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Pete Atkin
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Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« : 05.01.07 at 19:28 »

Just before Christmas, Andy Gill wrote a piece in The Independent’s Arts Review (http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/features/article2092612.ece)  about the difficulty many of us have these days in finding a realistic, trustworthy filter to apply to the huge amount of music that’s now available, something to make it slightly easier to track down those artists and recordings with the potential to become personal favourites and which surely must be out there if we could only find them.   Those who want to listen only to stuff they already know don’t have this problem, but I for one – and you too, I hope – still live in hopes of making life-changing discoveries.    
 
The free sampler CDs you get with some magazines are helpful (if only to help to cross certain names off your list);  a small number of radio programmes still sometimes yield up previously unheard goodies (thanks, Mr Dylan);  adventurous friends whose opinions you know and trust are always hugely valuable (thanks, Dave);  those Amazon-type if-you-like-that-you-might-like-this links (including the website that prompted this poll) are often worth following, and in this category I include the DIY version: tracking back from writer or musician or producer credits – something which Georgie Fame inspired me to do in the sixties, leading to my discovery of Mose Allison, Ray Charles, King Pleasure, Percy Mayfield, Jon Hendricks, and many more;   otherwise it’s mostly down to reviews which, I find, are often increasingly iffy for all sorts of different reasons, not least the writer’s desire to be identified as the first spotter of the Next Big Thing.  
 
Andy Gill’s addition to this list of helpfulnesses is www.metacritic.com, which collects reviews from as many sources as possible and by inferring a points score from them presents a kind of critical consensus.   Like other such sites, the results still need to be treated with caution, but it’s a handy addition to the box of tools.  I mention it partly because it seems to have a certain relevance to the exercise we’re engaged upon, and partly because it allows me to prevaricate a little longer on my own choices.
 
It’s a good game, this, specially for those of us who are never likely to be invited on to Desert Island Discs itself.  Clearly everyone experiences the same frustrations and difficulties, so I won’t spell them all out again as if mine were going to be any different.   Everyone also, I’m sure, applied their own particular criteria in order to be able to make a choice at all, and these were mine:   the main one is that I decided to exclude classical music and jazz (yes, I know that that’s a kind of cheating, or at least an additional licence);   most of my choices are there as a representative for a larger group of runners-up;   and to help myself I’ve mostly focussed my choices on one particular album – as if I were going into space for a year and could take only ten CDs with me.  Finally I applied the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck test.  There are many artists and recordings that I love dearly and admire deeply and would hate to be without, but in this context I thought it was important to choose artists who still leave me astonished, mystified, and enlivened by what they do. These ten aren’t by any means the people I listen to the most, but they’re the ones I wouldn’t want to be without in that capsule.   Putting them all in order was the hardest thing of all, so this ranking is pretty much arbitrary.    
 
I can stave off the evil day no longer.
 
1. Elvis Presley (The Sun Recordings) –  Elvis seems to me these days to be taken a bit too much for granted, his importance acknowledged historically, but treated almost as a kind of sad joke, thanks largely to all those easy-imitators of his 1970s persona.  Wisely, none of them ever even attempts to imitate his 1950s self:  it would be like trying to imitate J.S.Bach or Rembrandt or Shakespeare; they’d never get away with the superficiality, the way they can with the Vegas Elvis.   You do still hear people say that his timing was phenomenally lucky, that he was the mere creature of others, and that all he did anyway was rip off and synthesise black music.  The first is true, but the rest constitutes as crackpot an idea as any flying around the internet or in the Daily Express.  Peter Guralnick’s Last Train To Memphis, following on from Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, nailed the lie.   This music is immortal, beyond trends, as is –  
 
2. Robert Johnson – also featured in Marcus’s still-great book.   Johnson is the Louis Armstrong of rock and roll, and, just like Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, his handful of recordings both hold the key to just about everything that’s happened since and have kept their immediacy to an extent that’s startling and humbling.
 
3. The Band (The Band) – Thirty five years of listening to this have revealed no dissatisfactions on any front, writing or performing.   On one level it sounds almost slung together, like a rough set by a bar band, but I wouldn’t change a note or a word.   It’s a magic trick which is still baffling even when you know how it’s done (but I guess that’s the case with just about  everything here).
 
