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September 29, 1995 - Image 21

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-09-29

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I The Michigan Daily - Wet" ce. - Thursday, October 5, 1995 - 78

rom 1VIuCK1'a
y James Miller
Ay Staff Writer
"Theblueshadababy,andtheycalled
t rock and roll."
- Muddy Waters
To understand Picasso, you need to
xamine Giotto. To get a better handle
n John Updike, it helps to read John
ilton. Listening to Beethoven'sNinth
nevitably leads to Brahms' First. Ar-
istic, musical and literary schools are
Ilways rootedin something deeper than
hemselves. The mightier the river, the
tronger the source.
The blues is seen by many people as
o inaccessible and difficult music.
usik played by men dead for decades
bout heartbreak, loss, infidelity and
omicide doesn't lend itself to the col-
ege ear. Yet more of the blues finds its
ay into the music around us than you
ight think. For example, T-Bone
alker was the first man to plug a
itar into an amp. For decades, either
ou played guitar like Lightnin'
opkins, or you didn't play at all.
The blues is a massive thing. If you
antuolistentomore ofthe blues,choos-
ng fIom the huge amount of recording
an b)e difficult. So I've done the hard
ork for you. If you want to become a
eacon in the church of the blues, the
ollowing are albums that will put you on
Robert Johnson
waited at a cross-
roads for the
devil and traded
is soul in
eXchange for
singing and
~playing talents.,
the straight and narrow path.
1) Leadbelly, "The Library of Con-
gress Recordings." Leadbelly's music
is sometimes strange, even to tradi-
tional blues fans. He represents the be-
ginnings ofthe blues. Hismusicis com-
posed largely of spirituals, work songs,
fieldhollers, ballads as well as the more
familiar blues forms. Accompanying
himselfonthe twelve string guitar,play-
ing both rhythmic blues chord patterns
as well as booming, piano-like bass
lines.Thisstylecombinedwithhishigh,
expressive voice gives Leadbelly's
music a painful, very emotional tenor.
The most notable track is "Midnight
Special," which was covered by CCR.

y Waters to C
People who like a little gospel flavor
will dig Leadbelly.
2) Robert Johnson, "The Complete
Recordings." Many music writers and
music lovers call Robert Johnson the
father of the blues. This is for two
reasons. First, Johnson's guitar playing
was virtually peerless. He displayed a
technique and melodic inventiveness
unmatched until the blues revival ofthe
late sixties. Equally comfortable with
bottleneck and straight guitar styles,
Johnson set the standard for blues gui-
tarists for decades.
Second,Johnson wasthe firstmythical
entertainer in blues history. It was said
thathe waited at a crossroads for the devil
and traded his soul in exchange for sing-
ing and playing talents. Because of the
story,andbecauseofJohnson'sownenig-
matic nature, much of his music, like "If
IHadPossessionOvertheJudgmentDay"
and"MeandtheDevilBlues,"hasaeerie,
demonic air about it. People interested in
realearthy,nasty,guy-and-his-guitar-on-
a-porch blues would do well to pick this
one up.
3) Muddy Waters, "Hard Again." For
many people, Muddy Waters is the very
essence ofthe blues. Brought to the fore-
front during the blues revival of the six-
ties,hewouldhaveenjoyedalife offame
and respect even without the expanded
white audience. Muddyrepresents a fun-
damentalchangeinbluesstyles.Themusic
ofLeadbelly and Robert Johnson,known
as Delta blues, migrated up the Missis-
sippiwiththepoorex-farmlaborerslook-
ing for work. In Chicago this soft country
sound acquired a rough urban edge
through amplification and the hardships
of city life. Muddy's music is the para-
digm of the Clcago blues. On "Hard
Again" he combines Delta imagery of
voodooandslaverywith athickChicago
sound creted by distorted harmonicas,
rhythmically propulsive solos and aKan-
sas City, barrelhouse stylepiano. Tracks
like"Mannish Boy"(usedin aBudweiser
commercial)and"I Wants To Be Loved"
standoutwithperfect solos andMuddy's
powerful, grammatically incorrect voice
leading the charge. Perfect for anyone
with a pulse.
4) Little Walter, "Hate To See You
Go." No discussion of the blues is com-
plete without a nod to the harmonica,
possibly the instrument most identified
with the blues. Little Walteris as bad as
they come, havingbackedup Muddy for
years. Hisharpplayingisunique,encom-
passing both the sweetness of a hardly
amplifiedDeltamouthharpand theblast-
ing scream of a Chicago harmonica Be-
sides this, he displays a fluid technique
andexcellentsinging voicethatanyblues
artist would envy. Likewise, it is hard to
nail down one or two good tracks on the
album. "HatetoSeYouGo"and"Keyto
the Highway" are outstanding, but as far
as this album goes Little Walter can do
no wrong.
5) B.B. King, "Great Moments with
B.B. King." B.B. King is possibly one
of the smoothest, classiest men ever to
playthegame. Sincehestartedplaying
backintheforties, hismusichasexem-
plified taste and style. King possesses a
perfect, clean toneand a technique with
textbook precision.
"Great Moments" is a composite of
several live concerts, spliced together.
"Outskirts of Town" and "Nightlife" are
two of the most outstanding tracks. On
these, as well as all the rest of the tracks,
King shows off perfect solos andsinging
that is both polished and gritty, combin-
ingthepowerand emotion ofgospel with
theanguishoftheurbanbluestradition.A
fine, subtle horn arrangement and excel-

