Music News

Blues Blood

Page 4 of 5

Right now, the blues seems to be heading in two directions at once. There are new people coming up in the blues who are doing a great job keeping the tradition alive by playing a retro style of blues, learning that vintage-'50s style, but finding their own voice within it; and there are people who are updating the sound and making it even more modern and that needs to happen. Blues has always been played toward its audience, and it has to grow. Those are the two approaches, and I think they're both cool. Again, if they're well-played, if they become a statement of one's heart and soul, I dig 'em. And if they don't, then I don't.

But whatever direction it goes, the blues will never die. Because people will always fall in love. And so, people will always get their hearts broken and there will always be that emotional statement that needs to be made.

NT: Did you ever catch any flak for being a white guy who plays the blues?
BC: I never really caught any direct flak. But I think that white blues players as a whole are looked at in a condescending way at times by certain people--especially critics who have a hard time accepting white people playing the blues. But the funny thing is the black musicians have never had a problem with it. Because I think they see it as the continuance of the form.

To me it's not about race, although certainly you have to acknowledge that the blues was born from the black experience. And so I feel privileged that I was able to share a part of that experience with all the time I spent in blues bars. There's just something about being in a neighborhood blues bar on the south or west side of Chicago and being the only white guy in the club, and just seeing how people celebrate the music. Ladies waving their hands in the air, people responding with shouts and calls. It's a real audience-participation type of situation.

One time I was doing a gig with Taildragger and he was joking from the stage, and he gestured to me and said, "This is my son. When I took him from Mississippi, I had to put him in a paper sack and hide him on the bus, because if people saw me with him, they'd hang me and educate him." Everybody laughed, but it represented a bitter truth about where he was coming from. And it indicated the acceptance that was offered me.

NT: Got any more Chicago stories?
BC: Too many. (Pause) But here's a good one: The craziest shows I ever performed at was with Taildragger at this place on the west side called Delta Fish Market. It was a big open market owned by this guy Oliver Nelson, who they called Fish Man. He had a big truck and he would net catfish in the Mississippi River, bring 'em back and keep 'em alive in these big tanks, and people would go to the market and they'd point to what catfish they wanted, and a guy with big rubber gloves would grab the fish and put it on the scale and cut it up with a machete and pack it in paper, and you'd have fresh fish to take home and cook up, and it was a very popular place.

Well, Fish Man was a blues guy. He loved the blues and he was a performer himself, and he'd have this outdoor stage where he would pay bands to come out and play in the market on Saturday afternoons. And it was a real neighborhood scene. There was no cover charge, and everyone would come to hang out. Fish Man didn't sell any liquor but the liquor store right next door sure did, and people would sit outside and hear the blues and drink. Needless to say, it would get absolutely crazy late in the day. I mean, there were no rules at this place, and people would drink to the point of temporary insanity.

Anyway, it just so happened that me and a buddy of mine were doing a blues cruise one Saturday evening and we said, "Well, let's stop over at the fish market and say hi to Fish Man." Normally, they would cut off the music at six o'clock because it would be just too wild by then. But this was about nine o'clock at night and somehow they were still going. So we park and walk into this scene, and the first person we run into is Taildragger and he says, "I'm gettin' up there and you boys are gonna back me up."

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse