Articles by 'blueshammer' appearing in the Blues Festival
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Alcohol of Fame
TEN LONG YEARS......
Memories are the diamonds that warm our soul
to a brilliant glow as we move forward on this mud ball. I remember with much ballyhoo, in 2003, President George W. Bush
proclaimed it ‘The Year of The Blues’. Whatever your political affiliations, it was pretty cool that the Government
shined a light on this one true original American Artform. I don’t know what your expectations were, but I was feeling
a potential renaissance and revival. To be brutally honest, I think the scales ended up just about even. Progress is a messy
proposition with winners and losers. There is the passing of luminaries and legends, as well as new standard bearers of the
torch and creative change. Sadly, you can ask any blues musician, and they will tell you that times are tough out on the road.
The fact of the matter is the rates paid to blues musicians hasn’t kept pace with the cost of inflation. So much for
Grand Government recognition.
As with all things to do with memory, soon the disappointments drift away and the joy comes shining through. As I fell
into fond reverie while pondering the past ten years in the blues, I was startled by some of the monumental changes in technology.
No doubt the result of my advanced, yet wizened, age. Technology has played a crucial role with PA systems shrinking in physical
size while providing better sound quality and control. Don’t forget the computer controlled LED lighting systems with
Smart Track. Nowadays, things are brighter, lighter, more cost effective, and make everybody look gorgeous (those that needed
the assistance of better lighting know who you are).
Thru technology, blues artists have been provided incredible up close, personal access to fans and potential
fans thru the creation of MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and ReverbNation (2006). My Lord; the current generation
of smart phones allow us to carry our computers around in the palm of our hands providing instant gratification to our favorite
music and videos, while keeping in constant ‘tweet’ with our favorite peeps. They have app’s for things
I never even thought I needed (or wanted until they offered it)! Unfortunately, that same technology has created a culture
that moves fans away from traditional acquisition of music; actually buying CD's and records. Talk about your classic 'slap
On the other hand, the importance
of the experience and quality of LIVE music seems to have grown. Sure, we have lost a few fests and venues over the years.
Take the 37 year run of The San Francisco Blues Festival that quit the game in 2008 blaming the current economic climate,
or the closing of Blue Cat Blues Club in Dallas. But new promoters keep stepping up and new clubs keep investing in LIVE music. Just let your fingers
take a walk thru an issue of Blues Festival Guide and you will find more on the blues festival buffet than anyone could possibly
fit on their plate! Now as a vintage blueser, I admit anyone under 45 looks like a ‘kid’ to me. As I look around
at festivals and clubs, it seems to me the proportion of folks ‘my age’ to ‘kids’ is about equal.
Ahhh, a clear indication the blues is drawing new fans as well as retaining the ‘refined’ crowd (Ahem).
Of course, I would be remiss, if not myopic,
if I did not mention the rise of the phenomenon of the ‘Blues Cruise’. Since the ‘virgin’ voyage of
the largest franchise, The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in 2002, these venues sell out in a heartbeat to rabid fans
craving a pampered and unfettered environment shared elbow to elbow with the artists. It also creates an unprecedented opportunity
for artists to spread their creative wings hosting fabulous jams with artistically differing large groups
of peers. The special memories for all involved in this experience are priceless.