4. Steely Dan (The Nightfly) – MVs perhaps won’t be surprised by this choice, even if my chosen representative album is, strictly speaking, ‘wrong’, in that it’s not actually a Dan album at all – but you get the idea .   There are still people who say that they find the Dan’s music is ‘cold’ or ‘over-produced’ and their lyrics ‘obscure’.   I simply don’t buy it.  Apart from our own, no one’s songs occupy my head as much as Becker and Fagen’s.
 
5. Bob Dylan (Blood on the Tracks) – After Street Legal I stopped paying much regular attention to Dylan (the Live At Budokan album was a mighty disappointment after seeing him at Earl’s Court on that same tour), until a couple of years ago when the number of good reports on Time Out Of Mind compelled me to give him another go.  And with the last couple of albums, he’s really on a roll, right back up there for me.   So the last three CDs, plus Greil Marcus’s book about Like A Rolling Stone, the book about the making of Blood on the Tracks, Vol.1 of his autobiography (miles better, funnier, more informative, more engaging than any of us had any right to expect), and now the radio shows, have all made me revisit his whole magnificent – and, yes, sorry, important – achievement, warts and all.  
 
6. Tom Waits (swordfishtrombones) – Doncha just love him?  Tom is to the charts what The Sopranos is to Emmerdale.   He can always take you by surprise, always make you see the world differently (one of my personal definitions of a work of art, incidentally, pace John Carey’s fantastic book).  He’s one of the few people I feel I can’t afford not to listen to.
 
7. Ella Fitzgerald (The Gershwin Songbook) – not so much because I love Ella as because of what’s represented here.  The whole sequence of Songbook albums was immeasurably important to me, but this one wins out overall mainly because Nelson Riddle’s arrangements put it musically well ahead of the others, even my beloved Rodgers and Hart (where Ella makes a couple of what I think are small but duff, disappointing, and disfiguring decisions).   But this is not a compromise choice: the brothers’ songs easily justify their place in any all-time list, and Ella’s singing is often transcendentally good.  I saw her only once, and then, to be honest, mainly because she was accompanied by the Duke Ellington Orchestra (they were the supporting act) at the then Hammersmith Odeon.  She was elderly and large and not very mobile by then, but the instant she opened her mouth and sang was one of the most moving things I’ve ever witnessed on stage.   (Incidentally, my choice for the classic song spot here was a toss-up between this and a Fred Astaire soundtrack collection, but Ella’s album includes more verses.)    
 
8. Ry Cooder (Boomer’s Story) – These days he’s dismissive of the earlier albums he made under his own name, mainly, it seems, from a genuine self-deprecation and an arguably over-modest deference to the musicians whose interests he now promotes.  I think that’s unnecessary and a pity.   From his very first solo LP – the one with the Airstream trailer on the cover – he has provided me with more productive leads than just about anyone at all.  But even that wouldn’t justify his inclusion here if his own records didn’t earn their keep so thoroughly and consistently and enjoyably.  He drew/draws his material from an improbably wide range of sources, but his versions always work brilliantly on their own terms, at the same time as opening up the original and making you hearing new things in it;  his skills are huge but utterly unflashy;  I’m tempted to say that his taste is impeccable, but that might imply that his records are ‘tasteful’ – that’s to say dutiful or over-careful –  in a way they absolutely aren’t.  Almost any album would have done here, but I choose this one not least for the entry of the two violins in Maria Elena, and for the way the drums on Cherry Ball Blues never quite break into rhythm.
 
9. Take 6 (Take 6) – It starts to get difficult around here – I’m starting to be aware of who’s not going to be making the final cut – but these guys were a stunning revelation to me.  They have now appeared on records by a stunning array of major star names, who in turn have guested on Take 6 albums (Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder for a start), all of which is a clue to the fact that they may well be IMHO the greatest vocal group that has ever existed.   Pause for effect.   Latterly they have (disappointingly for me) sometimes used instruments in their backings on record and on stage, but they remain primarily and best an acapella group.  Each of the six of them could – and does – more than hold his own as a lead vocalist.  Their sheer musical accomplishment takes my breath away.   If I myself hadn’t seen them live (twice) I could scarcely have believed it possible.   This is their first CD and I’ve picked it because it contains their version of  If We Ever Needed The Lord Before by Georgia Tom Dorsey which I use as a kind of shibboleth.  A musician friend of mine who’d never heard of them was staying and I played him this track;  at the end he was silent for fully eight seconds, and then he said ‘Wow!’  Actually, what he said wasn’t ‘Wow!’, but let that pass.  Yes, they are a gospel group, and, yes, they are evangelical, but their singing is truly transcendental.
 
