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Anticipation is the greatest joy. Our plan to attend a Joe Cocker concert would become something like a private goal, a motivation for recovery, and a reassurance of "Feelin' Alright", even more, of being well. Well enough to sing along "Unchain My Heart" and other unforgettable tunes with a low, raspy voice. It had been a year like a rollercoaster, long hours of work and study, interrupted by unexpected situations as well as moments of great joy, a promotion, a final exam, a book release. And then the evening arrived. Joe Cocker would declare up front "I Come In Peace". Standing like a massive wardrobe in the cemter of the stage, he would then "Fire It Up". In German he'd respond "Dankeschoen" to birthday wishes from the audience and remind us never to forget: "N'Oubliez Jamais", as the French say...
Still got the Blues...
When the Night comes. It had been a year of ups and downs, some sort of Hitchcock railway. In the summer in the city, the sun went down on us a bit and a friend joked that we should plan for meeting more often out of hospital. Back up where we belonged, what followed was an intensive time period full of working weeks, weekend studies and lost luggage (again). The beginning of the new year brought very positive results to light in form of an unexpected promotion and the expected final exam. But also the night came again with hard knocks. As my friend was overcoming relapse, we agreed to attend a Joe Cocker concert after he would be fully restored. For us the event would become an aim and a synonym for being well and happy. Anticipation of an electrifying performance of spastic stage presence with a raspy blues voice... unchained hearts in the audience, firing it up with a little help among old friends.
Missing Baggage. Travel can be exciting and exhausting. And it it can come with or without one thing... luggage. Another U.S. trip had turned into a real odyssey. Going through Detroit, the tow bar broke when pushing the plane away from the gate and damaged the airplane's nose. So I ended up driving over instead of flying. To top it off, by then, I had already lost my luggage. At the hotel, they remembered the Toronto incident, where I had been stuck two months earlier for a day (my luggage for two) and warmly welcomed me with the words: "You really have bad luck." They didn't even know about me sleeping in the Munich airport in the previous month, when de-icing the planes had taken too long and we had to disembark the aircraft after midnight. But, I guess, considering my good luck lately with health, work, and studies, that's ok.
Airline Breaks Guitars. Claiming compensation for the delayed luggage turned out to be more difficult than expected, as the airline lacked local representation - and hence a postal address - and insisted on submitting the claim through a non working online form. Finally, I was contacted back via an e-mail that I could reply to. However, the incident reminded me of a story, which I had heard at a business congress in Carinthia. It was the tale of a disappointed country singer, who struggled with airline customer service, after they had damaged his luggage - containing his guitar. His YouTube-music clip "United breaks guitars" caused the airline multiple times what replacement of the damaged guitar would have cost. It provided a good example for the power of social media. Next would be the invention of the United-proof guitar case...
Crying the Danube River. The highlight of a cancelled Peter Green gig at the Vienna Gasometer had been the performance of Colloseum-singer Chris "The Voice" Farlowe, whose appearance reminded me a little bit of the man from the Disney movie "Up". Singing the blues, he would improvise: "I cried the Mississippi, I cried the Rhine, too. But I didn't cry the Danube for it makes me feel so blue." In the meantime, a Spanish colleague insisted on common roots of flamenco and blues, as both do parade a deep sadness in public. Sadness also overcame me when hearing of Gary Moore putting on the wooden pajamas so unexpectedly, leaving behind "Empty Rooms", most of all. So yes, it is true, we still got it, that blues.
Looking Back. Are you one of those, who still got it once in a while, still got that blues? Have you also been one of those, who originally just knew "Sweet Home Chicago" as a blues traditional celebrated in the legendary "Blues Brothers" movie -with black sunglassed Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (being the original "Men in Black") and guest appearances from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklyn, Cab Calloway and James Brown? "I was looking back to see, if she was looking back to see, if I was looking back at her..." The powerful version of this song by Gary Moore has fascinated me ever since its 2001 release. Originally, it had been the very first single Peter Green did with the Bluesbreakers, in 1966 just replacing Eric Clapton, who had left to form his own group Cream. Playing the song in the car, I have often asked fellow passengers: "Can you say that?" Here is a real tongue twister though to read aloud: "The sixth sheik's sixth sheep is sick."
Spanish Loss. And then Gary Moore passed away in a "Polish Hotel" (as I had once called the same chain by mistake) in Spain, at age 58, under unexplained circumstances like so many others. Like shadows of the past and victims of the future, his musical heritage consists of songs from the old country with the wild frontier, tales of Parisienne walkways and corner cafes, notes that remind us of a final Spanish holiday as we look back one more time before we are moving on, because we have to. Danzer, Dio and Moore had been musicians I really wanted to experience live in concert, but they all play in the heavenly all-star band by now. Maybe they gather around Gary and welcome him with one of his early songs: "As I sit here and play my Spanish guitar underneath the stars, it passes the time away..." Blues no moore, so to speak. Rock in Peace!