One thing that caught my attention is the ‘naming’ rights for blues
festivals as the larger corporate sponsors get involved. The mega sized (average of 200,000 attendees) Ottawa Blues Fest was
renamed The Cisco Ottawa Blues Fest and recently changed to the RBC Royal Bank Blues Festival just last year, insuring financial
backing for years to come. Of course there are other reasons for alternating nom de guerre. You may recall the historic (1986
to present) King Biscuit Festival was required to change their name to The Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival for the
years 2005-2010 due to somebody’s insistence they didn’t have the rights to use the name. Thankfully for those
of us with information overload and shrinking memory, they returned with the original name in 2011. There is also the five
day, seventy one act, and equally gigantically titled, East Coast International Blues & Roots Music Festival. Established
in 1990, it is held every year in Australia. As of 2008, the locals simply refer to it as the Byron Bay Blues Fest. Leave it to those sharp Aussies
who invented the abbreviated ‘G’Day’! Even our own beloved and respected W.C. Handy awards got the politically
corrected change in 2006 to The Blues Music Awards to ‘better embrace’ what they stand for. Ain’t it the
Now, my dear friends the ‘blues
purists’ would surely take umbrage if I didn’t touch on what they describe as ‘the decline of REAL blues
festivals’ as we know them. I have been right next to them, while we are happily dancing our patooties off, just to
hear them grumble “I thought this was supposed to be a blues fest! All I hear is rock (or jazz, or pop or country -
whatever)”. Personally, I do not hold such shallow, yet rigid standards. I can hear the basic progressions and structure
of the blues in just about anything. However, to give them their due, I will acknowledge that in recent years some promoters
may book a few name acts that may have been promoted in other genres to draw a larger and more diverse crowd. Folks, that
is the nature of profit centered ‘promotion’. I prefer to think of it much like that commercial that highlighted
the invention of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: ‘You got some chocolate in my peanut butter’. It’s
Well, as we took this short
stroll down the memory lanes of our even shorter memories, you may ponder the point. I prefer to look at it in simply grand
terms. Reflections of the past most certainly define our heritage and creates a point of grand expectations for our future.
As Bruce Cole (Chairman of the National Endowment For The Humanities) once said: “Citizens ignorant of their history
are robbed of the riches of their heritage”. We are where we have been, and we grow from where we are going. I believe
we should grab some more memories and pack for the next blues festival. We’ll see you there!
Vinyl to Vinyl – What goes around, comes
At the tender age of nine, I thought they were just talking
about records. I was in seventh heaven because my folks now trusted me with their three
speed Voice of Music phonograph – quite a step up from my Roy Rogers one.
Now, I had a pretty impressive
collection for a kid. Serendipity played a greater role than design in that. One day I was playing kick the can down the alley
when I came upon this kid who was up on the porch tossing old '78s like clay pigeons and trying to nail 'em mid-flight with
his sling shot. I knew this was no way to treat records, so I chased around to catch as many as I could before they hit the
gravel parking lot. The kid soon got bored and told me I could have the rest of the box. Wow, instant record collection that
wasn't nursery rhymes or sing a-longs. This found treasure featured some of the most popular music of the 1940s including
Billy Holiday’s ‘Good Mornin’ Heartache’, and Louis Armstrong’s ‘St.
Louie Blues’. They started me down the path of blues music collecting.
As I aged, and technology marched forward,
I eagerly embraced anything that would make my music portable. A battery powered turntable got strapped to the floor of my
first car. It was good for parking, (you know what I mean), but not practical while driving around. We don’t even want
to discuss what it was doing to our favorite albums. The needle dancing the groove soon wrecked my precious
LPs. The epiphany was the eight track
tape. We viewed them as indestructible and road bump resistant. One that got endless play was The Allman Brothers ‘At
The Fillmore East’. But we had issues. They were extremely prone to wear and tear, not to mention annoying sound quality.
We were introduced to the audio recording terms ‘wow’ and ‘flutter.’ Yeah, when the player ate the
tape you generally exclaimed ‘wow’ as your eyelids fluttered in disbelief. No problem; the wizards of technology
came up with the cassette tape. I was
thrilled. Now I could put together compilations of just the good tunes from all that vinyl I already owned. When the tape
machine ate the tape, half the time you could salvage your creation by just manually winding it back on the spindles. However
we still had wear and tear. As the tape would stretch, your favorite music began to sound like your ears were strapped to
one of those old vibrating exercise machines. At least the tape made dandy tinsel for the Christmas tree in hopes that old
St. Nick would be impressed and leave you the next big thing.
Progress – Compact Disc’s and the digital age seemed
the best thing ever. Obviously more indestructible than tapes, easy to load, and players that held 500. Now we’re talking.
Read by laser light, we figured there would be no surface degradation. But then the realities started creeping in. We learned
about laser burn. These laser things can cut through steel. I’ve seen it on the Discovery Channel.
We also found out that they were just about as fragile as our beloved records. Scratching can render them unplayable, but
still appropriate for a shiny windchime.
