Friday, April 04, 2008

Caretakers or Undertakers of the Blues

I was visiting my good friend Memphis Gold this afternoon and we talked about some of his upcoming appearances including the Tinner Hill Festival and the Columbia Pike Blues Festival, when his wife mentioned another DC area festival that essentially offered him $500 for a seven piece band while offering several times this amount to a touring white performer (and if the person is who i think it is, I think she is a fine performer). According the Memphis Gold's wife, the person from this festival took offense when challenged on the low amount they were willing to pay. Lets remember, Memphis Gold needs money, but certainly a gig has to pay enough to make it worth it to show up and perform. If it is true that Memphis Gold was expected to play for $500, and the touring act is getting several times that amount, well I can say there is no excuse for that. Why can't someone putting on a festival in Washington DC show enough respect that the folks who know something about the blues in Europe know.

In the context of telling me what happened, Memphis Gold's wife said that someone told her to the effect that Blacks may have been the originators but whites are now its caretakers. I initially misunderstood her and though it was the person from the festival that was trying to low-ball Memphis Gold, but that was not true. Still that comment probably reflects what a lot of folks think. The fact that there is plenty of blues still being played its originators who are doing quite a bit in preserving and extending the blues tradition. And these acts increasingly get ignored while the popularizers and imitators increasingly get many gigs and press. Those that ignore the originators and those playing the tradition, are not serving as caretakers of anything. rather they are acting like undertakers, but this music ain't ready to die.

1 comment:

James Wesley of the JWBB said...


I just would like to say that I think you getting low-balled is rotten. It is however the state of music in general throughout the land. When i was young, i felt that I could someday be something special because of my music. I have studied hard and spent much for my love of music. I have come to realize that the arts are only going to survive because of artist's love for the arts. I think that blues has proven itself a strong and willing vessel, but it is tough times. The blues will survive I think, but only if the love of the blues is pasted on to future generations. It's really about finding your money in one place and still loving your art enough to keep the home fire burning. The way music and other forms of art are changin'. The good news is that the fat cats who pull the strings will probably fall by the wayside or learn a new way to suck the money out of artists. We don't need them to tell us what to listen to anymore and can find what we want easy on the internet. A young musician can get a recording studio of quality in a box, for not that much cash. You can burn and deliver your cd, shrunk wrapped and all for about a buck a copy. That leaves 9 for you if you sell at 10 a copy. The new concerts will be mostly virtual i think as there are not very many 100,000 seat shows even being attempted anymore. We are in a time of change and the old school blues needs to make this change. The really sad thing is that the live performance is where the magic is.... and it is quickly becoming a thing of the past. So, in closing I would like to pass on to everyone reading to embrace the brave new world, but keep practicing your chops for that rare occasion you get to perform live. I think that color is still seen, but I play in a band that is half black and half white. We have two guitarist that will give SRV or Eric C. a run for the money with their licks. They are 20 and 24, one black and one white. I also think it is time to look around and see that a woman and a black man are two of the top three posibilities for the white house. Change it does come, however slow. Hang in there.

Don't foget it's really for the love of the blues that we do this.