Monday, January 26, 2015

How the blues conquered Birmingham

The way that the blues entranced white youth in Britain, but not in America, is one of music's puzzles.

I wrote about it - or rather quoted Joe Boyd else about it - in a post in 2008:
Boyd describes a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon:
This was middle America's worst nightmare: white teenage girls screaming ecstatically at Chuck Berry.
 Boyd noticed a familiar figure looking on:
 I blurted out "That's John Lee Hooker." The girls around me started yelling, "John Lee? John Lee? Where? Where?" I pointed towards the wings. They started chanting, "We want John Lee, we want John Lee" and were quickly joined by half the hall - hundreds of kids. 
Boyd goes on: 
In that moment, I decided I would live in England and produce music for this audience. America seemed a desert in comparison. These weren't the privileged elite, they were just kids, Animals fans. And they knew who John Lee Hooker was! 
No white person in America in 1964 - with the exception of me and my friends, of course - knew who John Lee Hooker was.
A recent profile of Robert Plant gives another example of the extent to which the blues influenced some young Britons and also provides a pleasing vignette of Birmingham's musical history:
"My preoccupation as a very young early teenager was a music form that I might have missed. ... If I had missed it, I would never have sung," he says. "If I hadn't heard the Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Little Richard music, I wouldn't have been drawn to music. Most of the music we (in England) were surrounded by was slush, without any commitment. ... I was born again and saved and reincarnated by American music." 
Dave Pegg, long-time bassist for British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, well remembers Plant's youthful musical passion. Monday mornings often found Pegg, Plant and other teens — including future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and future Traffic members Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi — waiting for Birmingham record shop The Diskery to open so they could buy the latest records. 
"Robert and Jim Capaldi were kind of walking histories about blues and obscure soul albums," says Pegg.


Phil Beesley said...

I remember John Lee Hooker on Desert Island Discs: "I don't read so much." I felt sad.

wolfi said...

I was so lucky that in the late 50s (still at high school I got my father's old FM receiver - so I could get AFN (American Forces Network) aka the soldiers' radio station that broadcasted from Böblingen, not too far away ...

So via Chuck Berry and other R&B artists I also discovered the Blues and its British incarnations, which could be heard (sometimes) on Radio Luxemberg.
As students in the 60s we got really hooked on "black music" - those were the days!

A bit OT: You sure know Eric Clapton's Crossroads concerts - the DVDs play regularly now when it's cold here in hungary ...