The blues: America’s least-loved musical form!

Jerry Portnoy and Walter Daniels watch Paul Oscher.  Two of these men played harmonica for Muddy Waters.  The third recorded with James Williamson.

Jerry Portnoy and Walter Daniels watch Paul Oscher. Two of these men played harmonica for Muddy Waters. (The third played harmonica with James Williamson.) Packed house.

“The best songs don’t get recorded, the best recordings don’t get released, the best releases don’t get played.” – Jim Dickinson

Schooley’s corollary to Dickinson’s Law: “The best shows don’t get seen.”

I am in a van with Walter Daniels and Ted Roddy, two excellent Austin harmonica players, driving down a rainy Texas highway in the dark.  It’s cold, and not just “cold for Texas,” but actually cold.  Temperatures are in the 30s.  Sure, people will probably have to turn on their a/c in a few days, but tonight actually feels like winter.

Walter is talking about an episode of Bar Rescue, the bar-revamp reality show.  Host Jon Taffer was trying to turn around a failing bar that had made the financially disastrous mistake of featuring blues music every night.  Walter laughs: “He told the bar owners, ‘We’ve done some research, and blues music is the favorite music of only 3% of the U.S. population!’”  Taffer recommended that the bar change their musical focus to turn business around.  Walter laughs again.  “I’m glad I devoted my life to a musical form that NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT of the population DOESN’T CARE ABOUT!”

We are driving to the little town of Manchaca, to see a free show by a musician who once played in the band of one of the greatest blues musicians ever.  Paul Oscher, who once backed up MUDDY FUCKING WATERS, now plays a secret gig for free most Tuesday evenings in a little bar-b-q joint in Manchaca.  The show is a word-of-mouth thing, Oscher can play to bigger crowds for more money elsewhere.  But Railroad BBQ is just down the street from Oscher’s house, so he started doing low-profile gigs there for practice.  No advertising.  Seems like this should be a bigger deal to me. When I was a young and idealistic music fan, just getting into the blues, I wouldn’t have thought that you could have played with the likes of Muddy Waters and then play Tuesday nights from 7-10 in a town with a population of just over 1,000 people without everybody knowing about it.

Railroad BBQ, as the name suggests, is a little plywood-and-tarpaper shack next to the railroad tracks.  The plastic letters on the portable sign in the parking lost announce “LIVE BLUES MUSIC” as we pull in.  We joke about drivers hitting the accelerator and speeding up when they see it, lest they hear this maligned musical art form, which also happens to be our favorite.  We are proud members of the 3%.

The last time I came to see Oscher, the place was packed, and you could barely get a table.  But the weather seems to have kept the rest of the Texas 3% at home tonight (this is a documentary, actually). We get a table right in front, and I head to the counter to order a rib plate.  The ‘cue at Railroad is good.  Also, the joint is chilly – no heat on a cold night, perhaps a plus for fans of “authenticity.”

Jerry Portnoy poses in the studio with Walter Daniels' Dwight amplifier.  The amp was a gift from Greg Oblivian.  Photo by Mike Mariconda.  That's a lot of rock n' roll in one photo.

Jerry Portnoy poses in the studio with Walter Daniels’ amplifier. The amp was a gift from Greg Oblivian. Photo by Mike Mariconda. That’s quite the musical pedigree for  one photo.

We ventured out tonight despite the non-Texas weather because friend and record producer Mike Mariconda tipped us off that another Muddy harp man, Jerry Portnoy, was going to show up tonight.  Mariconda is recording Spanish blues combo the Suitcase Brothers in Austin.  The Suitcase Brothers flew Portnoy in from Boston to play on their record.

Portnoy made a three-disc harmonica instruction set that I bought when I decided to get serious about the instrument.  Walter Daniels, designated driver this evening, is one of the guys who inspired me to play harmonica in the first place, and Portnoy literally taught me how.  And tonight maybe I get to meet Portnoy, with Walter!  Fun!

Portnoy dropping in is a big deal, because rumor has it that Portnoy and Oscher haven’t seen each other in what – ten years?  Twenty?  Longer?  A long time, anyway.  They might jam together, which would be something to see.  TWO harmonica players who played for MUDDY FUCKING WATERS jamming!  Inexplicably, James Cotton now lives in Manchaca, too.  He was at the last Oscher gig I saw.  If Cotton turns up again, THREE Muddy harp men in the same room! Exciting! (I mean, it would be, if you cared about that shit.  But if you are like 97% of the U.S. population, you probably don’t.)