Wartime Blues. Re-discovering the roots of modern rock music in the blues, Gary Moore had changed musical direction on his masterpiece album "Still Got The Blues" (despite the later plagiarism lawsuit), with a reference to Albert King as "King of the Blues" (it took me some time though to figure out this was no B.B. tribute) as well as a stunning modern cover of his "Pretty Woman" song (no, not the Roy Orbison one). It was refreshing to listen to, a positive surprise after I had just got a feeling that the new records of all my favourite musicians got weaker and weaker over the years. The album was released at a time when also my life took a very positive turn. "Moving on" after leaving my hometown behind, preparing to visit to the other side of the mound, as by the same lyrics. Some might argue that it sounded too powerful for a blues album, while it hit my nerve then. The scar in his face made Gary Moore look like a soldier back from war, an image reflected in quite a few of his eighties songs such as "Out in the Fields", "Wild Frontier" and "After the War". Whether he got knifed on the streets of Belfast or had a pint glass rammed in his face in an Irish pub fight over a girl, who knows? Teaming up on the "Still Got"-album already with Albert Collins, he subsequently did also with B.B.King on the follow up "After Hours" in 1992, then with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker on the "BBM" project in 1994.
Crossroads Tribute. Bruce & Baker on the other hand, had been writing music history together with Eric Clapton under the band name Cream in the 1960's – and if you know one song from them it is "Crossroads", then quoted as a traditional newly arranged. In the meantime - this is late 1994 - rediscovering his "Greeny Tape" when cleaning the house was inspiration enough for Bernie Marsden to record a reflection "Green and Blues" together with his Whitesnake-buddy Micky Moody. Next there was Moore's 1995 masterpiece "Blues for Greeny", including classics like "Need your Love so bad" played on Green's original 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar from the old Fleetwood Mac days, and actually triggering a comeback of the retired blues legend of the 1960's. In the following years, Peter Green and his newly formed Splinter Group would in a similar way pay tribute to a blues pioneer, Robert Johnson, in the two albums "The Robert Johnson Songbook (1998)" and "Hot Foot Powder (2000)". Among others, the very same R.J. had written and recorded the forever classics "Sweet Home Chicago" and "Cross Road Blues" way back in 1936. While Greeny's new recording, face it or not, can be regarded as an insider tip nowadays, the fate of Mr Johnson emerged again in the headlines when Eric Clapton, Slow Hand himself, would dedicate him a whole album in 2004, up to a certain degree streamlining the music to his modern standards. The sleeve notes warn of the original recordings from the 1930's sounding at first scary, and for their intensity can only be taken in small doses. This is probably referring to the original recording quality, fine guitar strings and howling voice vibrating all over the heritage of Robert Johnson.
Queen of Rhythm, Blues, Rock, you name it: "Wildest Dreams" marked one of Tina Turner's Farewell Tours in 1996.
E.C. and Mr. Johnson
Slow-Handed. Eric Clapton's 2004 album "Me and Mr Johnson" features the guitar legend's interpretation of fourteen songs by Robert Johnson, including 'Love in Vain' and 'Hellhound on My Trail'. By dedicating an entire album to the late Delta blues legend, he helped making Johnson popular to a broader audience. Much of Clapton's career had been inspired by the doomed bluesman, who died in 1938 in Greenwood, Mississippi at age twenty-seven of strychnine poisoning and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Creamy. When in 1965 Clapton was on the frontline of the British blues movement with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, he already covered the Johnson song 'Ramblin' On My Mind' (on "Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton", 1966). With Cream he scored a charting hit with 'Crossroads' (on "Wheels of Fire", live 1968), a rework of Johnson's 'Cross Road Blues' and 'Traveling Riverside Blues'. Also 'Four until Late' had appeared on the first Cream album (on "Fresh Cream", 1966), and Clapton's second solo album would contain the Johnson cover 'Steady Rollin' Man' (on "461 Ocean Boulevard", 1974). His live performances since regularly included 'Rambling on My Mind' (on "E.C. was here", live 1975, and "Just one Night", live 1979) and 'Kind Hearted Woman' (on "Blues", live 1970-81).
