Month: April 2017

10 Examples of Bob Dylan Before Bob Dylan: #2. Mississippi John Hurt

It is difficult to find any new words of praise on Bob Dylan. He remains one of the true icons of popular music. However, he is not a trailblazer. His roots and inspirations are easily found. No discredit against Dylan meant. He is every bit the icon as everyone says But here is the 1st of ten people who did what Dylan does just way before him. Introducing:

2.

Mississippi John Hurt: Traveling Troubadour

Born sometime between 1892 and 1893 in Teoc, Ms, Mississippi John Hurt’s music was unique among his blues brethren. More folk than blues, Hurt’s sound was plaintive and clear. It would fall under the genre listing of “Country Blues,”  and would sound more in place in forty years later from when Hurt first recorded in 1928.

Rock history, or so rock historians would lead us to believe, (Very nicely documented in Peter Doggett’s book Are You Ready For the Country), was changed when Bob Dylan released his 1968 album John Wesley Harding. After years of heavy touring, drinking and on and off drug use, Dylan withdrew from public life after the end Blonde on Blonde tour, as well as a disputed motorcycle accident. Dylan would reappear a year later working with The Band in what would become The Basement Tapes. However, John Wesley Harding would be the first the public would hear from him.

It was a sharp contrast to the deafening sonic boom going on in pop music, lead by The Who, Cream and Jimi Hendrix to name a few. It also contrasted sharply to Dylan’s previous album, the frantic word collage of a manic genius that was Blonde on Blonde. It was Mississippi John Hurt.

Numerous artists have covered Hurt’s songs, as well. His style of blues inspired numerous recording musicians who ruled the 1960s. Hurt would reemerge in that time as well. As his entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia notes:

Tom Hoskins, a blues enthusiast, located Hurt in 1963 and persuaded him to move to Washington, D.C. He was recorded by the Library of Congress in 1964. This helped further the American folk music revival, which had led to the rediscovery of many other bluesmen of Hurt’s era. Hurt performed on the university and coffeehouse concert circuit with other Delta blues musicians who were brought out of retirement. He also recorded several albums for Vanguard Records.

Before he died in November of 1966, Hurt would lead scholars to the whereabouts of next subject Skip James.

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10 Examples of Bob Dylan Before Bob Dylan: #1. Son House

It is difficult to find any new words of praise on Bob Dylan. He remains one of the true icons of popular music. However, he is not a trailblazer. His roots and inspirations are easily found. No discredit against Dylan meant. He is every bit the icon as everyone says But here is the 1st of ten people who did what Dylan does just way before him. Introducing;

Son House: Rebellious Outsider Outlaw

Like many of his blues brethren, James House Jr, born 1902 in Lyon Mississippi, was torn between his faith and his music.   It would take years of hard living and drinking before he would rediscover his sanity, via, of course, finding God. The results would be three albums of a Dylan in transition from aging rock star into eventual icon.

Son House did it a little different. According to Wikipedia:

“After years of hostility to secular music, as a preacher and for a few years also as a church pastor, he turned to blues performance at the age of 25. He quickly developed a unique style by applying the rhythmic drive, vocal power and emotional intensity of his preaching to the newly learned idiom.”

Like Dylan, Son House’s songs tended to hold the “Good, piety” with suspicion.  The “Bad,” aka the devil, definitely had more than his share of flaws but at least he was honest about. Consider Son House’s song “Death Letter Blues”

You know I went in my room, I bowed down to pray
The blues came along and drove my spirit away
I went in my room, I said I bowed down to pray
I said the blues came along and drove my spirit away

You know I didn’t feel so bad, ’til the good ol’ sun went down
I didn’t have a soul to throw my arms around
I didn’t feel so bad, ’til the good ol’ sun went down
You know, I didn’t have nobody to throw my arms around

The “Good” man loved this woman. Death robbed him of her. He is bereft, despite the fact she really didn’t love him. Who does he blame?