Alas, Cotton is nowhere in sight, but Oscher’s set is underway.  He plays guitar, harmonica, and piano, and stomps his feet on the tiny stage.  Kind of a one man band thing, which I can appreciate.  Tonight a stand-up bass player is sitting in, doesn’t seem like he’s played with Oscher before, but it doesn’t matter.  Oscher’s guitar playing is superb, but his harp is outta control.  He plays in a rack, but he has some kind of crazy mic and amp setup that lets him get a thick, distorted tone as though he were playing it cupped.  Oscher’s rack harp tone is MONSTROUS.

After some gnarly guitar and harp action, Oscher slides over to the piano for some weirdo, almost Monk-like keyboard stabs.  He is in the middle of a song when Mariconda arrives with the Suitcase Brothers and Jerry Portnoy.  Nobody’s here so there is an open table right in front of the stage.

Portnoy is grinning and holding the collar of his coat in front of his face.  Oscher doesn’t recognize him at first, and then Portnoy lets his coat fall aside and starts laughing.  Oscher fumbles at the piano, stops mid-song and shouts: “MOTHERFUCKER!  You made me forget the words!”

Oscher finishes the song, and then introduces Portnoy.  The energy level of the show kicks up a notch.  Oscher wants to show off for Portnoy.  Cool – we get to watch.  “Did you see my do that T-Bone Walker number?” he asks.  No, you played that before we walked in.  Okay, Oscher will play it again. The rest of the set is a blur as Oscher rules the stage, and Portnoy laughs.  Oscher starts telling a story about their days in Chicago while Portnoy is in the back getting a beer, he yells from the back “That’s not how it happened!  Tell it right!” Oscher replies, “It’s my fucking show!  I’ll tell it how I want!”  Everybody is having a good time.

The story is about how they made some extra cash running a scam game of three card monte on the streets of Chicago.   Fucking three card monte.  It strikes me how these guys had lives as far removed from that of the average millennial in 2014 as the lives those 60s folkies were distant from the original bluesmen they “rediscovered.”  Where are the equivalents of those 60s folk kids today?  Hell, I’m one of the younger people in this “crowd” (using the term loosely), and I’m not even young.

Looking around tonight, you can see part of the reason blues music is only the favorite music of 3% of the U.S. population.  As with rockabilly, I like the original stuff, but most modern interpretations are not my cup of tea, and the fans can be annoying.  But with rockabilly fans, say what you will, at least they are well dressed.  Blues fans seem to have claimed the greying ponytail, Hawaiian shirt, and maybe a fedora with a Les Paul lapel pin as uniform.

Some kids are always looking for a way to rebel, stand out from their peers, forge a unique identity.  Maybe before they would have done that with punk rock, but c’mon, there was a Green Day musical on Broadway for chrissakes.  Hip hop? It’s been is mainstream for decades, Jay Z went to the goddamn White House.  Hey kids, want to make your parents uncomfortable? Alienate your peers?  Distance yourself from arbiters of good taste?  Look into blues music.  Tip from your pal Schooley.

In the second set, Oscher brings Portnoy up to jam.  Portnoy has to play his harp through a vocal mic, while Oscher has his magical neck rack amp setup, so it is not a fair fight.  Portnoy blows a few bars acoustic, then Oscher counters with that THICK tone and it is like bringing a knife to a bazooka fight.  A comedy act.  Portnoy looks over with a “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me” look that is priceless.  He’s stuck playing straight man to Oscher’s hijinks and he knows it, like Margaret Dumont to Groucho.  But the twenty or so people are excited just to get to see two Muddy harp men share the stage for a song, something that hasn’t happened in decades. Historic!

It strikes me that something like this should have been a bigger deal.  Austin has institutions supposedly devoted to “cultural” events, but take one look at the Long Center schedule and tell me if you think they’d be open to promoting this particular American art form.  People will pay for expensive tickets to mediocre, middlebrow, milquetoast events, but you can’t fill a room to hear two guys who played with MUDDY FUCKING WATERS cut heads.  I hear about these “MacArthur Genius Grants;” shouldn’t playing with Muddy and still kicking ass all these years later qualify you for a grant of some kind?  Something?

