The Jump Blues – a whole lot to jump about

IT’S often mentioned that a lot of music from the 1950s onwards was essentially derived from the blues. But among all the blues styles, one particular form played a larger role, acting as a precursor to the birth of both rock ‘n’ roll and R&B. This was called jump blues, which existed both before and after World War II.

Over the years, artistes like Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Clayton and Big Joe Turner have been associated with this sound. Infectiously swinging, full of good humour and hugely popular for its time, the jump blues movement is said to have originated in Kansas City in the 1930s via the catchy, rolling rhythms of Walter Page’s Blue Devils, the Bennie Moten Band and Count Basie Band.

After the war, however, the action shifted to Los Angeles, which actually gave birth to a new West Coast sound characterised by shuffling uptempo rhythms, raucously upbeat spirits, honking saxophones and vocalists who shouted about drinking and partying.

The undisputed king of the jump blues movement was saxophonist Louis Jordan, whose song ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ became an anthem. His Tympani Five had nearly sixty chart hits between 1942 and 1951. Jordan’s followers included pianist-singer Charles Brown, best known for ‘Drifting Blues’, and pioneering electric guitarist T-Bone Walker, who would influence an army of musicians including BB King, Lowell Fulson, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. His ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ is one of the most covered blues songs, and ‘T-Bone Shuffle’ and ‘West Side Baby’ are among all-time concert favourites.
Following Walker’s success, the jump blues movement saw artistes like guitarist Pee Wee Clayton and drummer-singer Roy Milton. But some of the biggest contributions came from brothers Joe and Jimmy Liggins. Joe Liggins was the first the strike gold with his 1945 hit ‘The Honeydripper’, which he followed up five years later with the more successful ‘Pink Champagne’, which was covered by jazz artistes Tommy Dorsey and Lionel Hampton. His younger brother Joe, who was earlier a bus driver, had a major hit with ‘Cadillac Boogie’. In fact, his wild stage presence and manic delivery had a direct and lasting impact on Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll.
A key figure on the West Coast blues scene was bandleader Johhny Otis, whose 1958 song ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’ was later popularised by Eric Clapton, and also covered by Cliff Richard, George Thorogood and Grateful Dead. Another star from that era was Big Joe Turner, whose ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ was brilliantly covered by Bill Haley and the Comets. Turner eventually switched to rock ‘n’ roll, and later returned to the blues. With newer styles emerging, the popularity of jump blues waned from the late 1950s. Today, there are only a handful of performers, including Mitch Woods, Roomful of Blues and the Mighty Blue Kings.

The contribution of jump blues to the creation of two of music history’s most popular genres is something that’s truly worth jumping about

A Lonely Sound – The Blues Harp

The earliest form of the Blues Harp as we know it today, was the German Mundaeoline, developed in 1821. This was refined by Charles Wheatstone, known more as a scientist / electrical engineer, in 1828 and called an Aeolina. It was a thin, pocket-sized predecessor of the harmonica that measured less than 4″ x 2″ x 1/4″. Fittingly named in honour of Aiolos, the divine Greek administrator of the four winds, the Aeolina consisted of a series of thin strips of the new metal alloy argentum (nickel silver), fitted into parallel rows of rectangular openings in an argentum plate, set into vibration “by a gentle breath alone.”

The first recordings of harmonicas were made in the US in the 1920s, and mainly used by hillbilly and jug bands. Till the 1940s, it was considered more of a toy and associated with the poor. However, musicians started experimenting with techniques like tongue-blocking, hand effects and cross-harp, giving the blues harp a completely new dimension. The harp was never really a featured lead instrument in early Blues bands, being more about adding colour to a band’s sound, much as backing singers enhance the lead vocals, but there were many exceptional harp players on the scene

With amplification leading to the electric blues phase in the 1950s, musicians started using the blues harp to lend variety and helped popularize the harp. Sonny Boy Williamson II, played with British blues-rock acts like the Yardbirds and Eric Clapton, and helped popularise the instrument. Little Walter developed a new technique that produced a powerful, distorted sound, becoming one of the most influential blues harp players in history. His contemporary Big Walter Horton was a favourite of songwriter and bluesman Willie Dixon, though he wasn’t as popular as Little Walter because of his inconsistency and inability to lead a band.
The 1950s also produced two other great players — Howlin’ Wolf, though somewhat overlooked in that role, and Jimmy Reed. In the following decade, the growing popularity of the electric guitar made the harmonica less prominent. However, artistes like Junior Wells, Paul Butterfield and James Cotton attracted fans whenever they played. Slowly, the instrument started being used in rock and folk-rock too. In the blues, the instrument continued to be played in the 1970s, with artistes like Charlie Musselwhite, Slim Harpo, Taj Mahal, Billy F Gibbons of ZZ Top, Jerry Portnoy, Corky Siegel and Al Wilson of Canned Heat excelling in it. In the following decade, John Popper of Blues Traveler and Huey Lewis carried forward the tradition. When Little Walter joined Muddy Waters‘ band in Chicago and blew his harp into a microphone, he established the harp as an essential element in the urban blues sound. His insistent style and flashy fills and solos, singled him out as a brilliant player.

