Friday night in Chicago we saw Andrew "Junior Boy" Jones at Buddy Guy’s Legends. Andrew Jones is a classic journeyman blues performer, working with a variety of singers and playing in back bands since he was 16. In the 90’s, he started recording his own stuff, putting out some solid Texas-style electric blues. This is the stuff that most people now think of as "the blues" thanks to performers like Stevie Ray Vaughn and the electric blues that many rock band state as major influences.
Friday night showed why this version of the blues is so damn popular. Rockin’ and swingin’ with a wailing guitar, a howling organ, and a screaming harmonica player (Cheryl Arena), Junior Boy played over two hours of entertaining electric blues, from slow burns to fast shuffles.
The blues is one of those things where I find myself coming back to it every once in a while as a "musical palette cleanser." A week or two of listening to the blues regularly and any music rut I was in is washed away and opens my head up for new sounds. Not sure what it is – maybes its the primitive sound – guitar, drums, bass, maybe keyboard or harmonica – or the simple structure of the songs that do it. Its like a taste sherbet between courses: good on its own but makes everything around seem even better.
Next time you’re feeling a little ambivalent about what to listen to… not sure what to put on… try some blues. Pick up a little Stevie Ray Vaughn (recommended: Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Texas Flood) or the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Collection. That will take care of the most casual of blues fans. Listen to it. Enjoy it. Appreciate where it comes from: starting as hollers among the slaves in the deep south as they worked the fields, to the front porches of the emancipated blacks whose music mingled with that of the whites and moved up the Mississippi river, morphing along the way in Memphis, St. Louis, and eventually Chicago where it met up with electric instruments.
Don’t get me started… back in college I was a blues fanatic, a member of the Blues Foundation and everything. Wrote research papers and gave presentations at academic seminars about it. One thing that I found really funny about the blues in modern America is that the most popular icons of the blues are that of a white Texas boy (Stevie Ray) and two white comedians who put out a movie called The Blues Brothers when the music couldn’t possibly be any more rooted in pop culture . Whether that’s a sign that the music has moved beyond the limitations of race or has been co-opted by white culture, I’ll leave up to you to discuss and decide.