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FEATURE -- Book Review: Blues in Modern Days
GLT blues radio



31 Artists in Their Own Words


Written by Terry Mullins

Photos: Bob Kieser


Blues Blast Publishing

Blues in Modern Days Book


by Mark Thompson

Blues Blast Magazine, a free weekly on-line publication, has been hard at work for seven years keeping its 30,000 plus subscribers informed on the latest in the world of blues music. One unique feature that Publisher/Head Photographer Bob Kieser has included in each issue is an in-depth interview with musicians from around the world. Many of these interviews are conducted by Terry Mullins, an awards-winning journalist who discovered blues music at a young age, thanks to the older brother of his best friend.


In his introduction, Mullins describes his overpowering emotional reaction to hearing Howlin’ Wolf for the first time. That experience has stuck with him. As you start to read through his conversations, you get the sense that the author is still searching for those moments of enlightenment – that statement or revelation that opens up new doors for his readers that bring them closer to the music.  The book’s b&w photos, one for each blues artist, are also a revelation. Photographer Kieser’s keen eye succeeds in capturing each musician at the pinnacle of their live performance.


The book is divided into eight sections followed by four pages of “Suggested Listening” that recommends two recordings by each artist included in the book. The Hall of Fame group starts off with the compelling story of guitarist Jody Williams, whose anger over the lack of financial compensation for his memorable guitar licks on his own records (plus his work on classics by Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf) drove him out the music business for more than 35 years.  Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s hit, “Cherry Red,” captured the imagination of Billy Boy Arnold at a young age. Matt “Guitar” Murphy covers his illustrious career that stretches from Memphis Slim to the Blues Brothers while James Cotton gives credit to Sonny Boy Williamson for mentoring him on the harmonica.


The Family that Plays Together section finds Lonnie Brooks detailing his methods for dealing with musically inclined children while his sons, Ronnie and Wayne Baker Brooks, acknowledge a father’s influence as they seek to be recognized for their own contributions. Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith is one of the premier, modern-age drummers who benefited from being schooled by his father, the late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, whose illustrious career, playing drums with Muddy Waters and as a solo artist, included twelve Blues Music Awards.


Phil Wiggins talks about his efforts to endure after the death of his long-time collaborator, guitarist John Cephas, in The Tradition Continues. The chapter also includes Mud Morganfield and Lurrie Bell embracing the legacy their fathers (Muddy Waters and Carey Bell) left behind. Mullins does an outstanding job of framing Kenny Neal’s harrowing battle with Hepatitis C, then celebrating the impact Neal’s recovery had on his music.


Keepers of the Flame includes Johnny Rawls, Sugar Blue, and Billy Branch plus a memorable piece on Willie “The Touch” Hayes, a drummer whose confidence never wavered whether he was backing Magic Sam or Junior Wells. Mullins delves into the collision between the Mississippi Delta and Chicago with Zora Young, John Primer, and Dave Riley.  The author’s entry included in From the Magnolia State to the Windy City entitled “You Know That Right” focuses on the career of another departed legend, Magic Slim, which got jump-started at an early age with the help of his mother’s broom.


Larger Than Life certainly sums up the distinctive musical and performance styles of James ‘Super Chikan’ Johnson and Guitar Shorty. Lil’ Ed Williams relates some advice he received from his uncle, slide guitarist J.B. Hutto. “As far as your fans, love all your fans, good and bad. Because some people don’t even know they’re bad. They’re just having a hard life and you’re singing about their life.”


Guitarists Eddie Turner and Toronzo Cannon are featured in Playin’ Up a Storm as Mullins outlines their efforts to put a personal stamp on the blues tradition. An exceptional piece on Eric “Guitar” Davis celebrates the energy and enthusiasm of a performer destined for stardom before his life was cut down in a senseless early morning shooting a year ago.


The women have their say in Lady Sings The Blues. Teeny Tucker discusses influences ranging from her father Tommy Tucker to Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton and the Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor. The veteran Sugar Pie Desanto proudly recalls her high energy live performances that even had James Brown struggling to keep up. The church remains an important aspect of Lady Bianca’s musical approach while Diunna Greenleaf is thankful for the mentoring and friendship she received from the legendary piano player Pinetop Perkins.


Mullin’s background in newspaper reporting serves him well as he avoids falling into a stylistic trap, lending a sense of freshness to each piece whether you read them one at a time or in larger chunks. Kenny Smith offers an appropriate summation of the book with these words from his father, “…the people who love and cherish it, they love and cherish it for life. It takes both musicians and fans coming together to preserve the blues.” Mullins has done his part, giving readers the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the music through his thoughtful presentation of 31 artists in their own words. Definitely recommended!


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