Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A few thoughts on the Blues Hall of Fame

One of my friends, who may be on the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame Committee, inquired about my suggestions of folks to be considered for the Hall. I provided him with a number of names. The names I submitted included Roy and Grady Gaines (who are both still with us), the Boogie Woogie Trio of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis and their mentor Jimmy Yancey, the great Esther Phillips and Duke Robillard. I also suggested as Classics of Blues Recordings the compilations that accompanied Sam Charters "The Country Blues," Paul Oliver's "Blues Fell This Morning and the Origin Jazz Library "Really the Country Blues," and a number of the early Yazoo vinyl albums.

 Albert Ammons & Pete Johnson

The artists selected for induction were announced Sunday by the Foundation and include: Mavis Staples, Magic Slim, Johnny Copeland, Henry Gray, Latimore and Willie Johnson. For Classics of Blues Recordings albums they choose John Lee Hooker, The Real Folk Blues (Chess). I do find these artists deserving although I do not believe any of these artists are more deserving than the ones I had suggested. 

I am pleased for the Texas Twister, Johnny Copeland, a singular performer that was always adding new elements to his music.  Magic Slim was one of the biggest and most reliable acts on the blues circuit of the past forty odd years. I was surprised of the selection of Latimore, although pleased that someone in the soul-blues world was honored. Henry Gray has been a solid pianist and vocalist in the over forty years since he moved back to Louisiana, not to mention his tenure with Howling Wolf. Willie Johnson was a major player on Wolf's early recordings (but how can you pick him and also not pick Roy Gaines, who did session work for Duke (with Bobby Bland I believe); Chuck Willis (he was also Willis' band leader); Jimmy Rushing and many more, as well as numerous outstanding recordings on his own, several of which were award-winning ones). 

Johnny Copeland doing "Devil's Hand" in 1984

To my mind, the only questionable selection of a performer is that of Mavis Staples, whose iconic status as a performer is well acknowledged, but one whose performances and recordings are outside the blues. The press-release announcing the selections acknowledges this, stating that she "one of America’s premier singers of gospel and soul music, has expanded her musical mastery with her performances in more blues-based settings in recent years." Performances being in a blues-based setting is not, to me, a strong rationale to induct a non-blues artist, as wonderful as she is, to a Blues Hall of Fame. I understand the rationale, I do not agree with it. 

A few other observations about this year's selections. Once again, with the exception of Son House's "Preaching the Blues" as a classic single, pre-war blues artists and recordings were generally ignored. Also the one album selected, John Lee Hooker, The Real Folk Blues, is not, in my estimation, one of the more important albums of Hooker's music

Of course this represents my opinion, but one resulting from following and listening to blues for a half century.

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