As you may or may not know, Wilson Pickett passed away on January 19. Quite a shame, especially as I had been intending to do a post about the blues/r&b/soul scene since 2006 began – I wish it were under more favorable circumstances.
Why did I want to write about the blues for 2006? Well, as Elwood says:
“By the year 2006, the music known today as the blues will exist only in the classical records department of your local public library.”
Well, it’s 2006 now, and have I seen blues records only in the classical records department of my local public library? No. But that may be because I haven’t had a chance to go to the library itself in months, so I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong, though – from what I know, the blues are still going strong.
Back to Wilson Pickett. He had a few great r&b/soul hits that were covered by The Blues Brothers (aka Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi), such as “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”. On their concert tours, The Blues Brothers performed a cover of “Soul Finger” crossed with another one of Pickett’s songs,”Funky Broadway”. Wilson Pickett even made a cameo appearance in the “Blues Brothers 2000” movie, singing his song “634-5789” with Eddie Floyd and Jonny Lang. I think it’s safe to say that his music isn’t going anywhere, not when it’s been picked up by contemporary blues musicians such as Jonny Lang (who happens to have a successful career of his own, as evidenced by his song “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”).
On a side note, I highly recommend this album of blues music – back when I used to work at Tower Records, we had it playing in the store one day and a customer asked to see the album. After I showed him the cd, he remarked that there wasn’t a bad artist or song on there, which only piqued my interest more in the music and I had to buy myself a copy. It’s really a very good compilation.
But what about other artists? Surely with his “634-5789” Wilson Pickett doesn’t quite have a monopoly on the r&b/blues telephone-themed songs – Muddy Waters himself sang the blues about a “Long Distance Call”.
How about reasons why you should be able to sing the blues? B. B. King gives a good reason why: no more thrill in his relationship. That’s not the be-all and end-all of reasons to sing the blues. For example, Dave and I once saw in “Red Hot & Blue” (a Memphis barbecue joint that’s one of my favorite places to eat) pinned up on the wall “HOW TO SING THE BLUES”. I don’t remember all of it, and this seems to have most of it, if maybe a little extra.
HOW TO SING THE BLUES
1. Most blues begin “woke up this morning.”
2. “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the blues, unless you add something nasty on the next line. “I got a good woman- with the meanest dog in town.”
3. Blues are simple. After you have the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes. Sort of. “Got a good woman With the meanest dog in town. He got teeth like Margaret Thatcher And he weighs ’bout 500 pounds.
4. The blues are not about limitless choices.
5. Blues cars are Chevies and Cadillacs. Other acceptable blues transportation is the Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Walkin’ plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin’ to die.
6. Teenagers can’t sing the blues. Adults sing the blues. Blues adulthood means old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis or Ann Arbor. But Memphis sounds better.
7. You can have the blues in New York City, but not in Brooklyn or Queens. Hard times in Vermont or North Dakota are just a depression. Chicago, St. Louis, Ann Arbor and Kansas City are still the best places to have the blues.
8. The following colors do not belong in the blues: a. violet b. beige c. mauve, d. taupe.
9. You can’t have the blues in an office or a shopping mall, the lighting is wrong.
10. Good places for the Blues: a. the highway b. the jailhouse c. the empty bed. Bad places: a. Ashrams b. Gallery openings c. Weekend in the Hamptons
11. No one will believe it’s the blues if you wear a suit, unless you happen to be an African American man in his advanced years.
12. Do you have the right to sing the blues? Yes, if: a. your first name is a southern state-like Georgia b. You’re blind c. You shot a man in Memphis. d. You can’t be satisfied. No, if: a. You were once blind but now can see. b. You’re deaf c. You have a trust fund, d. Your baby didn’t leave you.
13. Neither Julio Iglesias nor Barbara Streisand can sing the blues. Somewhat suprisingly, Willie Nelson can sing the blues.
14. If you ask for water and your baby gives you gasoline, it’s the blues. Other blues beverages are: a. wine b. Irish whiskey c. muddy water. Blues beverages are NOT: a. Any mixed drink b. Any wine kosher for Passover c. Yoo Hoo (all flavors)
15. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is a blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, or being denied treatment in an emergency room. It is not a blues death, if you die during a facelift or a liposuction treatment.
16. Some Blues names for Women: a. Sadie b. Big Mama c. Bessie d. Bertha e. Josephine f, Lucille.
17. Some Blues Names for Men a. Joe b. Willie c. Little Willie d. Big Willie, e. Willie B., f. Lightning, g. Blackburn.
Note: Persons with names like Sierra, Sequoia or Skye will not be permitted to sing the blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.
17B. Other Blues Names (Starter Kit) a. Name of Physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Asthmatic) b. First name (see above) or name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi) c. Last Name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)
18. A Blues way to communicate is to dial up the telephone or to “holler.” E-mails (sorry) or faxes are not Blues ways to communicate.
19. People with the Blues eat barbecue, corn bread, beans, and their last meal.
20. Good blues instruments: Guitar, Slide Trombone, Saxophone, Harmonica. Bad blues instruments: everything else, especially the oboe, french horn, viola.
21. You got the blues if you have lumbago or a bad back. You don’t have the blues if you have a mental disorder ending in “syndrome.”
22. Black Jack is a good blues game. Keno is not a good blues game.
23. Blues jobs include working on the railroad, picking cotton, musician, just got fired.
24. Blues animals include the junkyard dog and mule (not donkey).
25. Most country songs can be interchanged with blues songs (woman left me, crop didn’t come in, dog died, etc pretty much work in the blues). Most alternative songs cannot be interchanged with blues songs for obvious reasons.
Finally: Epitaph on a blues musician’s tombstone:
“I didn’t wake up this morning”
Even with that last song there, Monty Python knows the blues well. Though the blues may have been in decline, and resurrected by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s “Blues Brothers” act (one reason why so many blues musicians wanted to perform with them – the popularity of “The Blues Brothers” created a renewed interest in blues music), I think it’s safe to say the blues aren’t going anywhere now.
As a KRUD recommendation, I highly recommend fellow music-blog Honey, Where You Been So Long?, as it features many different old-timey blues artists that you just don’t get to hear anymore.