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Legendary Country Blues Guitarists

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  • Artist: Various Publisher: Vestapol
    Hard Copy   $24.95  Item Number:  Vestapol 13129

    Legendary Country Blues Guitarists

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    featuring Skip James, Bukka White, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, Sam Chatmon, Big Bill Broonzy, Will Shade, Ralph Willis, Willie Trice, Blind Connie Williams and Henry Johnson

    This DVD collection presents some of the rarest footage of legendary Country Blues artists that we havebeen fortunate to find. The footage varies from hi-quality film to analog videos taped over 40 years ago. But above all, the music and performances are powerful and evocative. The sounds of Skip James, Bukka White, Big Bill Broonzy, Son House, Will Shade, Rev. Gary Davis and others on this 115 minute collection will give you shivers up your spine and get your feet tapping. This is the Country Blues of a time long past.

    Titles include: CHARLIE BURSE & WILL SHADE Kansas City Blues BIG BILL BROONZY Trouble In Mind, Backwater Blues SON HOUSE Talk about the Blues, So Hard To Love Someone SKIP JAMES Cherry Ball Blues SON HOUSE Sick and Bad Blues BUKKA WHITE Aberdeen Blues, Tombstone Blues, Brownsville Blues, REV. GARY DAVIS Blind Gary Davis - A Documentary by Harold Becker BLIND CONNIE WILLIAMS Take My Hand, Precious Lord, I'm Going Too RALPH WILLIS & WASHBOARD PETE SANDERS Dream I Had On My Mind, I've Been Living With The Blues, Midnight Special SAM CHATMON Sales Tax Blues, Outside Friend, Fishing Blues (Evil Jackson), Glad When You're Dead MANCE LIPSCOMB I Want to Do Something for You, Alabama Jubilee HENRY JOHNSON Blood Red River WILLIE TRICE Be Your Dog, Run Here Gal, Poor Boy Long Ways From Home, Good Time Boogie, Sweet Sugar Mama, Stand and Welcome Jesus, When The Saints Go Marching In SON HOUSE & BUDDY GUY I Wish I Had My Whole Heart In My Hand 

    Running  Time: 115 minutes  

    Review: Rare is the time we've gotten to spend face-to-face with our Piedmont and Delta superheroes. Or, for that matter, Texas high-plains drifter Mance Lipscomb. Rarer yet have been our chances to be held spellbound watching the forgotten Henry Johnsons of the blues world paw their way out from the undeserving abyss of obscurity using chord after juggernaut chord. Face it, hearing Bukka White in action just isn't nearly as intense as gawking at Bukka White stress-testing a National Tricone with fist and bottleneck violence. And the whole spectacle of Washboard Pete Sanders embellishing Ralph Willis' rattling guitar right there on the streets of ancient Philadelphia with percussion raided from someone's kitchen is completely lost on record. That's why these two hours spent visualizing "Legendary Country Blues Guitarists" make for a thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride, wildly jostling you from concert stages to city sidewalks to living rooms to spartan TV studios.

    Fear not, superheroes do return to the rescue. Rev. Gary Davis lives again for ten New York minutes in Harold Becker's gritty noir documentary. And at one historic point, dour Bukka, dourer Son House and dourest Skip James each take sequential turns shooting out the sun from atop the Newport Festival platform. Darkness, however, grows deepest when House, alone and in full color, convulsively thrashes his copper slide up against an epic nine-minute "So Hard to Love Someone."

    Though don't dare underestimate the secret superpowers of lesser marquis names, starting with that amped-up Henry Johnson. Watch Willie Trice, a direct Blind Boy Fuller disciple, "go!, go!, go!" impersonating an orchestra with only six simple strings that never ever go slack, stand still, or stop ringing. You'll whoop it up with Memphis Jug Band guitarist Charlie Burse and washtub-bassist Will Shade endlessly yanking verse after goodtime verse out of "Kansas City Blues" like silk scarves from a trick hat. And you'll burrow so deep into obscure geniuses as to reach Blind Connie Williams, who distinctively thwacks, then slides, then re-thwacks the living gospel out of a shapely old archtop. Just be sure to duck as the woolliest Mississippi Sheik of all, ol' Sam Chatmon, flings daggered insults ("Glad When You're Dead") just as pointed as the sex-baited hook rigged for "Fishing Blues (Evil Jackson)."

    All this footage, this diverse stew which few have ever viewed, is incredible. So incredible that if mind-blowing film of Son House tag-teaming "I Wish I Had My Whole Heart in My Hand" with Buddy Guy could be rousted up, then in producer Stefan Grossman rests our greatest hope for finding Charley Patton's home movies. € Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag

    Review: Stefan Grossman is himself something of a legendary country blues guitarist, having released numerous records under his own name since the 1960s, as well as co-founding Kicking Mule Records and releasing a series of educational books and DVDs for aspiring blues musicians. Vestapol Productions, the production company behind this DVD, is a division of Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, Inc., and has made its name by collecting and releasing old concert footage of legendary blues and country artists. Legendary Country Blues Guitarists is a collection of rare tracks from 14 different artists and is, quite frankly, wonderful.