10. Oh dear, last choice.   So far no Shawn Colvin, no David Byrne, no Dr John, no Jim White, no Randy Newman, no Richard Thompson, no Little Feat, no Beach Boys, no Roches, no Lyle Lovett, no Los Lobos.  Looking back over the list, and regardless of the serious claims of all of those and quite a few more, I’m feeling the need for something a bit more, for want of a better description, pop-py.   Dearly as I love the Beach Boys and the Beatles (Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds concert was one of the great musical experiences of my life), I’m craving something a bit more recent.   So it’s down to the Barenaked Ladies or Ben Folds, both of whom, for my money, are true inheritors in having picked up the pop-song baton from the Beatles.   They both write insidiously catchy, funny, original, touching, continuingly revisitable songs, each one of which leaves you wondering what they’re going to do next.  It’s a toss-up.  Oh, it’s heads.  Sorry, Ben, the Barenaked Ladies get it, then.   As for which CD, right this instant, I’ll go for Stunt, because Who Needs Sleep? is currently rolling around my head, Never is Enough always makes me laugh, and She’s On Time (bonus track on the original limited edition) is a particular expression of a particular joy that I don’t think has ever been done in song by anyone else.
 
Er, that’s it.   Quick – post it before I change my mind.
 
Pete
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #1: 05.01.07 at 21:32 »

Pete chose:
 
1. Elvis Presley (The Sun Recordings)  
2. Robert Johnson  
3. The Band (The Band)  
4. Steely Dan (The Nightfly)
5. Bob Dylan (Blood on the Tracks)  
6. Tom Waits (swordfishtrombones)  
7. Ella Fitzgerald (The Gershwin Songbook)  
8. Ry Cooder (Boomer’s Story)  
9. Take 6 (Take 6)  
10. The Barenaked Ladies (Stunt)
 
Well, I've got nothing by Elvis (I'm three years too young to be a fan like most of us, I reckon,) but I have the Complete Robert Johnson which I've never been able to get into, The Band (refreshing), lots of Steely Dan but not the Nightfly (which wasn't Steely Dan but just Donald Fagen unless I'm terrible mistaken but why split hairs?) some Bob Dylan (torn between admiration for his obvious gift and a desire to throw the CD into the dustbin for his self-indulgence), no Tom Waits (Tom Waits for no man after all,) all Ella's songbooks (a jazz singer who just sings the songs,) almost all of Ry Cooder (Boomer's Story is my fave), er, never heard of Take 6 and I think I have some BNL somewhere.  
 
Of this lot, I could have included The Band (possibly) and Ry Cooder (definitely) in my Top Ten. But will someone please tell me what we're supposed to like about Robert Johnson? I know he died young and was almost unrecognised in his own lifetime but most of us qualify for this. He's supposed to be a pretty good guitarist but he's not exactly Django Reinhardt. I have the transcriptions of his songs and most of them seem to be exactly the same while he must have been improvising the words which is OK when you are Clive James but not everyone can get away with it. And don't tell me it's all "feeling:" my band stopped my playing any solos because I made too many "feelings." Sad
 
Ian C
 
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #2: 05.01.07 at 23:43 »

Don't worry about it, Ian.   I wasn't trying to be in the least bit prescriptive in my choices.  I don't think you should be surprised that my list coincided so little with the MV consensus, or with your own preferences.   And there's certainly no moral imperative to like Robert Johnson.  It's many years since I last tried to introduce anyone to his music;  the reaction then resembled yours - and I understand exactly why.  It's not easy music; it's not sharing music.   I'm certainly not going to be the one to tell you what you're 'supposed to like' about him.  There is no 'supposed'.  Everything is subjective.
 
For me it's nothing whatever to do with his early death, or with his supposed reputation as a guitarist - although to set him against Django Reinhardt is a bit like trying to compare Rembrandt with Picasso.   And, to extend that analogy a bit further, using conventional western transcriptions of this kind of music, is a bit like basing your opinion of a painting by Rembrandt (or Picasso) solely on the basis of a description written by someone in a language they've been learning for only a week or two.    
 