As with Son House, Dylan’s “Good” guys aren’t too interested in the good. In “High Water (For Charley Patton) “Good’s” (ie God’s) domain is a rather bleak place:

High water risin’, the shacks are slidin’ down
Folks lose their possessions and folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook, it broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, “You’re dancin’ with whom they tell you to
Or you don’t dance at all”
It’s tough out there
High water everywhere

Excello Records: The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

Theories abound about who invented rock ‘n’ roll and where and how it began. Most of them cross and share the same highway on their version to the truth. The one common opinion held by all is the Mississippi river always figures some way in to the narrative. The geographical feature that divides the United States in half is somewhere buried in the heart of each tale. It provided something for every need that arose in each narrative. However for independent record label Excello Records, the Mississippi would serve as a metaphor. No matter what the label did or the talent it boast. it would always be a secondary label of what was then considered secondary  people, African Americans. The talent of Excello Records took a backseat to no one and rightly boasts an integral part in the story of rock music’s development.

Excello began its life in the capital of country music Nashville, Tennessee. Founded by Ernie Young in 1953, the fledgling label was a subsidiary of Nashboro Records, also the child of Young, which specialized in gospel records. According to the website Rockbilly.nl,  “Young’s labels were off-shoots of Ernie’s Record Mart, a Nashville- based shop and mail order operation launched in 1950.”

By the mid 50s, Eddie Cochran and Elvis were finding some success with what the Wikipedia entry for Elvis Presley called, “(he)was an early popularizer of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues.” It was the mixture of a Latin-tinged back beat and blues song structure that set the world ablaze and provided the grounding with which rock flourished.  The Latin flavor would spice up the sometimes lumbering blues structured songs.

JD Miller, who would be the main creative force in the creation of the “Swamp Blues” sound,  would use his success as producer of the Lightnin’ Slim hit song “Bad Luck” to enter in an agreement with Excello and Earnie Young to distribute the tapes of the amateur R & B artists he recorded.

In October, Young would meet up with the man who would help his talented assemblage of musicians achieve a sound far ahead of its time. JD Miller was a record producer from Crowley , La. As Rockabilly notes about meeting,  it would set up “one of the most famous partnerships in R&B history,” would also be an important event in the shaping of rock music.

JD Miller’s first job was a song from Guitar Gable entitled ” Congo Mambo.”

When the song starts, you hear how the music was coming together. The staggered type rhythm introduced a new opportunity to the way their music spoke. This was rock. The only problem was it was made during the time of racial inequality. Black artists music was to made for black folk only. Certainly, they crossed over and black artists, like Excello’s Slim Harpo, would influence a whole generation who would cover his songs, including the Rolling Stones and Neil Young, but his initial successes, along with other black artists of the period were quite limited.

However, in terms of innovation, should that disqualify one like Slim Harpo from recognition and Excello themselves from the sense of achievement just because their market had limits, albeit artificial ones? The more you listen to the songs of Slim Harpo, Lonnie Brooks, Lazy Lester, and Lightnin Slim, you hear sounds that Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and even Buddy Holly would  never come near replicating.

Was Excello Records the birthplace of rock and roll?

Bollywood Icon Salman Khan Says Hollywood Not For Him

Bollywood icon and legend Salman Khan has been  at the top of the Bollywood heap for quite a longtime now. He’s worked with some of the greatest legends in the Indian film as well as some of its hottest young stars. His films have set box office records for Indian films, both home and aboard. What’s left to prove in Bollywood for Khan and is Hollywood next? Well, no. It’s not.

Khan was in Auckland to do a performance for his Da-Bang, The Tour.and answer questions about  his career in India to date. Since many Bollywood and other Indian cinema stars are leaving home and testing the Hollywood film scene,naturally one would assume Khan would eventually find his way to that eventuality. Far from it. Quote Khan from Deccanchronicle.com:

“No, Hollywood is too far. I don’t even feel like leaving my home when working,”

It’s not as if Salman Khan needs the work or money for that matter. Khan runs his own production company and has two films Tubelight and Tiger Zinda Hai ready for release. For proof of Khan’s popularity, the website NZHerald noted that Khan had “34 million fans on Facebook.” As well, huge crowds gathered at Auckland International Airport to view Khan’s arrival.

