The Blues is not Dying but ALIVE and Well, a repudiation of ignorance by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 6/28/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) My dear friend, Jeff Fedora, who is the uncle of my guitarist buddy, Josh Roberts, posted a response to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Jim Fusilli. It's called "Lamenting the Future of the Blues." By the way, the people pictured above are all BLUES FANS photographed at a BLUES FESTIVAL in Jacksonville, Florida this very year. I do not think you can convince them that the future of the Blues is dismal. My contrary opinion is at the bottom of the page.

Here's a link to Fusilli's article of lament:

Jeff Fedora

Here's words of wisdom from Jeff Fedora:

Will the Blues Die?
Recently the new President of the Daytona Blues Society, August Wenger, forwarded me an article from the Wall Street Journal that questions the longevity of the Blues-- I encourage you to read it. It's a good article and is attached at the end of this note. But, it speaks to the heart of an issue and a long-standing thorn in my side regarding how we handle this prospect of “preserving the Blues”.

The article is an accurate telling of the delicate balance of one’s considerations to make in adhering to “keeping the blues alive” as one's mantra. Once somebody makes a connection to the blues, or even the roots let’s say, then begins that listener’s pilgrimage or divination to purity— truth. And, spanning from the birth of the “music industry” into this new millennia the blues have been kept alive from young lads making progressive rock albums and, when asked where they got their inspiration for this remarkable sound, they pointed their bleeding fingers to the likes of Muddy Waters or Willie Dixon in allegiance. But the trend of college students “turning on” and following the lead of their new icons and their anthemic bombast and swagger single handedly revitalized the careers of blues and folk artists from generations past. That is still the movement that we remain a part of today— to find the source and jump in that river and take the ride-- not bottleneck it and store it away. A “blues purist” is self-motivated and will continue to sleuth out the source— everyone else must be shown the way.

The plight of an artist whose goal is to remain inspired while inspiring the multitudes is the same today as it was then— to remain one generation removed from the roots—the wellspring. There simply is no other way lest that artist falls into the easy trap of repeating the formula of the popular artist before them to fast track themselves to a record deal and that begets Britney Spears ultimately and, who in this culturally depraved and vacuous world needs that?

My message to the Daytona Blues Society, or any blues society, has always been to employ any method or resource available to fulfill its mission at any cost— the rules are, there are no rules! New blues fans must be created then edified—in that order. Help them find themselves and then show them the way-- and that road is wide my friends. It is important for any institution about this business to fully understand this mechanism. You can “preserve” what’s left of a mastodon-- those are long gone and are not coming back. The blues, on the other hand and as of the time of this writing, are very much alive. What are the blues? I dunno, the verdict is still out as it evolves day by day like it has for generations upon multiplied generations. I can say with certainty that Robert Johnson is “the Blues”. Or I can say with the same certainty that the North Mississippi All-stars is “the Blues”. West African Griot music is “the Blues”. The roar of Johnny Lowebow is the blues. In fact, the blues is not even a sound but, more accurately, a mind set that regards a truthful alignment to the human condition—it’s rejoicing in your suffering, I say, and what ever the hell that might sound like, that’s what the blues are!

It’s rarely the artists that are confused about this. My dear brothers in the Church of Memphis understand: Josh Roberts, Reba Russell, Robert Tooms, Doug McMinn, Jeff Burch, Vic Wainwright, Greg Gumpel, John Lowe, Brandon Santini, Brad Webb, Sliver Michaels, and more – they know the drill and, more importantly, they understand the importance of a close nit community.

My Daytona and Central Florida Brethren and band mates: Bob Thames, Franklin “Slim” Williams, Cynthia Renee, Ronnie “Bird” Foster, Aaron “Pops” Watson, Ben Bost, Chad Dant, Toots Lorraine, Anthony Wild, Stephen Dees, Mark Hodgson, Joe King, Dan Walters, Mike Welch, Walt Andrews, Brian Bassett, Toby "Lefty" Fletcher, Reno Mussatto, Bird Dog Bobby, Big Rick, August Wenger, Shaun Rounds, JW Gillmore, Joe Caruso, Paul Zerra, Homegrown Roots Jamborie, Joe Alegro, Don Oulette, Ernie Lancaster, Moe Jackson, Louisiana Steve Hutter, Reuben Morgan, Jake Nicely and countless others I’m omitting for brevity—they’re never confused about the music they play and their relation to the Blues and they always bring their best to the blues fans in our community.

And to the entire staff (past and present) of the Daytona Blues Society-- the future of the Blues in Volusia County has always been kept safe by the work of your generous hearts.