Sell those Robert Johnson discs and get something you LIKE!
 
All best - Pete
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #3: 06.01.07 at 00:45 »

No, I never try to share Robert Johnson either, and I quite understand what both of you have said about him. He seems to be one of those artists you either love or hate - there's no halfway house.
 
For those of you who DO like Robert Johnson, and the blues in general, may I recommend a book I discovered recently and found very interesting, nay, even fascinating? Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald is rather more than the title suggests: an overview of the history of the blues (with particular reference to RJ) and a brave attempt by a white writer to debunk the white legends and look at the music from the perspective of its original performers and audiences.  
 
Richard
 
(with the midnight hour blues in Sutton, Surrey)
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #4: 06.01.07 at 01:36 »

Bought it for a buck, loved it and learnt a huge amount.  Didn't realize that the Rolling Stones saved the Blues  Cheesy
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #5: 06.01.07 at 11:28 »

Petewrote:
 
<<Everyone also, I’m sure, applied their own particular criteria in order to be able to make a choice at all, and these were mine:   the main one is that I decided to exclude classical music and jazz >>
 
Might be fun to have Pete's Top Tens of Classical and Jazz (but don't feel obliged!)
 
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #6: 08.01.07 at 17:13 »

Thanks for posting your list, Pete. I wouldn't argue with any of it, although Take 6 is a complete gap in my knowledge - I must seek them out.
 
Ever since it came out, The Band has been one of my favourite albums too - my vinyl copy is slightly the worse for wear but I haven't got round to replacing it with the CD. I didn't include them because, unlike Pete, I was taking account of the volume of output of each artist in my 'desert island' selection Smiley
 
I forgot to say, but I too deliberately left out classical stuff this time (IIRC I had Wagner in my original list). I don't claim to know much about jazz though, so leaving it out was more due to ignorance in my case.
 
My views on Dylan largely agree with Pete's - I have all his early albums but there's a big gap in my collection between the early 1980s and the latest CD (which I was persuaded by the reviews to buy, although I got it cheaply on eBay). After a couple of duds back then I decided he'd run out of steam, as happens to so many artists that have been around for a while (present company excepted of course  Smiley )
 
I also agree about Elvis - his Sun output was his best by far, and way too much of what he did afterwards was dross, although IMO he did have a slight resurgence of integrity in the late 1960s which he was sadly unable to sustain.
 
As for Robert Johnson, I must admit I don't often play the only CD I have of his (with some of his 'greatest hits' on). I can see he was important in the evolution of the blues and popular music, but I just don't particularly enjoy listening to him. And it was a 'desert island' poll, so the last thing I would want was music that makes me feel miserable  Wink
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #7: 09.01.07 at 12:58 »

on 08.01.07 at 17:13, Secret Drinker wrote:
And it was a 'desert island' poll, so the last thing I would want was music that makes me feel miserable  Wink
You have it wrong.  Blues is to be played when you feel miserable, to remind you that it could be MUCH worse  Cheesy
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #8: 09.01.07 at 16:51 »

Interesting that a singer whose many qualities include not singing in an American accent chose (almost?) 100% American artists ... (sorry, there were 3 on that list I've never heard, so correct me if wrong).
 
I think the Band are the only people on Pete's list I would want to listen to. Although I can't honestly say I've ever heard Robert Johnson (as opposed to Robb Johnson) actually singing, though I think Cream did a few of his compositions? (Yes, I wish to advance the heretical view that white British electric performers do the blues a lot better than the originals, in the same way that I would much rather hear Fairport doing traditional folk than 103-year-old unaccompanied muckspreader Jack Codfish of deepest Norfolk ... beam me up, Scotty!)
 
And just to complete the heresy (after all I can only be burned at the stake once) I almost started to like Elvis when he was doing the "In The Ghetto" stuff. Almost.
 
Happy new year ...
 
Jim.
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #9: 09.01.07 at 18:54 »

In case anyone’s interested in more idle statistics, here are the scores that Pete’s Top Ten musicians obtained in the MV poll:
 
1. Elvis Presley - 0
2. Robert Johnson - 11
3. The Band - 6
4. Steely Dan - 34
5. Bob Dylan  - 93
6. Tom Waits - 5
7. Ella Fitzgerald - 0
8. Ry Cooder - 16
9. Take 6 - 0
10.Barenaked Ladies - 15
 
So, apart from the Dan & Dylan, not much correlation! (Barenaked Ladies’ 15 points were all obtained from the Birkill family, who confessed that they’d been introduced to the band’s music by one P Atkin – well, the rest of us have been introduced now.)
 