The Blues Harp speaks in a language that goes straight to the heart of the Blues.

Stage names of Blues Musicians

APART from being blues legends, what was common between Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Leadbelly? Very obviously, it’s the fact that they hid their real identities behind fascinating pseudonyms. Magic Sam, Professor Longhair, ‘Meat Head Johnson’ and ‘The Masked Marvel’? The blues world has been filled with artistes who changed their names just so that could seem different and exciting.

Muddy Waters, for instance, was born Mckinley Morganfield. As a name like that may not have worked successfully with audiences, he used ‘Muddy’ which his grandmother called him because he was always playing in the mud, and added ‘Waters’ to make it sound funny.

Howlin’ Wolf’s actual name was Chester Arthur Burnett. He took on the new name after hearing a song by (yes!) Funny Papa James, which went: “I’m the wolf that dig my tail down in the ground, I want everyone to hear me howl.” And Leadbelly played around with his surname Ledbetter. Like Leadbelly, even BB King and Buddy Guy played around with their original names. BB King’s real name is Riley B King and he thought BB King would sound better at concerts. Buddy Guy was born George Guy, and he used Buddy because that was his nick-name.

Many artistes named themselves after their physical traits. Big Bill Broonzy, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, Big Joe Turner and Big Mama Thornton were named because of their huge size. Guitar Shorty and Half Pint Jaxon got their names because they were small in build. In fact, Guitar Shorty was named by a club manager who couldn’t recollect his name, and had to write something on the poster to announce his show. Lemon Henry Jefferson began calling himself Blind Lemon Jefferson because he was born blind. That was the same reason why William McTell became Blind Willie McTell. Rufus G Perryman got the name Speckled Red because he was an albino, and Henry Roland Byrd becameProfessor Longhair because of his hairstyle.

APART from being blues legends, what was common between Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Leadbelly? Very obviously, it’s the fact that they hid their real identities behind fascinating pseudonyms. Magic Sam, Professor Longhair, ‘Meat Head Johnson’ and ‘The Masked Marvel’? The blues world has been filled with artistes who changed their names just so that could seem different and exciting.

Muddy Waters, for instance, was born Mckinley Morganfield. As a name like that may not have worked successfully with audiences, he used ‘Muddy’ which his grandmother called him because he was always playing in the mud, and added ‘Waters’ to make it sound funny.

Some musicians, like Memphis Slim and Memphis Minnie, named themselves after cities. Taj Mahal, originally Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, named himself after the Indian monument. Other stage names to catch on included those of Lightnin’ Hopkins, who was born Sam Hopkins but was given the title Lightnin’ by a record executive who was impressed by his guitaring speed. Then, there were Homesick James, who would constantly tour the US and complain of being homesick,Barbecue Bob, who did a day job as chef at a barbecue restaurant, and Cow Cow Davenport, who released a song called ‘Cow Cow Blues’. Champion Jack Dupree got his title because he won numerous boxing matches.

What’s interesting is that this trend was followed more by the older generation of blues musicians. And it sure added to their personalities.

The Blues Music Standards

The Blues Standards
4th Jun’ 2013

THEY’RE known as standards, or seminal blues songs. Like in jazz and rock, the blues has its own list of popular numbers that have been become generic to the genre. They’ve been played by scores of musicians, and are featured at most concerts. The list of seminal blues songs is long, and it’s definitely not easy to name just five. But going by their sheer popularity over the years, we choose this lot.

Hoochie Coochie Man: Also referred to as ‘(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man’, the song is primarily associated with Muddy Waters, who first recorded it in 1954 but went on to do a memorable version at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival. The actual writer is Willie Dixon, one of the most prolific and admired verse-smiths in blues history. Muddy’s version became a major hit and numerous musicians ‘covered’ it. The term ‘Hoochie Coochie’ is derived from the name of a provocative dance popular in the US. And the song is sung in a typical blues form, has a trademark guitar style, and also uses the harmonica. Some of the popular versions have been done by Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy and the great rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Dust My Broom: The song was first recorded as ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’ by the legendary blues player Robert Johnson in 1936. However, it was popularised in the early 1950s by Elmore James, known for his mastery over the electric slide guitar. The song was further adapted by blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Later versions include those by John Mayall, the Yardbirds, Canned Heat, guitarist Gary Moore, singer Etta James, ZZ Top, bluesmen Luther Allison, Freddie King and Albert King, and more recently by Johnny Winter. Elmore James’ version remains the most admired, and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Call It Stormy Monday: This was first recorded by T Bone Walker in 1947, and is often confused with the jazz song ‘Stormy Monday Blues’. The full title of the song is ‘They Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday’s Just As Bad)’. Though most blues fans relate the song to the T Bone Walker version, it was covered by blues giants BB King and Albert King, blues-rock artistes Eric Clapton and Gary Moore, and even rock bands Jethro Tull and Allman Brothers.

Little Red Rooster: First called ‘The Red Rooster’, it was renamed after few years. Another classic written by Willie Dixon, it was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf with his own band. Later, he called on rock musicians like guitarist Eric Clapton, keyboardist Steve Winwood, bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts, on what is a more popular recording. The song was recorded in a rock style by the Doors and the Rolling Stones.