Of course, it wasn’t until the Stones and other Brit bands made a big deal out of guys like Muddy Waters that the majority of Americans in the 60s even decided to give a shit. Now, it’s the same thing all over again.  The only reason Portnoy was in town was to record with Spanish blues duo the Suitcase Brothers.  Victor, the harmonica side of the duo, is an exceptional player who has that Sonny Terry thing down like nobody I’ve seen.  Had it not been for the Europeans, this little reunion of American blues musicians would not have occurred.

The Suitcase Brothers play later in the week at the White Swan, and I’m there, but once again, the crowd is sparse.  Another great show that nobody saw.  But that’s how it goes when you are devoted to America’s least-loved art form.

I hear the Suitcase Brothers play to bigger crowds in Europe.

This entry was posted in Forgotten History, General Orneriness and Contrarianism, Lengthy discourses, Life, Long-winded screeds, Lost classics, Music, My opinions are important and should be displayed on the internet. Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to The blues: America’s least-loved musical form!

  1. Walter Daniels says:

    Great piece, as always Schooley. Yeah the last time I saw Portnoy was at Antone’s and Kim Wilson sat-in at the Guadalupe location. Pretty good crowd- but Clifford Antone is gone and there isn’t anyone brave enough to take his place. Clifford brought a ton of great players to Austin- to see Robert Jr Lockwood, Otis Rush or Carey Bell was a great treat. I got to see Hubert Sumlin play likely over 20 times- just incredible. Those times are gone. I like your point about the Long Center- maybe they would put on a blues show- but they’d have to make some money- the long and the short of the whole story!

  2. Rob Slater says:

    Feel it, John. Ex Muddy guitarist Bob Margolin is a friend of mine, and lives in the next town over. He’s devoted to perpetuating the Muddy legacy by playing Muddy’s music uncompromisingly. He gigs around here almost often enough, frequently having younger players join him onstage…part of his effort to pass the baton. But even Bob has a tough time drawing at clubs here, and he does a ferocious set. Taken for granted, worn out his welcome…who knows? He spends a lot of time in Europe, just because he can do so much better for an audience. Travel’s tough, though…nobody’s getting any younger. And interesting to read of you crossing paths with The Suitcase Brothers. Not sure why here (Greensboro, N.C.), but last October, they entered the local Piedmont Blues Preservation Society’s Blues Challenge, which they won in the solo/duo category, to qualify for The International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, last month. They really are terrific! And: “Blues fans seem to have claimed the greying ponytail, Hawaiian shirt, and maybe a fedora with a Les Paul lapel pin as uniform.” I’m guilty of a lot of things, but not the uniform, at least. I’ve played Memphis a couple of times, and your characterization really was the order of the day, with the addition of the requisite Kangol hat…turned backwards. Blues Disneyland, with beer and ribs, for middle-aged white guys. Had the feeling something just wasn’t right the entire time I was there. Something had just been co-opted. It’s…embarrassing, on a multitude of levels.

    • Schooley says:

      Thanks for reading, Rob. He probably wouldn’t remember me, but I actually met Bob Margolin a few times in the 90s, when I worked at his booking agency. But I guess it isn’t so surprising, it is a small world when you are dealing with 3% of the U.S. population!

      When I posted this on Facebook, everybody included that clip of Blueshammer from Ghost World in their comments, which I thought about including in this post but left out. I’m glad I did, because that’s all anybody thinks about, anyway. There IS good blues still being made out there, but you have to be pretty discriminating to find it, and yes, the contemporary blues scene is embarrassing. A friend mentioned how Howlin’ Wolf is being used in Viagra commercials now? So even the classic stuff is being mistreated.

      If somebody younger has never heard any good blues music, I can see how it could be hard to get them to see past the baggage. I compared it to trying to tell somebody that DeNiro used to be great actor, when their only frame of reference is his performance in “Meet The Fockers.”

    • Good reply and, note on Memphis.Thanks!

    • I’ve read this article…and its really sad. I just lov ethe blues. I’d like to contact Bob Margolin. I’m a great fan of him. I’m not American,I’m young, also a guitar player.I’m trying to preserve the leagcy of chicago giants, and the country bluesmen as well. I’d love to receive some advice from him. Thank you. Not spamming, just a worried blues fan

  3. PNK says:

    A small note of hope… I followed a link to this awesome post (seriously, really great) from the FB page of a local blues guy I started following after seeing him at a bar near my house. Other than having loved Muddy since I was a kid, I’d always dismissed the blues because I’d only come across the milquetoast crap you described. And loving Muddy but not liking the blues is like loving Hank or Patsy but hating country — easy to do, but it shows a real lack of curiosity. I though the good stuff was all ancient history. But the real deal will always connect, it will always have a life, even if it has to die down to an ember before it can ignite something new and unforeseen. I hope you guys stay at it. There are more jaded fuckers like me out there who simply can’t be taught: we need to discover it on our own. (I’ve done my part by dragging pals out to see the good blues music I’ve discovered locally. Most are as skeptical as I was, and all have left impressed.)

