Sunday, June 29, 2008

Waterfront Blues Festival Time

This week I'll be in Portland for some appearances at the Waterfront Blues Festival.

On Thursday, our Northwest Blues Pianorama show will debut at the festival in the afternoon. Then I'll do a boogie-woogie workshop, and that night the whole Pianorama gang will wail away at the University Place Hotel, a few blocks from the festival site.

Friday it's a blues cruise with my trio, then another evening show at University Place Hotel, this time with my pal Reggie Houston, direct from Fats Domino's band.

To celebrate, here's a live track recorded during our set at last year's festival. Maybe someday we'll put the whole thing out. It's a free download, so knock yourself out!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Backstage with Bo

Peter Dammann is blogging the Waterfront Blues Festival this year, and he has a nice account of our gig with Bo Diddley in 2005, shortly before this article appeared in Rolling Stone.

I'd like to add a couple of things. Our gig with Bo came 45 years after I first saw him perform, when he was at the height of his fame. To this day I have never seen an artist destroy an audience the way Bo Diddley did that day in Birmingham, accompanied only by Jerome Green on maracas and Clifton James on drums.

Nearly every article since Bo's death has listed all the major artists who were supposedly "influenced" by the Bo Diddley beat, from Buddy Holly to Bruce Springsteen and U2. That's one way to look at it. But it's one thing to extend "credit," and quite another to deal in cash. There's an old saying: the dollar make you holler.

I guess it depends on whether you regard the blues as a quarry to be mined, or as a community you'd like to enter. If it's nothing but some kid of resource deposit, loot it and leave. The sooner you go away, the better.

But if it's a community, and you want to be part of it, then you need to show some respect.

Bo made no secret how he felt about it; to him, the "Bo Diddley beat" was "not just a beat; it's a melody and a rhythm pattern." If you're a musician, and you wrote a song using Bo's signature beat, then to my mind you had two choices: respect his contribution and pay him for it, or go on paying him "tribute" by refusing to listen to his opinion.

Obviously I'm not talking about bands just starting out or playing low-money gigs. I'm talking about people getting rich off somebody else's creativity.

Even the New York Times obituary described Bo as a man 'Who Gave Rock His Beat.' I can just imagine Bo saying, "I didn't give them anything. They took it."

The silver lining, if there is one, is that -- again, according to Bo -- of all those bands that appropriated his beat, not too many of them got it right. Most didn't even come close. If you don't believe me, go listen to some of them. Then let the needle drop on "Bo Diddley." The first ten seconds will explain it far better than I ever could.