DUST-MY-BLUES

Ever had those mid-week, demanding-boss, traffic-jam, forgot-to-get-milk-on-the-way-home-so-partner-was-pissed-off blues?

If it was 1967 you had a number of musical options to sooth your troubled western mostly-white electric-urban-blues soul. Loose the bad vibes, lose the hyphenated sentences, enter the transatlantic none-more-blue worlds of John Mayall and Paul Butterfield.

You might imagine John Mayall was dismayed by the departure of his young tyro guitarist Eric Clapton (to form Cream, also active in 1967) but not a bit of it. Mayall had a keen ear for talent and recruited Peter Green to fill the vacant chair. Of course, Green did not last long either, leaving to form Fleetwood Mac, but that’s another story. This tale is about the third album by the blues entrepreneur, A Hard Road by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers.

Recorded in October and November of the previous year, A Hard Road was released on the Decca label in February 1967. In addition to the leader on vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, and organ, Green on guitar, John McVie (soon to contribute the third syllable to Fleetwood Mac) on bass, either Hughie Flint or Aynsley Dunbar on drums, this version of the Bluesbreakers also packed brass in its pocket. John Almond and Alan Skidmore added sax while Ray Warleigh contributed ‘wind instruments’.

A Hard Road is a solid sixties British blues album. Mayall’s vocals were never the slam-you-against-the-wall kind, but he truly sings with character. Eight of the fourteen tracks are Mayall originals with Green getting onto the scoreboard with two songs. Indeed, where this LP really flies is when Peter Green steps forward, as on the instrumental number “The Stumble” and his own “The Super-Natural”, two highlights. The latter piece is worth the price of admission alone. In fact the sustained opening note of “The Super-Natural” is worth the entry fee.

I like the echoing “Another kind of love” (another Mayall why-doesn’t-she-behave-properly-and-love-me-the-way-I-deserve song) where the saxes sing in the background and Green soars in the foreground. The sinewy R&B of “Leaping Christine” is foot-tappingly energetic and another highlight. And any blues album containing a cover of Elmore James “Dust my blues” is OK by me. This Bluesbreakers version really pops; fast, driving, committed to an absence of dust.

The cover painting, a wintery portrait of the band by John Mayall himself, fits perfectly with a bluesy English February; moody and downbeat.

This is British blues played with respect for the sources but keen to differentiate. On A Hard Road John Mayall and his band mostly succeed. Less than compulsive, perhaps, yet an entertaining listen.

3 ½ stars.

Musicians love getting together and playing. So when Mayall had the opportunity to rope in his US counterpart Paul Butterfield for a recording session, he leapt at the chance as energetically as Christine in the Hard Road song. The Chicago blues-harpist and singer recorded an EP with Mayall entitled, with pleasing directness, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers With Paul Butterfield. Can’t argue with that, nor can I say much about it, other than it provides a neat across-the-ocean segue to the second member of this blues-album-duo.

Harmonica player and singer Paul Butterfield is a central figure in the expansion of the blues beyond its original race-based confines in the US. His barnstorming blues treatments popularised electric Chicago blues with the white record-buying public while his enthusiasm for sitting in with black blues musicians in Chicago’s blues clubs earned him respect and a level of acceptance.

The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw—the odd moniker was guitarist Elvin Bishop’s nickname—was the third Butterfield Blues Band LP, released in late 1967. With punchy brass from the trio of David Sanborn (alto), Gene Dinwiddle (tenor) and Keith Johnson (trumpet) plus neat keyboard fills from Mark Naftalin, this edition of the BBB has a strong soul feel. It’s almost like an R&B album, with impassioned vocals from the leader and interplay between brass and guitar (Bishop is terrific throughout).

As if to underline the soul credentials, the record opens with a version of “One more heartache”, released by Marvin Gaye the previous year. After that comes the centrepiece of the album, the magnificent “Driftin’ and driftin’” which it utterly engaging across its nine minutes. Who else was laying down nine minute blues-rock epics in 1967?

Next up is one of my favourites on The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, an electric—in every sense of the word—performance of Bobby Bland’s “I pity the fool”. Clocking in at six minutes, Butterfield extracts maximum hurt and venom from this love-gone-wrong tale and does it so well you want to feel what he feels just so you can sing along.

The first side closes with another cover of a recent hit, and another highlight, the BBB’s version of Albert King’s “Born under a bad sign”. They nail it. Now if you glance back over the commentary on these four tracks, you’ll notice that I’m giving them a big rap. No mistake there; this is one of the classic sides of sixties electric blues.

Side two is just as good, just as grab-you-by-the-lapels-and-give-you-a-good-shake as the first. Add in a magnificently psychedelic cover painting by Kim Whitesides and you have a package that deserves the appellation ‘essential’.

4 ½ stars

Thanks to Sinister Salad Musikal’s Weblog for the above photo.

The sharp-eyed reader will have detected an abundance of hyphenated utterances in this piece, despite the second-paragraph promise to ‘lose’ same. This affliction had me scouring the internet for relief, which I found in the form of a rare blues song by lexicographer and blues-harp wailer H.W. Fowler*. It is reprinted here in the hope others suffering from hyphenatosis might find solace in its lines.

