Pretty Thing – Bo Diddley

When I was a teenager, I was completely stuck on anything labeled “punk.” To me, if it wasn’t angry, loud and fast, it didn’t matter. I had virtually no respect at that time for the artists that spawned rock ‘n’ roll, even though I had a somewhat vast knowledge of them.

Bo Diddley was one of those overlooked pioneers.

Often dubbed, “The Originator,” it’s well-known that Diddley’s impressive guitar skill and catching beats spawned an innumerable amount of artists that followed. (George Thorogood is best-known for covering Diddley’s incinerating, “Who Do You Love“)

Utilizing the African Bo Diddley beat, a fast-paced, repetitive 4/4 chug, he influenced not only blues and rock musicians, but modern pop. A perfect example of its effect can be found in “Not Fade Away,” by Buddy Holly.

Diddley played violin before he ever picked a guitar. John Lee Hooker inspired him to try a new instrument, and music was forever changed. A mix of his backgrounds in both the deep South and Chicago, Diddley was no stranger to emotional, infectious sounds.

“Pretty Thing” is an example of an earlier Diddley song. He still had the stilted guitar-playing style that he pulled from his time playing church violin. However, “Pretty Thing” also has a tinge of funk to it, which came from Diddley’s desire to make listeners perk up and dance.

Perhaps that’s why I became excited when it played on my streaming radio station. Good work, Diddley.

In it, Bo’s soul-infused vocals are laid over a searing harmonica wail. He implores an unnamed woman to marry him. Surely when the song hit the airwaves, there were flocks of women hoping to do just that.

While Diddley lost some popularity in the 60’s due to changes in musical tastes, The Clash took Diddley on tour in 1979, opening him up to a whole new audience.

Diddley later complained about the amount of equipment and speakers, he never spoke ill of The Clash. He even went on to say, “But every generation has got it’s own little bag of tricks.”

That’s one of the things that continues to endear Diddley and forerunners like him: he understands that newer trends might not be relevant to him, but that they need to be given room to breathe.

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Bridging the Gap – Nas featuring Olu Dara

I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR THIS SONG SINCE 2004. AND I JUST FOUND IT.

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No joke.

When it came out, I was about 14, and I thought it was fucking genius.

I loved the fact that Nas was directly referencing the Blues, the roots that influenced Rap and Hip Hop.

But when you search the internets for this song, it’s virtually impossible to find. It’s not even on Nas’ YouTube channel!

Well, I dug it up anyway.

While the video had a high rotation on MTV and BET after its release, it’s just not a song that a lot of people remember. I LOVED the way it melded together Rap and Blues.

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In it, Nas samples Muddy Waters song, “Mannish Boy,” which is not only a fitting sound, but the title speaks to the message of Nas’ song as well. His father, Olu Dara sings a blues riff as the chorus.

How many musicians put their parents on their songs?! Not many. How many TRULY dig deep down into their history and feature it proudly on a track? Again, not many. These are just a few of the reasons Nas is a genius, and this track is evidence of that.

Black Sheep – Gin Wigmore

It’s pretty safe to say that black and white videos are a stark approach that many artists are using right now.

Wigmore’s sophomore album Gravel & Wine was released in 2011, and the New Zealand artist traveled throughout the US to find inspiration for the bluesy release.

This Kiwi was informed that she knew nothing of the blues, but I think her songs are cloaked in a very genuine sound. Her travels through the States didn’t hurt her efforts.

She pulled the album title, Gravel & Wine from a lyric in “Black Sheep,” and states quite simply that, “It’s a song for the people that want to carve out their own path – not do what everyone else is doing.”

I’d say that Wigmore is a perfect extension of the Southern Gothic playlist that I’ve mentioned before. Her songs are earthy, spooky, full of soul and always have an edge.

For more on Wigmore and her approach, I’d highly suggest the interview below. It was informative and succinctly gave me insight into this wonderful artist.

Riding With The King – B.B. King, Eric Clapton

When I was a kid, my dad had a stereo in our house that had speakers as tall as I was.

He’d play Zeppelin, AC/DC, B.B. King and Eric Clapton, among many others. We’d dance and sing and it’d go well into the night. Music was a celebration at our house. And dad never told me the artists names. To him, names weren’t important. The music spoke for itself.

So from the time I was 5, I knew Eric Clapton’s voice particularly well.

But I’ll never forget the first time my mom said, “My favorite B.B. song is ‘The Thrill is Gone.'” Her and dad gave each other knowing looks, not bothering to explain the subject of the song.

When I was 10 or 11, B.B. King and Eric Clapton released Riding With The King, a joint album.

I remember this being CRANKED in our house. And I still rock out to it. Despite all of King’s classics, this is my favorite. His voice melts perfectly with Clapton’s and you can tell that their friendship shared a mutual respect. They were creating soulful, beautiful, chugging music, and having fun while doing it.

I took guitar lessons as a teenager (which never really went anywhere. I was far too much of a perfectionist then.) But the first thing my dad urged me to do was name my guitar. “B.B. has Lucille,” he’d say. “If you’re going to bond with it, you need to name it.” I never felt like I deserved to name my guitar. How dare I try to be in the same company as such a blues legend?

In 2003, Lightning in a Bottle captured a special concert that took place in Radio City Music Hall to pay tribute to Blues legends and raise money for music education. Martin Scorsese produced the DVD, and I still own a copy of it. In it, B.B. took the stage for “Sweet Sixteen” and “Paying the Cost to Be The Boss.” Even in the DVD, you can see how B.B. was venerated by his fellow artists. He had no peers.

When B.B. passed on May 14th, Clapton release a heartfelt message to the world about his friend and mentor.

“…There are not many left that play it in the pure way that B.B. did. He was a beacon for all of us who love this kind of music.”