But sadly, the folks who loose their way are those individuals who devote precious time and energy to proliferate blues societies and other organizations across America with the intention of “supporting” the blues. But some of these folks get so snared by their own narrow definitions and limited understanding of what “blues” are and should sound like that, in an attempt to protect the institution they serve, eventually snuff the life right out of it. In this industry we call those “Blues Nazis” and by definition would be those who would employ genocide to preserve their own notions of cultural or racial purity. I am a rabid blues fan, so much so, that I would start a blues society and serve it for 6 years till now and more going further. I can say, with my credentials in hand, that my energies were spent entirely in resisting the “Blues Nazi Movement” to keep the front door of the church propped open at any cost in the event a new stray blues-convert could find his way into the fold. In that moment in time, all that “convert” knows about any of this business is that “something in that music” resonated in him. The Fact is, a new “blues fan” knows no more about the blues than a heathen knows about the Lord Jesus Christ!

So, again to the question of how do we promulgate and nurture the Blues? We remain open-minded to challenging and inspiring our selves as artists and, as listeners, we remain open eared to the work and contributions of the artists in our community. If we don’t “like” something, it just simply means we don’t personally like it—perhaps avoid it and nothing more. Most importantly, we all remember the important need and value of a progressive community of Artists, Fans and Venues willing to buck the system to nurture this country’s most valuable resource—American Roots Music.

Can the Blues die? Maybe by the feet of the very people who set out to “pickle” the blues on a dusty shelf (albeit with good intention) lest they take heed and change their ways. Having said all that, if anything, let’s preserve the “blues fan” because that is who stands the risk of going the way of the mastodons and becoming extinct if they don’t receive a check up from the neck up and open their minds and hearts.

But I’m going to side with Grant Green here. He was an artist that played blue-note jazz renditions of popular Negro Spirituals. I heard his soul and I believe I trust his judgment. He said, “the Blues is Spirit and you can’t kill spirit”.

Kind Regards and please repost to your fans!

Jeff Fedora
Founding President, Trustee
Daytona Blues Society

My friends Jeff and Amyah

And now some unvarnished opinion from the American Blues News:

What Fusilli did not discern is that men like Pinetop Perkins and Buddy Guy, who both played for Muddy Waters, are revered by blues fans and their fellow musicians, not only because they are the last direct line to our beloved music's origins, but because their unique contributions are still shaping the music and young people who play it in the modern day. Fusilli complains that he did not hear any "new blues" but this complaint can only be laid at his feet, not at the genre.

Had Fusilli ventured out past his hotel room or the Marriott ballroom where the awards were held, say a few blocks south to Beale Street, he would have had his ears filled with lots of new Blues from the mouths and instruments of Brandon Santini and Delta Highway, the Eric Hughes Band, Miss Zeno or any of a myriad of new artists who jammed on the street after the awards. I myself jammed with Zac Harmon and a bunch of highly competent Chicago Blues guys at Mr. Handy's Blues Hall until 3 AM. Had he walked or taken the trolley two or three blocks south to the Madison Hotel he could have heard new Blues as Reba Russell played that hotel's beautiful rooftop party before the awards ceremony.

Good blues, like other niche music forms, requires just a little exploration to discover the new, exciting and original proponents of the idiom. Fusilli does not demonstrate that he is versed in Blues music and his article comes across as the whining of an uninformed dilettante who neither had his dream "new Blues" delivered by room service nor was willing to take the time to go six or seven blocks to find it. In fact there was no mention of any up and coming Blues artists in his article, only a couple of mentions of some artists attempting to put some Blues in their Rap music. That hardly counts and comes off as lazy reporting. At least try a search for "Blues" on itunes next time.

The truth is that the Wall Street Journal as a newspaper is more likely to become extinct more quickly than the Blues will. This article as an example of their insightful perspective is certain confirmation. Perhaps they should stick to the financial markets and other subjective topics like astrology, stock market trend predictions and tea leaf reading at which they can at least feign more knowledge than this.

Fusilli writes, "If you can sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan on electric guitar, you can find a place in today's blues world." I don't know who he is talking about here as the Stevie Ray Vaughn-a-be copycat syndrome passed many years ago. None of the winners of this year's IBC (which Fusilli obviously did not attend) could be described as Stevie Ray imitators, not a one of them. I was there. Did this guy actually talk to anybody before writing this sad little article or just get drunk in his hotel room and make this stuff up? What seems more likely is that here we have the Journal's Pop and Rock music contributor completely out of his element and way over his head in regard to his knowledge of Blues or the modern artists who play it.

I wonder how many blues shows he has attended or how many blues recordings the man has ever bought? Not many, I imagine, although he has written a fictional novel called "Tribeca Blues" which has nothing whatsoever to do with Blues music...he just liked the name. Perhaps his writing inadvertently shifted into fiction mode. Nonetheless, after a few moments with Buddy Guy in a telephone interview he has determined that the future of the Blues is dismal.

Here we have a guy from Tribeca who wrote a book about the Beach Boys'
Pet Sounds commenting on the future of the Blues. Mr. Fusilli, Robert Gordon you ain't.