The Thrill Is Gone: This became a major hit for the legendary BB King in 1970. However, it was written much earlier in 1951 by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell. King’s version earned him a Grammy, popular music’s most prestigious award. Besides the blues, it was also sung in other styles by soul singer Aretha Franklin and country singer Willie Nelson. But it’s a song that most blues musicians play at live concerts.5 GREAT SONGS, DOZENS OF VERSIONS. NEXT TIME YOU HEAR THEM, YOU’RE SURE TO TRIP ONCE MORE

Memphis – Cradle of The Blues

Memphis – Cradle of The Blues

WHAT’S common between ‘Father of The Blues’ W C Handy, rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis Presley and current heartthrob Justin Timberlake? Any guesses – other that the fact that they are all musicians?

Well, they all belong to Memphis, the cultural hub in Tennessee state of south-eastern US. And Memphis was much more than just the home town of these three musicians. It was also the place where an entire style of The Blues was started.

The Memphis Blues has been around a hundred years. Initial players included Handy, Frank Stokes, Memphis Minnie and Sleepy John Estes. Later, a whole lot of Blues musicians played in and around Memphis. BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim and Albert King were among them.

It wasn’t only The Blues. Country star Johnny Cash, rock ‘n’ roll musicians Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, soul band Booker T & the MGs, and singers Otis Redding, Ike Turner, Isaac Hayes and Roy Orbison, all got their big breaks out of Memphis.

For The Blues, Memphis was Capital City, and Beale Street the happening area. The style was initially popular in variety entertainment shows (called vaudeville) and juke joints. After World War II, many musicians came from impoverished areas and settled in Memphis where they developed a new sound. Howlin’ Wolf and BB King recorded for the famous Sun Records.

Even folk-rock legend Bob Dylan used the term to name one of his songs from the 1966 album ‘Blonde in Blonde’. Any guesses which one? Hmm, it’s the funnily-titled ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with Memphis Blues Again’.

The sub-genre also inspired pop singer Cyndi Lauper to release an album called ‘Memphis Blues’ in 2010. Shocked? The truth is that it actually features blues artistes like BB King, Charlie Musselwhite and Jonny Lang on some blues standards. In fact, the album can act as a perfect guide to the genre.

Soulmate in conversation with “Simply The Blues”

  • Share with us your experience of performing at “Simply The Blues”. Anything unique you noticed at the concert?

The fact that it was a Blues Concert in an auditorium in Mumbai, and there was a really good audience in attendance just goes to show that the Blues is alive and well :)  As a band, we had a good sound check- we even got the amp I wanted, we got the best where drums and gear etc were concerned… That added to the whole experience! No tensions :) Also…the fresh fruit basket, coffee, tea backstage… That was a really nice touch!

  •  Tell us something special you did for your audience here at “Simply The Blues” in terms of your sound, set list, etc.

Well for us, every gig is special but this time we opened with two instrumental pieces.. Peace Prayer and On Immortal Wings – Songs that we haven’t performed in quite a while :) That was special!

  •  One fond memory that you as a band collectively take back from “Simply The Blues”.

You all made us feel special …that was what struck us ….overall it was a really good heart-warming experience and the audience was fantastic … It was good to see my Blues Brother Ehsaan Noorani there …besides a few  of our fans and friends from Pune :)  It was like we were amongst family :)

  • A message you would like to share with your fans here at “Simply The Blues” and in Mumbai?

Please support the Indian Blues Scene and that means supporting all bands singing and playing the Blues :) We have just started and there are no limits to what can happen here –  More Power To The Blues !!

For me the most fulfilling thing is to see the bands walk on to stage and start playing their music to an audience that they would normally not have any access to – Says, Luke Kenny, Festival Director STB

Q.1: Tell us about your conversations with Soulmate and Smokestack in the run-up to signing both for this concert?

Rudy Wallang has been a friend for a long while now and his musical prowess has been exemplary long before Soulmate was formed. Their journey has been relentless and they have gone from strength to strength with their choice of genre, The Blues, thereby becoming a beacon for musicians to steady their inner blues musician to. Each performance of Soulmate is moving, uplifting, celebratory and exuberant.

simply the blues

Luke Kenny

Smokestack are a discovery. One of the visions of “Simply The Blues” is to procure and present Blues talent that somehow remains hidden for various reasons. So when I heard of the band, and spoke with them and then heard the way they play the blues, they really intrigued me. It posed another variation to our bouquet of blues artists that we have presented so far.

Q.2: How has the journey been so far for you, on the personal front?

For me the most fulfilling thing is to see the bands walk on to stage and start playing their music to an audience that they would normally not have any access to. The four bands that have played so far are all blues bands but yet each of their musicalities are so different. And the best thing is that its all so entertaining and that in the end is what I want to be able to take away from the evening. Good music and good fun.

Q.3: How do you envision the last concert in January and the forthcoming series after that?

Well, we are trying to plan a few surprises and a finale that will keep the audiences wanting more… and as far as the next series goes, we have a few ideas that have begin to germinate, so prepare for more surprises there.