  4. John says:

    I REALLY enjoyed your blog article immensely. I’m a young guy (42) and never had an opportunity to see most of the greats. The few I have seen, including Junior Wells, James Cotton, and Carey Bell, I really enjoyed… but I will always wish that I could have seen what a show was like back years ago. You see those old videos where the band was dressed in suits & ties and they all looked sharp as hell… like they were at work or meant business. You can’t tell what the musical dynamics were by the videos, but I have seen an interview with Roscoe Gordon on Beale Street in which he complained at the loud volume in the clubs up and down the street. He said it used to not be like that back years ago when he played there.

    One of the big thrills… and major disappointments I’ve had musically was to visit Beale Street. I will never forget turning the corner from, I believe it was Front Street, onto Beale. It was a street blocked off for pedestrian traffic by a police car, neon lights on every building, souvenir shops, and “blues” hats everywhere. To say that it was a let down would be an understatement. All of the bars had live acts that week. Walking up and down the street, I could hear one loud screaming guitar solo after another… and it was loud on the street. It just seemed like the blues music I really loved wasn’t happening. Maybe I just missed going in the right place at the right time. Maybe I just don’t get it. It was more of a blues based rock sound up and down the street at “you better wear some earplugs” kind of volume. I think my favorite place was a little restaurant that had a local group playing there for a gig, not part of the event going on that week. the harp player was playing through a low power Gibson ga of some sort from the late fifties or early sixties. It was all conversational level… and old school type stuff. There were no speed riffs or insane guitar solos.

    I guess I’m wondering…. is this where it is going? I just wish I could have heard the music back then…

  5. Amos Garrett says:

    Amos Garrett here… Enjoyed this piece immensely! So sad and so true. I do beg to differ about the “Brits” being the first to wake up America to the beauty of the blues– it was Paul Butterfield– the first person to integrate a blues band and secondly , play harp better than anyone except his mentor and teacher- Little Walter. Thanks again for such a well written ( albeit) tragedy.

  6. Steve Likens says:

    Great read! Perhaps we need bumper stickers that read, “I am the 3%” to identify ourselves to each other.

  7. Andy Garrigue says:

    Great article, really enjoyed it. I’m well aware of Oscher and Portnoy, and how monstrously talented both are. Awesome to have the videos inserted of their time with Muddy. Both are also extremely thoughtful, and honest, guys. Haven’t seen Oscher solo, but would love to. Had the pleasure of seeing Jerry a couple of times a couple of years ago – and his tone and taste are just spot on. One of my favorite things about Jerry is that he starts his sets with a slow number that builds and builds. Most players want to knock you out quick. Jerry doesn’t go for that. `Andy Garrigue

  8. Rex carroll says:

    Thanks for the article, John, it was a great read! I guess I’m one of those loud rock guitar guys the previous poster mentioned. I love blues and I’m doing what I can in my own way to keep it going. Many people will say I’m really just a rock player, not old-school enough, but to each his own I guess. I’ve certainly had my share of playing to mostly-empty rooms, but it’s always a thrill when people connect to it. When somebody in the crowd “gets it” that’s a tremendous feeling. There have been some great people along the way who taught me to appreciate Albert King, that’s the foundation of blues guitar, for me. And then I’m always trying to find whatever subtle nuance I can from everybody. Muddy, of course, is one of the gold standards of blues singing. So, it IS alive and well, and the trick is, to GET IT OUT to a new generation. And, yes, it does go over better in Europe.

  9. Nice job, John ~ but yeah, temperatures “in the 30’s” are “just cold for Texas.”

  10. Paul Toscano says:

    Great piece. Saw the post on FB and it took me to your blog. Great stuff, and so true about only 3% of folks love the Blues of which I’m part of! Thanks for your article. You got to meet some great players. Got to keep this wonderful music going. I’ll continue reading your blog.

