Ned Heckling The Band – George Carlin and The Blues

I was listening to one of my favourite stand-up comedians, the late George Carlin, the other day in the car and in his usually expletive-heavy tirade he mentioned ‘the blues’. Within his colourful description as to why white people should not be allowed to play the blues, he said a somewhat profound quote, “I’ll tell you a little secret about the blues: it’s not enough to know which notes to play, you gotta know why they need to be played.”

Okay, why do they need to be played? What does blues music stand for?

Well it’s all associated with the history of blues music, so we must begin in 19th century southern America. Here, African-American slaves toiling in the fields used songs known as ‘field hollers’ as forms of communication during their work. These work songs were usually based around call and response, whereby a caller would be responded to by a group.

Blues was thrust into the national spotlight at the hands of W.C. Handy, whose 1912 piece Memphis Blues was among the first documented publications of blues sheet music. Handy’s reasoning behind this song is a fascinating story. He claimed to have seen a man, whilst waiting for a train, running a knife against the strings of his guitar while singing “Goin’ where the Southern cross the Dog.” According to Handy, he never forgot that moment and a short time later he penned Memphis Blues.

In the years from 1920 onwards blues began to flourish throughout America within black communities. People, specifically African-Americans, from all over the country migrated from the country to cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and New York. These cities acted as melting pots, allowing for singers to be united with musicians, thus catapulting blues music into clubs, theatres and dance halls – popular culture.

So there’s the history lesson, and hopefully it’s given you an idea of how blues music stemmed from slavery and poverty. The very foundation of the entire musical genre was created by disenchanted slaves singing songs in fields. This point brings me onto my feelings of blues music, that is, that blues music is essentially founded upon suffering. It was these incomparably tough times for African-American people in the United States that inspired that emotional, angst-filled sound that we now associate with blues music today. This is powerful shit.

Therefore, in my (and Carlin’s) opinion, blues can’t be played by some whiney middle-class white person who’s biggest concern is, well, as Carlin puts it, “that the espresso machine is jammed.” And, just for the record, yes I do fall into this category – that’s why I became a drummer.

So, now I’ve established my position on blues music, you can understand my concern when an American friend of mine told me that he had “this great new blues album.” Oh really James? Some, and excuse me while I quote George Carlin one last time, “fat, balding, over-weight, over-aged, and out of shape middle-aged male movie star” has thrown on a pair of sunglasses and taken to the recording studio with a harmonica? Not interested.

However, as the ever-rational American informed me, the album is actually a collaboration between B.B. King and Eric Clapton. I’m sorry, what? A collaboration between two of the greatest blues guitarists of all time? A collaboration between the number three and four on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time? Well, this I gotta listen to.

Let me say, this album didn’t disappoint. Right from the get-go you are thrust into the hands of two of the most capable blues musicians ever to grace this earth. Released in 2000, the opening track Riding With The King is a punchy tune that asserts the fact that this album is more about King than it is about Clapton. The album moves through to cover some King classics such as the gloriously laid-back Ten Long Years, Three O-Clock Blues which is essentially eight and a half minutes of King and Clapton soloing (’nuff said, right?), the lively Days Of Old, and When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer which captures all that is emotional and profound about blues music.

These songs are surrounded by noteworthy tracks such as the funky Marry You, Help The Poor and I Wanna Be which stands out due to its contemporary rock’n’roll sound. The driving Days of Old proves to be another effective display of blues whilst standards Hold On I’m Coming and Come Rain Or Come Shine round out the album.

This album won the 2001 Grammy for Best Traditional Album and definitely deserves it. Whilst not a groundbreaking, absolutely unforgettable album, Clapton provides a solid accompaniment for King’s unique single-string style of playing. Every song is catchy and a joy to listen to, it just won’t leave you breathless. However, I feel that the key to any successful blues performance is one that effectively captures the feeling and meaning behind the song, and this collaboration between two of the finest blues musicians of all time does so and thus complaints are few and far in between.

Upcoming Jazz Events

Thursday 10th September, 9:30pm

The Bastard Children Album Launch w/ Mr Fibby & Mojo Juju @ The Basement.

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James Muller Quartet @ The Sound Lounge.

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Jackson Harrison Trio + Strazz-Fraser Duo @ The Sound Lounge.

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