This is my first article for Beyond Tape.
When my friend Don and me had the idea for Beyond Tape, we wanted to immerse ourselves not only deeply in the music of all kinds, but also in the stories and artists behind it. As every mixtape must have a title, we like to stick to a topic every time – #1 became a matter of our hearts, the Blues:
And more than sticking to a definition of Blues, what is it that I enjoy so much about that kind of music? Are there connections between the artists? In the end, it’s about the feeling of it all, Blues And Beyond.
1. Achille Johnny — Mede Woui (around the 1960s)
A few years ago I visited the monarch club in Berlin for a gig of Arizona-based experimental Rock Band Sun City Girls. After the soundcheck, the sound technician played some tunes including Achille Johnny‘s Mede Woui. I was mesmerized by that dramatic ballad, somehow sounding like western blues recorded on lowest gear and somehow African. When I asked the guy later he smirked and told me that I am not the first asking for that song.
I would love to tell you about that man from Benin, formerly Dahomey, but my research led gave me not too much. Not even a year of recording. According to this blog, it must be from around the 1960s. Wikipedia says that Johnny has been playing the guitar in the Sunny Blacks Band from 1967 on.
Being able to enjoy this fantastic track today, is owed to a guy called Simon, who seems to have a great collection of African records. He made a mixtape for a friend of his, who the other way around decided to share it with his blog community. Anyway, thank you for that. It’s not online anymore, but luckily I found the whole playlist on the wfmu.org archive ♥♥. So please, if you do know anything about Achille Johnny, let me know, I am so curious!
Listen to the Radio Boredcast from 3/22/2012.
2. Mac Curtis — The Low Road (1956)
I really can‘t say why this sad love song ended up in my Beyond Blues Tape of all things but there it is. Born in 1939 and raised in Texas US Curtis was merely interested in Rhythm and Blues musicians like Piano Red. He and some friends started to gig for money but in the early 1950s, it was Elvis Presley, a regular guest on local Texas Broadcast Big D Jamboree, who convinced them of the new Rockabilly Sound. So this early time of Curtis still somehow falls out of the line with his demanding drums and the spooky delay. Its small wonder, that first I heard it on M.Rux’s fantastic-on-my-player-on-rotation-Set Lowroad, an audio surrounding where it perfectly fits in.
3. Lightnin‘ Hopkins — Buddy Brown‘s Blues (1961)
This Album is more or less the reason why Chris Smither (also represented in this mixtape) started to make music, he says himself. Caution musicians out there, if I could interview you one day, that‘ll be definitively one question for you. For Sam John Hopkins that kick starter was meeting Blind Lemon Jefferson, the father of Texas Blues, in the 1920s. He went on learning from country blues singer Alger „Texas“ Alexander, who also wrote the here featured song Buddy Brown‘s Blues.
Hopkins, a poet, who loves to spontaneous makeup lyrics, while he was recording, wrote more than a thousand songs in his lifetime. Lots of them got a strong provocative taste, but anyway, a very good sip.
4. Davy Graham — Leavin’ Blues (1965)
Davy Graham is one of those types of musicians, who have never been too successful in a lifetime but being credited with influencing lots of other well-known fellows. When he was young, Graham listened to folk musicians like Steve Benbow, who played a guitar style influenced by Moroccan music. Inspired he started traveling himself a lot across the Asian continent, which shaped his own guitar playing with various aspects of world music.
After a jazz-based first album, he originally released Folk, Blues and Beyond in 1965, which turned out to be his most experimental and groundbreaking work. While it sounds like a classic folk album, but also has all that exotic, middle-eastern, jazzy even rock and world-music-sounds.
I picked Graham because the opening track Leavin Blues is a fantastic makeover of a Lead Belly classic. He speeded it up a bit and used his DADGAD tuning. While traveling Morocco he tried to convey the playing style of the Oud onto a guitar, using that tune. It‘s hard to say if he was the first but he definitely popularised the DADGAD as the default setting for any finger-picking guitarist.
After 8 albums before and during the 1970s, a time where he‘s been on drugs big time, his career ended, after which he largely made a living teaching guitar.
His first recorded piece of music Anji became standard in classic Folk Music and has been covered a lot e.g. by Bert Jansch, Simon & Garfunkel, and such.
5. Little Walter — Blue and Lonesome (1965)
Many comments on youtube read like this:
The Keith Richards documentary Under the Influence brought me here…“
…me too. Thank you, Keith, for the way you put that vinyl on, excited like a child before the birthday, the expression on your face while listening to the first riffs, priceless! The snarling recording, the rough Riffs, the electric harmonica, Blues straight from the heart, pure, unembellished.