  11. Isela Giordani says:

    The reason this generation is not into “blues” music is because they don’t know what blues music is. A few weeks ago my friend who happens to be the secretary of a blues society association based in Los Angeles began taking a blues group called “the 44’s” to schools in the Los Angeles area. Some of these kids had never heard the blues, but by the time the performance was over these kids were cheering and clapping like crazy. They wanted to take pictures with the musicians and wanted to know more about the music. Bottom line: Children need to be exposed to more types of music! (By the way, the 44’s have video clips on Youtube. Check them out!)

    • Schooley says:

      When I was a kid, they had everybody in elementary school learn the recorder. Is there a sound more horrifying than a roomful of kids tooting away on those plastic recorders? Hohner or Suzuki or one of the big harmonica manufacturers should be trying to get harmonicas into school music programs!

      Or why not start kids on drums early on, instead of trying to teach them to read music? They’ll need a sense of rhythm before they’ll need to read sheet music, and it could burn up some of their excess energy. Make it more like recess (they call it “playing” music, after all). A lot of great musicians didn’t even read music, anyway.

      It really seems like music programs in school are designed to kill kid’s interest in music, rather than cultivate it. All of my interest in music developed in spite of formal education in it, not because of it.

      • kopper says:

        Yeah, my son plays the recorder in school right now and I’ve thought the same thing. He does have a harmonica, though, too, and has been playing guitar for two years now. I wanted to start him out on the drums but I wasn’t sure if my nerves could take it. 😉

      • Zack says:

        I completely disagree with what you’re saying about reading music. As a musician who plays an incredible amount of blues and can read sheet music, the benefits are enormous. I think there is often this idea that being educated in such a thing creates an issue, but it doesn’t. I have heard learning such skills is quite beneficial in cognitive skills, also. A lot of great musicians didn’t read, sure, but a lot of them weren’t literate either. It’s about gaining a skill that is highly beneficial and that sets you ahead. Learning young is key.

        If you go at a good pace, it’s all good. Sheet music is merely a tool to see or write out what you are doing in a musical performance. The problem with music programs is they are often not even speaking of blues or jazz in general, which is incredibly shameful. It’s one thing I hope to do differently myself.

      • Zack says:

        By the way, I am primarily a drummer if it makes a difference to you!

  12. Rick Miller says:

    I just turned 60 last year and I’ve been following, listening to and playing blues since I was 14. I enjoyed reading your blog and the comments that follow. I agree with much that’s been said, but what I don’t get is some of the resentment and animosity directed towards fans. It really shouldn’t matter what “uniform” someone wears when they go listen to a performance or if they play, how they interpret the music (it’s quite a diverse genre). I get that Beale Street has changed and isn’t what it used to be way back when and that often the music is played louder then some might like. But things change and evolve, that’s simply a fact of life. About the only thing I strongly resent is when my band is on stage playin blues, some moron will come up to me and say “hey man, can you play any ________?”(insert name of any rock band), when it’s clear we’re a blues band and play only blues.

    It seems to me that easiest and most guaranteed way to keep the other 97% from embracing the blues is to hold an elitist and purist attitude toward the genre. I love being a part the 3% it has a sort of cool exceptionalism ring. But I’d rather be a part of the 30% or 50%….that would mean that when my band or any blues band or player plays a gig, the house would be packed. It would mean that blues players are actually being recognized for their talents and contributions to the music scene. It’d mean more recording sales and bookings with better pay for every blues player.

    One last thought….. blues in a Viaga commercial or any commercial doesn’t piss me off as long as the royalties are being paid. I hope Howlin Wolf’s family is benefiting in some way. And I hope somewhere someone is listening and taking notice and thinking “yeh, that music is pretty cool stuff, wonder if I can track it down and get more of it”

    • Schooley says:

      Hey, Rick –

      Thanks for your comment. It is interesting seeing the response to this blog entry, as this particular post seems to have blown up and gotten way more hits than my previous ones (which, to be honest, nobody looks at!). I’ve been getting hits from some blues forums that reposted it. They seem to be populated by blues purist types, and the amount of butthurt is palpable. I would hope that it was obvious from the post that I’m a fan of the music, but a lot of people seem to think I’m running things down. Like Harry Truman said, “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it’s Hell.” I even saw people complaining about the scientific validity of this 3% number, like I claimed I did some scientific survey. It was just a number from a dumb reality show that Walter and I thought was funny, I don’t accept the word of the Bar Rescue research staff as gospel or anything.