Unplugged. In the tradition of the strictly acoustic Delta Blues, Clapton played 'Walking Blues' and 'Malted Milk' during his 1991 MTV Unplugged session. His 1994 blues covers album "From the Cradle "and "Riding with the King", recorded with B.B. King in 2000, did not contain any Johnson tribute though. End of 2004, as an add-on to the regular studio album, Clapton would release the raw cut-DVD and CD combo "Sessions for Robert J" with four additional songs. Among others, it included footage from his June 2004 recording session in an abandoned Dallas hotel, the same place Johnson had used for his final ARC recordings in June 1937. Inspired by the original location, Clapton's performance stands out by its passion as well as pure simplicity. But let's turn our attention now to the original, the so called "Great-Grandfather of the Blues".
Great-Grandfather of the Blues
Short-Lived. Robert Johnson in his short life left very little biographical information and photographs. But plenty of myths remained like that he sold his soul to the devil to play the guitar better than anyone else, which is said to have happened in Clarksdale at the Crossroads of Highway 49 and Highway 61, also known as the "Blues Highway" for running through the Mississippi Delta. Johnson only recorded twenty-nine songs, which as his enduring testament had an influence on various musicians. It all started with Columbia Records digging them out for a 1961 Johnson LP release called "King of the Delta Blues Singers".
Covered. The Rolling Stones played Johnson's 'Love in Vain' on the 1969 album "Let it bleed" and again unplugged on "Stripped" in 1995. Led Zeppelin covered 'Traveling Riverside Blues' during their rare "BBC Sessions" 1969-71. The Blues Brothers performed 'Sweet Home Chicago' in their 1980 movie, a blues classic also in the repertoire of Fleetwood Mac (on "Live at the BBC", 1967-70) just as 'Hellhound on My Trail' (on "Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac", 1968) and 'Dust My Broom' (on "Mr Wonderful", 1968). Mac's legendary guitarist Peter Green together with Nigel Watson and their comeback band The Splinter Group recorded all classic Johnson compositions on "The Robert Johnson Songbook" in 1998 and its companion volume "Hot Foot Powder" in 2000. Another famous reference is found in Bob Dylan's 1965 album "Highway 61 Revisited", which just as the highway stretched from Dylan's Minnesota roots to the Mississippi-styled blues music. In the end everything comes together, when you follow the musical traces of a black bluesman almost forgotten.
Malted. As early as 1937 R.J. had howled: "I keep drinking malted milk, trying to drive my blues away." Popularized anew by Eric Clapton's tribute, I would ask some American colleagues about it. And so in summer 2004 they took me out for a malt to an American Diner in Rockford, MI. Since that day I don't remember Rockford any more for James Garner's detective show of same name, but for Rosie's Diner and Malted Milkshake.
The Blind Man and the Man in Black
Struck with Blindness. In 2005 Jamie Foxx would win the Oscar for Best Actor in "Ray", a dazzling interpretation of late Ray Charles, going through crises and fame, between the Jazz-Gospel crossover "Hallelujah I love her so" and the hymn "Georgia on my mind". Flashbacked by a lonely boy turning blind after seeing his little brother die, the movie reaches from first musical steps in 1948 up to drug withdrawal of the success-spoiled adult in 1966.
Live in Jail. Released in early 2006, the movie "Walk the Line" portraits country singer legend Johnny Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film starts up with "JR" Cash thinking back on the day of his famous 1968 live concert at Folsom Prison near Sacramento, California. Overcoming his feelings of guilt for the death of his older brother Jack as well as the destructive addiction to pills, the movie climaxes in his proposal to co-singer June Carter (Reese Witherspoon in her Oscar winning performance) in front of a cheering audience. A second chance in life taken, the right path found, just as we all more or less walk the line between good and bad. So let's also stay on the right track, maybe get close to a moral border, but not cross it, as the song and movie title "Walk the Line" implies. Besides his irritating, deadpan or just extraordinarily tough mimic, the man in black with the same initials as Christ (except for his middle name, being no more or less than the letter R) got known for performing songs about and within prisons, just as XXL blues legend B.B. King would do at Cook County Jail, Illinois, 1971. Both recorded a live album at San Quentin prison in San Francisco, B.B. not before 1990, Cash already in 1969 including the title track of same name with the cheered on line "San Quentin I hate every inch of you!" Sung in front of thieves and murderers, outcasts of a society, some possibly awaiting execution while the puritan supporters of their death penalty gather to sing church carols and practice brotherly love.
Folsom Car Burglary. Remarkably simple while even stronger in a world where every other marriage fails seems the statement: "Man turns his back on his family he ain't no good" from Highway Patrolman, Cash in 1983 filling the song from Bruce Springsteen's legendary 1982 Nebraska album with life. The same song that inspired Sean Penn to make the movie "Indian Runner (1991)", among others featuring the aged Charles Bronson as the father of the two uneven boys. Strange that my car was broken into three days before I would exchange it and the radio was stolen when the CD-Player contained a disk with the "Folsom Prison Blues". Possibly some kind of subconscious attraction or psychic connection to the burglar or "crime tourist", hopefully a place he or she will end in. All in all the Cash-movie showed similarities to "Ray", with the main difference that it is even more authentic for the actors actually sing themselves!