All that makes Blue and Lonesome in that early Little Walter recording one of my most favorite Blues Songs ever.
Little Walter himself seemed not to be an easy person to deal with, attracted to booze and quarrels, he died very young as the result of a fight in a performance break in a nightclub on the South Side of Chicago.
Besides that, he hit the Billboard Top-Ten numerous times in the 1950s and made a name as the harmonica player in the blues scene. Some say he was one of the first who intentionally distorted his instrument.
6. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton — What‘d I Say (1966)
The 1966 album is a composition of Blues Standards (Otis Redding, Robert Johnson, Little Walter …) and some originals by John Mayall and Eric Clapton. Mayall’s wish for his 2nd album was to be a Live one, to better capture Clapton’s guitar solos, but the recording they made turned out to be crappy quality. So they went to Decca in London for a studio try.
Bluesbreakers for many reasons is considered to be a very influential Blues album, most of all because of Clapton’s style-defining playing. Check out that great and more detailed making-of-article of the Bluesbreakers album.
Clapton left the band afterward for joining Cream and make some more furor.
7. Big Mama Thornton feat. Mississippi Fred McDowell— My Heavy Load (1968)
Big Mama Thornton with the slide guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell is probably one of the purest and most haunting blues duets ever, just legend! Thornton, born Willie Mae Thornton in Ariton, Alabama, wasn‘t just a great singer, but also a drummer and harmonica player, accompanying her here and then. She also was the first to record Hound Dog (as presented from Don on Side A of this article), which makes her something like the founder of Rock‘n‘Roll.
With her heavy-drinking hard-living lifestyle, she probably became a role model for many Rock‘n‘Roll-careers, just as Janis Joplin.
8. Led Zeppelin — Since I‘ve Been Loving You (1970)
I had an internship in 2007, which took me about 45 minutes per bike to get to the company. What I remember most of these three months is riding my bike in summer across Berlin, earphones on and in permanent loop three songs: Since I‘ve Been Loving You and Shine On You Crazy Diamonds Pt.1–5 and Pt.6–9. I just couldn‘t stop and possibly started my love for long-players this time.
Led Zeppelin‘s much-maligned third album followed new paths and remains divisive until today. With I and II, Led Zeppelin’s meteoric rise had been breathless but exhausting. A little retreat in the Welsh countryside did not just change Page‘s and Plant‘s state of mind, but also their idea of the music they are up to do from now on. The circumstance of no electricity, candles for light, water from a stream, and an outside toilet, made this mountain cottage even more precious for further work.
Credit must be given to Bron Y Aur a small derelict cottage in South Snowdonia for painting a somewhat forgotten picture of true completeness which acted as an incentive to some of these music statements.“Jimmy Page
9. The Doors — Been Down so Long (1971)
L.A. Woman is the last studio album of the Doors and also the one most influenced by the blues. Right after the recording, still, without the usual tour, Morrison went to Paris to be what he wanted to be from the beginning, a poet. A short time later he was dead, of course with unexplained cause, of course at the age of 27.
With the climax of my youth, I became a huge fan of the music of the Doors, but especially of the character Jim Morrison. Shaman soul poetry, Nietzsche, Baudelaire, baring things until only the truest core remains, and a textbook rock‘n‘roll career. All this fascinated me enormously. But Morrison always carried all this with a big portion of contempt in front of him and at the same time, he was a sad figure. He sometimes called himself a clown.
Been Down So Long is a bit the essence of it all, Blues what it was meant to be. From the lyrics:
I‘ve been down so goddamn long, that it looks like up to me…“
10. Ali Farka Touré with Ry Cooder — Amandrai (1994)
Many say, that the Blues was born within the African-American slave communities as a social commentary genre, but its roots can be traced all over to African Desert Blues and Nomadic Culture. Ali Farka Touré even claimed Mali as the spiritual homeland of the Blues. Small wonder, that Americana giant Ry Cooder chose to make a record with him. Touré always attached more importance to farm work than music and so he only left his village Niafunké when he could not avoid it. For Talking Timbuktu he and Cooder even transported all musicians, equipment end even gasoline generators to the farm, where there was no electricity. Every day the whole crew had to wait for him to complete his farm work. He explained that the music for him wasn‘t just mere entertainment and the context should be respected.
11. Prince — The Truth (1998)
Prince must have seen the political climate coming, or the topics just never change in a way. His song The Truth, from 1997, just fits perfect in the Fake-News-Time these days:
What if half the things ever said
Turned out 2 be a lie
How will U know the Truth?“
…ominous clock ticking …
What If time‘s only reason?