      I’ve seen comments on these forums saying stuff like “Hey, I went on this ‘blues cruise’ and it was sold out!” as if that was evidence of a thriving, healthy scene. I tend to think that if the fans of your music are playing shuffleboard on a cruise ship, you probably aren’t involved in a thriving, healthy scene. But hey, you wouldn’t catch me on a cruise ship anyway, even when I hit retirement age.

      It is kinda funny if anybody thinks that I’m taking some elitist or purist attitude, though. They haven’t heard my records and are reading this post with no context about where I’m coming from. The music I make myself is blues influenced, sure, but also has a lot of rock n’ roll, punk rock, country music, and other elements that might make a traditionalist blues fan who likes Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers (or whatever) recoil in horror. I am not strictly a blues musician even if did cover “Killing Floor” on my first one man band record.

      There is an underground of stuff out there that I’m a part of, record labels like Voodoo Rhythm, Crypt, In The Red, and others, that have bands and musicians that have obviously listened to blues but that also incorporate other genres. Or at least, that don’t approach blues with a reverent attitude.

      When I play shows I tend to play in punk rock shitholes with underground bands, I don’t think I’ve ever played on a bill with a “traditional” blues band here in my home town (though I have in Europe). I’m around a lot of younger musicians in their 20s who haven’t listened to much blues music. Or, sure, they might like classic stuff (like PNK mentions in his comment above), but turn up their noses at more contemporary blues and aren’t really open to it. You see the “Blueshammer” meme get tossed around a lot, after that scene in Ghost World. Unfortunately, in many ways I can’t blame them for not giving modern blues a shot, because a lot of modern blues is pretty stagnant and embarrassing. But when guys like Oscher are still killing it you can’t say that the genre is dead.

      Kind of the point of my post, which might have gotten lost, is that I just thought it was a shame that the likes of Oscher and Portnoy aren’t better appreciated. Like you said, “blues players… actually being recognized for their talents and contributions to the music scene” is what I would like to see, too. I would love it if the younger musicians I know would make the trek down to see Oscher practice, because they’d have to pay a lot to see him if they were overseas, and it bugs me that Americans don’t appreciate their own culture like they should. Oscher is a legend so he’s doing these unannounced shows to keep his chops up. But it was a shame that nobody came out to see the Suitcase Brothers. I’d also like some younger music fans give contemporary blues players that are doing quality stuff, like the Suitcase Brothers, a chance.

      But hey, things seem to have died down, so I can go back to nobody giving a shit about my opinions on the internet now!

  13. Rick Miller says:

    heya Schooley, Thanks for the reply back. I’d enjoy hearing some of your stuff. I tend to grumble a whole lot about the blues scene (or lack thereof) too. I’m about as addicted to blues as it gets and my passion often gets the better of me. I understand much of the frustration associated with the music even though I haven’t experienced most of it firsthand. But I come from an area of upstate NY where the music scene is about as milk-toast and homogenized as it gets. It’s tough to sell blues around here and when it can be sold it has to be in the form of blues-rock (not that I dislike it) or not at all. I seriously believe the 3% might be about right or damn close at least. With all the “blues” festivals, cruises, etc around, it might make one think that the blues is thriving. But I often wonder if the majority of the attendees at such events aren’t simply there for the scene instead of the blues. Sure wish I lived in an area where I could head across town and catch the likes of Portnoy or Oscher playing in a small venue. Be well.

    • Schooley says:

      Well, if you wanna hear some of my stuff, there’s a “music” link on the blog header at the top of the page. I can tell this blog thing is really gonna help raise my profile as a musician! *sarcasm* My records are also on Spotify, so you can listen safely, without worrying about me ever getting any money from it…

  14. Rick Miller says:

    I’ll check your link out. I don’t do the spotify thing out of principal. I hate seeing musicians and song writers getting screwed over by corporations.

  15. Good read and true. As a blues musician and part of a vibrant blues community here in San Francisco Bay area – we do have similar challenges (like venues asking me to play some “mainstream songs” in my set ). That being said – I plan on continuing to sing the blues no matter what! It’s what grabbed my soul and moved me right from the beginning. Long live the blues!

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  17. Johnny says:

    Nice article, I am too one of the 3%, but a 51 year old white Brit with (unusually in England) a bumper sticker on my car which says “Damn Right I got the Blues”. I think it’s a pity that the Blues scene in the States seems to have gone the way it has if great artists like this are playing to 20 people, however I was in Clarksdale MS during the summer and there is a real vibe to the Blues scene there. I know they have the tradition of Robert Johnson etc to fall back on, but it was all but forgotten before and only resurrected by a few people with vision. I just hope it’s not taken too far and becomes a theme park!