Pete’s Elvis vote is interesting – the MVs’ Top Tens almost completely bypassed the 50s rock’n’rollers, with the exception only of a couple of votes for Buddy Holly. Is this due to most of us being a bit younger than Pete or to other factors, I wonder? It may in part result from Pete having chosen individual albums as his desert island picks. Personally I’d love to have the best of Chuck Berry, Holly and Presley on the island, but each of them only produced about 8 – 10 songs that really do it for this particular child of the 60s, and I find most of their second-rate stuff really second-rate. I wonder what others feel about them, 50 years on(!).
 
Tom Waits, the Band and Ry Cooder, on the other hand, are all among my suspected ‘lurkers just outside many MVs’ Top Tens’, as has been further evidenced by comments on this thread, so maybe we’re not quite so far away from Pete’s view of things.
 
Last but not least, Pete in a sense conforms to the well-variegated MV norm by having names in his Top Ten that no-one else voted for (and, more to the point, that few have heard much of). It’s a big beautiful musical world out there, with exploring still to be done. Yippee!
 
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #10: 09.01.07 at 21:52 »

"If they asked me, I could write a book" - to borrow a line from, yes, the beloved Lorenz Hart - about why Ella Fitzgerald was an utterly superb singer, truly one of the greats.
 
Thanks for reminding us, Pete,
 
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #11: 10.01.07 at 09:13 »

on 09.01.07 at 16:51, Jim Grozier wrote:
Interesting that a singer whose many qualities include not singing in an American accent chose (almost?) 100% American artists ... (sorry, there were 3 on that list I've never heard, so correct me if wrong).

 
Yes, that is interesting. I wonder if Pete could comment on his apparent disdain for UK artists?  Smiley (I didn't even consider the nationality of my own top ten, but I find that 6 of them are from the UK, and only 2 from the USA, with one each from Canada and Ireland. This wasn't any conscious attempt to fly the flag though, it was just how it turned out).
 
on 09.01.07 at 18:54, David Morgan wrote:

Pete’s Elvis vote is interesting – the MVs’ Top Tens almost completely bypassed the 50s rock’n’rollers, with the exception only of a couple of votes for Buddy Holly. Is this due to most of us being a bit younger than Pete or to other factors, I wonder? It may in part result from Pete having chosen individual albums as his desert island picks. Personally I’d love to have the best of Chuck Berry, Holly and Presley on the island, but each of them only produced about 8 – 10 songs that really do it for this particular child of the 60s, and I find most of their second-rate stuff really second-rate. I wonder what others feel about them, 50 years on(!).

 
I think it comes down to the fact that we were limited to only ten, and the likes of the Beatles, Elvis, Buddy Holly, etc., perhaps seem too 'obvious' and their material may perhaps have become over-familiar, in the context of the poll's criteria. I agree that a lot of what these artists produced was fairly forgettable, but then the same applies to Dylan and many other artists with long careers.
 
Maybe if the poll had been something like "pick who you think were the top ten most important or influential artists in popular music history" rather than a "desert island" selection, then the Beatles, Elvis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry would have figured more prominently (I would still expect Dylan to be up with the others in there too though).
 
Cheers
 
Paul
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #12: 10.01.07 at 23:39 »

Somnolence warning:
Sorry for the length of what follows.  It's because I've combined several replies I've wanted to make to points in this thread into one portmanteau post.  If it does send you to sleep, try to ensure that your head doesn't drop onto your keyboard - you never know what keys it might hit.
 
Elvis.  
Perhaps I got off on the wrong foot with him.  At a tender age, and before I'd ever heard him, I was informed in quite insistent terms (you know what kids are like) that "Elvis Presley is the best singer in the world."  And then when I did hear him it was Return to Sender, to which my reaction was: What's all the fuss?  I don't think I ever quite recovered from the disappointment.  Now, I'd never deny his monumental place in the history of popular music, or even his undoubted talent (tragically wasted as it was for too much of his career), but Pete's hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck test just doesn't work for me with him.  Though if I were to take anything of his to that desert island it would certainly be the Sun stuff.
 