    There are some 33 songs on the DVD, and many of them are from the genuine giants of acoustic blues, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Son House, Bukka White and the Rev. Gary Davis (listed here as "Blind Gary Davis"). There are also a number of lesser-known artists such as Ralph Willis & Washboard Pete Sanders, Henry Johnson (playing an electric guitar) and an artist listed as unknown (but actually the under-rated but outstanding Philadelphia street performer, Blind Connie Williams). The set even closes with an extract of Son House and Buddy Guy playing "I Wish I Had My Whole Heart In My Hand", with Guy (rather like he did on Muddy's Folk Singer album) displaying a superb knack for contributing supportive acoustic country blues guitar.

    As one might expect, given the rarity of these recordings, the quality of the footage varies. There is both high quality professional film and amateur analogue videos. Given however that this music was recorded 40, 50 or even 60 years ago, the audio and visual quality is vastly better than should be expected.

    And the footage is sometimes little short of magical. It is impossible to watch and listen to this DVD without being drawn into an almost mythical world from long, long ago. Sam Chatmon looks as old as heartbreak as he sings some of the earliest blues and folk songs at an unnamed festival. Son House, Skip James and Bukka White share a stage at the Newport Folk Festival in the 1960s and listen intently to the music produced by each of the others (House slips off for a quick smoke during White's "Tombstone Blues", but his charisma is such that the camera still follows him). Skip James may not play with the preternatural intensity of his 1931 recordings, but it is still a pleasure to hear his unique take on the blues. Time had done little to dilute the power of Son House and Bukka White, however.

    To watch Son House talk about the blues in a studio recording is an astounding slice of history. And to see Ralph Willis and Washboard Pete Sanders playing on the streets of Philadelphia and the reaction of passers-by is eye-opening. Texas legend, Mance Lipscomb looks wholly uninterested but actually plays and sings superbly on "I Want To Do Something For You" and "Alabama Jubilee".

    The artist with the most tracks on the DVD is the great (if under-recorded) North Carolinian, Willie Trice. His seven songs must have been recorded after 1970, because it is clear from the footage that Trice had by this time lost his legs to diabetes. The quality of the performances however is once again first rate, with Blind Boy Fuller's influence to the fore.

    If there is a criticism to this DVD, it is the lack of biographical information about the artists and how and when the songs were recorded. The only information provided is the name of the artist and the title of each track. For blues fanatics, this isn't so much of a problem, because educated guesses can be drawn from what we already know about the musicians and their lives. But this DVD is also a superb opportunity to introduce new fans to some great music and if they could read biographical detail about the artists presented here, they might be inspired to check out other artists from the same era.

    But that is a minor criticism. There is something about watching these near-mythical players instead of just listening to their music that adds depth and power to their recordings. Seeing Bukka White pounding on his National with his fist provides a visceral accompaniment to his music. In addition, for guitar players, there is the added bonus of being able to watch how these legendary musicians created their wonderful music in the first place by studying their finger movement and attack.

    This review could have been a simple 11 words long. Legendary Country Blues Guitarists is an essential purchase for blues fans. - Rhys Williams/Blues Blast Magazine

    Review: Treasure trove is a label as overused as "genius," "virtuoso," and "Holy Grail." But, how else can one describe 115 minutes of footage, containing 33 performances by blues legends Rev. Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Bukka White, and others (all long since dead, save Buddy Guy, in an amazing 1968 duet with Son House)?

    Collectors used to speak in hushed tones of snippets of film unearthed after hunts that were near mythical themselves, but now you can watch greats like Skip James, Mance Lipscomb, and Sam Chatmon up-close with, for the most part, excellent definition and audio. The chance to see what , let's face it, are considered museum pieces come to life can't be overstated, and neither can the sheer enjoyment.

    There's a TV appearance by Charlie Burse and Will Shade, both of the Memphis Jug Band, doing "Kansas City Blues," with some nice close-ups of Burse's National steel-bodied tenor guitar (Shade is on washtub bass). Another jug-band alum, Sam Chatmon of the Mississippi Sheiks, is featured singing four songs in later footage (he died in 1983 at age 86). Broonzy died in 1958, barely too soon to reap the benefits of the Folk Boom, but he'd already toured and settled in Europe, where he was a major star and influence on guitarists from Eric Clapton to Martin Taylor. His two excellent tunes were filmed for Italian television. House's sage discourse on the blues precedes a number filmed behind the scenes at Newport's 1966 Folk Festival, but not included in the Devil Got My Woman DVD (Vestapol 13049) containing similar footage.

    Three songs are included by the relatively obscure Piedmont-style guitarist Ralph Willis, filmed on the street in Philadelphia, along with a 3:30 interview with him and partner Washboard Pete Sanders. It's fascinating but frustrating, since Willis died in 1957; so when he mentions knowing Robert Johnson and Blind Boy Fuller, you want to grab a time machine, snatch the mic from the interviewer's hand, and ask him a zillion questions. Harold Becker' fantastic Blind Gary Davis film is included in its 11-minute entirety, albeit a rather grainy and dark generation. Closing with the spine-chilling "Death Don't Have No Mercy," merged with images of people on Harlem streets, it's worth the price of admission. But so too are White's and James'  festival performances at the aforementioned Newport.

    A major flaw here is that there's neither narration nor a booklet to give dates, locales, or bios. We see Willie Trice playing great ragtime and spirituals, obviously in the early 1970s, because by then he'd lost both legs to diabetes, something few would know, since Trice is obscure to begin with. Likewise, little is known about Henry "Rufe" Johnson, the lone electric player, except that he died in 1974, age 65, documented late in life with one album and a great tune here. That extra info would transform great footage into an invaluable blues course.- Dan Forte/Vintage Guitar Magazine


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