Deep Sea Blues

January 01, 1970

(Micro Werks; 118 mins.)

 

www.robertmugge.com

 

BY TOM CALLAHAN 

 

Back in 1991 documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge teamed up
with the late writer Robert Palmer to make a great film about the Mississippi blues called
Deep Blues. That film introduced the
world to artists such as Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside and captured the
juke joint roots of the music. Now almost two decades later, Mugge has just
issued his latest music documentary entitled Deep Sea Blues and even if it does not capture
the intensity of his earlier work, it does have 118 minutes of great blues
performances.

 

Deep Sea
Blues
documents the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise of January 2007 when
19 acts and 14 special guests put on 70 shows during a week of sailing the Caribbean and visiting three islands. Roger Naber, the
long time promoter who started the first cruise way back in 1992, gives a tour
of the big boat and the world of blues cruising.

 

As the Dead used to say, it has been a long strange trip for
the blues. Live blues started in little juke joints and plantations in the
south and then moved to house rent parties and working class African American
bars in the ghettos of the North. By the 1960, curious young white faces
started appearing in those bars. Within 20 years, the black bars were largely
gone and the blues had migrated to “clubs” where the faces were all white and
the performers were black. Now we have blues cruises where the passengers
paying for the expensive voyages are white and largely graying with age, while
the performers are still black with a few notable exceptions like Kim Wilson,
Tommy Castro and Tab Benoit. As one of the black emcees honestly admits on the
DVD, “Between you and me, if not for white folks there would not be any blues
today.”

 

But the cruises are definitely a great gig for the
musicians, and as the documentary shows, it gives them something musicians have
not been able to do since the days of the old Chitlin’ Circuit and bus caravan
tours, and that is to bond and hang out together.

 

As Mugge has done in dozens of documentaries, he does a
great job in Deep Sea Blues of highlighting the music and performers. Among the
highlight performances is Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials playing at a poolside
bar at one of the stops – Grand Turk – with Ed doing his patented dancing on
his toes and knee walking through the crowd. Ed grinds out ferocious West Side slide
Chicago blues
while people frolic in the pool. Another surreal moment occurs on the ship when
Watermelon Slim performs nine stories above the water a song called “Black
Water” about Hurricane Katrina. As Slim plays a blistering slide guitar, he
sings, “Pols in Washington
don’t care about us poor boys down here…” Here is one of the bleakest songs
imaginable being performed with the backdrop of one of the most beautiful
places on earth on a clear sunny day. And then there is Otis Clay in the ship’s
theater paying tribute to the gospel and soul roots of the music by singing a
powerful version of “Nickel and Nail.”

 

Deep Sea Blues shows that the blues is being
kept alive and well today in the most improbable places. One might worry about
whether the next generation of blacks and whites will have any interest in
blues cruising. But for these musicians and the fans who can afford it, what
could be a better way to spend a week away from home? For the rest of us who
are broke, we can check out this DVD. Among the best features in the bonus
material where you can just listen to half a dozen performances back to back
without the chat.

 

Standout Performances:
Icicles in My Meatloaf” by Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, “Black Water”
by Watermelon Slim, “Nickel and Nail” by Otis Clay, “Bite Off More Than I Could
Chew” by Joey Gilmore.

 

Special Features: Complete/unedited
songs by Tab Benoit, Otis Clay, Michael Burks & Joey Gilmore; additional
songs by Duwayne Burnside, Murali Coryell, Jimbo Mathis.

 

View the trailer to the film here.

 

 

 

 

 

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