The answer to our prayers: the MP3 player. You've got 33 hours of music in an iPod Shuffle the
size of a postage stamp on steroids. This was way cool. I had one for awhile. Sadly, I believe it got dropped into a bowl
of Chex Mix and was devoured in a late night munchie attack. Then there was the issue that music on a memory device is not
really owned-- It’s just borrowed until the device crashes, losing it all.
Here’s where we hit that goes around, comes around thing. In our quest for perfection,
we found digital sound was limited and less full sounding than analog used in vinyl recordings. Hmm; back to the future. It
was time to dust off the collection. Artists love the retro vibe of the album and sound quality of the record, with some releasing
new vinyl for the first time. JJ Grey & Mofro’s 2010 ‘The Choice Cuts’ was released as vinyl only, and
Gregg Allman’s 2011 ‘Low Country Blues’ is a hot seller. Call it nostalgia, call it the quest for the best
in sound reproduction; vinyl is the choice of audiophiles and it ain’t going away. Well, at least until the next big
thing ends up under your Christmas Tree.
John ‘blueshammer’ Hammer is a writer/photographer/promoter/producer
and radio host based in Minnesota. He publishes Blue Monday Monthly. His weekly radio show, Hammered By The Blues is broadcast
on KOWZ 1170am. Both magazine and radio show are available at bluemondaymonthly.com. Contact John, at: email@example.com
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Ode To Albert
Blue or Not Too Blue
-John ‘blueshammer’ Hammer
Hello. My name is John. I am a friend of the blues. I cannot control my desire to
seek out and listen to more blues. I am a blueser. As I started the twelve bar program to gain control of my passions, I searched
the internet to gain insight and camaraderie from others similarly afflicted. I feel compelled to share what I found in hopes
that you too can be saved.
To start my journey to salvation, I began by looking for a common definition
of this powerful force of nature, the Blues. Of course, I was eminently aware of the different flavors that make up the blues;
Acoustic blues, Piedmont blues, Acoustic Chicago blues, Gospel blues, British Blues, Chicago-Memphis-Texas-West Coast-Delta
blues, Pre-War Blues, and on and on. By the time I was done counting I was up to forty-seven recognized styles; and I am relatively
positive there are more I missed, or just had never been introduced to ….yet.
and professionals will blog on ad infinitum as to what is really blues and what is not. Is it performed behind, on top of,
or after the beat? If it is blues riffs played to a rock beat, how can they call that blues? Dare it be too funky; too jazzy;
just a little too Motown? It appeared as though they had cut back the definition of true blues to an incredibly small amount
of the music I crave. Well; after trying to digest what the heck they were talkin’ ‘bout, I had an epiphany. Follow
along with me now: If I, as a hopeless and uncontrollable blueser, could just control my intake of these ‘true blues’;
my life would be back in balance! I could happily seek out and listen to all the ‘other’ music I had previously
called blues, (in my ignorance). Free at last, free at last; thank those who need to pigeon-hole; I’m free at last!
In that small revelation a dynamic paradigm shift took place. In accepting others’ definition of the blues, it became
eminently apparent I had no problem at all! Hmmm, I wonder if this could work with my other vices…..?
a rational and somewhat ‘aware’ human being, I felt I could be deluding myself. However; truly, reality is only
perceptions in which we strongly believe. Unfortunately sometimes the logic we base our perceptions on can be a little ‘fuzzy’.
I’m OK with that.
Now that I had a new perception, I felt the need to understand the hook that
causes this undeniable craving. Was it just simple eight and twelve bar progressions? Was it fiery guitar, poundin’
ivories or stratospheric brass? Was it empathy with lyrics that dwell on oppression by the man, cheatin’ on or by a
lover, misery, goodtimes with good buddies, or just plain bumpin’ grindin’ sex? Well, yeah. that’s all good.
But the hook is something much more substantial; something that connects directly to a bluesers heart and soul. It is the
pure poetry and bedrock honesty of the genre as shared by artists. These artists channel something they feel inside, rather
than just play notes they memorized. This presents for your enjoyment, the passion of the artist, and his or her interpretation
of a force of nature deep inside. That passion, communicated intimately to the audience is THE Magic. In this respect
the blues is a living thing; given to turns unpredictable and indefinable.
