Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Big Shoes: Walking And Talking The Blues
A Robert Mugge film and album by the Scissormen
by Brian K. Read
You gotta hand it to the Scissormen, a couple of white guys who drove up from the Delta to tour and play slash and burn juke joint blues, a la’ slide guitar and drums. They ain’t afraid of no Midwest winter; they’re gonna tear it up on a tour through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio --- no matter the snow, the cold, or the shanty shacks they have to sleep in along the way. This is Big Shoes: Walking And Talking The Blues, a new film by Robert Mugge, out on DVD, red hot and ready for the world to see.
Scissormen is the blues duo of Ted Drozdowski, slide guitarist, and his drummer, R.L. “Rob” Hulsman. Together, they ignite the fiery sounds of classic Mississippi juke joints where they learned their chops, paying homage to some of the greats of the genre, like Jessie Mae Hemphill, Junior Kimbrough and R.L Burnside. But as film director Robert Mugge says, they do more than just honor that legacy, they seek to extend it and expand upon it, too.
This slick two-disc set, one disc a DVD and the other a music-soaked concert CD, is something of a documentary plus a history lesson -- only it’s a living history, with a palpable pulse, and a lot of life left to go. It’s also a concert-movie, but not the MTV kind; watching is more like having a great seat at little far-away clubs, with names like the Beachwood Ballroom and Tavern, in Cleveland. Or how about an impromptu juke joint show at the Key Palace, in Redkey, Indiana, or some Delta slide guitar lessons at the classic Indy club, The Slippery Noodle?
This is a road trip movie, with a lot of great pit stops, and some very cool people to meet along the way. These are real people, who help fill in some of the blanks in the blues history books, set to a background boogie of some wild Delta slide guitar, as the Scissormen invite us to hop in and ride along. Make sure you fasten your seat belt!
We meet Terry Stewart, CEO of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, for a look at some vintage guitars once strummed, slammed and often splintered by blues guitar greats like Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly and Lonnie Smith, inventor of the single-string guitar solo. We find out what was in Howlin’ Wolf’s battered old suitcase, and why he carried it with him everywhere he went.
Charlie Noble, owner of the classic Key Palace club in Redkey, shows off the replicas of Mississippi shanty houses he built (with more modern accoutrements) where the musicians spend the night after they sweat their sets. He “used to live in Chicago” and fell in love with blues and jazz there, so he moved to Redkey, and set up his own club, to help bring the music to a wider audience. (Editor’s note: Charlie has since passed away and these discs are dedicated to him).
When they visit Gennet Records, in Richmond, Indiana, where some of the earliest jazz and blues recordings were captured, the boys have to shovel some snow away to see plaques laid in the ground, honoring many of the artists who have come and gone over the years: Charlie Patton, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, King Oliver, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and the great Louis Armstrong. All are honored here, at the place where they came north to record and to spread their great American musical traditions from the Delta.
This is a movie made by students, under the expert guidance of Robert Mugge, Endowed Chair of Telecommunications, at Ball State University and noted filmmaker of jazz and blues documentaries. That said, it has a sincere, down home quality to it; but don’t expect Hollywood production values. The story compels the viewing, and as Drozdowski says, “It’s about dreams, and something bigger, and about passion, and responsibility.” The Scissormen pay tribute to their Delta blues heroes, and they move the music forward, pushing towards and past old boundaries. Interviews, history, cool montage and atmospherics, and lots of great music -- this film has a little something for everyone.
Frankly, you won’t miss the fancy effects and splashy graphics. Just sit back and enjoy the real deal. These guys can rock the house all night, and as if the 90-minute film isn’t enough, you get a bonus disc of live music, featuring the Scissormen in a full performance of jumpin’ juke joint blues!
If you like nasty slide played on a well-worn Telecaster, along with a driving beat straight out of the Delta, then pick up Big Shoes: Walking And Talking The Blues. You’ll be walking and talking along in no time!
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