Da-Bang, The Tour will next head to Australia.  The musical tour boasts 100 people participants. Khan is joined by actress Sonakshi Sinha, choreographer, director and actor Prabhu Deva, model and actress Bipasha Basu, rapper and singer Badshah, anchor, anchor and TV host Manish Paul, and model, dancer and actress Daisy Shah. The tour is the brainchild of Salman Khan and was the one who set the whole thing in motion.

For this  reason, Khan popularity and respect is equal among his acting peers as it is his fans.

The Color of Bob Dylan’s Musical Roots

Bob Dylan is an American institution. He is a living god who has done more in his life than most of his fans, me included, probably ever will do, The music he has made, the songs he has recorded, the language that was created through something simple as song lyrics, all add to his legacy. The problem though is a legacy can be  burden to an alive and still working artist. The recent release of the trilogy of albums where Dylan covered the songs of Tin Pan Alley exposed a bitter truth to his fans. The color of Bob Dylan’s musical roots, the very foundation that the legacy of Bob Dylan, is a hue that remains as complex as it has ever been.  that changes how outsiders will see future incarnations of Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan.

If you were to affix blame for the distorted image of what rock and roll now claims itself to be, it might rest on a well meaning Jann Werner and the fact that Rolling Stone magazine was allowed to become rock and roll’s advocate. While their narrative captivates with the images it conjures, it is inexcusably narrow and incomplete. And don’t be mistaken. Both Dylan and rock and roll’s stories are intertwined.

Folk music was all the rage for the white kids of the late 1950s. Girls got the chance to be cool and independent, playing this new kind of honest music. Guys got to hang out where the girls were going, play music, earn money and, quite possibly bed one of these liberated fresh faced, book learned but not real world learned girls. Don’t kid yourself. You never went to Joan Baez concerts because you liked to hear her sing

This scenario represented the safe version, clean and sanitary and very white. Woody Guthrie was King.  Pete Seeger was the teacher, because he knew everything yet sought more. Of course, Joan Baez was the Queen.  This was the Rolling Stone version, that still perpetuates. Bob Dylan’s music says something completely different. It hearkens  back to the when music had no divides, no genres.

Dylan, in a must read interview with Bill Flanagan, put the music of his youth into perspective:

“These songs are some of the most heartbreaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them and lived through them I understand them better. They take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same. Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it. These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.”

But it becomes very quickly that Dylan soul lies with the old blues men, the true creators of rock and roll. Men like Skip James, Slim Harpo, Mississippi Fred McDowell. The soul of Dylan lies with them. They were the first rock stars and their songs had the quirk that Dylan was to make famous. And, as with Bukka White and his song Aberdeen, could operate with a social awareness.

If you’re looking  for the musical roots of Bob Dylan, you will find them all in the lyrics of Skip James and the rhythmic pulse of Slim Harpo, the cool groove of Jimmy Reed. When you take these various parts and combine them together, the result is….

Why CJ McCollum & Damian Lillard Are NBA’s Best Back Court

There are a lot of great back court tandems in NBA. Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo in Oklahoma City, James Harden and Patrick Beverley in Houston, and Stephane Curry and Clay Thompson in Golden State. Despite these all star names, the best back court in the NBA resides in Portland, Or. The combination of Damian Lillard and CJ McCullom are not only the most underrated tandem in the NBA but they are the best.

With Lillard, you have a complete player on par with Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. For the season, Lillard shot at 44.4% rate from the field, averaged 27 points per game, 5.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds a game, while averaging 35.9 MPG. a team leader. By contrast, Westbrook logged 31.6 PPG, 10.4 assists per game, and 10.7 rebounds per game. Lillard has also had to take on more of a leadership role at a young with the mass exodus of many of Portland’s veteran players of the last five seasons.

With CJ McCollum you have the nuanced number two. Physically assertive on both ends of the court, McCollum is the team’s second leading scorer, with 23 points per game and sports an  excellent 48% shooting percentage, for a six foot three undersized shooting guard. McCollum, as well, is the ultimate teammate. A secondary ball handler though he is, he still posts 3 1/2 assists and rebounds per game. With around three and a half assists and rebounds per game, for a man whom is the secondary ball handler, are more than can be expected.