So my friends,
we have defined the affliction and its undeniable draw. The connection goes way beyond sociological. I’m pretty sure
it is not genetically inherited, nor learned behavior through some twisted Pavlovian backbeat. Though I’m not sure what
causes it, I believe bluesers lust may be ingrained at a cellular level at a prominent location in the cerebral cortex. Oh
Yeah, I know. None of us want to go messin’ with no cerebral cortex. They’re all tangly and electro-statical like!
Why, to do that you’d need a degree from some ivy league school….like Yale or some such.
became as clear as piercing feedback thru a 12’X 8 foot stack of Marshalls in a 30’ X 50 foot cheap Tequila bar:
We simply cannot accept pigeon holed, constrained definitions of others to avoid dealing with our problem. We’ll just
have to tackle it head on; commonsensical like. Now I believe that the most expedient and effective way to deal with ‘excess’
is to change it to: ‘just right’. So, in effect, I needed to make a plan to control my intake of this powerful
First thing on my list was a no-brainer: If it ain’t got ‘the
magic’; if it’s just a string of notes memorized and repeated without heart; if it just plain sucks, I will stop
listening immediately. Now I felt we were gettin’ somewhere! We cut out the adulterated crap in one fell swoop. My second
thing on the list was pretty much self serving by any definition. I want the pure stuff. I want to make sure it is always
available. I figured ya gotta go to the source and support it. Yep, you got it: LIVE MUSIC!!!! I vowed
to spend less time with my I-Pod and catch live blues at all opportunities, (well, except the part of the day I can’t
catch live blues for some scheduled thing like work or an appendectomy or whatever….). Oh yeah!
Then ya gotta have quantity! Say; ya know,… Blues Festivals are like…. huge orgasmic smorgasbords of the blues!!
I get quality, variety and quantity all in one fell swoop.
I checked my personal laminated copy
of the Blues Festival Guide that I keep chained to the dashboard in my truck, (for convenience and security of course). My
eyes glazed over like a wino who just hit the end of the tour at the Gallo Bros. Vineyards and was offered all the free samples
he could drink in 6 months. The selection was beyond my wildest dreams. Even as I salivate, I know in my twisted little heart
of hearts, I could not possibly hit all those festivals. Why, some actually take place at the same time in different locations.
Even a rabid Blueser has limitations…..but Oh…just the thought…..!
So I pull
out my Blues Legends Photo Calendar and start to develop a plan of attack. Call it dyslectic or idiosyncratic, but prefer
to start filling in the fall dates and work my way backward thru the year, (kind of a festival moonwalk). I carefully build
a plan totally balanced in types of blues, the locations, and the scheduled times. I double check to make sure my plan is
devoid of conflicts to that tedious ‘scheduled’ stuff we mentioned earlier. I meticulously plot out on my Rand
McNally, the trail for this year’s odyssey; (noting I needed to e-mail the D O T to petition for national designation
of a ‘Blues Highway’). Caught up in the thrill of the chase, I pull out the tools of the trade and start to pack.
I checkout camera gear, grab extra batteries and memory cards. I pack suntan lotion, bug spray, sunburn lotion, some BenGay
and a tube of Head On. I toss in tums, foot powder, aspirin, vitamins B,C, D and E. I add an appropriate variety of hats/caps,
shades, lanyards, (to keep tickets close to my heart), sandals, athletic shoes and boots. You know I had an assortment of
shorts, jeans, t-shirts, windbreaker, sweatshirts, more t-shirts, a jacket or two, and foul weather gear. I would never forget
creature comforts of camping chairs, air mattresses, large capacity coolers, and ear plugs (only if I become in danger of
OD-ing on sweet, sweet blues music). I also packed pictures and periodicals and gifts for my friends I’ll run into,
old and new.
So I load all this into my truck. I put on my favorite obnoxious Hawaiian print shirt, sandals and shorts. I slide
on my best Ray Bans. I drop a homemade compellation CD in the player. I don’t remember who’s on it, and don’t
care….it is ALL screamin’ guitar, pounding ivories and stratospheric brass with catchy
lyrics I could empathize with. I cranked ‘er up as loud as I could take and still breathe normally. I AM IN THE ZONE
AND READY!!!!! I could feel my pulse race and a ten inch smile spread across my eight inch face. I hit the garage door opener
as I start to salivate at the thought of this incredible orgasmic blues smorgasbord. The door seemed a little slow….until…….the
vision that greeted my eyes was three feet of snow and squirrels still bundled in winters coat…….OH MY GAWD!!!!!!
