I am in awe and almost breathless. I've just finished watching the series, The Blues," presented by Martin Scorsese, which will be premiering on Sunday, September 28, at 9pm on PBS. I highly suggest you watch this seven-film Television series if you can, especially if you have a deep love for the blues.
This series is evocative, hypnotic, and soul-striking! I had the opportunity to review four segments: "The Soul of a Man," directed by Wim Wenders; "Red, White and Blues," directed by Mike Figgis; "The Road To Memphis," directed by Richard Pearce; and my personal favorite, "Godfathers and Sons," directed by Marc Levin. Now, I desperately shake the postal envelope in which they came, praying for the other segments to fall out. Unfortunately, only four tapes from the series arrived.
These segments creatively unveil our roots in blues. They depict life's hardships from past to present, our trials, and tribulations, and how many talented blues artists have transcended their pain into something timeless and uplifting. This has relevance to us all, as I believe that we are presently facing some difficult times in life. This series benevolently pulls on the viewer's heart strings, connecting them to so many people, cultures, and races. You learn about where the blues were born and how many musicians have been mused over the years by great blues men and women of our past.
Each series relays a clear message through soulful narration, raw emotion, moving pictures, heartfelt lyrics, and classic blues music and artists. Sometimes I found myself personal friends with B.B King or Bobby Rush, riding along on their tour bus, or standing near the stage at one of their high energy performances.
At times I floated in outer space, at the edge of the solar system, with Blind Willie Johnson upon the Voyager spacecraft, belting out blues notes to the stars and planets, then traveling back in history, recapturing the essence and roots of blues music.
I strolled down Beale Street in Memphis with Rosco Gordon, listening to him recollect the magic he felt on the stage, feeling his heartache about time passing by, then leaving the greatness of Beale Street behind, with only memories left to linger in the mind.
Diabolic emotions stirred deep in my soul as I listened to the stories told. I felt a connection with each of the blues artists, with their hardships and obstacles; shared their zeal to overcome them on the road to Memphis. I could almost taste their immense passion which burned obsessively deep inside each of them to play and live a dream.
I traveled on an old train with the legendary Skip James, listening to him strum traditional blues on his $2.50 guitar bought by his father, savoring his high, haunting voice as he sang, "I'd rather be the Devil, than to be that woman's man." I became a part of his performances at the Newport Blues Festivals. I felt as if I sat in on first recording session at the austere Paramount studio, experiencing what his thoughts might have been as he drifted to sleep, late on that night in 1931, after recording 18 tracks which would significantly mark his history in blues.
I felt the hardship of prejudice on Highway 61, and the struggle for liberation and equality. And I ventured through the 60's, listening to the British voice of Eric Clapton tell about his early years with the Yardbirds and Cream, and how the British blues were mused by so many allegorical blues artists such as Nehemia "Skip" James.
The last series I viewed was "Godfathers and Sons." This segment mesmerized me the most. I floated upon the warm, spirited narration of Marshall Chess from the historical Chess Records, drifting back in time on Michigan Street in Chicago, and in the Macomba Lounge as he recalled times with infamous blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor, Chuck Berry, and the Rolling Stones.
I thought that there was something very special about Marshall Chess. It was reflected in his eyes, and radiated warmly from his spirit. He didn't care if one was black or white, Baptist or Jewish. He just cared about the blues, and dared to record albums such as, "The Electric Mud," which has influenced so many today, such as popular rap musicians, Chuck D and Common. He risked to explore where most wouldn't. He knew that deep within, we are all the same. We all experience the ups and downs in life. And regardless of race or religion, the blues are like a main vein to our soul; they speak a universal language that travels to the heart of humanity.
Blues are the roots to a myriad of impacting music, past and present. They are the beginning of our ability to transcend the hardships in life into something uplifting; making the pain, which is unavoidable, seem not so heavy. The traditional blues artists such as Robert Johnson were magicians; they took the dust in life and turned it into timeless coins of gold. I believe this series will warm your heart and comfort your soul. You'll find yourself smiling, grateful for the little things in life. I truly thought this was a wonderful series, brilliant and uplifting!
If you wish to learn more about his fascinating series, visit pbs.org/theblues. There is also a CD full of blues music to accompany this program called The Blues. It features artist such as, Son House, Muddy Water, Bessie Smith, Blind Willie Johnson, and so many more. There are also photographs posted at pbs.org/pressroom. And on September 28th, Public Radio International stations nationwide will begin broadcasting The Blues, a thirteen hour long radio program hosted by Keb' Mo and produced by Robert Santelli of EMP radio and Ben Manilla Production. This series is presented by WGBH Radio Boston, and sponsored by Volkswagen, a strong supporter of music, film, and the creative arts.
Your purchase through this Amazon.com link helps to support this website.
Simply click on the cover art to order this 7 part DVD movie series and the CD soundtrack series NOW!
"This review is copyright © 2003 by Mia Jennings, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without permission."
Copyright reuse notice: If you would like to reprint or use this review please include the above copyright notice, contained within the quotation marks, PLUS this statement: "Used with permission." Then send an email to Ray at: email@example.com indicating how you are using the review or the website page address it will be appearing on. Thanks!
You can help support this blues website by making a contribution (click on the banner below for details).
Or mail a donation to: Ray Stiles % Blues On Stage, PO Box 582983, Mpls, MN 55458. Thanks!
Web Design SPECIAL, get your own website for just $50.
Web Hosting & Design:
Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983
E-mail Ray Stiles @ firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.