Monday, June 13, 2016

Cleaning Up

Song 307: This week the playlist comes around to Dust My Broom by Elmore James, written by Robert Johnson. After I started writing songs, at the age of 14, I soon became acquainted with the 1-4-5 12-bar blues song structure, though I didn’t know that it had originated in a genre called blues, and I didn’t even know about the existence of that genre. Not long into my freshman year at Northwestern, in the fall of ’69, I found myself hanging out with a few other dorm mates in another fellow student’s room as he played some blues records and talked about how much he liked that genre. This first encounter with the blues did not impress me, because all the records he played circled around that same 12-bar blues formula, so I thought that many of them sounded alike. Not long after that, though, one of the guys from the room across the hall showed off his blues-flavored piano improvisational style, and in doing so, he opened up a whole new world of musical possibility for me, inspiring me to explore my own bluesy piano improvisations. Concurrently, as I listened to a lot more of the rock and roll music I had already grown to love, and I could finally buy at least some of the LPs I had always wanted, plus I had a subscription to Rolling Stone, I began to learn more about the roots of that RnR music, and how much of RnR could be traced back to blues. I spent the summer of ’71 in Atlanta, GA, and there I discovered local heroes The Allman Brothers, quickly tuning in to Duane Allman’s outstanding slide guitar wizardry. That summer I tried fiddling with a slide, but I felt so inept in the initial attempts that I wouldn’t even consider another try for almost 2 decades. That first vain attempt did increase my appreciation of slide guitar, however, and in that context, as the name Elmore James kept coming up, when I started hearing his records, I immediately understood the important role EJ had played in creating the musical foundation for later RnR players. Fast forward only a few years, and around ’76, I played piano for a one week gig in Chicago with a band led by EJ’s cousin Homesick James that included Snooky Pryor on drums, so I guess that by then, I had paid enough of my dues that I could at least play the blues, even if it would be well over 10 years before I would again try to slide along a guitar fretboard.

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