Archive for July, 2017

Highway 61

Bob Dylan in 1965

In 1965, Bob Dylan released two albums, “ Bringing It All Back Home ” and “ Highway 61 Revisited ”, both forging a path far removed from his early folk music into a new musical hybrid that included folk, rock ‘n roll, literature and blues, everything mixed up into this irresistible whirlwind. The next year, Dylan released a double album, “ Blonde on Blonde ”, and the 34 songs from these three albums are, in my opinion, the greatest achievement by any musician at any time. The lyrics of these songs were instrumental in Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016.

The crossroads

The real highway 61 divides the United States and stretches 1,400 miles from New Orleans, Louisiana to Wyoming, Minnesota. Highway 61 is also known as the Blues Highway because it runs through the Mississippi Delta, the area most associated with the development of blues music. The junction of Highway 61 and US 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi is the famous crossroads where legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in return for his incredible talent. Blues songstress Bessie Smith also died on this stretch of highway in a car crash in 1937.

My arrangement of “ Highway 61 ” is taken straight out of Muddy Waters’ fifties versions of “ I’m A Man ” and ” Mannish Boy. ” It is played in the classic “power trio” style of a lot of 60s bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and, one of my favourites, BLT (Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan and Robin Trower), a collaboration that lasted for all of one album!

The lobby of the Capitol theatre

In 1968, both Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience played the magnificent Capitol Theatre in Ottawa, only a few weeks apart. I couldn’t afford to see both concerts so I went to see Clapton (Cream) and a friend of mine went to see Hendrix. My friend couldn’t believe that Hendrix set his guitar on fire! As for me, Cream played so loud that my ears are still ringing 50 years later!

A victim of the new and nearby National Arts Centre, the Capitol Theatre closed its doors in 1970. Shortly afterwards, one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in Canada was demolished and replaced by yet another ugly square office building. The Ontario provincial government, ever behind, only enacted heritage protection legislation 5 years later.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Highway 61

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Bring It On Home – the trance blues of Sonny Boy Williamson

Sonny Boy Williamson

I really started listening to blues music when The Beatles died out in 1969. Muddy Waters was my big hero but I listened to everybody, acoustic and electric. In particular, I was very fond of songs that were repetitive, hypnotic and didn’t vary from start to finish, often played in a single chord. The best proponents of this captivating genre were Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. Much later, this type of blues became known as “trance blues.”

“Bring It On Home”, a great example of trance blues and a train song to boot, was written by Willie Dixon, the best and most prolific writer in the blues idiom. It was first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1963, although it was only released in 1966.

Sonny Boy Williamson’s real name is believed to be Alex Ford but he was mostly known as “Rice” Miller. The date and year of his birth are uncertain. Sonny Boy himself said he was born in 1899 but his tombstone, set up in 1977 by Lillian McMurry, owner of Trumpet Records where Sonny Boy recorded, gives 1908 as his birth year. However, his real birth year is believed to be 1912, according to census records.

There is a close bond between Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf – Wolf married Sonny Boy’s sister and Sonny Boy later married Wolf’s half-sister, Mae.

Sonny Boy Williamson on King Biscuit Time


In 1947, Sonny Boy Williamson played on the very first radio broadcast of King Biscuit Time, a 30-minute long show from Helena, Arkansas sponsored by the King Biscuit flour company, which featured live performances by African-American blues artists. King Biscuit Time is the longest running daily American radio broadcast in history. Its popularity made it one of the most important catalysts in the propagation of blues music throughout the country and helped launch many careers by some of the most significant artists in the genre.

Sonny Boy Williamson died in 1965 at the age of 52. He was very popular in the sixties and appeared on a number of television shows that followed the blues/folk revival. Luckily, some of these great live performances are still available and I urge you to have a look at “the real thing.” This is a good place to start:

 

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, electric bass, MIDI guitar (B3 organ)
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Bring It On Home

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