What would the world be like if we had never heard the blues? I really don't know. I started listening to the blues many years ago; I can't really remember how it all started now. I went on backpacking trips all around Europe back in the early eighties - Jack Kerouac has a lot to answer for - and I kept that up for a good few years. I came across some great music during that part of my life. Rush, Midnight Oil, Randy California. And the blues, well I remember listening to all the Blues Brothers live stuff on tape. One of the songs that stuck with me was Shotgun Blues, with Matt Murphy on guitar ...
Now this is great music. Everything's there that needs to be there, but there's no excess. Everything's perfectly structured, but it's loose and expressive at the same time. Cutting guitar from Matt Murphy and dark, powerful lyrics from a guy who sang his heart out and died young. Music doesn't get much better .. At least that's what I thought at the time.
One day I was wandering about in Aberdeen and picked up a CD from the old HMV shop in the Bon-Accord Centre. Some guys playing live blues in a club in California. Lester Butler on harmonica. I had no idea who these guys were, but it was recorded by Rick Rubin, who I had heard of before. I gave it a shot.
I went home and listened to Lester Butler for the first time, and I came unglued. The raw vocals, the harp, the band right there, operating as a tight unit; this was the real deal. This was the blues, and that was me hooked.
Lester Butler became an iconic figure in Europe, especially in Holland. Sadly, sadly, Lester was killed by two of his friends during a drug relapse. The Lester Butler Tribute Band kept his music alive in Holland and elsewhere, doing regular gigs & even releasing an album, with Big Pete van der Pluijm doing the honors on vocals and harp.
That's a clip of Big Pete playing last year with Kirk Fletcher and Shawn Pittman on guitar, and Jimi Bott on drums. Talking of Shawn Pittman, here's a clip of him playing some slow blues at the Hondarribia Blues Festival in the Basque country - note the little kids sitting in the grass in the front row. Can you imagine being that age and your parents doing you the great favor of taking you to a blues festival so you can hear real, live music? Very cool.
The European love affair with the blues is ongoing. I've given a short outline of how I got into the blues here, but it was just the beginning of my journey. I'm so pleased that young guys like Big Pete and Shawn Pittman are playing the blues all around Europe.
I'm really going to have to organize a trip abroad again this year. Decades older now, sober and dragging a suitcase behind my ancient ass, I'll be staying in hotels this time around. No more rucksacks, sleeping on park benches, jail cells or German hospitals for me.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the blues. My journey into the blues may have begun a long time ago, but no matter what life throws at me, I keep seeing new musicians playing the blues, and I realize that there's a lot of life in the old dog yet, and like the blues says to anyone who listens closely enough, you've to keep getting up, and keep moving on.
Because I'm still alive, I'm still hearing the blues, and this strange, mysterious journey that I find myself on isn't over yet.
Tags: Lester Butler, Big Pete, Shawn Pittman, the blues To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the Patriot's Corner. Thanks!