    I like you am a fan of the early stuff primarily, I have Lightnin Hopkins kicking ass in my house right now and have a good collection of Patton, Sonny Terry, Sonnyboy Williamson, RL Burnside, Honeyboy Edwards etc etc etc. However any Blues scene now has to be built on new acts and I think those of us that love the blues need to support these guys too rather than completely living in the past. I had the pleasure of seeing Demetria Taylor, Mike Wheeler and Fruteland Jackson in Chicago, Terry Williams and Christine Kingfish Ingram in Clarksdale, all relatively young, and I have also in the past seen people like Susan Tedeschi, Catfish Keith, Toby Walker, Reverend Peyton and Ian Siegal etc etc. what the Blues needs is people to get out to actually watch these and many other performers who scrape a living. I watch live music as often as I can, lots of different genres, of which Blues is my favourite, but if 3% of Americans like Blues that’s still a lot of people, where are they?

  18. Chophouse says:

    Thought your post was fantastic. Got to it thru FB, but it had a headline about ‘ Blues only liked by 3%’, which isn’t the point at all of your post. Nor is it true I suspect. The blues is not lacking for musicians or for records being made. So I agree there is a task at hand about exposing people to the genre.

  19. This article is misleading. Paul Oscher is playing this small club without putting his name out front because he wants a place to work on material. When on the road he attracts large crowds. He just returned from a big show in Canada. I know your intentions were good, but you are giving the wrong impression about a great artist who still has a vital career. Oscher won multiple Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Awards) just a few years ago. It is important that people know that.

    • Schooley says:

      Well, in my defense, I did mention that in the article, and no slight toward Oscher was intended. I hope it didn’t come out that way. I am a fan, I hope that was obvious.

      It was more just to say that it blows my mind to be able to see two guys like Oscher and Portnoy play such an intimate show, hence “the best shows don’t get seen” part. This has happened to me a lot, musicians that I think are HUGE I’ve seen play to extremely sparse crowds. When I saw John Fahey it was a free record store show with only a handful of people in attendance. More recently I saw Peter Stamphel play a SXSW showcase to nobody. I am a huge Holy Modal Rounders fan and seeing him was a big deal to me, yet there were six people in the audience (mostly due to SXSW not really knowing enough or caring enough to put together an appropriate show for him).

      This says more about the clueless and fickle nature of the American public than it says anything about the artistic stature of Fahey, Stamphel, or Oscher! That’s why he can go play Canada or Europe so successfully.

      • I know your intentions were good and I said so in my comment. I appreciate that you love this music. But I didn’t want people to get the impression that Paul Oscher’s career has hit a stand still. He is still playing festivals and large clubs to full houses, and his recent recordings have won and been nominated for awards. In NYC a lot of famous jazz players do weekday gigs in small places to stay in shape when they are off the road. I saw Chico Hamilton in a small Mexican restaurant on a Tuesday, Frank Wess in a tiny half filled club on a Monday. Chicago was once the same way with the blues players. It’s the nature of life as a musician. I do agree that the blues is not appreciated the way it once was. Blues has always had cycles of popularity. There is a big Americana resurgence in certain pockets of the country, so maybe that will improve things in time, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of the giants of blues are gone — a fact that makes people like Paul Oscher more indispensible.

  20. Michael Lloyd says:

    the blues has never been wildly popular, and it would seem odd if it ever had been. Imagine singing about hardship, disappointment, and lost love to a packed auditorium of cheering, happy fans. It would just seem incongruous. But that is what happened to some senior bluesmen who got plucked from anonymity by the British blues revival in the 1960’s. During that time, widely popular, and mostly white rock bands called upon their heros of the past, enlisting long forgotten blues legends to go on tour with them. Those aging bluesmen were summoned from their simple, hard working, and in many cases rural lives, to go on tour. While they may have enjoyed their moment in the spotlight, the adoration, and the pay, with some of them going back to recording as a result, I can also imagine some of them going back to their hometowns, more or less happy to have made some money, but ultimately relieved at being back at home, away from all those crazy pot smoking hippy types. On another level of popularilty dating back to the fifties, some such as Muddy and Buddy Guy, and B.B. did generate comfortable and long lasting careers playing to decent sized venues. They performed a more uptempo and rocking and rolling type of blues. The more down tempo types will always toil away in juke joints, dives, and house party events, and I think they realize this, and embrace it.