Pete got quite indignant about the accusation that Elvis ripped off and synthesised black music, but I don't see any call for that.  Even if he did indeed do something of the sort (and I believe he did), what's supposed to be wrong with that?  It's exactly how a lot of new music comes into being, and in doing it Elvis was the heir to a long and honourable (no irony intended) American tradition.  Throughout the history of American music people were borrowing and adapting what they heard around them (often both ways across the racial divide) and making something new of it.  I could go on at incredibly boring length to prove my point, but in mercy to you all I'll content myself with one example.  The only artist Pete's and my lists have in common, Robert Johnson, was very far from being the grand original some people seem to believe he was.  Nearly all his songs were actually re-workings and adaptations of earlier blues songs, but by putting his own stamp on them he made the resulting synthesis brilliantly his own.  The same applies to Elvis.
 
The Band.  
Pete's is only the latest in a long line of opinions I have heard or read on the brilliance of the Band, but it seems they are a complete musical blind spot with me.  When I was much younger, and used to worry about what I ought to like, I once sat down with one of their albums (I believe it was actually Pete's choice) and gave it a careful listen to see if I could discern what so many people were raving about.  And at the end I was just as mystified as when I'd begun.  Now in my advancing and ever more crusty middle-age I am in complete accordance with what Pete said in his reply to Ian Chippett's opinion of Robert Johnson, and don't feel that there is any "ought" about what I, or anyone else, chooses to like.  Maybe I should even give them another try - I've found I tend these days to appreciate the virtues of much stuff I gave short shrift to in my more musically blinkered youth.
 
Robert Johnson and rock and roll.
Having been bold enough to take issue with Pete on Elvis, I now find myself doing it again.  Drawing parallels between Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong strikes me as a rather risky business.  The point isn't even the obvious difference that Armstrong was famous and revered in his own lifetime (admittedly much longer than Johnson's) and Johnson wasn't.  The real point is that Johnson's deification at the hands of white blues enthusiasts didn't really get under way until after the release of CBS's celebrated album King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961, when rock and roll had already been well established for several years.  Until then he was known only to a tiny coterie of die-hards.  So to describe him (as has often been done) as an architect of rock and roll is, at the least, open to dispute.
 
This prompts the question:  Yes, but even if he was unknown to whites, didn't he have a massive influence on the black music that inspired rock and roll, so the influence was still there, but at second or third hand?  The answer even to that one seems to be, by and large, no.  If Robert Johnson was a prophet, then he was one without recognition even among his own people.  The book by Elijah Wald I recommended further up this thread goes to some lengths to show that, to black American audiences and even other blues musicians, Johnson was an obscure performer from the sticks with only one very minor, regional, hit (Terraplane Blues) to his name.
 
But when Wald asserts:  "As far as the evolution of black music goes, Robert Johnson was an extremely minor figure, and very little that happened in the decades following his death would have been affected if he had never played a note," I think he is overstating his case.  He does at least seem to have been instrumental in popularising one of the basic building blocks of rock and roll, the shuffle (or walking bass) rhythm, even if he wasn't quite the earliest guitarist to transcribe it from its original source, boogie-woogie piano.  And the first cover of one of his songs, Sweet Home Chicago (which features this rhythm and has been a perennial favourite amongst black bluesmen ever since) by Tommy McClennan, came out only a year after his death.
 
Nevertheless, the fact remains that hardly any of the black musicians who originally influenced rock and roll were themselves influenced by Robert Johnson.  An influence on rock music does certainly exist, but it came from his old recordings directly into the ears of white rock musicians, and only from the sixties onwards.  The "architect" tag has, in the main, been retrospectively, and wishfully, applied by Johnson's white fans.
 
(I can't conclude this section without quoting a delightful anecdote illustrating the gulf between white and black perceptions of the blues.  John Hammond Jnr., son of the John Hammond, who has made his career as a blues singer, once performed Muddy Waters' famous Hootchie Cootchie Man in his customary intense, gutsy style and then discovered, rather to his embarrassment, that the great man himself was present.  Waters, who had a reputation for being one of nature's gentlemen, said to him afterwards:  "That was very good, son.  But, you know, that's supposed to be a funny song.")  
 