pton: Essential blues

HUGHES
Continued from page 1.
obligations, with company people
looking over your shoulder?
H: "Much easier. After 'Menace,'
we had more open doors before us.
We met Steven Spielberg ... He's a
great guy. We were able to use some
of the gunfire effects he did in
'Schindler's List,' for example. If we
asked for equipment, we'd get it. We
have this strategy now: people whose
money is in the film, want to see the
product from time to time. So we send
them what we call 'missiles' - little
scenesafromthe movie we knew they'd
love. Usually when somebody kills
somebody else. They see it and go,
'Yeah! Fights! Explosions! Here, take
more money!"'
D: You seem to be pretty open about
your influences and points of refer-
ence. In "Menace II Society," you
said you've used some of the Sergio
Leone's inventions.
H: "Yes, and for 'Dead Presidents,'
the starting point was 'Asphalt
Jungle.' And Oliver Stone's 'Born
On The Fourth Of July.' And Sergio
Leone, of course, when we got to
staging the whole heist sequence. If
you want to show a good fight,there's
no avoiding him. But the movie is not
just about the Black experience in
Vietnam. I mean, it's like 'Born On
The Fourth Of July,' about the Ameri-
can dream gone sour. Or, rather, how
people who can't fit into this dream,
just change it. 'My American dream
now is to rob a bank and skip town.'
And their goal remains the same -
'get rich quick.' They just gave up on
all other methods."
D: Almost every director dealing
with the aftermath of Vietnam, in-
cluding Stone, prefers not to show the
war itself, or shows it in flashbacks.
But you've decided to have this huge
combat section that takes up about a
quarter of the movie. What were the
reasons for that?
H: "You know, we actually thought
that we were making a movie about a
guy returning from war. We meant to
start the story with his return. It would
be really cool to make the whole movie
about one heist, go through all the
planning stages. But then we decided
to show the past of this guy, where he
is really coming from and why is he
driven to this condition he's in. And
there wasn't enough room to build up
to the heist itself."
D: So are you content with the re-
sults now?
H:"Not really. If we were to start
the movie over, we would have spent
more time on the script. It's underde-
veloped. Four more weeks of
preproduction - that's what we
needed."
D: The film has really gut-wrench-
ing scenes, especially the quieter ones.
For example, when Anthony (Larenz
Tate) starts strangling his pregnant
girlfriend ..
H: "That scene was conceived as
even more violent: he was supposed
to beat her up. Then we thought, wait,
this is kind of too much. Somebody
said, what if he chokes her a little,
maybe that's more politicallycorrect."

D: Didyoufeel any discomfortdeal-
ing with these really grim domestic
subjects? I mean, this is nota helicop-
ter getting blown up..
H: "Well, we think drama is gener-
ally easier to do than any other genre.
You know, it's easier to be serious all
the time than to try and make people
laugh, for example."
D: What's .the story behind that
Martin Sheen cameo?
H: "Oh, man. Originally, it was
supposed to be Marlon Brando. He
saw 'Menace II Society' and loved it.
People say he was going around recit-
ing lines from it. Just imagine (a good
impression of the Brando mumble
follows): 'Give me your golden jew-
elry!' Then it turned out, he wanted
five days to shoot his scene, and he
has about ten lines. And he was gonna
need all those earfeed mikes, so that
he wouldn't forget his stuff, and prob-
ably some huge billboards everywhere
with the lines written on them. We
just couldn't freeze the production
like that. And around the same time
we met Martin Sheen at a party with
his sons. So he came in and did this
cameo. He's a great guy, only really
out of touch--I don't think he's seen
a single movie in the last ten years.
But he was terrific, and he gave the
whole movie that 'Apocalypse Now'
edge."
D: You seem to have overcome the
temptation to show up in your own
movies, a la Spike Lee.
H: "Well, we' re not that good-
looking. Also, we can't act. I think
we're just about the only directors in
Hollywood who honestly realize that
they can't act."
D: You took quite some time off
between these two movies. Did you
do anything particularly interesting?
H: "Well, let's see ... smoked lots
ofhash, did lots ofheroin ... No, no. In
fact, we've never done heroin or coke
or anything like that. Just alittle mari-
juana, never hurt nobody ... But what
did we do all this time, seriously?
Actually, I have a feeling that we just
slept for two years, and then woke up.
It was like 'Whoa! It's 4 p.m., 1994!
Time to make another movie."
D: So what's next for you?
H: "Probably a Jimi Hendrix story."
D: Wow. A Vietnam movie, then a
Hendrix bio - wait, you guys are
turning into Oliver Stone!
H: "Well, we have great respect for
the man. We have the same politics,
in case you didn't notice. We're in the
same high school with Oliver, so to
speak. And Spike [Lee] with John
[Singleton] are in some other high
school."
(Albert suddenly joins in): "They're
in a middle school somewhere."
(Allen): "For children with special
needs."
D: Hmm ... So, are you gonna take
a couple of years off again?
Allen: "We might. I think the rea-
son a lot of directors make movies
back-to-back is that it allows them to
escape the reality for a while. To live
in this little world where they are the
bosses and everybody does what,
they're told. It's an easy way to lose
touch with what's going on outside.
And that's the last thing we wanna
do."

