Judge Ryan Keefer woke up this mornin', found one shoe right by his bed. You know when you find your shoe like that, you start to wonder in your head.
Three legendary blues artists, accompanied by one equally legendary guitarist. All part of one memorable rock festival.
At least with the success that Carlos Santana enjoyed with his crossover smash Supernatural, he parlayed that success into reviving the careers of those who never had a chance to crossover in the first place. Far too often staple musicians who just wanted to play music were shunted to the background without much of a fight. And the sad thing is that it's happened before, as I briefly outlined in my Montreux review of the James Brown performance of 1981. I dislike telling a story again, but unless things are changing in the music landscape, I'll quote it here again:
"In the excellent documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Funk Brothers piano player Joe Hunter is reduced to playing for tip money in a hotel lobby. In Frank Zappa's outstanding "The Real Frank Zappa Book," he talks about appearing at a jazz festival with his group, the Mothers of Invention, and witnessing the legendary Duke Ellington pleading for a $10 advance on his appearance fee. Quoting Zappa's response; 'We'd been together in one configuration or another for about five years at that point, and suddenly EVERYTHING looked utterly hopeless to me. If Duke Ellington had to beg some assistant backstage for ten bucks, what the fuck was I doing with a ten-piece band, trying to play rock and roll—or something that was almost rock and roll?'"
So when Santana got the call to play the annual Montreux Jazz Festival in 2004, he eagerly wanted to share the spotlight with some inspirations of his musical background in Buddy Guy, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Bobby Parker, so much so that he played in the bands of each of the musicians (with Guy and Parker supporting each other on their shows). Thankfully, the organizers have started releasing more and more of these performances on DVD, and this one is three discs of music guarantees to soothe even the hardest blues fans' soul. Each set features a little over an hour of performance material from Parker and Brown, while Guy takes an hour and a half.
Bobby Parker grew into his reputation with a fair level of pedigree, as he played in the house band in the Apollo Theater in the late '50s (talk about wanting to be a fly on the wall for those shows) before moving to Washington DC, where he has lived off and on for years. He recorded songs like "Watch Your Step" (the riff for that song appears in the Beatles' "Day Tripper"), "It's Unfair" and "So Glad I Found You" while gaining a steady level of respect and admiration from his younger, British rock based fans. A story in the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods describes a time where Jimmy Page wanted to put Parker's music on the Swan Song label the group formed, and even recorded Parker in concert, but it never materialized. Here, the playlist for Parker's Montreux show includes:
• "Straight Up No Chaser" (a Thelonius Monk cover)
>From a performance standpoint, Parker's set is pretty good. Not too many people would start their show with an instrumental, but Parker covers Monk pretty well and does him justice. His voice still sounds pretty good too (he was a month away from his 67th birthday at the time), reminding me a bit of B.B. King in the way he takes command of a song vocally. But he gives his guitar a chance to work as well, and almost every song gives him a chance to show how capable an axe man he is. Santana joins him for the last three songs (and does the same for the last leg of each of the artists' sets), and virtually commandeers the stage for a Latin singer named Andy Vargas to do vocals on "Chill Out." OK, I thought we were giving all the love to the bluesmen, but what do I know? Anyway, that interesting distraction aside, it wasn't a bad show.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown may be a little more recognizable to some as one of the artists in Martin Scorsese's examination of the Blues during that same era. Brown's following has seemed to be rooted more in Europe through the years. Brown's mix of blues with Cajun influences helped keep his music in the hearts of many, and this performance is (as far as I know) one of the last of his life, as he died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a little over a year later. Thankfully, many of Brown's signature songs are part of his set. They include:
• "Bits and Pieces"
Brown's show is decidedly more laid back than Parker's. Brown's opening song "Bits and Pieces" is a slower number, and he sits on a stool for most of his set. But in this, he manages to let the music do the talking, and it does well. His take on "I'm Beginning to See the Light" is quite good, as I've only heard the Dean Martin/Swingers version before, I really liked it. And is that a fiddle he plays during "Sunrise Cajun Style?" He proves to be quite a musician in his 70 minutes on stage, that's for sure.
When you think of the Chicago Blues scene, you think of Buddy Guy. With marquee looks and talent to boot, he helped bring the blues into prominence in the early '60s with songs like "Let Me Love You Baby." He has continued touring actively and is quite possibly the resident Blues elder when a contemporary leaves us too soon (his work on the Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute album was where I was first set hip to him), but he does the Blues justice every time he plays. Through the set, he plays the following:
• "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" (an old Sonny Boy
Guy comes out and also sits down to start his set with an acoustic guitar, and he is lower key than in previous appearances. However his version of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" mesmerizes the audience, as his voice alternates between tenderness and power. But he eventually gets up, plugs in and wows the crowd with his version of "Hoochie Coochie Man," which is a slower, quieter version than previous versions others have played, but it soon builds with a lot of muscle behind it, really making for a standout performance. And once the crowd realizes he's playing "Fever," they quickly get behind it. And his set isn't good because he got 20 more minutes than Bobby or "Gate," it's good because it's a completely enjoyable experience.
All three concerts are in 1.78:1 widescreen and look pretty good for the most part, it's the sound (you get a choice from 5.1 surround, DTS and PCM sound options) that is the star of the show. The experience is pretty enveloping sonically and what I've come to expect from the Montreux performance discs. This three disc set is a nice look at three blues artists and is priced pretty affordably, so I go check out this look at wholly original American music, you will enjoy it.
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