Last weekend I was listening to a fascinating radio interview, which Cerys Matthews did with engineer and producer Tony Platt – noted for his work with Bob Marley, AC/DC and a diverse range of other major artists. There were some great insights into the making of legendary recordings, including a discussion about Bob Marley and the ‘commercialisation’ of his track Stir It Up. Lots of nuggets of info from what one might expect would now be fading memories, but recalled with consummate assuredness. Continue reading
In the UK, the big blues revival of the early ‘90s probably stemmed from two albums: The Healer by John Lee Hooker (released in September ’89), and Still Got The Blues by Gary Moore (released six months later). John Lee Hooker was joined by a host of high profile musicians for The Healer, and the collaboration had the effect of dramatically increasing the publicity for the release. Very few people with an interest in the earthier side of American music remained unaware of the album, which subsequently won a Grammy, and unquestionably raised the profile of traditional blues.
Albeit to a lesser extent, Gary Moore’s Still Got The Blues was also a collaborative effort, with Albert King, Albert Collins and George Harrison joining the Irish guitar maestro for what was a clear turning point in Moore’s career. Prior to Still Got the Blues, Gary Moore had been making heavy rock albums, and whilst he held onto his roaring, overdriven guitar sound, the backbeats changed totally to a strict blues feel. It was a massive departure, and the result was a very exciting product with wider appeal and commercial value than Moore’s previous rock and metal output. A very noticeable album, for numerous reasons. A serious blues craze was underway.
The Ultimate Blues Collection wasted no time in recognising the enthusiasm generated by The Healer and Still Got The Blues, and indeed it features a track from each of the two albums. John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt’s collaboration I’m In The Mood, and Gary Moore’s title track Still Got The Blues. At the time the Ultimate Blues Collection was released, these inclusions were of primary importance, but of course, with the passage of time they’ve blended into the middle ground a little more.
Within the 24 tracks, there are plenty of real old-time originals from the 1950s. Names such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and John Lee Hooker feature in the ‘50s collection, and it’s a great listen. But Sonny Boy Williamson’s Don’t Start Me Talkin’ really stands out for me as the pick of the real oldies. There’s a live epic from BB King in the shape of Outside Help, from 1972. It’s a dynamic smorgasbord with light and shade on the grandest of scales and it contains one of my favourite lyric lines… “I want you to tell that slick insurance man, that he better write some insurance on himself”. Ah, they don’t write ‘em like that anymore.
Pretty much the whole thing is one long highlight. Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Taj Mahal, Alexis Corner with Colin Hodgkinson, the Peter Green incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, Robert Cray, Rory Gallagher, The Blues Breakers, and of course Eric Clapton, etc.
The version of Mannish Boy is quite funny, with screamingly loud shouts of agreement and support from other band members as Muddy Waters reels off the lines. Most of the responses are just “YEEAHHH!!!!!!”, but there’s one which really makes me laugh. Something like:
Waters: “I can make love to woman, in five minutes time” (I think it’s that line)
Dude in background: “I KNOW!!!” Lol.
It’s a great version anyway, but the shouts make it extra listenable.
The cassettes don’t appear to be chrome formulated, and the sound quality of the Gary Moore track is very noticeably inferior to that on the original Still Got The Blues cassette. So it appears consumers weren’t getting optimium reproduction. However, the compilation is a brilliant education for anyone not greatly familiar with blues, and it’s certainly been an enjoyable playing it through this evening.
It’s now getting on for a hundred years since John Lee Hooker was born. Regrettably, he died in 2001, but he surely must remain as one of the most memorable genuine and fully authentic blues artists of all time. It’s widely felt that in the business of popular music, once an artist hits his/her forties (if not before), his/her appeal to the main sector of the commercial market will diminish to a critical low. There are exceptions, but very few artists aged well over 70(!) could have reached out to the mass market, from college kids right through to pensioners, the way John Lee Hooker did in the early 1990s. Continue reading