Ahem.
 
The blues in general.
Bogus Trumper wrote:  "Didn't realise that the Rolling Stones saved the blues."  Well, yes.  As Charles Shaar Murray wrote in his section on the Stones in his The Essential Guide to Blues on CD:  "More than any other artists, the Stones woke up the white suburbs to the blues, and this book exists almost entirely because of the audience that they created."  I was (and am) one of that audience.
 
(The above book is another I'd seriously recommend to anybody interested in the blues - if you can find a copy.  Lists of what's available on CD may go out of date quickly, but what endures is a refreshingly accessible, disarmingly witty, and deeply perceptive overview of the whole genre.)
 
To Paul Gunningham and Bogus Trumper (again): Murray asserts several times in that book that blues is not just miserable music but can be great fun too.  Mind you, he also says:  "Going to a Robert Johnson record for relaxation is like drinking six double espressos just before midnight and expecting a good night's sleep."
 
To Jim Grozier: No, I'm not going to suggest burning you at the stake, especially since I too find modern interpretations of English folk songs more accessible than the originals in all their ethnic glory.  But, to use Pete's analogy, I can't help feeling that to say that white British electric musicians play the blues better than the originals is a bit like saying that David Hockney is a better Impressionist painter than Claude Monet.
 
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« Last Edit: 10.01.07 at 23:55 by Richard Bleksley » IP logged
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #13: 11.01.07 at 00:03 »

on 10.01.07 at 23:39, Richard Bleksley wrote:
The blues in general.
Bogus Trumper wrote:  "Didn't realise that the Rolling Stones saved the blues."  ........
 
To Paul Gunningham and Bogus Trumper (again): Murray asserts several times in that book that blues is not just miserable music but can be great fun too.  Mind you, he also says:  "Going to a Robert Johnson record for relaxation is like drinking six double espressos just before midnight and expecting a good night's sleep."

 
Ok, I have to write longer posts to try and explain myself better, and I also have to remember that my sense of humor (never very straight in the first place) has been warped in the 20 plus years I have lived outside the UK.  Cheesy
 
In my first of the quoted posts above I was crediting the author for teaching me something I didn't know - not that the Stones and others learned from the Blues, but that the effect was to bring them to a new audience (and essentially white, suburban middle class  - try going to a Midwestern Blues club and see what I mean).  And I would add, that the Smithsonian Institute did a great job of recording some of the old musicians before they died.  I was also interested in the idea that the only type of black American music from that era that has risen to cult status is blues and jazz, and neither of them were necessarily amazingly popular in the south at the time.
 
The second post was a joke, dammit!!
 
But one point Pete made interested me – the point in time that caused one to discover a new artist.  For me, Steve Goodman is a great example.  I went to the Cambridge Folk Festival back in prehistory when we all stayed in the main tent each night and drank copious amounts of Newcastle brown from cans.  And unknown (to me) guy called Steve Goodman turned up.  This was an era when many political songs from the states were Vietnam orientated, and when a considerable number of US singer songwriters spent a lot of time outside the US.  I listened to Steve and got hooked, and liked him for the rest of his tragically short life (cancer, not drugs or motor cycles or planes for a change).  And in fact, it was only when I got to the States that I was really able to collect his music.  And just for the record, the song he sang that was most popular was "City of New Orleans", once described as the best damn train song ever written.  He wrote it for Johnny Cash, and gave it to Arlo Guthrie to give to Cash.  Arlo recorded it instead  Smiley
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #14: 11.01.07 at 00:28 »

Sorry, Bogus old chap. I wasn't actually trying to argue with what you said either time, more trying to add to it. I too have had my sense of humour misfire here, though more often on the old mailing list, where I once got into a lot of trouble for suggesting that we refer to people who are unaware of PA as "muggles." Not to mention the time when I suggested, after the UK had scored zero at Eurovision, that we should enter Pete the next year, and was amazed when someone took me seriously!
 
And, yes, I once had the honour of seeing Otis Rush at a club in Chicago, where the only black people in the room were on the bandstand. Even three of his band were white.
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #15: 11.01.07 at 12:52 »

on 11.01.07 at 00:28, Richard Bleksley wrote:
Sorry, Bogus old chap. I wasn't actually trying to argue with what you said either time, more trying to add to it. I too have had my sense of humour misfire here, though more often on the old mailing list, where I once got into a lot of trouble for suggesting that we refer to people who are unaware of PA as "muggles." Not to mention the time when I suggested, after the UK had scored zero at Eurovision, that we should enter Pete the next year, and was amazed when someone took me seriously!
 
