Saturday, April 29, 2006


Lets talk Visuals
By Mark Fredell

So far my friends; I LOVE the DVD revolution… There has, in just a few short years been so much great stuff released on DVD that it has become one of my main passions. Whether it’s Rock, Punk, Soul or of course Blues, the DVD format seems to have unleashed a treasure trove of new and vintage film footage of varying degrees of quality and I simply can’t get enough of it. It is starting to become almost commonplace for labels to release a live recording either with a bonus DVD included or with a companion DVD available separately, some of the first of the former that I bought were one’s by Joe Bonamassa 'So It’s Like That' which in addition to the Cd had a full length concert DVD which also contained an extensive photo gallery, a Bio -documentary and a video clip for one of the songs from the new release (it accompanied) all in all a pretty good bargain for the price of a single Cd release. Then there, was the 2 disc release of Bobby Rush ‘Live At Ground Zero‘, with both the live Cd and the DVD of the same performance complete with all of Bobby and companies standard ‘Shtick’ it’s a great show.

One of the best of these 2 for one releases that I’ve come across so far has got to be ‘A life in the Blues’ by Charles Brown. Recorded in 1990 at the Lone Star Roadhouse in New York this is a fantastic release by one of the greatest blues artists of all time. This one is interesting on many levels not the least of which is that it was actually recorded (let me quote directly from the liner notes) “this set at the Lone Star Roadhouse on 52nd street in New York, was recorded for telecast to an audience in Japan on a digital high-definition television system that was so experimental at the time that there were only a few receivers (costing upwards of $30,000.00 each) on which it would be able to be seen and heard.” “ Not long after the Lone Star recordings were made, this particular High-definition TV system was abandoned, when another system was selected by U.S. broadcasters as the industry norm instead.” The notes go on to say how the tapes then sat in storage for some 12 years or so and by the time they were rediscovered they couldn’t readily find a machine capable of mixing and editing those tapes. It took some time and effort before they finally discovered a playback machine that with some work was functional enough and an engineer that knew how to use it that they were able to bring this remarkable footage out into the world. These three are just a few of the Cd/DVD combo packs I’ve discovered and there are more out there with various ideas and concepts Blind Pig has released a few new live recordings that also have a companion DVD available, by both Papa Chobby and Magic Slim & the Tear Drops. One of the more novel ideas is the Cd/DVD release from Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers ‘For The Chosen Who’ with the Cd being a recording featuring the band and a number of special guests and the DVD being a making of documentary style disc. One of the most resent releases to have both a Cd and DVD available (separately is the wonderful release on Delmark called ‘My Head Is Bald’ by Tail Dragger. This one recorded live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge on Chicago’s rough and tumble west side Tail Dragger is great as he roams around the bar microphone in hand and being backed by one of the best bands you could assemble in the country, just imaging being a blues fan and walking into this little dive of a place and not knowing till you crossed the threshold that waiting inside to play for you were Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, Bob Stroger, Kenny Smith, and Jimmy Dawkins among others… This is real, gritty urban blues the way it used to be.

One of the other great things about this new technology has been the various sources that have gone back into their archives and pulled out lost or un-know gems from the past. Just check out the three volume American Folk Blues Festival series which any and every blues fan needs to own. There is also an ever growing set of releases from a German TV series called “Ohne Filter Muzic-Pur” which over the years has played host to countless artists from the worlds of rock, country, blues and more. For the blues lover, these producers have already released one hour ‘ In Concert’ sets by Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Albert Collins

and others. Then there’s two of the latest additions to this influx of visual blues in the ’Live At Montreux’ series and ‘Chicago Blues Jam’. The Live at Montreux series distributed by Eagle Eye Media covers the gamut of acts that have appeared at the Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland over it’s fourty year history. Thank goodness that festival founder Claude Nobs had foresight enough to (apparently) film every artist to ever take his stages from the very first show to the most recent. And in the set so far are Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Mayfield, Jeff Healy Band, James Brown, Johnny Cash, Gary Moore and Otis Rush to name just a few. The Gary Moore and Otis Rush sets are especially interesting for the special guests that pop up. Moore is of course a terrific guitar player and even at the time of the main performance showcased here which was in the midst’s of him supporting his ‘Still Got The Blues’ release he still fell more on the ’ROCK/blues’ side of the fence but there are three songs that feature the Iceman himself Albert Collins. Then on the Otis Rush disc from his first appearance there in 1986, Rush not only puts on a passionate set with a stripped down band (no horns at all) but he is joined on 4 track by Eric Clapton and on the fourth with Clapton none-other than Luther Allison joins in the fray and it’s a real barn burner.

The other newer addition to the influx of audio meeting video is a series called ’Chicago Blues Jam’ which originated from a Chicago TV series of that same name. this series, six of which I have in my collection is pretty interesting a little annoying at times and filled with rare musical gems. There’s unfortunately very little information about the show or the artists included in the packaging and though the film quality is top notch it appears they have either lost or destroyed the original source tapes. Each disc here re-packages a single complete episode minus the commercials though complete with the commercial/edit spots and even the gratuitous plug for the host club (Buddy Guys Legends). Yet they are still a lot of fun to watch they seem to have all aired in ’94 (at least that’s the year on the half dozen I own) the format is consistent, opening credits, intro from the host ’Buzz’ then the feature artists does 2 or 3 songs before they cut to a pre recorded interview segment, then commercial edit and there is another artist for one or maybe 2 songs depending on the act, then commercial break and back to the feature act, a couple more songs more interview, then the other band again, then the feature and it wraps up. There are slight variations from time to time but they stay pretty consistent over all. The remarkable thing to me is the list of artists they featured, just on the half dozen in my collection (so far) feature Billy Branch and The Son’s Of Blues / Keb Mo, Son Seals / Howard & The White Boys, Hubert Sumlin / Rod Piazza, Rod Piazza / The Blues Instigators, Fenton Robinson / James Harman, James Harman / Howard & the White Boys, there are also sets featuring Lonnie Brooks, Junior Wells, Magic Slim and others. I would certainly have preferred if these discs had contained more of the performance footage but I will assume that once these shows were put together those tapes got recycled and that footage is now gone forever; too bad, but what remains is good stuff and considering that some of these acts don’t tour any longer and others have gone on to that blues band in the sky there are some genuinely rare treats to be had here…

Well there you have it, my overview of just some of the Visual mediums BLUES that there is to be had these days, so if you want to sit back in your living room and have your own private concert when ever you like I suggest you hit your favorite music retailer or surf the web and get yourself some of these fine releases or any of the thousands of others that are out there now.


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