Clapton’s message was saddening, because all Blues fans knew this day would come, even though we prayed it wouldn’t.

I encourage you to listen to the title track, “Riding With The King.” B.B. had a talking line in it that gave me chills when I played it recently.

I stepped outta Mississippi when I was 10 years old. With a suit cut sharp as a razor, and a heart made of gold. I had a guitar hanging just about waist high. And I’m gonna play this thing till the day that I die.

And he did just that, didn’t he?

Rest in Power, B.B.

(L to R: Albert King, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1970's) Photo courtesy of Rex Features

(L to R: Albert King, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1970’s)
Photo courtesy of Rex Features

House of the Rising Sun – The Animals

When I was in high school I took a college-level music theory class. It was hard as fuck. Especially because, as I’ve said before, I love music, but I don’t have a natural talent for it. So interpreting notes and naming chords in front of the class caused a lot of anxiety. Because I sucked so hard at it, I worked harder, and passed it in the end.

One of the things I’ll never forget, though, is one of the assignments I had for the music appreciation class I was taking simultaneously. I had to choose an artist and write about them – their members, songs, impact, etc. I chose The Animals.

That served me well in the end, because for the theory class I had to arrange a piece of music for an orchestra. I chose “House of the Rising Sun.”

Just as with many other white musicians of their time, The Animals lifted this song from a traditionally black line of blues artists. Leadbelly and Nina Simone are just a few that had previously recorded it. When The Animals stumbled upon it, they first heard the Nina Simone version, which is much more upbeat and uses keyboards and harmonica heavily.

Luckily for The Animals, due to the amount of artists that have recorded it and the fact that it’s viewed as a folk song, no one can truly claim rights to it, so it was fair game for them. They first started playing “House of the Rising Sun” when they were on tour with Chuck Berry, and it went over so well with the crowd that they decided to take time to record it. On a stop during the tour, it took 15 minutes to complete the recording. Eric Burdon has been quoted as saying that he believes that he and the song were “fated” for each other.

The success of the track helped The Animals knock The Beatles off of the top of the charts. Which, as you can imagine in the 60’s, was unbelievable.

No matter how you feel about the appropriation of folk and blues music by white musicians, it really can’t be argued that Burdon was a phenomenal voice to be paired with the song.

It’s ominous, overcast and powerful. The combination of the crescendoing guitar line and organ solo with Burdon’s voice are perfection. I mean, really, can you believe it took 15 minutes to record that version?! And it helps that Burdon’s powerful voice is surprising for a British white guy. No, seriously. You wouldn’t expect that bellow or soul from a scrawny chap from England.

Unfortunately, the song has been re-recorded and bastardized over time. Even Five Finger Death Punch couldn’t keep their gnarly mitts off of it. UGH. But Burdon’s version is the one that stands the test of time.

I think that again, this song goes to show that it isn’t the presentation that should matter as much as the talent. They stood there in their matching suits, looking dorky as ever, and produced one of the most haunting ballads I’ve ever heard. I’ve listened to it since I was a child, and I’m still not sick of it.

That’s some lasting power.MIj6o

The Ryman Auditorium

If you love music as much as I do (and chances are, you do) there are times where you get all emotional and feel really stupid and cheesy about it. (Which I’ve done multiple times.)

One of the places that impacted the very framework of my soul was The Ryman Auditorium.

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I’ve been lucky enough to visit this place twice, but still haven’t seen a show there…yet.

I’ve never been a big country fan. And by country, I mean the current stuff. Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan make me gag a little.

But one thing I’ll always respect is roots. Whether it’s blues or old country/bluegrass, I eat that shit up. I love seeing the progression of a genre and how influences trickle down.

So let me set the stage for you:

When you enter the Mother Church of Country Music from 4th Avenue, you’ll wonder why in the hell they gave her a facelift. It’s really just so they could fit in a gift shop, newer offices and ticketing. So ignore it. Her facade is still there.

When you walk into the auditorium, something changes immediately. The modern and hideous architecture fades away, and she gives you a giant hug full of warmth and history.

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You’ll enter on the lower level, which to me, almost reminds me of vintage amusement park rides. It has the whitewashed wooden planks and small support beams sprinkled throughout. The top deck overhangs pretty low. Almost too low to be convenient or feel safe, but low enough to also be PERFECT. Even though she was a church first, my heart goes to amusement park. Feel free to judge me.

She seriously has this inconvenience to her that says, “Try to change me. I dare you.”

But wait until you hear the acoustics. You’ll understand her ego. The acoustics have never seemed so perfect in my entire life. It immediately let me know that every sound I’ve ever heard was impure and unworthy. I will forever judge venues by The Ryman, and that just isn’t fair.

Her acoustics make you feel like there is some presence in there. Like at any second, Patsy Cline is going to walk by, or you’ll hear the echo of Johnny Cash’s bass-baritone.

No joke. The lingering air isn’t creepy. It makes you feel like this place is sacred. Try to imagine somewhere with that much history. With roots that go deeper than The Ryman’s. The idea of going to some large stadium and seeing a show makes me shudder after being in this place.

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The Opry may have retired her and moved to higher water, but even they return once a year to pay their respects. And she still acts as a stage for countless modern acts. Her wall covered in concert posters looks like a dream playlist or hall of fame.

The first time I visited, a band was playing that night. The sound booth is directly in the center of the upper-level, and needs to be walked through to get to the other side. I took pause, thinking I’d need to find a new route. One of the engineers stopped and said, “Go on. It’s your home too.” And damn, I wish I could make The Ryman my true home.

Needless to say, this post doesn’t do her justice. So I’d suggest taking a trip to The Ryman. She’ll be waiting with open arms.