John Lee Hooker & Muddy Waters: I’ll never get out of these blues alive

MuddyWaters“Everything comes out in blues music: joy, pain, struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance. It’s about a man and a woman. So the pain and the struggle in the blues is the universal pain that comes from having your heart broken.” ~ Wynton Marsalis

I don’t remember the first time I heard the blues, it was likely via the reimagining of the blues through Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in high school. When I started digging deeper and started learning about Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, I was made a disciple of the blues. And since then, I haven’t looked back.

Of all the categories of music on this blog, the blues has the most posts. Of course there are a thousand blues men and women who I love and could post about, but going back to the basics of my blues obsession, I must feature those who started for me.

Here is Muddy Waters with Still A Fool about falling in love with a married woman:

Here is John Lee Hooker with I’llNever Get Out of These Blues Alive:

Muddy Waters I Just Want To Make Love To You:

John Lee Hooker with Bonnie Raitt I’m In The Mood:

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The blues according to Nina Simone: my ode to Queen Nina

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What hasn’t been said or written about Queen Nina Simone? She has been called an icon, a legend, and a genius, and she is one of my favorite artists of all time and I would be remiss if I didn’t use my blogging platform to honor her music – especially her love of blues and her strong political stance. She passed away in April of 2003 and she has haunted me since.

My late father told me a story of being about 16 years old in Hollywood, I believe at the Formosa Cafe. This would have been in the early/mid 60s. Nina Simone was playing at a club and he snuck in to see her. He met her for a few seconds and she told him how adorable he was. He used to listen to her version “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” over and over, which the Animals covered a few years later. After my pops passed, I would listen to that song over and over too. It was soothing to my soul. She was incomparable and a complete bad-ass in everything she did.

Here are some of my favorite Nina tracks, starting with the aforementioned:

“Do I Move You?”

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James Booker: Producer Scott Billington on the enigmatic “Bayou Maharaja” (Part 1)

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James Carroll Booker III (1939-1983) was one of the foremost musical and piano geniuses of the 20th century, yet his name is not as widely known beyond music lovers, musicians, and New Orleanians. That should change because his last album is being revisited by a reissue of his album Classified by Rounder Records by renown roots producer Scott Billington, who did the original sessions for the album in 1983. Scott has produced and played on more than 100 recordings and won two Grammy Awards and has been nominated for 10. I had the good fortune of speaking with Scott this past week about the “tragic genius” of James Booker, who died at the age of 43 before he could become the household legend his legacy deserves. He’s been called the Piano Prince of New Orleans, a wizard, the King of New Orleans Keyboards, a tragic genius, and the Bayou Maharaja. Who was this man who was so talented and brought to the surface so much tragic emotion? Talking with Scott, who knew him well, sheds some light on this enigmatic genius. He suffered from mental illness and addiction which stymied his rise to his proper place among musics’ legendary geniuses.  This interview will be two parts as there is too much great info for just one post.

 

Rootnotemusic: People have called James Booker a genius. What do you see as his specific genius that is different from any other artist that sets him apart from other musicians labeled genius’ of his generation or his style of music?

Scott Billington: He could play more piano than anybody I ever heard. He could synthesize so many different styles of music.

Rootnotemusic: I heard gospel, ragtime, jazz, blues, classical.

Scott: He was a brilliant improviser. He had a classical background. He studied classical music when he was a boy and had a teacher that taught him Chopin and Rachmaninoff. He could do things with his mind that many other people couldn’t do. Earl King, the New Orleans piano player had many Booker stories. One of them was about showing up at a gig and the bandleader handed Booker a fairly complicated score and Booker looked at it for 10 or 15 seconds and Booker said “Okay I got it” and set it aside. And the bandleader said “What do you mean? You can’t play that!” Well he did.

Rootnotemusic: He was a true genius.

Scott: Yeah, Earl King said he had a photo mind, a photographic mind. Earl King told another story about the organist Jimmy Smith being in New Orleans and playing a show. They were backstage and they had an upright piano and Booker was back there and he said to Jimmy Smith ‘I really liked your show, but you made a mistake on the bridge to this song.’ And Jimmy Smith said ‘I didn’t make a mistake.’ And Booker said ‘Yes you did’ and he went to the piano and showed him. And Jimmy Smith said, ‘damn I guess I did.’ Booker said ‘well do you want to hear it backwards?’ and he could play the same song backwards and forwards with both hands at the same time.

Rootnotemusic: Why do you think he never achieved the wider notoriety of other musicians of his talent?
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