But those are just stats. Here is CJ McCollum on Lillard and thee value his point guard brings to the Trailblazers night in and night out  –

“Late in the shot clock and at the end of games, he likes to get to that quick step-back three with the ball in his left hand. He stutters his feet, then takes one hard dribble and bounces back quick and shoots it. You know it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it because he’s got unlimited range and a deadly first step. Everyone remembers last season’s big shot at the buzzer against Houston, but that was him all year.

It is also a lost point that Lillard is still only  26 years old, despite being a veteran of nearly 400 games. Offensively, he is Portland’s best option night in and night out. That Lillard is a point guard makes that fact all the more incredible. His 44.4% shooting from the field comes in the face of double teams most nights. He carried the Trail Blazers to the playoffs when just about everyone projected they would be one of the worst teams in the NBA prior to the season for back to back years.

TNT basketball analyst and former NBA great Charles Barkley had this to say about the Portland point guard, “McCollum and Lillard do not like those guards from Golden State,” said Barkley. “They go at they head. Damian Lillard is probably the most underrated player in the NBA. He’s a terrific player, McCollum is a stud, the guards to me is an even matchup.”

With CJ McCollum you have the nuanced number two. Physically assertive on both ends of the court, McCollum is the team’s second leading scorer, with 23 points per game and sports an  excellent 48% shooting percentage, for a six foot three undersized shooting guard. McCollum, as well, is the ultimate teammate. A secondary ball handler though he is, he still posts 3 1/2 assists and rebounds per game. With around three and a half assists and rebounds per game, for a man whom is the secondary ball handler, are more than can be expected.

I guess in the end their abilities only leave you with questions and hopes. How many years will they play together? What are the odds of winning when Jusuf Nurkic comes back? Portland’s depth is doubtful and experience on the roster is little. Does Lillard have it in him to stay in Portland? How badly does he want a shot at the title? With McCollum, will he be content to be the number two guy or does he have the willingness to be three if Portland makes a big move?

 

 

The Chuck Berry Dilemma

The trouble with icons is they tend to obscure their own greatness. The myths that arise around them make you  forget how good they actually are. The recently departed Chuck Berry has, for a number of years, been the dictionary definition of this fact. Sure, no one would ever deny that he was great. However, when you delve past songs his “classic” songs and into his lesser known ones, you quickly realize how uniquely talented Chuck Berry was.

705px-Chuck_Berry_circa_1958 (1)

Forget the flamboyance, forget the brushes with the law, (“On December 23, 1959, Chuck Berry is arrested in St. Louis, Missouri, on charges relating to his transportation of a 14-year-old girl across state lines for allegedly “immoral purposes.”) forget the teenage themed fifties schmaltz lyrics and focus on the music. It was the music that Berry made that set him apart from all others and that music came through his guitar.

Chuck Berry just didn’t play the guitar. He made the guitar in popular music. Sure, others laid thefoundations of guitar and its place in blues/rock, Chuck Berry made the guitar. He made it happen. He made the guitar sound like an important instrument that was cooler than anything that had come before. If not for Chuck Berry there would be no Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton or Jack White.

While words on a page can either hold sway or be just hyperbole spoken in an empty room, where Chuck Berry is concerned, the words represent a light of clarity to show what Berry meant to music. The Beatles covered Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones covered and admired Chuck Berry. And all of these things happened for a reason.

Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman in article on Vulture.com had this to say, “Of the original people who were there when rock was formed, he’s the only one who not only wrote most of his own material, but wrote substantive material. He was writerly. He filled his songs with meanings and subtexts that resonate still today by means of a somewhat jokey but always intent poesy. And with those talents he added one thing to rock and roll it didn’t have before, and this thing he added might well be the thing that makes us talk about it, still today.”

Very few artists in the history of popular music was able to achieve the heights that Chuck Berry did, not only in popularity but as an artist as well. Jimi Hendrix is an icon who transformed the guitar’s standing and, for that matter, its purpose in music, as Chuck Berry did. Where the difference between the two is quite noticeable is that Hendrix’s career only spanned four years. Berry’s, on the other hand, spanned sixty four.