Various Artists – The (R)evolution Continues, Chicago Blues: A Living History

January 01, 1970



In 2009 Chicago Blues: A Living History was nominated
for a Grammy. The idea behind the two CD project was to take aging Chicago
blues artists who are old enough to have played behind the giants of the Golden
Era of the Chicago blues, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, but never
achieved the fame or stature of their bosses and have them play songs from the
Golden Era, which ran roughly from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. The project stars
artists such as Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell.


Now comes a second 2 CD set from the same group plus
guitarist Carlos Johnson called The (R)evolution
Continues, Chicago
Blues: A Living History.
The second installment goes the further step of including
two internationally recognized legendary surviving Chicago bluesmen, Buddy Guy
and James Cotton, and a third – Magic Slim, who grew up in the American south
but like so many others of his generation found a career in the blues on the
West Side of Chicago.


First, the music on this CD is great, no doubt about it,
going from a Lonnie Johnson – the first great electric blues guitarist – n 1942
right up to the 1990’s in chronological order. All the songwriters you would
expect to find are here: Waters, Wolf, Tampa Red, John Lee “Sonny Boy”
Williams, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter Jacobs, Magic Sam, Elmore James, Sunnyland


But then they do something interesting so this is not just a
greatest hit package. They link Chess Records – the label which gave birth to
the postwar Golden Era of Chicago Blues – to the birth of rock and roll. Who
remembers or knows that Chuck Berry first recorded for Chess? And on this set
we hear Berry’s
classic “Reelin’ and Rockin’ from
1958, with Primer on vocals. The revolutionary Elias McDaniel aka Bo Diddley
was another Chess alum from that era who gave rock a beat it never stopped
using. And we have on this CD Billy Branch on vocals and harp doing a mean
combination of Little Walter’s “Mellow Down Easy” from 1954 and “Bo Diddley”
from 1955. A bit of a stretch is including what is arguable the first rock
song, “Rocket 88” from 1951, written by Ike Turner as Jackie Brenston. This was
a Delta blues, not Chicago blues, recorded by
Sam Phillips at Sun in Memphis
but released nationally by Chess. My guess is the song was included to feature
Cotton’s harp, but they could have found another Chicago harp song.


Second, any CD that give a forum for Chicago blues players
like Arnold – who worked with Bo Diddley –  John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, the
incredible guitarist and son of Chicago Blues harp legend Carey Bell is
outstanding. These men were lucky enough to learn the blues from working with
the masters, but unlucky to come of age in an era when the blues was in one of
its periodic eclipses. By the 1980’s and 1990’s music had changed, the audience
had changed, the world changed and how the hell do you follow guys like Waters
and Wolf who were larger than life. So these hard working artists are showcased
perfectly on these two CDs.


But the two guest stars they brought in who are legitimate Chicago blues masters
steal the show. The second CD kicks off with Guy doing an incendiary version of
his 1960 hit “First Time I Met the Blues.” And on “Rocket 88” James Cotton
sounds as young and energetic as he did blowing harp on Muddy’s live album At Newport from 1960.


This is an excellent two CD set with a beautiful,
informative booklet. It is perfect for somebody coming to the Chicago blues for the first time. These songs
can be a gateway to explore a world of incredible music. And the project
certainly proves that in the hands of great players, the music will always be
alive. But whether the Chicago
blues can continue to evolve and grow after the generation of performers featured
on this CD passes is the real question that only time will answer. And I would
not get my hopes up on that one. So enjoy what is here while it is here.



Time I Met The Blues,” “Canary Blues,” “Stockyard Blues,” “Rocket 88” TOM CALLAHAN 


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