And, yes, I once had the honour of seeing Otis Rush at a club in Chicago, where the only black people in the room were on the bandstand. Even three of his band were white.
No problem  Smiley  It is just that being old and lazy I tend to write very briefly, which does not always help clarity.
 
Talking of reggae, (and I notice a dearth of Bob Marley fans out there), I once went to see “The harder they fall” in the old Classic cinema in Brixton with 3 friends.  When the light came up we realized that there a total of 6 white people in the audience, and the cinema was pretty full!
 
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #16: 11.01.07 at 21:01 »

Wasn't it the Ritzy, and a Jimmy Cliff film? If so, and it was about 25 years ago, me and my pal were two of the others in the cinema !
On second thoughts, let's drop this before we waltz too far down Memory Lane and off-topic !  
 
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #17: 11.01.07 at 23:05 »

on 11.01.07 at 21:01, naomi wrote:
Wasn't it the Ritzy, and a Jimmy Cliff film? If so, and it was about 25 years ago, me and my pal were two of the others in the cinema !
On second thoughts, let's drop this before we waltz too far down Memory Lane and of-topic !  
 
Apologies,
Naomi

 
yes, it was Jimmy Cliff (and the reggae brought Bob Marley to mind as absent in the polls, hence the relevance, sort off).
 
And it was made in 1972 I think.  I probably saw it in 73.  And I used to catch a 37 bus through Brixton to Herne Hill every day (except the days of the riots, when I didn't go to work  Cheesy) and I thought it was the Classic.  It was a little place opposite some bigger, "normal" cinema.
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #18: 12.01.07 at 21:53 »

on 10.01.07 at 23:39, Richard Bleksley wrote:
I can't help feeling that to say that white British electric musicians play the blues better than the originals is a bit like saying that David Hockney is a better Impressionist painter than Claude Monet.

 
Yes, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that at all - in fact I don't really think it's possible to say that any one art form, or interpretation of an art form,  is better, in an absolute sense, than any other; what I should have said was that I find that I enjoy the music of people like Cream, Fleetwood Mac, etc (on the whole - not that I'm giving them carte blanche) more than the original US blues artistes; that may possibly be because there is some common background between me and the guy singing the song, or playing the guitar, that links us together in some way. I can remember when I was about 18, walking around singing (in my head) and possibly, I'm afraid, even whistling (out loud) the guitar solo from "Sitting On Top of the World" for hours and hours - it got through to me in a way that I very much doubt the original version would have.  
 
So what I really meant to say was more like the musical equivalent of saying that I personally prefer Hockney to Monet (although I don't actually) whilst recognising that some people would not. What annoys me is when people imply that there is some a priori reason why everyone should prefer a particular interpretation or style.
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Re: Musicians Poll 2006 - Pete's vote
« Reply #19: 12.01.07 at 23:21 »

on 12.01.07 at 21:53, Jim Grozier wrote:

 
So what I really meant to say was more like the musical equivalent of saying that I personally prefer Hockney to Monet (although I don't actually) whilst recognising that some people would not. What annoys me is when people imply that there is some a priori reason why everyone should prefer a particular interpretation or style.

 
I couldn't agree more, Jim, and I suppose I should have guessed that was what you really meant.
 
I have to confess I started off in exactly the same place, liking (quite fanatically for a while) the white British blues bands while finding the black American originals a bit challenging. It took me quite a few years to learn to appreciate their virtues, but now I've reached the place where I can do so I'm glad I've got there.
 
I think the turning point came when I went to a gig by the late Freddie King in the back room of a pub in Croydon. When he first came on I was a bit doubtful, seeing a big overweight man in a flashy suit rather than the lean, scruffy, moody look that the British lads affected, but when he started to play I was totally blown away. Never judge a book, etc....
 
(By the way, the original original version of Sitting on Top of the World wasn't the Howling Wolf record that Cream got it from, but a record made by an outfit called the Mississippi Sheiks in 1928. Something further fron Cream would be hard to imagine.)
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