Thursday, February 07, 2008

What to write about? My mind is consumed by the job search, wedding planning, or my daily exercise program, which serves as a kind of Prozac to the aforementioned anxieties. But who wants to hear about resume writing, rendezvousing with rabbis or a ridiculously-regimented running routine?

Well, where there's a Will there's a way. I was inspired by his recent post about George Benson -- whom I've seen in concert twice, even though I'm not much of a concert kinda guy, but I think those "smooth jazz" types are cool, and I'm up for any encounter with cool.

Maybe that's why I DJ'd a blues show at my college radio station. I learned a great deal about the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Sonny Boy Williamson. I always loved their music, but I also liked hearing them talk on the records. Who needs to sing when your talking voice is so awesome?

Muddy Waters would celebrate completing a good track by shouting "Woo! Yeah! I got that one down!"

On The London Sessions, Howlin' Wolf, with his electrifying raspy voice, had to instruct Eric Clapton and the other white boys on how to properly play one of his signature tunes -- "You come in wit' da BOOM!"

Fred McDowell explained that "They call me Missi'ppi Fred McDowell. But my home's in Rawford, Tennessee. But it make no diff'rence to me. I feel like I'm home when I'm in the Missi'ppi."

Perhaps my favorite is Sonny Boy Williamson, who can be heard being questioned on his choice of song titles, angrily threatening the producer, getting restrained by his bandmates and then yelling, "I'll get you, you son of a bitch! You don't need no title. You name it after yo' mammy if you want!"

Fun stuff. Too bad those musicians were all dead by the time I learned about 'em. Those are concerts I wouldn't have minded attending. Even better, I wished I could've met the guys in person, especially since some blues artists did in fact come into our radio station for interviews, recording sessions, and even to do promos. But I never got that kinda luck. I was out of town when B.B. King was available, so my friend interviewed him, and got him declaring our radio station was the best in New York. He didn't sound like a sell-out when accompanied by his guitar Lucille.

A promo I loved to use was when Champion Jack Dupree banged out some barrelhouse piano music while a radio tech whispered in his ear what to say. Of course it came out all wrong, and Dupree just winged it -- "An' that's a wonderful radio to listen to, when you lonesome. Or you been drinkin'. Ohhh, ohhh, tune in, tune in, tune in, when you been drinkin'. An' even if you ain't drinkin', tune in anyway. You can go to bed."

But once, after several semesters working at the radio station, I finally did meet a great musician. He was a jazz artist, not a bluesman, but that's cool by me.

I saw a striking gray-haired tall guy walking through our hallway and when he noticed a poster on one of the open LP lockers he said, "Count Basie -- all right!" The baritone of his voice shook the walls.

"Hey, I know you!" I said.

He looked at me, appreciative, but skeptical. "Well, I hope so," he said.

And then I realized I shouted not out of recognition for what must have been a distinguished musical career. Only later did I understand that this man sang for Count Basie over 40 years ago. I was embarrassed to admit how I knew him, but my hesitation must have given it away.

"You probably know me from television," he said.

I tried to recover, shrugging nonchalantly. "Well, I mean, of course, you were on The Cosby Show..."

He played one of the jazz musician grandpas -- Cliff Huxtable's father-in-law. But I couldn't admit that was my introduction to him, watching an episode at home with my parents. Fortunately, I remembered Mom and Dad identifying the crooner-turned-actor.

"But I know you're a jazz singer -- you're Joe Williams!"

His gaze became warmer. He grinned, winked and said, "That's right." And then he continued on.

I don't know if it meant much to him to be recognized by the younger generation for his music and not a silly sitcom. But I never forgot that cool encounter.


Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by