'Born in Chicago' film about 60s blues
Subject: 'Born in Chicago' film about 60s blues|
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 26 Jul 13 - 11:23 AM
Blacks and Whites Made the Blues; 'Born in Chicago' Tells of Titans Who Taught Young Protegés
By Larry Rohter
The New York Times
July 25, 2013
LATE in his career, Muddy Waters recorded a song called "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll." That, in a nutshell, is the story told in the new documentary "Born in Chicago" — how he, Howlin' Wolf and other black blues musicians working in Chicago in the 1960s schooled young white acolytes from that city who went on to play on some of the most influential pop recordings of the era.
As the film, which will have its New York premiere at 9 p.m. on Friday at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, makes clear, those lessons were transmitted not in a conservatory classroom but in bars, clubs, kitchens and even alleys. In a city divided along racial and ethnic lines, at a time when the civil rights revolution was just beginning, that made both the teachers and their pupils an exception to the unwritten rules.
"We crossed those lines out of a love for the music, and met nothing but kindness, patience and generosity," said the keyboard player Barry Goldberg, who helped produce the film and will also be part of a panel discussion after the screening. "We wanted to learn from these great masters, and they were willing to teach us."
The guitarist Elvin Bishop tells of being invited to the apartments of the players he admired, like Otis Rush, Sammy Lawhorn, Pee Wee Madison and Little Smokey Smothers, to learn new licks. There would be ham hocks and black-eyed peas cooking on the stove, he laughingly recalls in the film, but he would be told he couldn't have any until he got the riff right.
"Born in Chicago," which takes its title from a song that Nick Gravenites wrote for his pal Paul Butterfield, who along with him provided one of the inspirations for the Blues Brothers characters, was originally conceived of as a concert DVD featuring the Chicago Blues Reunion band. In addition to Mr. Gravenites, a member of the Blues Hall of Fame who worked with Janis Joplin and the Quicksilver Messenger Service, that group includes Mr. Goldberg, the harmonica and keyboard player Corky Siegel and the guitarist Harvey Mandel, who played with Canned Heat, John Mayall and the Rolling Stones.
"The project just grew and grew, and suddenly we realized we had not just a narrow story, but one that was much broader and deeper," said the film's director, John Anderson. "We were so lucky to capture these anecdotes while these guys are still alive and here to tell the story. Everyone I talked to couldn't believe the story hadn't been told before, and they wanted to make sure the story got out there right."
That may be especially true for the record producer and executive Marshall Chess, who narrates the film with a Chicago accent as thick as any in an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch. His family's record company and studio was home base for Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry, and he was unhappy about how the Chicago blues scene had been portrayed in films like "Cadillac Records" and "Who Do You Love?"
"It's important to know the real story," Mr. Chess said. "I didn't like the Hollywood fictional treatment. In fact, I was embarrassed by it. This was an amazing part of American history and a big part of Chicago's creative history, though we didn't know it at the time because we were too busy trying to make hit records. I like to say that we had Beethoven, Mozart and Bach on the same label."
The figure whose energy and charisma dominate much of the film, both through his playing and archival footage of interviews, is Mr. Chess's high school buddy Mike Bloomfield, a guitarist who died at 37 in 1981 after years of drug problems. "Mike Bloomfield was like a son," B. B. King says in the film, but Mr. Bloomfield's contemporaries paint a picture of someone who was not only enormously talented, but also brash enough to make sure everyone else knew it too.
"He said he'd heard my first record and wanted to show me how the blues was played," Bob Dylan says in the film, recalling their first meeting in a Chicago club and chuckling at such audacity. Mr. Dylan adds that when he went electric and needed a lead guitarist to play on the groundbreaking "Highway 61 Revisited" album and at the Newport Folk Festival, "I couldn't think of anybody but him. I mean, he was just the best guitar player I ever heard, on any level."
Much of the film is pervaded by a similar "sense of loss for a time and a place," as Mr. Siegel put it. With the exception of the guitarist Buddy Guy and the drummer Sam Lay, who appears in a poignant scene at Muddy Waters's house, where Mr. Lay and other members of the Waters group rehearsed, the musicians who originated the electrified Chicago blues style are gone. An interview in the film with the guitarist Hubert Sumlin, a breathing tube in his nose, is the last he gave before he died in 2011.
Even the "white boys" are themselves now in their 70s, and the clubs in which they were tutored — juke joints with names like Pepper's Lounge, Theresa's, Silvio's, the Blue Flame, Curly's and the Checkerboard — are now just memories. In one scene, the harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite stands at the empty lot that used to be Rose & Kelly's Blue Lounge and talks about learning licks from Big Walter Horton out in the alleyway between sets.
In the film, Mr. Siegel tells of accompanying Howlin' Wolf for a two-week engagement in Greenwich Village. Every morning, he recalls, "the Wolf," who stood 6 foot 6 and onstage projected a gruff, even fearsome, persona, would gently knock on his hotel room door and the two would wander the streets of New York for hours at a time, talking.
"It was wonderful, but I didn't really know how wonderful it was back then," Mr. Siegel said in a telephone interview from his home in Chicago. "I was essentially a teenager, just riding that wave, 'Wow, this is cool.' "
Many of the white musicians featured in the film are Jewish, as several of them mention in passing. Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Siegel both said that was merely a coincidence. But in a telephone interview from his home in the Hudson Valley, Mr. Chess, who founded the Rolling Stones' record label and is Jewish, offered a possible explanation.
"I think there's something in the pain of the blues, something deep, that touches something ancient in Jewish DNA," he said. "It's not easy to put into words, maybe because it's beyond words, but it's a true thing. When I stand next to cantors, and they are really wailing, it opens that same thing, some similarity that connects. Etta James, now she could sing like a cantor."
Unlike their British counterparts who also drew heavily on the Chicago blues — both Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and Eric Burdon of the Animals are interviewed in the film, as is Jack White — few of the Chicagoans became rich or famous. But the film argues that their influence, though still largely anonymous, runs deep and continues today.
"We carried on the blues licks, it was all Chicago influenced, but nobody really knew about that, or about us," said Mr. Goldberg, who played keyboards uncredited on many of Mitch Ryder's biggest hits. "The English guys did it in a more commercial thing, but guys like Nick and Charlie, they stayed bluesmen. It's important that people understand what that transition was, from blues to rock, and that it happened in Chicago."
Photos and more links at the NYT link at the top.
~ Becky in Long Beach
Subject: RE: 'Born in Chicago' film about 60s blues|
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 27 Jul 13 - 12:04 PM
Subject: RE: 'Born in Chicago' film about 60s blues|
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 27 Jul 13 - 12:15 PM
thank you DD