I’ve got blues on the brain. I’ve always sort of understood that the blues are the basis of so much contemporary music. But, I didn’t know how to hear Sonny Boy Williamson in The Gossip. That’s all changed now that I’ve taken a class at the University of Washington with Professor Larry Starr.
Over ten weeks this spring, among many interesting discoveries, I had the epiphany that Big Mama Thornton‘s risqué lyrics of “Hound Dog” make Elvis’ rendition sound pretty silly. And, let me tell you, that woman’s mere existence put The King’s shockingly scandalous hips to shame. I just love knowing that there’s a sort of lineage that we can follow between Robert Johnson and The Saturday Knights, let alone The Black Keys and The Heavy. That American music, and so all of today’s music, has tradition and heft!
So, I was pretty dang psyched when Shake the Shack’s Dr. Leon Berman played a song the first night of the Summer Membership Drive that sounded like a pit orchestra playing in a saloon in some western frontier town in 1895. I imagined some buxom music hall lady dancing a frantic can-can, petticoats flying, while keeping one eye on the dastardly dude with the big mustache in the corner, who was sure to throw another guy over the bar at any minute. Fun song! A bunch of the staff and volunteers were practicing can-can steps in the phone room! Soon after, our talented Proctologist of Rock and Roll followed up with a hard and fast Dick Dale ditty. Criminy — the songs are related! You could hear the arc of 70 years in those two songs, and it was so satisfying.
I really and truly would not know as much about the blues, nor hear the similarities between those two songs, if it weren’t for KEXP. The DJs teach me so much and KEXP’s ten-part documentary series, Blues for Hard Times, which complemented Professor Starr’s lectures, were really important when I’d get home and practice my listening. There’s so much that the KEXP DJs and online writers and photographers and videographers do for us. Makes me feel grateful that so many of us in the KEXP community come together these three times a year to make sure that we’re all satisfied with and full-up on the music that means so much in our lives. Thank you!
Speaking of history… take a gander at the 2×4 totin’ Leon Berman of 20 years ago, when he was about 12, hosting his 5th annual Rockabilly Ball!