Was to give us all somethin‘ 2 fear?
And if so y‘all, the end of the journey‘s so clear.“
The musical facets of Prince‘s career were very wide and colorful. His album The Truth, however, feels honest and intimate because it comes in acoustic arrangements and which has much to do with inner peace and looking within oneself to settle the extremities of external forces. It‘s a bit of a shame, that it just came as a bonus disc to the album Crystal Ball and is easy to forget to exist.
12. Chris Smither — I Am The Ride, live (2000)
When I talk to strangers about music, I‘m curious about the first names they drop. When I traveled Australia a few years ago and couch-surfed a wave and music-loving fella in Melbourne, I just had a crush on Tallest Man On Earth‘s The Wild Hunt. He instead came along with Chris Smither I have never heard about in my life.
His precise guitar playing and his poetic lyrics flashed me instantly. You can always hear his feet tapping the rhythm, he even sometimes puts an extra mic on them. About his own influences his bio reads like this:
Uncle Howard,” Smither says, “showed me that if you knew three chords, you could play a lot of the songs you heard on the radio. And if you knew four chords, you could pretty much rule the world.”
With that bit of knowledge under his belt, he was hooked. “I’d loved acoustic music — specifically the blues — ever since I first heard Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Blues In My Bottle album. I couldn’t believe the sound Hopkin‘s got. At first, I thought it was two guys playing guitar. My style, to a degree, came out of trying to imitate that sound I heard.”
The album Live As I‘ll Ever Be was recorded over a longer period in various clubs and concert halls in California, Dublin, Galway, Boston, and Washington DC. If you’re keen you can also watch John Flanders short film The Ride, which is inspired by I Am The Ride.
13. John Hartford — I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (2000)
This beautiful and sad piece of music is a good example of how confusing it can be to track down the origins of a song, talking about Folk or Blues Traditionals.
Here is the story: The Song ‘I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow’, John Hartford covered for the Soundtrack of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou short before he died, has been notoriously written by Dick Burnett in around 1913 and was called Farewell Song. Recaps by traditional stories allow this assumption to be made. Unfortunately, he never recorded it. He had a friend though, Emry Arthur, who learned the song and did a recording, almost 15 years later, using the first line of the lyrics for the song title.
So far, but being interviewed later in his life around the 1970s, Burnett couldn’t remember anymore, if he had written the song, could be not.
According to the Country Music Annual, Burnett
…probably based his melody on an old Baptist hymn called ‘Wandering Boy’…”
In the end, we’re not talking about a cover version from XY, it’s more like picking up, retelling, re-singing, passing on knowledge and stories to ancestors.
14. The Blind Boys Of Alabama — Run On For A Long Time (2001)
This album is a time machine and The Blind Boys Of Alabama are the oldest band alive in the world. Founded in 1939, in the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind (a school for blind and deaf children), Talladega, Alabama, US their first recording is dated in 1948(!)
It takes just a few notes to hear a long life of ups and downs, WW2, segregation, and liberation. „During their 70-plus years together, they’ve won six Grammy Awards (including one for Lifetime Achievement), are in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, collaborated with everyone from Stevie Wonder and Prince to Bon Iver and Lou Reed, and have performed at the White House for three presidents. They are, simply put, national treasures.Matt Hendrickson, Garden and Gun
Now, when I listen to their version of the traditional God‘s Gonna Cut You Down I‘m impressed by the sound of their old, in a way brittle but so powerful voices. When the whole band sets in, the sky is ripping open and my hips start to twitch.
The band behind (John Hammond, David Lindley, Charlie Musselwhite, and Danny Thompson) just do the most necessary, giving most of the room to the voices.
15. Jack Rose — Dark Was The Night (2002)
It‘s 2009 and I am heavily in love with a compilation with the mystically sounding title Dark Was The Night, the 20th compilation release benefiting the charity ‚Red Hot Organization‘. The title refers to Blind Willie Johnson‘s Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground, a haunting slide guitar classic from 1927. It has been covered by many artists over the last 90 years. The most interesting of them was Jack Rose. Born in 1971 and died far too young in 2009, he joined the noise group Pelt in the early 1990s. A few years later, Pelt played more folky sounds by then, Rose lost his job, which has kind of a beneficial effect on his music. Living on benefits, he concentrated on developing his guitar skills which again was a gift for all of us.
16. The White Stripes — Ball And Biscuit (2003)
It is 1997 in Detroit when the White Stripes started. Jack and Meg were sitting in the attic and he would say something to her like:
Would you mind playing a simple beat for me?”
