos would come out of the woodwork.

I got tickets straight away! How lucky was that! They were superb!

Introduction

Rock is dead. That is what Jim Morrison proclaimed in 1970. He was wrong.

Rock is alive and well.

Rock as a universal unifying force for Youth Culture is dead. For most young people it would appear that music is incidental to their life. It has become a consumable product to be bought and discarded. For those to whom it is central it has become an easy recognisable cult with dedicated devotees.

It was not always the case.

In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s music was the focus for social change. It was the unifying force for fashion, politics, attitude, morality and social perspective. Rock was the vehicle that youth culture rode on. Its influence was universal. Rock ‘n’ Roll, Beat music, Psychedelia and Punk were world-wide phenomena. It is salutary to look back at the 60’s psychedelic phenomena and see long-hair bands complete with kaftans, bell-bottoms and accoutrements springing up all over the world including Peru, Afghanistan, Australia, Tokyo, Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Everyone wanted to be part of the scene. They all wanted to be the Beatles, Stones, Floyd, Hendrix or Doors.

Everything now is controlled by the ‘Biz’ and run for profit.

I guess it was ever thus. It did not seem like it though. It seemed that the music was a revolution that was changing the world. It was made by us and controlled by us. It was not a product. It was an emotional portrayal of how we felt. It was ours, of us, by us and for us.

But then I’ve always been an idealist.

 

Well – I lived through it all. I’ve seen most of them and got to meet some of them. I have enjoyed a life-time of Rock Music. It has been central to everything I have done. It has affected my philosophy and impinged on every aspect of my life. I’ve lived it.

 

I am sitting here in 2013 looking forward over the next few weeks to a programme that includes Nick Harper, Roy Harper, The Magic Band, North Mississippi Allstars and Leonard Cohen. Wow! I’m looking forward to it. I’m 64 and still rockin’.

 

Back in the 1980s I ran an adult education on the history of Rock Music. I had great fun even though it cost me a fortune. My vinyl collection grew exponentially.

 

This book is an extension of that course. I first wrote a four volume book totalling 1500 pages entitled Rock Strata. It told the whole story of Rock Music through from the early 1900s to 1982. A publisher loved it. He loved my charts. He just thought it was a little too long. He wanted me to cut it down to 200 pages.

 

This is the rewrite of that attempt!

 

This book is the history of Rock Music up until 1982. I stopped there. I could have continued but it all rather broke up into fragments. There have been a number of those fragments that I continue to love but others I get frustrated by. I hate overproduced muzac for the hard of thinking. I hate product.

 

I love good, live, raw, loud, exciting music. I want my stuff straight from the heart, head and gut – not the bank.

 

This book shows how the different aspects of Rock Music developed and evolved. Nothing is ever new. True innovators are extremely rare. I’ve heard a few. Everything comes out of what has come before. You can always see where it has come from.

 

One of my Rock students started my course hating Country & Western. By the end of the course he had an extensive collection of 1930s/40s Country. He had ‘discovered’ it by looking at the influences acting on the music he enjoyed. He found it was stuff he’d never heard or listened to. He loved it.

 

This book tries to show you the things that influenced the music you love. Perhaps you will find other artists or genres you didn’t know about? Perhaps it will captivate you the way it has me?

 

It doesn’t matter what you love as long as you love something. It doesn’t matter if we love the same things. Half the fun is arguing the toss over songs, bands and genres.

 

The lists I have drawn up are not definitive; cannot be definitive. They are my view of what is the very best. I’m sorry if I’ve missed a few out. That’s bound to be the case. But I bet I’ve put a few in that you wouldn’t have thought of. Enjoy mulling them over and drop me a comment on my Opher’s World blog if you like it or if you don’t. I’m always keen to hear from you!

 

This is Rock Music – not Pop. This is my kind of stuff. I grew up with it. It changed me. I love it!

If you want to purchase it here’s the link: