Joe Bonamassa this and Joe Bonamassa that

Joe Bonamassa
Joe Bonamassa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

He is a virtuoso guitar player and evangelist of the blues- I have an unnatural and possibly not quite legal love of the blues myself.

I should love this guy and all he stands for.

He is from Upstate N.Y where I call home…and not just “everything 12 miles north of NYC” Upstate but close enough to me in Upstate that his town gets on my local weather map.

I should love this guy and all he stands for.

There he is with his Sunburst Les Paul playing with Eric Clapton. Wow, the classic tool of the trade and how cool is that to be sanctified by slow hand himself?

I should love this guy and all he stands for.

I can’t watch or listen- he is too close.

If he was from Mongolia, I would love him…I picture him riding his horse over the grassy plane to meet the tribe leader who happens to be his Dad to tell him that he is done herding Yaks and going to N.Y to follow his dream –“Dad, I will play a searing blues guitar that will make beautiful women scream and strong men cry.”

Then I would listen.

If he grew up on the streets of a post-industrial working class city like Pittsburgh, Cleveland or maybe Newcastle and was full of angst and rage that needed an outlet, then like the proverbial oyster forging a pearl, he transformed that pain into reverberated and distorted beauty that would conjure the ghost of Jimi.

Then I would love him.

Even if he changed his name to some kind of alter image- Like Johnny Ace or Joe Bomb or Alice Samobon. Anything to remove him from that regular guy down the street image of him stuck in my head.

Then I would love him.

So when I flip channels and find Joe Bonamassa live in Vienna as a P.B.S special- I should be all over it. I should be clicking to it and cranking it up. I should live and die with each perfectly sustained bent string of gleaming purity that emanates from this master of his craft. I should be almost to tears before the first pledge break.

But alas- he is too close to me and I cannot separate my preconceived feelings about him and just enjoy the show.

Joe Bonamassa this and Joe Bonamassa that, I get it but I can’t go there.

This is my problem.

 

 

 

The Devil’s Music

Robert Johnson's studio portrait, circa 1935—o...
Robert Johnson’s studio portrait, circa 1935—one of only two verified known published photographs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine yourself as a struggling bluesman in the 1930’s going from town to town, playing little juke joints and street corners in the rural south. Maybe you get in trouble with women and whiskey, maybe you catch some grief for playing evil music…I’m just guessing here. You may even wonder if playing this type of music is a good or bad thing. There would not be much fame or money—Rock stars don’t exist yet because you are going to be the first one.

So at a point in your life when you wonder just what the hell you are doing…you meet a white man at the crossroads (because he won’t go into town at night) and sign a record deal that probably makes him a lot more money than you- this seals the deal and makes you devote your life (there won’t be much of it left) playing the devil’s music.

Yeah, I made that up…

The actual legend has the young Robert Johnson meeting the devil at a crossroads at midnight and selling his soul in order to play guitar like no one ever played it before.  The devil wouldn’t take too long to collect on this bargain as Robert Johnson would die at the age of 27 by means of poison; either a jealous woman or angry man? (the details are sketchy at best) There is little doubt that he got real talent so quick that people were looking for a story. There is also no doubt that stories fly fast and furious when you leave this earth by tangled means.

When his records were re-released many years later in England…they had a profound influence on musicians like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling stones. If blues is the cornerstone of rock music, it is not too much of a stretch to say that a lot of the weight and grit in that first heavy brick can be traced back to this man. Rock music owes its substance to him.

I have taken shots at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they got it right by putting him in with the first nominees.

So as I am starting a page called “The of 7 Wonders of Rock Music” with a crossroads in Mississippi- There is a marker at the intersection of U.S. Routes 61 and 49 in Clarksdale. This is the one that is tagged as the tourist place of  this legend… But to complete this wonder, I would also go with any deserted crossroads in the State of Mississippi at Midnight (full moon optional) as a pure rock n roll alternative.

We have the first of the seven wonders of Rock music…6 more to go…get your comments in now to help find the others.

ZZ Top and John Lee Hooker-Cheap Sunglasses- The Origins of Rock Part 1

Don't Look Back (John Lee Hooker album)
Don’t Look Back (John Lee Hooker album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have started working on a timeline of Rock music and I am being careful; something I post on WordPress might not get corrected immediately.  It could stand there for a long time as a monument to my ineptitude-so we go one step at a time.

There is an argument about the first rock song ever created-Is it “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley or one of the many other better sounding songs around that era? John Lee Hooker gets thrown in this mix with his 1948 “Boogie Chillun”.

While my brain is churning these things- I hear “Cheap Sunglasses” on the radio and all I can think is “Damn- that is John Lee Hooker- from the growling “tiger in a cage” vocal to the surly guitar riff.” But then -that is not John Lee Hooker-that is three guys from Texas putting a strong amount of boogie flavor into a song about wearing plastic sunglasses while stalking cute chicks and trying to look cool with epic beards.

They take a musical style and bend it to their own view point- adding in the tight sweaters and cheap sunglasses while removing years and years of the frustration that created the riff to begin with.

I don’t want to start another lawsuit but this goes right to the roots of rock. That difference between inspiration and downright theft. When white musicians started borrowing blues and gospel for the first time -Rock started to gain form.  Almost nobody disputes that.

John Lee Hooker playing John Lee Hooker is pure blues. ZZ Top playing John Lee Hooker is Rock Music. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup doing “That’s alright Mama” is delta R&B while Elvis Presley covering the same song is Rock n Roll. It’s like the same river flowing through a different landscape.  I am not saying that the originals are bad…I love all of it!!!…Even those famed Robert Johnson records from the 1930’s, but when Eric Clapton takes those records and channels them through his own experience and talent-they become something else…they have to …different time-different culture-different world.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

This song gets me every time. I was listening to Pandora on the iPod while sketching in Adobe illustrator, ready to shut it all down for the night and this song is thrown in the mix. I should not be surprised since I started the Pandora station with The Band as it seemed like great music to work with as winter comes to town. I could not shut it off…this song takes me down south in the wake of defeat and it kills me everytime I hear it. I am Virgil Cain watching those bluecoats march all over my life and take what is left of it away. I have to admit that I am not from the South, and really I am not from the North either so this song should have not have a direct impact on me but it does. It hits me right across the head and takes me back in time with it. This is what a great song can do…it can cast a spell on you for a few minutes and make connections in your soul that you don’t completely understand but feel anyway. Every single time this one gets to me and I have no explanation for it.