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    feelin' it

    ‘Those ever-lovin’ blues’

    by | 4 | Sep 25, 2015

    The Blues

    I was still in mourning for Bobby “Blue” Bland, who passed in 2013, when a short while ago the house lights went down for the last time on B.B. King, too.

    What to do, what to do? So many of our great blues singers have made their Last Road Trip, have gone on to that Great Jam Session in the Sky: Bland, King, the two Jimmys (Reed and Witherspoon), Ray Charles, Lou Rawls, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Little Milton, to name but an octet of the very best.

    Think what choir practice in Heaven must sound like nowadays!

    Thank goodness for recordings (and for YouTube). I’d hate to look down that long, lonesome road thinking I could never again hear these artists sing songs like “Stormy Monday,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” “Drown in My Own Tears,” “The Thrill Is Gone,“ “Bright Lights, Big City.”

    I can hear Bland now, voice smooth as silk, sliding and gliding from one blue note to a note bluer still: “If I should take a notion to jump into the ocean, ain’t nobody’s business what I do.” Insouciance personified!

    And what about Blues Boy King, a national treasure from tiny Itta Bena, Mississippi, by way of Memphis, Tennessee? If his rendition of “The Thrill is Gone” doesn’t turn your inmost thoughts to The One That Got Away, count yourself lucky. Or guilty. You decide.

    I tell you, if these great blues songs were paintings, they could hang in the Louvre, they’re so good. In the same room with the Mona Lisa would be a fitting place. She, too, broke a lot of hearts, they say – which is what most blues songs are about – that and being lonesome.

    Why, even a lady’s man like Elvis once had a room at Heartbreak Hotel – and where was the hotel located? “Down at the end of Lonely Street.” And it was “always crowded.”

    Some with broken hearts prefer to suffer alone, of course. No desk clerks dressed in black for Ray Charles. No lachrymose bellhops, either. He is “so all alone” and crying so hard that he will drown in his own tears if his woman doesn’t “come on home” – and soon!

    How could any woman who loves music resist such a plea? Charles’s rendition of that song is a perfect fusion of blues lyrics and gospel chords.

    Sing it again, Ray, wherever you are. And if the Raylettes are now the Angelettes, invite them to  join in.

    Men, too, break hearts, of course. What woman has not sighed in painful recognition on hearing  the one and only Billie Holiday lament: “Love is like a faucet, it turns off and on. Sometimes when you think it’s on, it has turned off and gone.”

    Sadder still is that the song’s singer has turned off and gone. Checked out of Heartbreak Hotel, apparently her permanent residence, in 1959. Though born in the City of Brotherly Love, Billie Holiday had a hard time finding any, brotherly or otherwise. Born Eleanora Fagan, Holiday died in a New York hospital bed while under arrest for narcotics. (For one hell of an obit: NYTimes.com.)

    Now let’s give thanks for the blues artists who are still with us, performers like:

    • James Taylor (“Steamroller Blues”): “I’d like to roll all over you…”
    • Eric Clapton (“I Want A Little Girl To Fall In Love With Me”): “You know I’d give her everything I’ve got…”
    • Delbert McClinton, a national treasure himself (“Standing on Shakey Ground”): “My car got repossessed this morning. harder times I haven’t seen in years…”
    • Mick Jagger (“Honky Tonk Women”): “I met a gin-soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis, She tried to take me upstairs for a ride…”

    And let us not forget the blues that from time to time befall all of us, the blues about simple rotten luck, as in “Born Under a Bad Sign,” which manages to make a double negative sound negative indeed: “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

    An aside: The late Albert King, no kin to B.B., made “Bad Sign” popular, but the best version I’ve heard was by Robben Ford, whose “Bad Sign” is actually a good sign because he is still among those working to keep the blues, a genuine American art form, alive and well.

    And who do we have to thank for this art form? Well, the blues are as old as heartache, as old as sorrow itself, but W.C. Handy is widely regarded as the Father of the Blues, and I know of no one with a better claim to the title.

    Born Nov. 16, 1873, in Florence, Alabama, Handy was a musician (cornet) and composer. It is said that he harvested the rhythms he heard in his travels throughout the South, put them into his compositions, and brought them into the mainstream of American music aboard classics like “Memphis Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” and “Aunt Hagar’s Blues.”

    I like ‘em all, but, oh, that last one! I can hear ol’ Louis Armstrong singing it now:

    “Old Deacon Splivin, his flock was givin’ the way of livin’ right.
    Said he, No wingin’, no ragtime singin’ tonight.
    Up jumped Aunt Hagar and shouted out with all her might:
    ‘Oh, ain’t no use to preachin’, ain’t no use to teachin’;
    each modulation of syncopation just tells my feet to dance.
    I just can’t refuse when I hear the melody they call the blues,
    those ever-lovin’ blues.”

    Sing it again, Satchmo. You, too, were a national treasure, but, alas, one of a kind. We won’t see your like again.

    And now I’ve really got the blues.

    ###

    (AUTHOR’S NOTE: I found the songs mentioned above on YouTube via Google. B.B. King must have recorded “The Thrill Is Gone” a hundred times, but two of the best versions are the one he did for the TV show “Austin City Limits” and the one he did with the great Eric Clapton.)

    ###
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    Robert Lamb

    Robert Lamb

    I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After a stint in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English (Class of '61). I began my (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and went to work for The Constitution in, I think, 1976. I left in Sept. '82 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award and my second (Atlanta Blues, in 2004) contended for an Edgar Award. My latest novel won no honors but might well get me nominated for a hanging. Titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in a small Georgia town. I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.com and I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.

     

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    • Will Cantrell

      Bob, thanks you for writing this piece. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of those folks --Stevie Ray, the great Riley B. B. King, Lou Rawls and ‘the man, himself, Ray Charles. But I loved --and miss —Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland a little bit more. If I could only listen to one voice until the day I die it would be Bobby Blue’s.

      Seems to me there are two existential questions remaining to be answered: “Are we alone in the universe?” and “Why wasn’t Bobby Blue Bland a stone cold headliner--a much bigger star?” If there is such a thing as the “cool blues”, Bobby Blue was the absolute master of the thing. That smooth voice countered by that hocking sound he created when he could no longer hit the high notes was it for me. He was the epitome of cool but you also had the impression that he’d actually experienced the thing he sang about — the blues personally and had lived to tell the tale in his own matter-of -fact, down home, cool way. Just listen to “Sad Street”, “That’s the Way Love Is,” “Tonight’s the Night,” ‘St. James Infirmary”, or any other Bobby Blue Bland rendition and tell me that ain’t true. Wherever he is now, I hope he has gotten his due--and is once and for all time, a headliner. Great piece. Will

    • Sheila Morris

      Bob, I loved this post on the blues music -- and what a loss in B.B. King (of blues). I’m not sure this counts but I’d like to add Ray Charles with Willie Nelson and their Seven Spanish Angels…might be too country for the genre, but if you don’t get the blues when another angel goes home, you ain’t feeling the blues, honey.
      Great post!

    • willieearlhart

      Don’t forget one of the kings of country, ragtime, and Piedmont style blues, Blind Willie McTell. Born and buried right down the road from Augusta in Thomson, Georgia. Dylan wrote songs about him, and one of the Allman Brothers best known songs is a cover of his “Statesboro Blues”.

    • Robert Lamb

      Thanks fpr mentioning the Allman Blues. My favorite by them is “Need Your Love So Bad.”

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