Monday, February 04, 2013

Devil's Music - Soundtrack to BBC TV History of the Blues

The Devil’s Music was the title of a 1976 BBC 5-part documentary series that resulted from Giles Oakley’s travels to the United States. It was accompanied by a nice history of the blues by Oakley also titled The Devil’s Music as well as some lps on the Red Lightnin’ label. While this writer has never seen the BBC television series, he has read Oakley’s book (which I believe De Capo may have republished) and had the original recordings, a double lp set The Devils Music, and a single lp, More Devil’s Music. Those ops are reissued on CD by the British Indigo label along with some live recordings by Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson from the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival Tour in Indigo Records 3 cd box, The Devils Music.

The first two volumes contain recordings made during by Oakley and his BBC crew while visiting the Us and range from the legendary Mississippi bluesmen, Sam Chatmon doing Stop and Listen Blues, Big Joe Williams performing Highway 49, and Bukka White’s powerful Aberdeen Mississippi. Some of the performers around Memphis and Helena Arkansas are also featured as two former King Biscuit Time guitarists; Houston Stackhouse and Joe Willie Wilkins are heard. Stackhouse’s performances include Tommy Johnson’s Cool Drink of Water while Wilkins does Mr. Downchild, a tune associated with Sonny Boy Williamson. 

Harmonica player Sonny Blake is heard on Sonny Boy’s Bring It On Home. Also heard are Laura Dukes, once a singer with the Memphis Jug Band, and pianist Mose Vinson. Chicago blues are represented with performances by The Aces, Fenton Robinson (on which Bill Heid can be heard on keyboards), Good Rockin’ Charles, Elmore James imitator Joe Carter and Billy Boy Arnold. Pianist Little Brother Montgomery and singer Edith Wilson provide a nod to early blues recordings in the performances. 

St. Louis is represented by the final twelve performances including six by James De Shay, whose recordings of Pony Blues, Mistake in Life, Hold That Train and Elmore James’ Crossroads are live club recordings, that are not hi-fi. These are is only recordings DeShay made. Other recordings include some more Big Joe Williams (including a raucous Sloppy Drunk) and Henry Townsend (with the bittersweet Tears Come Fallin’ Down being outstanding). The late blues queen Victoria Spivey closes the field recordings with a remake of her hit, T.B. Blues

This is a fascinating collection of field recordings with some really exceptional performances interspersed with other entertaining ones. Add to this some live recordings of Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson in Europe in 1963 and one had a rather attractive box set, which I believe is bargain priced. Now if someone would only make the BBC-TV series available on dvd.

This review originally appeared in the April 2004 DC Blues Calendar, the DC Blues Society newsletter  I edited for many years. I have made a few minor revisions. Amazon lists this as available from various sellers. I purchased this.

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