If you’re a blues fan you really owe it to yourself to check out a DVD called Red White and Blues (if you haven’t seen it already.)
Directed by British filmmaker Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) the documentary is dedicated to pioneers of UK blues and jazz from the post war years to the Sixties. (Figgis has composed the soundtracks for 14 of his 33 directing credits on imdb. He plays piano on this DVD.)
Filmed in 2002 as part of a TV show called The Blues (which means filmmaker/music aficionado Martin Scorsese is somewhere in the mix) the doc features interview clips with legendary UK music biz figures like Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber, Bert Jansch, George Melly and Humphrey Lyttleton (most of whom are no longer with us).
Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Georgie Fame and Albert Lee also make appearances in this entertaining and absorbing film about the white English musicians who rediscovered a treasure trove of music from black America and exposed these artists to mainstream audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, most of them for the first time. (The doc shows a young Mick Jagger singing with Muddy Waters. Georgie Fame talks about the challenges of accompanying instinctual artists like John Lee Hooker: “They changed keys whenever they felt like it.”)
Big Bill Broonzy, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Booker T. & the MGs are shown in vintage performance clips. There is also a clip of Alexis Korner in action. (I still have the double WB LP Bootleg Him! featuring Mr. Korner and Blues Inc. playing with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker before they met Eric Clapton and formed Cream and Charlie Watts before he hooked up with the group that would eventually become the Rolling Stones.)
All all star cast lays down some tasty tracks live on the floor at Abbey Studios in London. I’ve never been a big Tom Jones fan but i gotta say Ol’ Leather Lungs’ subdued and heartfelt take on Ketty Lester’s 1961 version of “Love Letters” with Jeff Beck on guitar is a keeper. Lulu sings a soulful version of “Cry Me a River”. And if you think the petite Scottish chanteuse, best known for the treacly pop hit “To Sir With Love” can’t sing soul, than you have obviously never heard (or have forgotten) “Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool For You Baby)”, from her 1970 album New Routes (recorded with the same team that backed up Dusty Springfield on the classic Dusty in Memphis LP.)
Even cranky old Van Morrison seems to be enjoying himself. Okay, he’s not smiling but he is obviously enjoying singing the music he grew up with.
That’s the question I ask myself everytime I hear the blues … how can something that hurts so bad make you feel so good?