IT IS STILL FEBRUARY!!!!!
My stunned shock was interrupted when my wife yelled down to find out what
the heck I was doing in the garage for so long. I replied, “Nuthin’ Honey. I gotta head downtown to meet up with
some buddies”. I pulled out before she could see the truck was packed for adventure. As I drove down to that old familiar
watering hole, I reflected on the slim possibility that I MIGHT have a tiny obsession problem. Of course by the time I parked
my truck and walked into our gathering spot I had totally gotten over my concern. I ordered a cold one and went over to a
gaggle of tables in the corner near the jukebox. I dropped some coinage into the old Wurlitzer and selected Mr. B.B. King
croonin’ ‘The Thrill is Gone’. I turned to my comrades, who were sitting there all dressed similarly to
me, and started the meeting. “Hello. My Name is John. I am a friend of the blues. I am a Blueser.”
Click to Play:
Long Greasy Night
Mid Winter Blues Opus
In the long winters of Minnesota, you have
a few realistic choices to keep on an even keel. You can look at the snow and listen to the blues on your stereo; you can
travel thru the snow to catch the blues in a bar or hall; you can play in the snow and listen to the blues on an mp3 player,
and you can ponder. Now pondering is an art in Minnesota. It is something that can be done alone or in groups of any size.
Ponderings on the weather, definitions of what we crave in the next CD we buy, or why more people don’t listen to the
blues are all fairly common. It can be practiced in short snippits or, in the case of your truly, can be easily expanded to
the size best described as ‘Opus’.
So here we are, pondering last years resolutions, festivals caught and festivals that got away, and of course, the imponderable.
As a confessed blues addict I know I can lose sight of moderation in my pursuit of the blues. I’ve been told my priorities
are askew. I don’t know; is it truly wrong to mourn the festivals I miss as much as savoring the ones I get to?
What is wrong with adding ‘latest 5 blues CDs’ to the weekly grocery list? Is it not just as important
to our health to nourish the soul; and the blues does that! DUH. And, why can’t I write off the ticket price of an outdoor
festival rained out as gambling losses? You actually have better odds with blackjack than predicting the weather in
Minnesota on any given day.
To be proactive, in a moment of doubt and weakness; a few like minded folks started a support group to ponder our addiction
and share other joyous ramblings of events savored from our past. We share favorite artists, imbibe adult beverages and discuss
issues of accommodating our inner blues demons. Our philosophy is based on managing the perceptions of our total acquiescence
to our obsession without embarrassing ourselves. We started this Twelve Bar program, not just to deal with our own happy demons.
We simply believe our positive vibe will create a blues paradise on earth and beyond.Ya gotta think large to stay warm. Why,
with such a noble resolve as to perpetuate the ’mission from God’ that Brother Jake and Brother Elwood testified
about; all family members actually believe we have mastered our demons.
Now at a mid winter therapy session
one member proudly announced he just named his new twins ‘Ledbelly’ and ‘Pinetop’ and the girls were
doing just fine. Another shared his new tattoo of a rubbing from Robert Johnson’s gravestone. No one had the heart to
tell him that Robert Johnson wasn’t buried in southern Iowa. I overheard another idea to maximize LIVE music time at
big festivals thru the personal use of a catheter and bag, but wiser heads prevailed and the idea never came up for group
discussion. By now we were havin’ too much fun, so it was time to get down to our topic du jour: In these troubled times;
what is the future of the blues?
Our little support group
boasts a cross section of demographics certainly representative of our great country. More importantly, the rabid nature of
our demons causes us all to seek out data, trivia, trends, and even minutia of the living, breathing force of nature; THE
BLUES. An actuary associated with us extrapolated that we probably have expended close to 250,000 man/hours in the pursuit
of information; some valuable, some downright silly. Now this confers upon all of us, admitted bluesers with issues, a doctorate
level of expertise in our chosen field. That and about $5 will get you a tap beer at some festivals. Although no formal thesis
is planned, we will freely share with you the condensed, totally abridged version of the very essence of the scholarly blatherings
of a bunch of blues addicts.
