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Sweet Home: November 2009

| October 30, 2009

Six Generations Of The Blues


The new-millennium blues experience typically only offers glimpses of the genre’s 100-year-old recorded history. The old masters are passing on and their apprentices have been exposed to global influences that often stray from the original blues root. Earwig Music plans to fix that. On November 27th, an unprecedented opportunity to hear the breadth of pre-WWII blues arrives with “Earwig Music Presents: Six Generations Of The Blues,” broadcast on WYCC channel 20 at 8 and 11 p.m. The two-hour special promises to highlight contemporary Chicago blues and trace its rich, rural Mississippi roots. The show captures blues greats such as David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big Jack Johnson, John Primer, Johnny Drummer, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

“For Earwig’s 30th anniversary in 2008,” says Michael Frank, Earwig foun-der and president, “I decided that the whole year I wanted to celebrate the label and the music. It just became this big thing and it’s taken on a life of its own.” That “big thing” includes performance footage from the 2nd Annual Blues On The North Shore concert, an NPR interview in November, a “Today Show” segment, a feature on “NBC Nightly News” on Novem-ber 8th, and a special broadcast on Sirius XM Radio, also in November. That’s pretty major exposure for an independent Chic-ago blues label.

Formed in 1978, Frank created Earwig Music to release and reissue music by musicians rooted in the African -American blues, folk, and jazz tradition. The label has released 38 blues recordings, including historical albums by Honeyboy Edwards – the last living Delta bluesman – and guitarist Willie Johnson, who played with the legendary early Howlin’ Wolf Band. In fact, it was Frank’s relationship with Edwards that guided him into the blues recording business. “When I first moved to Chicago in 1972, I started getting Honey-boy jobs and taking him around,” says Frank. “I was just a fan, doing stuff for Honeyboy and Blind Jim Brewer.”

As a rabid fan bitten by the blues bug, Frank discovered the essence of the blues in the Mississippi Delta and conveys it to listeners. “Spiritually, the blues is in my soul,” he says. “Blues and jazz is so personal, it’s the way they communicate the universal feelings of life.” Singular communications, like Big Jack Johnson’s scor-ching performance of “Catfish Blues” on the broadcast special, underscore the importance of the blues as a way of connecting. A formidable giant in a chair, Big Jack commands the stage laying down gut-wrenching blues with a voice that calls up the Delta and all its history. Roaring out, “Well if I was a catfish/swimming the deep blue sea/I’d have all you big leg women/pushing down on me/pushing down on me/Oh lawd!/lawd!” His playing rips through the air, echoing his authority and supplying more nuances to his story and the passion it inspires.

“I feel that Big Jack John-son is the greatest electric guitarist that’s ever come out of anywhere, he’s just never got the recognition,” says Frank. “Anybody that sees him enough will recognize that in terms of technique, power, emotion, singing, and songwriting, he is right up there with the greatest.”

Besides Johnson, viewers will be treated to a show hosted by Bill Wax of XM’s “Bluesville” program, in-depth interviews with performers including Edwards and Johnson with historians and images of the Delta and the blues trail leading to Chicago. Performances dem-onstrate the generations of the blues starting from Edwards to the next generation represented by Johnson and John Primer, the middle generation of Chris James and Patrick Rynn, and on down.

“Being able to pass on the blues, to young people, there’s nothing more exciting than that,” says Lynn Orman, founder of Blues On The North Shore and co-creator along with Frank and producer Scott Schuman, of the “Six Generations” broadcast special. I have a great passion for music from Mississippi and when I saw the lineup for the Earwig anniversary, I thought, we’ve got to broadcast this!” The production team of www.frontrowmusic. tv filmed the performances and will list all of the joint events and dates.

“The ‘Six Generations Of The Blues’ is a great opportunity to hear many different styles of the blues all on one night,” says Frank. It shows the development of the blues over the generations, all in one place. You can’t help but be moved by this music. If you’re not, you’re dead.”

NEW RELEASES: Corey (Telarc), while not technically a blues record as only the last track displays an authentic blues sound, intriguingly explores how elements of the blues run through reggae, soul, and rock . . . John Mayall delivers a solid collection of blues rock on Tough (Eagle). He doesn’t stray much from his familiar rockin’ blues formula except to declare that he “hates rap with a passion” on “That Good Old Rockin’ Blues.”

Category: Columns, Monthly, Sweet Home

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