Blues or Soul?
Thirty years ago I travelled to London to see Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Albert King and John lee Hooker ( a lineup the like of which will never be seen again ). I recall being struck by the total lack of Soul representation and a complete takeover by Rock Fans going into raptures over Buddy Guys extraordinary licks. For decades the pop/ Rock media have told us we can have gospell but the Blues is theirs .But it isn't, it's ours too.
Recently I saw Michael Roach in Durham; a Black American Country Blues artist and there wasn't a familiar face in the building. Normally I run a mile from a singer with just a guitar but this is how this music is supposed to be played and he is also a Blues Historian and the history of Blues is the pre-history of Soul.
About a year ago my son and I saw Larry Garner at the Darlington Arts Centre. LG is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and one of the most important Blues artists to emerge in the last 30 years and there wasn't another Soul fan to be found. My son was carrying a guitar injury so we ended up talking guitars with him and the band and he invited him to join them on stage. Thirteen and with a bandage on his hand, my son can still play a bit and took the roof off.
Consequently he became fanatical about Blues which ultimately took us to a Blues Festival in Switzerland to see Howlin Wolf pianist Henry Gray, Soulful Blues singer/ guitarist and another of the modern greats - Joe Louis Walker, top of the bil for my son Larry McCray - another modern great with a Soulful voice and perhaps the finest Blues guitarist since Buddy Guy. Top of the bill for me, Otis Clay, a regular at the festival, because in Switzerland, like most places, Blues and Soul go together.
Recently Larry Garner returned to Darlington and, since I'd seen him in Keighley a week earlier ( guess what - no Soul Fans), and knew his set and his jokes, found myself people watching and people clearly couldn't believe they were watching an artist of this calibre making such incredible music in a tiny room in Darlo.
Michael Roach, LG and Henry James are not Soul singers in the way Joe Louis Walker, Larry McCray, Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Albert and Freddie King and Robert Cray are, but all Black American Blues Singers are soulful, I like to make the distinction, with a small s.
Recently I was at a Soul Night in Sunderland and people kept saying to me - this is better than Muddy Waters and this is better than John lee Hooker - and I was reminded that Frankie Lucas used to say that some of the stuff I listen to is so Soulful it's almost Blues and I figured this is where it came from. I've been listening to Blues for 30 years, alongside Soul, and Reggae and Jazz and lots of other things.
In the mid eighties I saw Bobby Bland, Johnnie Taylor and Denise LaSalle ( and Mosley and Johnson ) on the same bill and Latimore and Little Milton on the same bill. Can anybody say categorically, once and for always, whether Bobby Bland or ZZ Hill are Blues or Soul?
JuniorWells1996 by Masahiro Sumori (Own work), from Wikimedia Commons