First point explored was: With the current state
of the economy, will there be discretionary funds available to support festivals and Bands? This question created quite
a stir as some of our honored alumni took issue with the notion that we were implying festival attendance
did not make the ‘necessity’ side of some folks’ budgets. At the end of discussion, it was decided
that most folks who appreciate the arts are smart enough to realize the positive, exponential influence on the greater economy
and will prioritize their needs to allocate appropriately. Does the general public even care about the blues and will
attendance at festivals grow? The answer was a resounding “Hell, Yeah!” In fact one member
said he was going to go to one extra event a month and make his mother in law come along. Another said he tried distributing
festival flyers at the Agoraphobics Anonymous meeting to encourage a new and untapped fan demographic to come out, but nobody
ever showed up at the meetings….. Anyway, the consensus of our scientific poll indicated unanimous love for the blues.
Next issue discussed delved into what the blues of the future would sound like. This debate was spirited to say the
least. It opened some old wounds. The purists declaring real blues dead and SRV devil spawn for inspiring a generation of
‘rawk-guitar posers’ who wouldn’t know the blues if it ran over them. At that moment, the esteemed panel
had to be reminded of the most important foundations of our group: ‘acceptance’ and ‘common ground’.
We could all agree the blues is a pure artform. We could all agree that an artist must embody their interpretation to their
creation to grow. So it just stands to reason, by nature, it will evolve into something impossible to imagine; yet be totally
apparent to those who behold. Some you'll love; some not so much, all based on personal taste.
were all feelin’ the spirit of peace and love the blues inspires as the purists bought the rockers a round and they
responded in kind. At this point, the Librarian in our group, (who never speaks), got up and asked if he could say a few words.
Now he went on for an hour and a half, quoting tomes we had never heard of and historic precedence never reported on CNN or
FOX. For the interest of brevity and your comfort, I will cut it down to the nitty gritty.
The blues were born in a time of slavery and oppression. By the nature of it’s purity, the artform lifted the
spirits of those who were oppressed. As technology increased, more and more people were introduced to this artform and felt
the uplifting power of the blues. With the increased exposure to artists, the blues naturally evolved. The music we call the
blues has always gained the strongest popularity in times of hardship, economic uncertainty and moral strife. Certainly the
commonality of misery provides magnificent inspiration for the artists and the fans who care. When things are ‘too’
good, we take for granted the importance of art and we just don't support it the way it deserves. Simply put, when society
is challenged, at lowest ebb of progress, they embrace that which defines the greatness of the human spirit. The blues is
an unbreakable thread that binds up wounds and heals the souls of all who take time to listen to it’s siren song. As
we have learned thru the historic times of repression, prohibition, global financial calamity, depression, war and intolerance;
the blues has always come back strong to lead the charge of ‘recovery’. Yes, we are at the crossroads once again.
I have no doubt that we will pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. I believe we are soon to witness a resurgence of popularity
that hasn’t been felt since before congress declared 2003 the year of the blues and we lost ground. At the end of his
speech the soft spoken Librarian rose up and said; “History is calling once again and we will rise to the occasion.
My Brothers and sisters; go out and preach the gospel of the 12 bar to the faithful and uninitiated alike. Feel the power
of your convictions, the morality of your soul and the heady rush of spirits uplifted by the blues. Embrace all you meet and
help bring change the world so desperately needs and mankind deserves!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Some
members grabbed phones to buy tickets and make travel arrangement. Some ran into the streets to minister the glory of the
blues to the populous at large. Needless to say, in their defense, every evolution-revolution meets some resistance and we
bailed them out the next morning. Organization and discipline are the key to success in any movement. We have to get as organized
as possible to make up for our admitted lack of discipline.
My friends; make your plans and share the love. We will see you this summer at the blues
fests. You’ll want to be able to tell your grandchildren you were there for the beginning of this
century's resurgence of the blues in global popular culture. Yeah; you gotta think large to stay warm….