Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Woke Up This Morning ......

The blues. To sing them or not. To play them or not. It seems most have, and will continue to do so.

Having performed and written in a few genres over the years, there is no doubt that to sing a sad song, a really sad song that lets it all out, can really be an uplifting experience. Duplicity of the situation aside, there just seems to be something wistful and melancholy about sitting in a smoky bar at 3 am, either as the performer, or as the only set of ears in the joint, and listening to the final few bars of a tune which contains both a sublime sadness, and a sense of “it’s OK, life will continue on”.

Having being on both sides of the listening experience, the blues may just have to be the one form of music that is universally recognised, and keeps on re-inventing itself. At the sake of conjuring up the shrimp scene from Forest Gump, you’ve got the blues, the Delta blues, blues rock, rock blues, jazz blues, country jazz rock blues, The Blues Brothers, The Brothers Grimm…. no, maybe not them, but you get the picture. And so it goes on. Played at one time or another by almost every musician on the planet, there must be something in this stuff which keeps it going.

I learnt to play the blues many years ago from an old musician, now very old, who was a piano player in a well respected hotel. I’d drop in late at night after playing my pub gigs. John would be sitting there at the piano, in his tuxedo, quietly tinkering away, filling the air. We’d have a chat in his breaks, sit and have a beer and talk music. Those were the days where the musicians were expected to talk to the guests, and it didn’t hurt things that it was also the days where the lead acts had a discretionary bar tab to use as they saw fit. I’d get up and play a couple of numbers, we’d play the occasional duet, and then I’d wander off into the night, to get some sleep and do it all over again the next evening. After travelling for ten years, I went back to that hotel. There was John, still as entertaining as ever, raising up a storm on the ivories. And as a true host that he was, he still remembered me by name.

The good thing about travelling of course is that you meet some very entertaining individuals. In retelling musical oddities, I can’t recall of how many little snippets contain the words “blues” “past midnight” “mildly sozzled” and the various combinations and derivations of the same. Travelling to London via Sri Lanka, we decided on a 2 day stopover in Colombo. The dinner entertainment was a trio of wandering Sri Lankins dressed as Mexicans, playing Hawaiian songs. Quite a treat. Of course, who wouldn’t end up in the bar with them, well after midnight, playing the blues ? Or sitting down next to a piano player on an old upright in a Tunisian hotel, only later to find out you’re playing the blues with a Spanish pathologist ? Or going to the infamous jam session, where no-one knows any songs, and playing a good ol’ 20 minute rendition of the song that has yet to be written. 12 bar of course, and at least everyone got a solo.

The blues don’t discriminate. Words aren’t necessary, and when they are, they are only there to entice the audience back from falling asleep. Best written when one is either annoyed, sullen, lonely, drunk or depressed, the best lines of course, just have to be “I woke up this morning”. In point of truth, it is usually “I woke up this afternoon”, if at all. That doesn’t seem to fit the rhyme scheme properly, but what’s a little artistic licence, if not to be used , and used over and over and over again. Is it 3 am yet ? Just checking………

A free stream and mp3 download of a slow southern blues, “Sad Song for Your Baby”, featuring the sultry vocals of Australian session vocalist Linda Rae Harris, is available by clicking the picture on the right.

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