    • Walter Daniels says:

      Little Walter Jacob’s single Juke was number one on the r’n’b charts for 8 weeks- two freaking months. That’s the year that Billy Boy Arnold said if you didn’t have a harmonica in your band- you suffered. That’s a long time ago- but two months on top of the r’n’b charts is real success- I would have to say. People described Little Walter having lots of loose cash in the trunk of his car.

      • Schooley says:

        What Walter said. Blues is party music, it isn’t just “about hardship, disappointment, and lost love” and blues produced some performers who were full-blown rock stars in their day.

        The music can still connect with an audience, and not just an audience that hides itself on cruise ships and a strictly blues-only “keeping the blues alive” (re: on assisted living) kinds of festivals and stuff like that.

  21. Michael Lloyd says:

    I defer to the two previous two gentlemen, obvious experts over me in the craft and its history.
    ‘Blues Cruise’ sounds like purgatory to me. While good for the pockets of bluesmen, as a consumer, I don’t believe you shouldn’t pair blues with bad food and shuffleboard.

  22. Pingback: Scans from guitar magazines I bought when I was a kid, Vol. 2 | John Schooley and his One Man Blog

  23. Pingback: Dead Mall Dues: Schooley’s guide to “modern” acoustic roots records | John Schooley and his One Man Blog

  24. “Of course, it wasn’t until the Stones and other Brit bands made a big deal out of guys like Muddy Waters that Americans even decided to give a shit.”

    I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Who was listening to guys like Muddy Waters before the 60s? You need to think about what your definition of “Americans” implies here.

    The problem is it’s easy to muddle the idea that the blues should be successful at a grassroots level, with the idea that the blues is a music that exists ONLY at this grassroots level. You want more recognition for these great musicians, and yet there seems to be a lot of prejudice in your characterisation of local arts centres, concert halls, etc – as though the blues isn’t the sort of music that would fit in these sorts of venues, even if it *was* being performed there. This is quite ironic, given that most African American bluesmen in the 1940s and 50s would have positively jumped at the chance to play big, high-calibre, non-segregated arts venues.

    • Schooley says:

      Good point, this is why I need an editor. To more clearly convey what I was trying to get at, that should have read “it wasn’t until the Stones and other Brit bands made a big deal out of guys like Muddy Waters that the majority of Americans in the 60s even decided to give a shit.” Of course the blues had been pretty popular at one time, but by the time the British Invasion rolled around, it had fallen significantly in popularity. I’ll add that in the blog post should anybody ever read it again (I am surprised this post still gets comments, as it is now a year old. Did somebody share it on Facebook or something?). And yeah, clumsily worded, but what I was trying to get at was how white Americans were largely uninterested in American blues until white British musicians re-introduced it to them.

      And I think it is possible to hold those two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time – that blues music is an important American art form that deserves to be performed in the same kind of venue, and accorded the same respect, as classical music, and at the same time, that those kind of venues wouldn’t really be the right environment for it. It is similar to how I’ve seen more punk-rock bands play in small venues, and on larger stages, and how sometimes the transition to a larger venue didn’t suit the music. Music can be a fragile thing sometimes, if you take it out of its natural environment, you lose something important.

    • This is a great read.Read before awhile back.I posted it on my facebook page..Terry Blankley

  25. Ber Knar says:

    A little trivia on Paul Oscher. Muddy made a visit to our Southern Ontario town in the early 70’s and our little blues band took in the show. Our harmonica player made friends with him after the show and Paul ended up spending a week at his place in town, until he had to get back on the road. Presently around here the “blues society” members make little effort to get out and support the locals. Rather disappointing.

  26. Doug Baz says:

    Recently spent 3 weeks in Southern California chasing down some of the best, most committed bluesmen in the country. There appears to be a very vital, colleagueal, blues scene there–all throughout the week. And they are paying due respect to the best from the past while adding their own take on the music. Every time I think of what’s going on out there I want to pick up and move( from NY)

  27. Great post, just a shame that in the country where the blues was born there seems little interest in it. You’re right about Europe, especially in France, they love the blues and so many US bluesmen do well there.

  28. Pingback: The blues: America’s least-loved musical form –

  29. Pingback: Three percenter | Bobby Guitar Martin

  30. Genie O'Brien says:

    what a wonderful gift of information and sounds… Thanks so much !!!! …

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