The meandering stream of life. Can you remember how you came to have the list of ‘favorites’ that you currently have? If today you like eating lobster, did you start with fish sticks? If today your favorite book is Water For Elephants was it once Green Eggs and Ham? If today you are jamming to Born This Way by Lady Gaga, was there a time in your past when it was Fallin’ by Alicia Keys? (Did you know that was 10 years ago?!) Sometimes I wonder why I like certain songs. In my line of work it’s an important thing to try and study. If I could figure it out, I’d be writing this from my private island fortress, while sitting on a stack of gold bars. How did I go from listening to my parents live Sha Na Na record to listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins? How do I draw the line from my love for Hank Williams Jr to my love for Funkadelic? I loved Elvis long before I began to raid his record collection for guidance. I got my appreciation for B.B. King from Buddy Guy. I found out about Guitar Slim from Stevie Ray Vaughan. I learned my gospel music from church but I learned my love of George Jones from my mom listening to WSIX in Nashville. There’s a place in the Bible where Jesus says to become like “little children”. I won’t go into the spiritual aspects of the passage but I will say that a lot of aspects of the creative life (and maybe just life in general) are made better by following that ideal. In my last blog, I spoke about how I discovered music. I discovered it in a random, sort of meandering way that wouldn’t make sense if you were trying find the straight line of discovery. I still find music like a child plays; any toy is fair game, size and proportion doesn’t matter. A 2” tall doll can be friends with an 18” doll and they can live in a house that is in now way proportionate for either of them. When I play dolls with my daughter, I’m the ‘boy dolls’ which tend to be a little less ‘together’ than the girl dolls. My favorite is the one we call business man; he has a tie and suspenders but no jacket and no shoes. She may be a Cinderella or a small girl in a riding outfit but it makes no difference. The rule is; there are no rules. It’s just playing. Imagination.
Music is like that (thank God!). In my iTunes, Donny hathaway is right next to The Doors (alphabetized by first names I guess) I found Robert Johnson like this; Jimi Hendrix - Stevie Ray Vaughan - Buddy Guy - Billy Idol - John Lee Hooker - Robin Trower - Eric Clapton - The Time - Robert Johnson. There was no straight line, no path of logic, just a sort of “Hey, I wonder what this sounds like?” I remember sometimes I would find someone that I wasn’t really ready for and it would be a while before I could come back to them and it make sense to me. John Lee Hooker was like that for me. I had heard Buddy, Stevie, B.B., Muddy and I had heard John Lee’s name enough to know he was “important” but when I bought my first record, Mad Man Blues, it made no sense at all. It sounded out of tune, unorganized and nothing like what I was used to. It was NOT love at first sight. As time went on, I developed a broader sensability, found more music, varied sounds and when I came back to John Lee, it WAS love. I put him high on my list of favorites and consider him one of the greatest bluesmen ever. I heard the Sex Pistols looooong before I loved them. For a long time I liked Adam & The Ants better than the Clash! (What do you want, I was a Prince fan!)
(My List of Greatest Blues Men, order subject to change daily or hourly)
John Lee Hooker
*I add this caveat; Stevie Ray Vaughan was the LAST real authentic blues man. I’ve yet to see anyone access that channel since. Also, I know that I left off; Little Walter, Son House, Sonny Boy Williamson, Albert King, Junior Wells, Elmore James, Little Milton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Charlie Patton, etc...
My daughter, who has become one of my best teachers, shows me every day how to ‘learn like a child’. She discovered the song You Really Got Me not from Van Halen like I did, not from The Kinks but from Alvin & The Chipmunks. Not trying to be cool or hip, she just found the version that to her ear sounds ‘good’. She learned Hank William’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry from a film version of Beverly Hillbillies. I learned the same way; my first Clapton record wasn’t Derek & The Dominoes or Cream, it was Behind The Sun. Good record but not the record responsible for his “godhood”. Not the ‘cool’ record you want to say was your first. My first Buddy Guy record was a Vanguard compilation. Then I accidentally came across Stone Crazy on Alligator, (still my favorite and I would argue his best). I heard Elton John for years and saw his videos through the 80’s and early 90’s but couldn’t be bothered to even own an Elton John record. Then one day it just clicked into place and a casual purchase of his greatest hits (because I am determined to own every record ever made) led to me deciding that he is one of the greatest pop music geniuses of the 20th century. (Yes I am prepared to argue that point with anyone!) I liked the Monkees before I liked the Beatles. I liked the Beatles before I liked The Rolling Stones. I liked 70’s jumpsuit era Elvis better than 50’s era (I still do sometimes) because that’s the one I was exposed to first. I like Merle Haggard doing Lefty Frizzell better than the originals. I like to discuss music. I will debate (not argue) with you about my choices if challenged, but in the end it’s about what you like as an individual. There are 31 flavors of ice cream for a reason (except in Libya where there is just the one flavor; Kaddafi Krunch! Bahahahahahaha!! WINNING!)