lentorganplayinggivethealbum abeau-
tiful, gentile flavor.
6) John Lee Hooker, "Boom Boom."
John Lee Hooker is one of the most
unusual performers in all of the blues.
A standardbearer of themuch neglected
Detroit blues scene, Hooker combines
many genres at once in his music, fus-
ing them together seemlessly.
First, Hooker's voice is just plain odd.
Singing in a register usually reserved for
foghorns, he possesses a wonderful bari-
tone rumble. In addition, he employs a
growlingtechniquethatmakesthe major-
ity of his vocals sound more like a roar
than a human voice. Tunes like "Jesse
James" and "Hittin' the Bottle Again"
display this sound as well as highlight
another strange component of Hooker's
style. His guitar playing has been de-
scribed as "rhythmic," "chunky" and
"bad." Sometimes it sounds as if Hooker
is playing in a different tempo than the
rest of the band. When he accompanies
himself, he plays the chords in bizarre,
convoluted rhythms. But when he's in
there, he's in there like swimwear. On
"Boom Boom" and "Boogie at Russian
Hill"hisplayingissmoothandevocative.
For sheer emotion, it's hard to beat
John Lee Hooker. A must for those who
are looking for the hardest of the hard-
core blues.
7) Otis Rush, "Mournin' in the
Momin'." When the blues and funk
collide, you will find Otis Rush standing
on top of the wreckage. You will never
findanotheranalbumwithstraight-ahead
bluessingingandplayingwithmoresoul-
ful swagger. The funkhasdefinitelypaid
a visit to Otis Rush.
The four-piece horn section, which
plays on nearly every tune, sounds like
it just fell out on a Parliament album.
The drummer is definitely not a blues
drummer, putting enough funk behind
tunes like "Gambler's Blues"to make it
sound like a whole new song. To prove
the soul connection even more fully,
Rush plays an instrumental version of
Aretha Franklin's famous cover of
"Baby I Love You." "Can't Wait No
Longer" is by far the most powerful
song on the album. Possessing an

amountofgroovethatoneusuallynever
sees on a blues album, it's tight and on
the money. Otis displays his strong,
lyric tenor and his tasty southpaw gui-
tar over a full-on soul explosion. Call-
ing all funksters, this album is for you!
8) Eric Clapton, "From the Cradle."
Often in the world of blues, the word
"white" is used as a handicap. For ex-
ample, artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan
and Paul Butterfield are sometimes
called good whiteblues musicians. The
validity of this judgment notwithstand-
ing, Eric Clapton is a good blues artist.
Clapton has never really gone far
away from his blues roots. Even on his
more pop-oriented albums like "Jour-
neyman" their has always been at least
one or two solid blues tunes. Plus, it's
rare to find a Clapton solo, anywhere,
that doesn't have the flavor in it.
Clapton outdoes himself with the
blues covers on "From the Cradle." His
singing has a maturity and depth previ-
ously unknown in his work. The guitar
work still displays the old Clapton tech-
nical grace, but this time he seems to
have more of the feeling of the blues
that lacked in the middle, post-heroin
days of his career.
The rest of the band acts as a foil for
Clapton. Both the harmonica and the
piano play well, but rarely solo, vamp-
ing behind his vocals and solos. Tracks
like "Five Long Years," "How Long
Blues" and "Sinner's Prayer" are the
most admirable. Each one boasts fine
singing and solos beyond reproach,
bearing true allegiance to the Chicago
bluestradition. On the otherside ofthe
spectrum. "Motherless Child," with its
Dixieland kick drums and dobro over-
dub, is a fine duplication of an old
fashioned Delta porch jam. If you're
looking for an accessible introduction
to the blues, this is your album.
This list is woefully incomplete.
Many artists of great talent and signifi-
cance have been omitted for space.
However, any one of these albums
would be perfect for someone inter-
ested in a lesson in learnin' the blues.
Continuethetradition,thisisAmerica's
one true indigenous art form.

9

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