Lost in the Air. Purely outstanding remains James Stewart's performance in the 1953 "Glenn Miller Story", telling the sentimentalized background story of a big band's distinctive sound that lead to the first million selling single ever, "Chattanooga Choo Choo", issued in 1940. It ends as it must with a lonely Miller family at Christmas 1944, sadly listening to a radio broadcast of "Little Brown Jug". A plane vanished over the English Channel in World War II, a music that stays on.
Queen of Rhythm, Blues and... Egypt?
Breaking Every Rule. There are only a few movies remembered for such capturing interpretation of a musician's career. And they definitely include "What's Love Got To Do With It" with Angela Bassett in the 1993 film adaptation of Tina Turner's autobiography "I, Tina". The picture under the motto "I don't wanna fight anymore" addresses all the shadow sides behind the funky Ike & Tina Turner Show between 1958, "Proud Mary", and 1976, climaxing in the 1984 solo comeback of then 45 year old lion mane and her January 1988 concert in Rio De Janeiro in front of a record attendance of 182,000 people, breaking every rule. At the 1985 Live Aid festival, Tina's duet with Mick Jagger on "State of Shock" and "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" definitely was one of the highlights. I have always favoured her lesser known songs like "I'll be Thunder you'll be lightning, and we'll collide on dry land" or another about "a one in a million chance" of two people from different countries finding each other, while not agreeing with the recommendation to "file it under Foreign Affairs".
Royal Reincarnation. To find comfort and strength during hard times, Tina would turn to a Buddhist chant and meet with seers. Tina revealed in her autobiography that in 1977 a reader told her about her "other life". She told her about Egypt and related her to the saga of the great Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, a favoured daughter of the Pharaoh Thutmose I, born some fifteen hundred years before Christ. As the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut had succeeded her brother-husband to power and ultimately outshone him, Tina found the strength to break free from her abusive husband Ike and start all over. A true "soul survivor", she changed her musical direction, left her rhythm & blues roots behind and worked her way up once more to an astonishing solo career and stardom as the "Queen of Rock'n'Roll". Tina would reflect her reincarnation beliefs by singing: "I'm scanning the horizon for someone recognizing that I might have been Queen". In the song, the river is a metaphor for time that won't stop for us, as we may find another chance to redefine ourselves. While the Christian belief of resurrection speaks of transformation and separation of one's mortal body and the immortal soul, the Buddhist and Hindu doctrine of reincarnation and its Law of Karma see death as a passage to unending rebirth. Although most people cannot remember their previous lives, cases of past-life recalls under hypnosis suggest otherwise unexplainable divine inspiration. As for Tina, from a photo shooting session dressed up as Cleopatra in the year 2000, we have a hunch how she could have looked like as Egyptian Queen.
Standing the Rain. Summing up Tina's story in her own jargon, she was a little girl in the fields with no name. A fool in love, she became a Honky Tonk woman, who outgrew the Nutbush City Limits. Idolizing her man, she was river deep, then again mountain high, as she reminded typical male to better be good to her. Never ever doing nothing nice and easy, she got back where she started, but it worked out fine. A proud private dancer in need of help, she was woman enough to stand the rain. As she didn't wanna fight anymore twenty four seven, when the heartache was over life was only rock'n'roll to her, but she liked it. Ultimately, she became another hero, the overnight sensation and giving simply the best she broke every rule, which she would never have imagined in her wildest dreams.
At carnival some dream of a career as "Superstar", inspired by Hannah Montana & Co. Others wear t-shirts of their favourite heavy metal group.
C'mon and "Rock mich"?
Cassette Compilation. What are your favourite songs? Did you also cut music cassettes from the radio or record them from borrowed long players? Do you recall hand-writing the cassette covers or even invent your own "label" such as a friend's 26 volume hit series "FFS - Focus' Favourite Songs" or the private collection "Rock mich", a German language spoof on "Rock me". Are you going with the times and just burn them on a CD-ROM or download them from the net to your new MP3-Player or iPod? Did you also receive the "Two P's" from your daughter as basic requirements for the first mobile phone: It should be pink and play music! These days many albums are remastered and re-issued in best possible surround quality, pepped up to sound fresh and sound. Only we may not hear well any more with age. Even though recalling one of our all-time favourite songs may crack a faint smile on our lips, as distant memory resurfaces for a split second. If you share similar thoughts, quickly move on to the next page. Anyway, nearby is my old "Rock mich"-logo...