One simply cannot talk about people of importance to this genre without tipping the hat to the most masterful musician, teacher, musicologist, producer, folklorist and preservationist of the traditional blues. By now, Stefan Grossman is a venerated, iconoclastic and respected acoustic blues figure of mega-proportions. He came out of the vibrant Greenwich Village, New York, 1960s scene around Washington Square, where so many American folk and blues musicians launched their careers. His friend and occasional collaborator, Steve Katz, formerly of the Even Dozen Jug Band, the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears, once half jokingly told this writer: “There we were, all these New York Jews playing the black blues.” Indeed, the blues had a strong influence on young New Yorkers during the folk revival. These musicians, Stefan Grossman, Happy & Artie Traum, Danny Kalb, and many others, in turn had a powerful influence on the acceptance of the blues by the American baby boomer generation at large; and, they significantly helped to launch the folk, roots & blues revival, thereby reinvigorating the careers of many original blues musicians whose careers had waned.
Many people know Stefan Grossman as the paramount teacher and entrepreneur in what has become the world’s largest “blues school”, Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. He is one of the most skilled guitarists in the genre, having been a student of Rev. Gary Davis in New York City. He also picked up lessons directly from Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others.
This album presents a variety of country blues and original tunes played solo as well as with friends. Some were recently recorded while others were released on projects that are no longer available but I thought fitted together nicely in the jigsaw pattern of my musical development.
For years I toured with Duck Baker. It was always a joy playing with him. Just a Closer Walk, Blues For The Mann and Old Country Rock are duets. The combination of my country blues background and Duck's jazz sensibilities makes playing together an adventure.
In the 1960s I would go every Sunday afternoon to the fountain in Washington Square Park where folk were allowed to play acoustic music. All sorts of groups gathered around the fountain playing blues, folk songs, Celtic melodies, swing songs and especially jug band tunes. Steve Katz and Danny Kalb have been friends for as long as I have played guitar. Danny and Steve formed the Blues Project in the late 1960s. From here Steve formed Blood, Sweat & Tears. In the last years we have been doing some jamming and decided to go to a studio to record. Buddy Bolden Blues and Richland Women Blues come from these sessions.
When I was living in Italy I received a very polite letter from a young Japanese guitarist, Tokio Uchida. He wanted to come to Rome and take lessons. I told him I was going to Los Angeles for the summer and perhaps this would be closer for him. He came to LA with his new bride, Haruko and for the last 35 years our families have became very close. We now frequently tour together in Japan and have recorded two albums together. Struttin' Rag, Innocence Abroad, Bermuda Triangle Exit, One Kind Favor, Hesitation Blues, Rooftop Blues and Betty and Dupree all come from our collaboration.
I've prepared a tab/music booklet that has most of the tunes transcribed. This is in a PDF format on the CD. These transcriptions will put you in to the proverbial ballpark to learn each arrangement. Hopefully you'll have fun with these.
Track Listing: (click on tracks for mp3 sound samples)
1. Just A Closer Walk*
2. Struttin' Rag*
3. Richland Women Blues
4. Old Country Rock*
5. Innocence Abroard*
6. Shake That Thing*
7. Blues For The Mann*
8. Bermuda Triangle Exit*
9. Buddy Bolden Blues
10. Medley: Diddie Wa Diddie/Shuffle Rag*
11. Northern Skies, Southern Blues
12. C.C. Rider*
13. One Kind Favor*
14. Hesitation Blues*
15. Rooftop Blues*
16. All My Friends Are Gone*
17. Shake Baby Shake
18. Special Rider Blues*
19. Betty and Dupree*
Those tunes marked with a star * are included in the tab/music PDF booklet on this CD.
Review: Approximately a year ago, I wrote a very positive review of a Stefan Grossman reissue, the classic Country Blues Guitar Festival, originally released in 1977 (LB #222). 1 was bowled over by Grossman's technically precise and emotionally resonant guitar work, the vocals of Jo Ann Kelly, and the sympathetic contributions of the other musicians who appeared on the disc. Grossman, who has been in the blues business for over 50 years, shows no signs of slowing down. His latest offering, Blues for the Mann: A Collection of Country Blues, is a must buy for (country) blues aficionados and anyone who plays or teaches guitar, irrespective of taste and genre.
