Most people interested in the original blues, either guitar or piano, know the names of the �blues legends�. These are the old guys who invented the stuff. None of them had to learn the blues , they lived the blues! Men like Lightnin� Hopkins, Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy come to mind.
We can imagine how the legend surrounding Robert Johnson grew over the years. There are only two photographs left, both very similar, and his bluesmen friends that survived into the 70s talked freely about his celebrated meeting with satan at the crossroads. I didn�t meet Broonzy, although there are some pieces of film left for us to enjoy, all can be seen on Youtube.
I was called by a man who worked in a band that supported Bill while touring the UK in the late 50s. He told me about about a big man who drank too much, laughed a lot and told colorful stories a lot of the time. His masterful guitar style was impossible to copy, and to this day, almost no-one has managed to duplicate Big Bill�s swinging style.
Some years ago, in 1998, I was living in Indiana and was often thirsty for the sound of old-style blues. Someone told me that there was a blues bar called �Buck�s Working Man�s Pub� in a town about 40 miles away in the town of La Porte. At the end of my working day, I eagerly jumped into the car and headed out.
Given directions by the locals, I drove down main street, turned left at the second corner past the town hall and crossed the railroad tracks to the wrong side of town. This is what I was looking for, I�d get to see the real blues. The bar wasn�t up to much. I got myself a drink and made my way to room at the back, drawn by the sound of a loud Chicago-style blues band.
The place wasn�t empty, and it wasn�t full. This kind of blues wasn�t what I was interested in anyway � I liked the old acoustic blues. The old fellow at my table said that the locals had hired the band as it was the proprietor�s birthday today. He didn�t say much after that.
The band finished the number and the singer addressed the audience. �Happy Birthday, Pinetop", he yelled, and then �Ladies and gentlemen, Pinetop has agreed
to play a couple of numbers for us." The old guy at my table got up and walked up to the stage, sitting down in front of a grand piano. He played a slow boogie which became increasingly syncopated with each passing bar. My mouth dropped open as I realised I�d been sitting next to a real master, an original bluesman.
He played just two songs before he shuffled past me out of the room. He didn�t appear again that night. With hindsight, I thought of all the things I could have asked him, but maybe it�s just as well. It was the guys birthday and he might have been bothered by a stranger�s questions. Legends are just normal guys, you see.
Each passing year, the bluesmen are dissapearing, to be succeeded by newer legends. I also recall driving clear across Indiana and Michigan to listen to a modern blues legend, who will remain nameless, because of his words during our encounter. Thrilled, I said what a great way to live, to follow in the path of the old bluesmen � travelling around playing the blues. �Not a bit of it", he replied �It�s a pain and I�d rather be at home doing something else!"
We need to remind ourselves � legends are also human.
Interview with a modern bluesman.