I first “discovered” the blues when I was 14 or 15, when I found record after record in the bargain racks. Unfortunately, after an initial blast of enthusiasm that probably put me temporarily in the top 100 of young, naive blues fans, I adopted a line of thought made famous by once Governor Ronald Reagan who, desiring to cut them all down as fast as possible, once said “If you’ve seen one Redwood, you’ve seen them all.” By the time I was 21 I figured I pretty much knew it all, and went on to dip just as shallowly in jazz, country, and other forms of music.
Of course, that’s pretty much all we can do, unless we’re musicians or historians or absolutely crazy. I’ve only had time to be absolutely crazy about one musician, and we know who he is. So I’m not ashamed to have stopped collecting blues in the late 1970s, with bunches of records by people like Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed, B.B., and lots of others-- just embarrassed that I thought I knew more than a tidbit about the music.
When I started blogging about Chuck Berry it was a pretty natural progression to head back to the bargain bins, and luckily for me they have improved. Blues are cheap again, but better produced. People have taken those old masters and lovingly reworked them so that the sound and selection are better than ever-- and certainly better than the electronically altered for stereo versions that were out there when I was younger.
In addition to the blogging, I’ve been pushed to go back by my other interest-- playing. I dabble in any instrument I can find time with, which turns out to be guitar, piano and drums. (I should dabble more with bass, but tend to wait until I’m forced to play it to finish a song before picking it up. I should get Gemma that stand up she wanted. That would get me motivated.) For a while I was trying to get in one band as a guitarist and spent a few weeks learning the top 25 blues riffs so that I could fit in. Almost but not quite. But then I found another band of aging fogies who let me in, so all that cramming came in handy. But they wanted to do Allman Brothers versions, and I didn’t, so I had to look for another group of old folk, and what they wanted, and claimed was hard to find, was a drummer. I don’t think they wanted a good one, either, because, they said, the good ones always left. So I’ve found my temporary home. A couple times a month I shuffle in and try to play shuffles.
But here’s the point. When you try to play, you have to listen. And when you listen-- or when you look-- suddenly all the redwoods don’t look the same anymore. (There’s another thing. One redwood just doesn’t cut it. You need a forest to appreciate a redwood.) When you listen you hear all the different twists and punches on that shuffle. When you listen you hear all the little bits of this guy and that who went in and then came out as whoever it is you’re listening to: a little bit of T-Bone, and that new guy B. B., and thus and such.
One of the benefits of the blog is that I get occasional tips from my Blues 102 instructor, Mr. Lohr, who tells me or his Facebook friends, check out this, or check out that. This morning I’m listening to ancient recordings from St. Louis-- Little Milton, and Clayton Love-- and I finally own a Magic Sam record. Mr. Lohr says, charitably, that my guitar sounds a little like these guys. (That first band should have nabbed me! They loved Magic Sam, but went for a slick player who sounded sort of disco to me.) Also Amy Winehouse’s record, because she’s part of the forest, too.
So, I keep walking a bit deeper among the trees. But I know that if the camera panned back it would reveal that I’m still at the very, very edges of something huge. I can’t get there from here, but it’s good to try.