She did nothing fancy, but she did something astute and original. She played almost entirely on the beat, with no adornments, which left silence and vacancies in places that more conventional drummers usually fill.Alec Wilkinson, The New Yorker
Ball and Biscuit from Elephant is just hot stuff for me. It‘s so bold and simple in a way but so uniquely raw and dirty. Imagine it supposedly took just two weeks in the Toereg Studios in London and a very small budget to produce that album. Jack White was using nothing but cheap guitars these days, hoping to make plain that the instrument is not the point… I really like that attitude!
After scoring #1 in the UK and #6 in the US J.White said: “We had no business being in the mainstream, we assumed the music we were making was private, in a way. We were from the scenario where there are fifty people in every town. Something about us was beyond our control, though. Now it’s five hundred people, now it’s a second night, what is going on? Is everybody out of their minds?”
After 2007 Meg White left the band, while Jack went on with projects like The Raconteurs, Dead Weather etcetera. He also founded Third Man Records, where he produces and sells hand-picked music he loves on vinyl in-shop (Detroit & Nashville).
Fun fact: J.White said that in Nashville he’d had microphones installed under the eaves of his home so that he could hear the rain better.
17. Mugison — Murr Murr (2004)
Icelandic musician Örn Elías Guðmundsson is what I would call a free spirit. He was lucky enough to meet various influencing people in his early life, who exposed him to all kinds of weird and wonderful things and encouraged him to participate and explore.
As a result of that Mugison experimented lots with instruments and gear and became a notorious live artist. After his first album ‚Lonely Mountain‘ on Matthew Herbert‘s Label Accidental Records he retired into an abandoned house in Isafjordur and recorded Mugimama, Is This Monkey Music?, an insane Dada-Work including the gorgeous Murr Murr. Both album and song won the Icelandic Music Award. Also, get yourself blown away by checking out what Mugison made out of the song later in his roaring Roots Rock period of Mugiboogie.
Songs like this can drive a man insanelyrics from Sad As A Truck
18. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — Restless Sinner (2005)
The B.R.M.C. for me sounds exactly what their name promises, they carry the roots of Blues in them, they are raw and they‘re not called the „kings of cool“ for no reason. The 2006 album is a direct reference to Allen Ginsberg’s revolutionary poem Howl and somehow a rebirth of the B.R.M.C. Because two years before, just after the release of their 2nd work Take Them On, On Your Own, the band has been dropped by longtime label Virgin and by founding member and drummer Nick Jago. They, from now on, expanded their musical spectrum, taking in more Americana, Country, and Gospel, in fact, more acoustics and slides.
19. Timber Timbre — Trouble Comes Knocking (2009)
Taylor Kirk lately said:
There‘s nothing worse than a white guy singing the blues.
He‘s doing it anyway after the two experimental and self-produced albums Cedar Shakes and Medicinals Arts & Crafts published the „Gothic Rockabilly Blues“-Album (Kirk) Timber Timbre.
I have never listened to something dark like that with so much continuous joy. The setting of gasping organs, out-of-tune-pianos, and vocals treated with a claustrophobic reverb, the voodoo stories, the demanding drums, and hacking riffs. It all takes me to a place that I enjoy wandering through but would never dare to stay.
Timber Timbre songs come to us as if they are delivered by a man who knows the dimensions of the devil‘s living room, knows what kind of brandy he keeps in the liquor chest, and also knows the color of the walls in God‘s bathroom, knows what‘s in the medicine cabinet and he plays all of this knowledge against itself, understanding the delicacy of the similarities as the real scariness.Daytrotter
20. Bombino — Amidinine (2013)
What I love about this Nigerian Singer-Songwriter, is besides his music, the background he is making the music for. He sings mostly in Tamasheq and addresses the geopolitical concerns of the Tuareg.
I do not see my guitar as a gun but rather as a hammer with which to help the house of Tuareg people.“
Still, the government tried to ban every symbol of rebellion, executed two of Bombino’s fellow musicians, and forced him into exile. That was the time filmmaker Ron Wyman became aware of Bombino. He encouraged him for the documentary Agadez, the Music, and the Rebellion and enabled him to record his second album ‘Agadez’ in the United States. The success of that album, in turn, attracted artists like Dan Auerbach, who produced his second album ‘Nomad’ later, where this track is from.
In January 2010 Bombino was able to return home.
The full Beyond Tape on Spotify is for your listening pleasure. As there is not everything on Spotify, the tape differs slightly from the youtube-videos.