Melody Maker ~March 1969~
photo by Alan B
Alexis warns 'There's a lot more to blues'
"I THINK that what is going to kill the blues scene is the dreadful restriction of material."
That is the opinion of Alexis Korner who has probably been working longer in the blues field than anyone else on the current scene.
He went on "They seem to reject so much of what goes up to make the blues - the jazz things, the worksongs and just about anything that doesn't have a 12 or 8-bar chorus, in fact about 90 percent of what makes up the blues form. But you can't just say all that never happened and ignore it."
"And if they are going to insist that blues is a 12-bar form with a specific harmonic sequence, with only about three variations, and that the basic lyrics are 'My baby done left me' or 'This is the name of the bird I made last night,' then they can't expect the interest to last very long."
"If they are going to stick so violently to the form, then the standard of content must get a lot higher. In blues, anyway, it is the content that is the most important, not the form."
"It's become the trendy thing to write blues about one's own life, but that can hardly maintain the interest. After all, the number of people who want to know the name of the girl you made last night is pretty limited."
"And it amuses me to see that there is already a second group of British blues veterans. Bob Hall, Jo-Ann Kelly, anybody who has been around a couple of years is now looked upon as a veteran. I wonder if all that gives them time to develop anything."
"Another thing I hate is the way people categories themselves or other people as city blues, country blues, rock-and-roll, R&B or XYZ. The fact that you play an accoustic guitar doesn't make you a country blues player."
Alexis agreed it was odd that the Americans now seemed to be copying British bluesmen rather than the American source musicaians.
"I can understand why," he admitted. "In general terms it's because Eric Clapton is a better romantic hero than Muddy Waters. The young British musicians are socially more acceptable than the American Negro originals."
"And, of course, many Negroes are ashamed of the blues. I remember when Little Brother was here he said he thought blues was low class and he'd much rather play 'Canadian Sunset' or something like that. I've had this argument with other Americans too. To them, blues is reminiscent of a bad past and is not hopeful of a bright future."
"But, anyway, I don't think blues is a racial thing any more. If you feel a particular way and play a particular way it happens to come out as blues. It's not really a musical form any more, it's a feeling. Just as in jazz since the 1940s, it has become musch more difficult to tell white solo players from Negro solo players."
Alexis believes that too many British blues players sound alike.
"There are an amazing number of young musicians with remarkable instrumental technique for their age," he said. "But they aren't doing anything with it. Most of the guitar players are indistinguishable from each other."
"Too many of them haven't developed an individual sound at all - and the same goes for the singers."
What are Alexis's standout memories from his years as a student of the blues?
"One thing that stands out, even though I don't think he played particularly well on tour here, was the night Speckled Red sat down in our place and played the most incredible blues piano until the neighbours banged on the wall."
"Then I think Ornette Coleman is a classical exsample of a feeling musician and he is the complete jazz blues player. As far as British performers are concerned, there have been occasions when Danny Thompson has mede my back crawl with the way he plays bass."
"And, of course, there was the first time I saw Big Bill Broonzy in 1951. In a different way, there is the memory of quietly weeping at home because the actual, physical act of seeing Sleepy John Estes in Britain for the first time was just more than I could stand."