Sitting here writing this post, as I listen to The Rolling Stones cover of Blue and Lonesome by Little Walter, I begin to reflect on this romantic, fairy tale journey I have come on with the Blues.
It all began in an underground, punk style venue in Tunbridge Wells where the toilets are decades old and the walls are bare brick with no heating. Stood, shuffling my feet to keep warm, I gaze round the room at the iconic prints on the walls of musicians from past and present and the twinkling fairy lights draped from the rafters. Very soon, something special would happen, something life changing that would make more of an impact than I could have ever imagined.
The first act of budding musicians appeared on stage, kicking out some modern rock n’ roll in the style of Kings of Leon, stuff you’ve heard before you know, but good none the less. The room became silent with anticipation and whispers began amongst groups of the well acquainted. The next act is due. Classics blast through the inbuilt stereo system from the likes of The Kinks and Lynyrd Skynyrd and everyone hums along in their groups enjoying the music of their youth.
The stage is set low, a handful of feet tall, I mean you can sit on it. Every scratch, scuff and line of dust can be seen on the stage floor, the lights from the pedal boards, amps and cable tapes attract attention and you try to work out what each little thing does. A roar breaks out from the crowd, not a huge crowd, there is plenty of room to move around, but a decent enough size to make a racket. The headliners walk on, cool, calm and collected. Ready to bring the best they’ve got.
It was electric, it was cool and it was classy. It was rock n’ roll, it was blues and it was grunge. It was everything. A Muddy Waters song was played, the delta blues rang through the walls. This was something special I had never experienced before. I needed to know more, where did this music come from?, what was the influence to create this sound?, who are these great musicians they speak of? A huge blues fascination was sparked without me realising it. It had always been there, but now it had surfaced and it had surfaced with an enormous bang.
I listened intently, over and over at the bands album and EP. One delta blues and one more grunge. There was a sound, a very unique sound that I just could not put my finger on, but I liked it. I remembered a speech, a short dialogue to the crowd about some people called Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, BB. King and Lightenin’ Hopkins. So, I looked these names up (back in the day I would have taken a trip down to the local record store to discover these artists but I guess in a way the internet has ruined that experience and aspects of music in general) and I was hooked. Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and so many more just resonated on repeat for hours, days. I often think I am quite old fashioned so, I did in the end go to the record store and spend an hour in there sifting through legends until I settled on a Delta Blues compilation album with the greats that I had been listening to over and over featuring the original Muddy Waters ‘Got my mojo workin”. I wanted it on vinyl because the Blues suits the crackle and distortion, it’s not authentic if it’s polished and squeaky clean, Blues isn’t about that.
Chicago blues then came to me and from there I was in love. I had finally found what it was that made that sound, that special, unique sound that I had experienced and couldn’t put my finger on. It was the electric blues, with a hint of Jazz. This is how I discovered Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley and Little Walter. After being sat listening to this over and over trying to work out what it was that they were doing, how they were making that sound and what they were singing about, I then stumbled across a little gem which brought me full circle.
I love The Rolling Stones, I have loved them for years, but yet again, I never knew why. I found a video online of The Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters at The Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago and became obsessed. So cool, casual and calm, just like the live show I had experienced for myself. The Stones were heavily influenced by the Blues and in particular Keith Richards, with Charlie Watts being more of a Jazz musician. There it was. That was why I loved The Stones. They were Blues rock n’ roll with a hint of Jazz. Just like those famous Chicago Blues artists.
When Blue & Lonesome was released, you can imagine the excitement. The Stones going back to their roots and the perfect soundtrack to this post. There is something special about the blues, a question and answer relationship between the instruments and the vocals. The instrumental sections speak as much as the lyrics do and there is a swanky class that is exuded from each and every note. Listen to the classics and you will discover a Narnia you never knew existed.