An excerpt:

"The blues establishment seems to have little interest in reaching out to other musical communities. No rock, hip-hop or jazz artists with a musical debt to the blues were part of the activities in Memphis. Perhaps in turn, blues musicians aren't invited to participate in most major rock festivals: There were no traditional blues artists at this year's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, nor will there be any at the Glastonbury Festival in Britain later this month."

Amazing! Stop the presses! This just released, this week there were shockingly few Jews in the Baptist Church and fewer Baptists seen in synagogues! Thank you, Captain Obvious. What he failed to mention is that Blues is indeed often represented at events billed as "music festivals" and also "jazz festivals." I wonder what he figures are the influences of Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton?...Wonder if he thinks they play blues?

Moreover, I have toured in Great Britain, Mr. Fusilli, and they have much more love and appreciation for Blues than you, sir. Speak for yourself. Contrary to Fusilli's inaccurate reporting, Glastonbury will indeed have Blues acts, here's the poster:

Fusilli seems petulant that blues fans do not particularly appreciate nor buy recordings that mix rap with blues. So what? Do classical or country fans go for it?... since we are waxing absurd how about some bluegrass electronica with a side of trombone, perhaps? He then concludes that not many blues artists were present at, do tell. His "conclusions" are either so wrong or so obvious, so startlingly rudimentary as to not be worthy of a bathroom stall read. Lacking knowledge of modern Blues artists and having a deadline to make he fell back on writing about what he actually knew about, Rock and Pop. I suppose the gloomy title for the article is to try to gain a few readers with the old tired, tried and not-so-true sensationalism.

Fusilli seems to fault the Blues and question its survival because it is not Pop, Rock or Rap and it is not "reaching out"to those music forms as if there is no future life or music appreciation possible without Pop, Rock or Rap. Here's what I believe to be the greater truth. Fusilli does not particularly like Blues music. This is the guy they sent to the Blues Music Awards and Hall of Fame Induction? Mr. Fusilli, since you have not noticed it, the Blues was alive long before any of those other music forms and will likely be alive and well after some or all of them have perished. Furthermore, Jazz and Blues are irrefutably the ONLY true indigenous American music forms and all the other stuff can thank Jazz and Blues for their existence, e.g., your beloved Beach Boys lifted the preponderance of "Surfin' USA" from Chuck Berry who started his career as a blues man. Years after the song's initial release, Chuck Berry successfully sued the Beach Boys, causing all subsequent releases of "Surfin' U.S.A." on compilation albums to credit Berry alongside Brian Wilson, who wrote the new lyrics.

As a positive note, as history continues to repeat itself, the Wall Street Journal, in it's continuing efforts to appeal to a wider audience and diversify it's reporting to include music and art criticism, still does a fine job of relaying stock prices.

On an even more positive note, The Blues Foundation is flourishing, there are over 185 affiliate Blues societies across the world and it is more financially sound than ever before in its 30 year history. The Blues is ALIVE and well. You failed to note that in your gloomy prognostication despite allegedly talking to Jay Sieleman, the Executive Director of the Blues Foundation. My, what an in depth interview that must have been.

Here's another response to the 'Fusilli lament" from the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Mark Jordan, who is a fine music writer,

CD Reviews: The blues is alive and well and producing offspring

Here's an excerpt that mentions yours truly:

"Finally, back in Memphis, underappreciated belter Reba Russell has been the local standard bearer of the blues for decades. A much-in-demand session singer, the West Virginia native has always had the vocal chops, and her control and confidence have just improved with age. But only in recent years has her material — originals and her choice of covers — caught up.

Russell and her eponymous group’s eighth record, titled, in typical direct, no-nonsense style, 8 (Blue Eyed Bitches, 3 Stars), may be their finest achievement yet. The record is even more of a grab bag than Williams’, with some jazz and even a little light rock squeezed in. But Russell and the band, including husband Wayne and keyboardist Robert Nighthawk Tooms, nail it all."

Join the Blues Foundation and support the BLUES! Click here.

This weekend I will be traveling with the Reba Russell Band to visit "Gatorman" Terry Lape and hit the Chicago club scene on Friday, then off to Kankakee, Illinois, to play at the River Bend Club for the Friends of the Blues on Saturday and then to play more alive and well Blues in LeClaire Park on the beautiful Mississippi River, on July 4th at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, Iowa. I will be reporting on all this fun with little or no mention of Pop, Rock or Urban music on next Monday's article here at the American Blues News.

The author at the Blues Foundation's 2010 Blues Hall of Fame Inductions

These opinions are not necessarily held by all the writers and owners of this site but are the sole opinion of this author, who is, obviously, correct in his observations.

If you think the BLUES are ALIVE and well, please join the American Blues News facebook page, just click here and click on the "Like" button.


© Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms, 2010

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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