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Monday, January 4, 2010

Blues Music

I'm often asked if I am a jazz pianist. But though I do play some jazz, I often tell people that I am a blues musician (I guess I'm really more of a pop player with a heavy blues influence). I like blues music. No, that's not quite right, I love blues music. There's something about knowing that other people have experienced the hardship of life that unites us as humans, that draws me continually back to this music. I find that there is a realism that is not found in standard pop music. I guess I'm not only talking about the standard 12 bar Chicago style blues, but more the earthy blues of the south. I like to listen to artists like Mississippi John Hurt and Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson and Junior Welles. I like the old recordings of guys like Big Bill Broonzy and Charlie Patton. These blues recordings are scratchy and ancient according to modern technology, but there is something real about them that speaks to the heart of human suffering in a way that nothing else does. Sure there are sado-masochistic genres being developed lately with Gothic themes that glorify human suffering, but that is useless to most sane people.

But blues music discusses the raw emotions that people feel in a true way that relates to the common themes that people experience in life. I've been out of steady work lately, and the truth that Ray Charles proclaims in the song "Busted" speaks to me. When I was in love and lost a girlfriend, the anger, the pain, the loss, the hopelessness, and the resignation are all present in the songs of Robert Johnson. Just listen to "Judgment Day Blues," and know the anger being expressed by "If I had possession over the Judgment Day, the woman I've been loving would have no right to pray!" That's a powerful anger of Biblical proportions!

Going down through my list of Blues recordings I see names like: Koko Taylor, Albert King, B.B. King and Memphis Slim. You should take a listen to artists like Elmore James, Blind Willie McTell, John Lee Hooker, Son House and Sonny Boy Williamson (I and II).  There's a lot of good gospel blues like Rev. Gary Davis and the Blind Boys of Alabama. There's a lot of good modern blues like Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' (who happens to be one of the nicest musicians I've ever met). I even love the earthy folk/blues of guys like Greg Brown (you should find and listen to his song King Corn, that's solid blues!) I could literally go on for pages and pages describing all of the artists that I love so much.

The piano styles of New Orleans jazz and blues artists like James Booker and Professor Longhair have really inspired my piano playing, as well as the great doctor, Dr. John. These guys have a piano style that is amazing. Take a listen to Booker T. Laurey and Memphis Slim and see if you don't hear a taste of their style in the songs I play when you come out to hear me. They have had a great impact on my formation as a piano player.

I owe such a debt of gratitude for these guys for taking the time to record their music. And though I'll probably never meet any of them, it is such a joy every time I get some quite time and can listen to their passion being poured out into their pianos.

If you get a chance you should check out some of these greats. If I get the time I'll tell you more about some of the other great blues artists I love.

God bless,

Willy

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