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Monday, July 21, 2008

Blues Life

Here is a beautiful picture of Howlin' Wolf with Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin and Earl Phillips. This was one of the finest blues groups ever, no doubt. I always found Jody Williams' life story to be very interesting - he was in the blues life, and he bailed out. After getting "sampled" (but not paid) by various artists, and after getting snookered out of some songwriting credits by his old bandmate, Bo Diddley, Mr. Williams turned his back on music. He stuck his Gibson guitar under his bed and went off to study electronics. Jody did radio and television repair work, and later got a gig as a technical engineer for Xerox. He was with the copier company for 25 years until he retired. It was after he retired that he eventually decided to start playing again - he emerged in 2000. Jody probably did a good thing for his physical and mental health by leaving the blues life. Let me tell you another story.....

I have had the pleasure of playing with many fine blues people over the past 4+ years since I kicked off the Mystery Band. One of the men I have come to know is an especially talented musician. He has it all - technique, a huge musical vocabulary (blues, R&B, funk, jazz, country) and he still loves to play after over 4 decades of mileage. My friend is a deep well of musical wisdom and creativity. He also is struggling with health problems, relationship problems and acute money problems. This man is in a rough situation. He is neck-deep in the blues.

So check out this chain of events: (1) My friend's car develops problems; it is stalling unpredictably and he is nervous about driving to gigs. (2) The mechanic that looks at his car tells him "you need at least $800 worth of work." Lacking the bread, my friend reclaims his car. (3) An argument with his intoxicated significant other leads to a scene and she busts the windshield of the car. Now it can't be driven at all. (4) Unable to drive to gigs, my friend's cashflow declines - not much dough available to repair the car. (5) After tapping friends for a loan, my friend gets his car partially repaired. (6) My friend parks the car in his usual spot in a lot in his very tough Chicago neighborhood. The car gets towed. (7) After paying a large fine to re-claim the car, my friend parks it on the street in his neighborhood. Within three hours of parking it, the car is stolen. He is forced to cancel his gigs for the coming weekend.

This is the type of negative loop that will bring a strong man to his knees. Sympathetic friends can help somewhat, but that source is finite. The blues life is a total bitch.

Light a candle for all the working musicians out there. As Eddy Clearwater likes to say, it is a hard way to make an easy living.

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