Blues for the Mann contains 19 acoustic songs and clocks in at a lengthy 75 minutes. Some songs feature Grossman on his own, others with friends including Japanese guitarist Tokio Uchida. Some songs are Grossman originals, other are cover versions (CC Rider); some songs were recorded recently, others years ago. These songs, new and old, original and covers, blend together into a whole thanks to the disc's excellent and consistent production and Grossman's own complete mastery of the genre-its history, technique, and feel.
Every song on Blues for the Mann is strong in its own right. If you like listening to the beauty of two guitars working together, check out the lilting instrumentals just a Closer Walk and Innocence Abroad. These folk-like songs are interspersed with more bluesy numbers such as Shake Baby Shake. Rooftop Blues is a study on how to play slide guitar. Grossman is a much more proficient guitarist than a singer and he is a pretty good singer-a testament to his guitar abilities. His slightly gravely voice complements his guitar work and the sparse production, especially on All My Friends Are Gone, Shake That Thing, and Betty and Dupree.
The disc includes a short introductory note by Grossman and Bob Price's more detailed biography on "one of the finest guitar players in the world." I don't think this claim is unreasonable. – Living Blues/Stephen A. King
Review: At a mega-watt time when the average American longhair worshipped the blare and blaze from an electrified Marshall stack, Stefan Grossman was infatuated with the sound of Old World guitar craftsmanship backdated to the era before amplifiers. Even if it had to be spun at 78 rpm. He was country blues when country blues weren't yet cool. The young New Yorker's friends – Skip James, Gary Davis, John Hurt – were old Southern souls. He himself was an old Southern soul, at least from the sound of his playing on those first 1960s records – despite being, at most, only in his early 20s. Fifty years later, "Blues for the Mann" finds Grossman just as smitten with the sweeping curvature inside Blind Lemon's "One Kind Favor," the finger-sprinted giddy up of "Struttin' Rag," the sepia'd storytelling of "Betty and Dupree." And although he alone can do the work normally fingerpicked by two, Stefan sometimes recruits such sparring partners as Duck Baker, Danny Kalb or Tokio Uchida to stunningly weave throughout, say, "Old Country Rock" and the bottlenecked "Rooftop Blues" like Blue Angels in flight. With subtle beauty and causal intricacy, the difficult sounds routine. Take his title track which perfectly transcribes a summer's breeze, or the set's unspoken centerpiece, "Innocence Abroad," a brand new confection so softly sugar-spun that its pushup riff melts on your tongue. Grossman is still the man. – Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag
Review: There are few people in the colorful world of Country Blues guitar who have spent so much of their life in absolute dedication to the subject. Ian Anderson, editor of Folk Roots magazine, wrote of Stefan Grossman's arrival in the UK in the 1960s: "Trumpeting his arrival here with a Melody Maker interview which, basically, said that whilst these British guitar chappies of the Jansch/Renbourn ilk were jolly talented, they couldn't play 'real' blues. Thus he had come here to show us a trick or two." After spending 20 years in Europe before going home, he showed a lot of tricks to a lot of players. Judging by these two collections, Grossman knows not one or two, but a whole bag of tricks. He's even credited with showing Clapton a couple of moves, and when you realize that Grossman's own teacher was the Rev. Gary Davis, and he hung out with Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Bukka White and Skip James (among others), then you'd expect a feel for the frets like no other musician, and you'll therefore not be disappointed.
Blues for The Mann gives us the current, up-to-date Grossman, with 19 superb tracks where his amazing technique shines in every groove. He's joined by Danny Kalb and Duck Baker on Buddy Bolden Blues and Richland Women Blues to great effect, and enjoys the company of young Japanese blues player Tokio Uchida on Betty and Dupree, Hesitation Blues and Struttin' Rag.
What Grossman has always done, and continues to do, is inspire, inform and instruct. You can go to his website www.guitarvideos.com and find tablature and everything else you need to know as a wouldbe blues player. These enjoyable, uplifting recordings ought to be essential for anyone with a genuine desire to indulge in the playing of this terrific music. Keep on going, Stefan! – Roy Bainton/Blues Matters