Something about vintage blues performed by the original artists thrills me; resonates in my bones. For many years, I tried to listen to a lot of well-meaning white musicians playing the same songs and tried get the same kicks, but with a few exceptions, most of the recordings just didn’t do it for me. Elmore James is Elmore James, and you can’t duplicate that, no matter how many expensive guitars you own and how many lessons you take. Or J.B. Lenoir and that gorgeous, fuzzy sound. Or Bo Diddley’s bouncing grooves. Or Junior Wells’ harmonica, messin’ with that kid. Buddy. B.B. I don’t have to even finish the names, they’re so good. You know exactly who I’m talking about, don’t you?
While some folks would call that the very definition of a blues purist, I came to realize it was just me being a blues dickhead. Some white guys can bring just as much blues game, I now admit (but not Clapton, yet).
Still, I have a hard time enjoying much blues outside the classics, despite trying to keep an open mind on the matter. Lately–like, say the last five years–I’ve become a 1960s garage rock junkie, collecting as many obscurities in that realm as I can afford. Sifting through that stuff, I can testify that there are some smokin’ renditions of Bo Diddley and Muddy to be heard in garage milieu, performed with more joy and respect than some of Muddy’s peers who were out on the touring circuit at the time, doing pat run-throughs of “Hoochie Coochie Man” just to please the crowd and getting the college kids to yell dope-fueled “YEAHHHs” and “AMENs” between phrases.
Appreciation of this garage stuff led me to the present-day Deep Blues folks I often write about in this space (Black Keys, Black Diamond Heavies, Black Smokers, and a lot of other bands who don’t have “black” in their names), as well as…Al Kooper. This monumental rock organist played on Dylan’s seminal electric recordings (“Like A Rolling Stone”), and formed (but soon was kicked out of, before “Spinning Wheel” and their other super hits) Blood, Sweat & Tears.
His blues, played in the Blues Project and in 1968 with Mike Bloomfield (Paul Butterfield, Electric Flag) and Stephen Stills under the moniker “Super Session,” is pretty freakin’ righteous. Drugs were involved; in fact Stills literally wouldn’t have been in the picture had they not been, as Bloomfield supposedly checked out of the recording date to score some horse and get high.
But 40 years later, the stuff is the boss. The Super Session studio LP definitely is worth checking out for any rock fan who likes Cream and that late-1960s heavy rock blues. It’s an underrated, somewhat obscure gem of quite high quality. I’m with these people who say it’s mind-bendingly great and the track “His Holy Modal Majesty” alone smokes the Grateful Dead in its acid-tripping prime.
But I’m not here today to talk about the studio stuff. Better than that was the group’s lesser-known 1968 live material, which I adore. The group had done Fillmore West shows, which came out as a movie titled The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. A 1968 performance at the Fillmore East, unearthed a few years ago and released as Al Kooper & Michael Bloomfield: Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes is in my opinion, the best of the supergroup’s output.
Considering it’s white folks playing the blues, it’s pretty great stuff. Check out the introduction to the set, leading into “One Way Out.” Then there’s his Bloomfield’s introduction of the young unknown Johnny Winter, leading into “It’s My Own Fault.” These guys could blues-ify anything and they did–including the sleepy, cheezy pop single “59th St. Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” just for the sport of it.
Classic blues. Rivaling Muddy, Elmore, B.B., Buddy. And it took Mojo’s train many years to arrive at that station. But don’t you agree?