NEW YORK: Strange Brew (Book Review)- by J. Blake

Posted on 12/08/2009 by J. Blake

When we, the writers of American Blues News, were asked to give Holiday gift ideas, I have to admit that I was a little stumped. For the past few months I have been writing CD reviews for some potentially great stocking stuffers, but when faced with the task of actually suggesting an item as a “great gift” for blues lovers everywhere, I really had to give it some thought. What I came up with is something I’m sure some of my fellow ABN writers will cringe at, not because it is a bad gift idea, but because it does not deal with “American blues”. The item in question is a book titled STRANGE BREW: ERIC CLAPTON & THE BRITISH BLUES BOOM 1965-1970 by Christopher Hjort.

The title can be a little misleading. This is not a book about Eric Clapton. It is in fact an almost day by day archive of the entire professional (and at times personal) lives of the British blues scene’s most notable groups and musicians. Yes Clapton was unquestionably a huge part of this particular music movement, but in addition to chronicling every move “Slowhand” made and every band he participated in over this 5 year period, the book also pays equal attention to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (both with and post-Clapton), The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac (as well as following a few other groups in slightly less detail). If you really break it down, it seems to zero in specifically on the professional lives of John Mayall and his three most noteworthy blues guitar alumni, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor.

Now I’m sure some of you are sitting there saying to yourselves “that’s pretty cool”, but you have no idea! When I say an “almost day by day archive”, I mean “day by day”. The book is laid out like a journal, in chronological order starting in January of 1965 and going through December 31st of 1970. Some of the early months are left pretty vague and it does not include an entry for every single day, but it is quite astounding just how detailed Hjort manages to get. You can literally pick almost any day, flip to it in the book and see which bands played that day, which venue they were at and who was on the bill with them. In many cases Hjort even includes show notes, snippets of interviews and excerpts from concert reviews written at the time for publications like Melody Maker and New Musical Express. The inclusion of this kind of information undeniably provides an insight to not only the times, but in many cases even the temperament of the audience and the set list. For instance the entry for Monday October 5, 1970 shows that Derek & The Dominos played at the Town Hall in Birmingham England. The entry includes portions of a review written for New Musical Express that not only slam Clapton’s vocals and recall the fact that a fire hydrant blew in the venue, soaking the spectators, but also confirms a few of the songs from the set list and reveals a catastrophic missed opportunity. According to the NME reviewer, “Robert Plant casually wandered on stage. It was obviously unplanned. None of the group saw him. Few of the audience seemed to recognize him. And nor, apparently, did the roadie guarding one of the wing stage doors. Robert Plant was unceremoniously ushered back through the door, and the chance of a monster impromptu jam session was gone.”

Remarkably the wealth of this book’s information is not restricted to just live concert dates and first-hand show accounts, it also manages to do as good of a job covering things like radio & television appearances, fairly unknown all-star jams, recording sessions & album releases. Ever wonder what it would’ve been like to see The Paul Butterfield Blues Band jam with Cream? Well according to a periodical called the Record Mirror, some lucky London club-goers got to witness it on Wednesday October 19, 1966. Ever wonder about how Mick Taylor came to join The Rolling Stones? The joint entry of June 1 & 2, 1969, discusses how Taylor’s “trial run with the Stones” went well, explaining that he was brought back in for a second session; where they worked on the song ‘Honky Tonk Women’ until the wee small hours of the morning. A separate entry for Monday the 2nd goes on to explain that just 10 days after Taylor left The Bluesbreakers, he was officially asked to join The Rolling Stones, but according to the following day’s entry, he was sworn to secrecy, because the band had not yet notified Brian Jones that he was being replaced.

When you take into account that in addition to this book’s interviews, reviews, dates, facts, trivia and gossip, it also includes a foreward by John mayall, some amazing photos, illustrations, complete discographies and even musical equipment information, this book proves to be an absolute must for any British blues fan. Sure, it would’ve been nice to include a few more bands and it would’ve been even nicer to include more complete set list information, but what I’ve described above really isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. We’re talking about hundreds of informative and entertaining entries. What Christopher Hjort managed to do with this book is nothing short of amazing and I can’t recommend it enough.

Happy Holidays!!!

*For other gift ideas, check out our CD Review page.

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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
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Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
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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.

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