I got those hyphen-laden blues

Those ol’ hyphen-laden blues

Too many short dashes, too many words to choose.

 

Those hyphens lock me down

Those ol’ hyphens lock me down

My sentence is too long now, beginning to hyphen-drown.

 

Gotta leave those hyphens be

Leave those connecting dashes be

Return to modern usage, use commas and be free

* Author of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1968) Oxford University Press (His prowess on harmonica is not well documented)

 

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers — A Hard Road

Label: Decca

Released: February 1967

Duration: 37:16

 

The Butterfield Blues Band — The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw

Label: Elektra

Released: December 1967

Duration: 44:29

 

24 comments

  1. Another great compilation from 1967. “Hard Road” is a fine masterpiece and shows how great Peter Green was. “The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw” has more R&B than the classic “East-West” (my favorite) but still has it’s own merits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think ‘East-West’ would get the nod for me too. Still, this one is excellent and very accessible for non-blues brethren.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope to one day record an album where both sides are sufficiently lapels-grabbed-then-shaken-worthy 🙂
    And I love hyphenated utterances!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Gods Must be Lazy
    Sitting at home reading this, Water Babies playing as I read it, I thank the Gods-that-govern-the-fate-of-the-lazy that a hard smoking and drinking client cancelled at the last moment – too tired to crow for the day, meaning I get paid. Some BBB is now queued on the phone to listen to as soon as ‘Splash’ concludes. (It was going to be Nefertiti). All the right decisions made with minimum effort, if not punctuation.

    Thanks.

    PS: note absence of exclamation mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good stuff indeed.

      Like

      1. Delighted to hear you enjoyed BBB, DD.

        (Gee, I love Nefertiti. You?)

        Like

        1. Do I like Nefertiti?
          The first howl from Shorter’s sax, along with William’s insistent cymbal-tapping hook me. Then Hancock’s restrained chord-work on the piano plant the hook deeply. Mile’s hauntingly plaintive horn-work adds an echo-y depth to Shorter’s work that proceed to reel me in, unrelentingly.
          The bass-work in ‘Fall’ proves that Carter has not been slacking and it sets-up Miles to transition a simple sound-worm into a platform for each soloist to explore. And so it continues, this inter-play between five great musicians that reveals the life-force behind each note in a way that I can best describe as like the way objects in a Van Gogh still-life reach out from the canvas to touch your soul.

          Like it? You bet those over-worked hyphens and dashes I like it.

          Cheers (and hoping you’ve left last weeks snags behind).

          Liked by 2 people

        2. That is a pretty definite ‘yes’, then.
          Picked up the Mobile Fidelity version a little while back so have been enjoying it too.

          Like

  4. I have to admit that I’ve never spent much time listening to Mayall. I probably should, but sometimes you need the right moment to delve in. As for Butterfield, I’m not familiar with any of his stuff, but you’ve grabbed my attention with this one (besides, how can I ignore an album titled The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw!?). I’ll be having a look about online to learn more about this chap and his band. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are some terrific records in Mayall’s vast discography, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one to start with. Blues From Laurel Canyon (which has appeared in these pages) is an excellent example (partially due to the presence of Mick Taylor).
      Do check out Paul Butterfield. The first three albums are considered vital (by blues cognoscente).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is the second early Mayall that you’ve resurrected for me,(Laurel Canyon the first). I gave it a listen and will be spinning it regular in the next while. Your review in bang on. You know CB is a sucker for the kind of guitar on this recording and Green is very good. I’m enjoying the Butterfield music just as much. I’ll be living here for a bit. The collaboration works too. Again thanks for the reminder on this great music. Sounds good to CB’s untrained ears.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too right – Peter Green was/is a wonderful guitar player. One of the early British players to really find a unique voice. Give ‘East-West’ a digital spin, CB. It’s less soul-flavoured, but brilliant.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have ‘East West’ and listen to it frequently but I’m really enjoying this one. Like I said I’m going to stay in this one (and the Mayall one also) for a while. The horns are really good on top of everything else. I can’t believe how fresh and new this sounds. Savoring it right now. Good stuff Bruce. Keep them coming.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Fresh is a great word for it. That’s exactly what I found too. New post imminent. Fancy some punk, punk?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Sometimes the stuff from this era gets a bit muddled, to much going on. Not this. It’s really well done but still has an edge and not over polished. Punk? You have me curious. Like that Johnny guy and that Sid guy?

          Liked by 1 person

        3. These guys played with those guys in ’76.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Real curious now. Flo Jenkins

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I have LPs from both of these bands here, but neither of these titles! Nicely done.

    And man do I know those blues, some days are just a kick in the ass. But that’s what the blues are for, to lift you back up from the wallow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said, KMA. It’s a mysterious and peculiar process whereby someone wailing about their troubles helps lift the spirits. Long may it mystify! Amen!

      Like

  7. Really enjoyed this one Bruce. Give me the Butterfield guys every time, I find Mayall very noble and well-meaning, but just too well-mannered. Damn the hyphens!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. The are Mayall albums I respect and a few I really like, but his importance often seems more historical than creative.

      The first three Butterfield albums are brill.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. East West is the one for me, still sounds very modern too.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Agreed. That’s me pick too.

          Liked by 1 person

Comments and responses welcome for all posts: present or past. Go on, join in!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: