Can Blue Men Sing The Whites Pt2
It came outta the South (USA).
Whilst it's difficult to imagine how and why rhythm and blues became popular amongst a small coterie of fans here in Britain in the early sixties before breaking out to mass acceptance, it's almost impossible to understand why the same hadn't happened in the US even before then. Of course, the blues had been around stateside in a recorded form since the early years of the century and for many years before then, primarily in the form of work songs and field hollers sung by the black field workers and slaves. However, even in the early recorded history of the blues, there were some 'white' exponents: Harmonica Frank, Monroe Moe Jackson, Jimmy Rodgers and The Allen Brothers to name but four. Although these 'white' recordings were generally classed as 'country', the recorded works of both genres at the time were stylistically very similar. In fact, The Allen Brothers records were released on the 'race' output of Columbia Records due to the 'urban' feel of the recordings and the ignorance of the A&R Departments regarding the artists involved. It's worth remembering the political and social circumstances in the US throughout the 20th century (and even now, unfortunately) with any 'fraternising' between black and white being liable to lead to either legal or, more often in 'black' instances', illegal consequences. it would take Elvis and other early Sun Records artists of the mid-fifties to break the mould, covering many songs originally released by blues artists, especially those who had been using electric instruments since the late forties. Even then, there wasn't the largescale interest in 'the blues' amongst the general public that occurred in the UK just a few years later which saw the breakthrough of the artists I covered (and many more!) in my first discourse. However, for your delectation, here's a dozen US tracks (with one notable exception which featured on a US blues compilation) from my vinyl collection featuring tracks from early 1963 onwards, with the latest being a track from 1969 which, in my opinion, showed how the blues, having been 'appropriated' by the white mass market, were being transformed into other forms altogether (jazz/blues, blues/rock etc). Anyways…..let's get on with the show and first up…..not one you'd expect from an unknown (to most) legendary guitarist…..
Lonnie Mack- 'Where there's a will (there's a way)'. Taken from 'The Wham of that Memphis Man'. Released October 1963 (US) Fraternity label and 1967 (UK) President Records.
This could be Joe Cocker before there was a Joe Cocker, blues-wailing through a gospel/blues number recorded in early 1963!!! How many British white guys were putting it out there like Lonnie (MacIntosh) at that time. Van the Man was with an Irish Showband recording novelty numbers, the Stones were just a twinkle in Brian Jones glassy eyes, Korner and Davies were in a cellar in London whilst Lonnie and his band, Marv Lieberman (sax), Ron Grayson (drums), Wayne Bullock (bass), Truman Fields (keyboards) and Irv Russotto (sax), were tearing up the US charts with the instrumentals 'Memphis' and 'Wham' and laying down impassioned vocal tracks such as 'Where...' and 'Why'. Music critic Bill Millar said: "For consistency and depth of feeling…. the best blue-eyed soul is defined by Lonnie Mack's ballads...Lonnie Mack wailed a soul ballad as gutsily as any black gospel singer. The anguished inflections which stamped his best songs had a directness which would have been wholly embarrassing in the hands of almost any other white vocalist." Couldn't agree more! However, Lonnie fell foul to the one thing no-one in America was expecting... The British Invasion!! Within weeks of the album’s release, the Beatles arrived in America and suddenly guitar instrumentals were totally out of favour. Couple that with his 'before its time' blues vocals and there was no way that Lonnie could compete with the British acts which flooded America during the next couple of years. He returned to the 'chitlin circuit' until, in 1968, there was a resurgence in America of what's now termed 'blues rock' which saw him record three underproduced albums for Elektra, as well as playing on sessions for such label acts as the Doors. He returned to the circuit in 1971, playing around Nashville, until Stevie Ray Vaughan re-discovered him (again) in 1985, producing a couple of his albums before Lonnie's final retirement in 1990. His place in rock's rich history is thanks, mainly, to 'Wham'. Before that track the guitar's tremolo arm had been utilised to 'wobble' a note primarily at the end of a string of notes, as heard most memorably here in the UK on Hank Marvin's work with the Shadows. Lonnie, however, realised that by holding the arm down with his fourth finger and fanning it rapidly to the tempo whilst soloing, he could 'vibrate' each note as he played, to produce a machine-gunned, single-note, "shuddering" sound and as a result the tremolo arm is now much better known as a 'Whammy Bar'!!! Only Dick Dale was producing a similar sound thanks to his ground-breaking development work with Leo Fender and the Lansing Loudspeaker Company (JBL) which saw the tremolo effect being integrated into their new, higher output speakers.
Jose Feliciano-'Little Red Rooster': Taken from '10 to 23' album. Released 15th June 1969
Before talking about the track, I know Jose ain't 'white' but, without going into semantics (a dangerous place), I'm including him in here with the 'whites'....so, let's look at Jose for a moment....or two. Born blind in one of Puerto Rico's poorest towns in 1945, one of eleven boys, Jose and his family moved to New York in 1950. By this time Jose had already displayed his musical leanings by accompanying the radio banging on a tin-can before progressing to accordion, and then practising up to 14 hours a day on a newly acquired guitar. The early sixties saw Jose performing at Gerdes Folk City (home to Dylan, Ochs et al) where he was spotted, and signed, by RCA's Jerry Sommer. In 1966 he was persuaded to perform at the Mar del Plata Festival in Argentina where his success saw him record a top selling Spanish language album. This was followed soon after by a song he had been performing all summer at his NYC club dates...the Doors 'Light my fire'. And the rest, as they say, is history!!.
Back to 'Little Red Rooster', this is a superb version of the Willie Dixon composition, enhanced (some would say distracted) by an additional orchestral arrangement, but featuring a fine vocal along with Jose's world class guitar picking. For many years I always considered the Stones version the ultimate cover of this Howlin' Wolf song. That opinion came under pressure when I (belatedly) heard the Sam Cooke recording, and was further strained when this track came into my collection. The Stones probably still shade it though!!! The '10 to 23' album, containing an interesting, scratchy recording by a 10 year old Jose coupled with tracks by the (now) 23 year old (hence the title), featured a couple of self-compositions alongside two Bee Gee songs, a couple of Beatles covers, two instrumentals and some 'standards', all done in Jose's by now familiar style.
Jose's career has seen him record many successful Spanish language albums, compose for stage ( Ray Bradbury's “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.”), TV ('Chico and the man') as well as appear in TV and films as both an actor and singer. Additionally, he has been awarded several GRAMMY's, played in front of three different Pope's and, in 1968, became the first artist to 'personalise' the US National Anthem at the Detroit/St Louise baseball match. A subsequent recording of that performance even broached the US charts!!! Now that's an awful long way from his Puerto Rican roots....
Tim Hardin- 'I'm your Hoochie Coochie Man'. Taken from 'This is Tim Hardin'. Released September 1967.
Tim had been appearing in New York City's Greenwich folk clubs since 1961 and, eventually, he was snapped up by future Lovin' Spoonful producer Erik Jacobsen for Columbia records whilst performing in Boston's folk clubs in 1963. The following year he was summoned back to New York to record his first album proper which included a cover of Fred Neil's 'Blues on the ceiling', three 'traditional' folk songs (including 'House of the Rising Sun' and the song which would later sum up his personal problems, 'Cocaine Bill'), a couple of co-composed songs plus four originals in a folk/blues style. This take on the Willie Dixon classic, first recorded ten years earlier by Muddy Waters, is suitably atmospheric and taken at a slower tempo than Muddy's original, but it's Tim's vocal range that impresses as he slides around the lyrics in a suitably lascivious way. By the following year, the tracks were still languishing in the Columbia vaults and Tim's contract had been cancelled. Tim moved to Los Angeles, met and married Susan Moore (later to become, along with his son Damion, the subject of an album in 1969) and signed to Verve Records. It was immediately apparent, from his cunningly entitled first album (Tim Hardin 1), that here was a sensitive song writer whose work was capable of being interpreted by many other artists, as indeed they were but, alongside this was his continuing heroin dependency, a 'left over' from his time serving with the US Marines in South East Asia from 1959 to '61. Further albums followed, again including tracks which were covered by other artists (Bobby Darin, an early champion of his work, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Small Faces, Four Tops, Robert Plant and Roderick the Moderick amongst others) but, eventually, his creativity became severely affected by his drug habit. However, July 24th 1971 saw yours truly, four friends and Tim Hardin sat in a field just outside of Lincoln (along with Tom Paxton, Buffy St Marie, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee... unfortunately only two of them turned up, in joke, sorry, Pentangle, Incredible String Band, Sandy Denny…..fresh from the recently disbanded Fotheringay, she appeared backed by Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg and Gerry Conway as The Happy Blunderers , Steeleye Span, Ralph McTell, Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy, Dion, the Byrds (with the days only electric set), and headlining over this galaxy of folk heroes... James Taylor) and all for an absolute bargain price of £2.... yep....TWO POUNDS!!!!!. Tim moved to the UK around this time, appearing alongside Van Morrison and, unbelievably, German avant garde-ists Can, before returning to the USA, selling the rights to all his material to support his habit and, eventually... but hardly unexpectedly, dying of a heroin overdose on December 29th 1980, his death being rather overshadowed by the murder of John Lennon just three weeks earlier.
Dion- 'Daddy, Rollin' (in your arms)'. Single 'b-side.' Released June 1968. Additional track on the (re-issue of) 'Dion' album.
Like Tim Hardin, Dion's struggles with heroin were a factor in the decline of his musical output during the mid-sixties, a period where a lack of confidence by his label saw his ground-breaking 1965 recordings (featuring many of the musicians who backed Dylan on his trio of 'electric' albums) remained either unreleased or relegated to unsuccessful and underpromoted singles and b-sides. However, 1968 saw his resurgence with the original version of 'Abraham, Martin and John' which quickly made it's way into the Top 5 in the USA. Tucked away on the flip, and recorded in the back of a Florida bowling alley with a bunch of Jamaican guys banging the beat on cardboard boxes, and with Dion on guitar, it's perhaps, Dion's finest blues outing. The track has none of the sense of either relaxation or release of the A-side, rather it’s claustrophobic, uncomfortable and dark, perhaps mirroring the unease and paranoia associated with the recovering addict’s life at that time. The sound of Dion’s blues and punkier pop excursions on the 1965 Columbia sessions is gone, the voice is wearier, almost haunted, a point made by respected critic Dave Marsh who included Daddy Rollin’ at #452 in his list of the 1001 greatest singles (despite only being a 'b-side'!!). Marsh described the record as “Haunted electric guitars clang and clash against one another, drums pound in from another room, uniting in a wad of noise symbolizing nothing but spelling out pain and fear... It was the scariest music Dion ever made.” It's likely that Dion was already familiar with the burgeoning art/rock scene in New York as 'Daddy Rollin'' is really not that dissimilar to the sound emanating from Warhol's Factory via the Velvet Underground (indeed, it was Lou Reed who inducted Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989!!). As with Tim Hardin, Dion's appearance at the 1971 Lincoln/Bardney Folk Festival was a real unexpected bonus with most of the tracks from the superb 'Dion' album still appearing in his set at that time. One song that didn't feature that day was Dion's cover of Hendrix's 'Purple Haze', the second single from the album. Dion had earlier shared a bill with Hendrix and played his rather (Love's 'Forever Changes' style) arrangement to him. Jimi's response? “It’s exactly right, it’s a different expression, but going to the same place.” Check it out for a pleasant surprise...
(and finally, on February 3rd 1959, Dion was offered a seat on a plane chartered by Buddy Holly to take three people from the previous concert at Clear Lake to Moorhead Minnesota, a distance of 365 miles by road. The previous day the tour had travelled 300 miles to Clearlake for what was, in effect, a 'fill in' gig arranged at short notice. The whole ensemble, including the school bus on which they were travelling to play the 30 dates in 30 mid-winter nights, were by this time exhausted and suffering various ailments. The tour had been poorly scheduled to such an extent that the Moorhead gig would take them back past the previous two concert venues they had played, and would then be followed by one that would involve returning via Clearlake. Holly offered a seat to Big Bopper, who paid the required $36 but Dion equated that amount to the exact same rental amount that his parents were paying monthly for their flat in New York. Thinking this was an unacceptable expense, he gave the seat up to Richie Valens....)
Paul Butterfield Blues Band- 'Lovin' Cup'. Released by Elektra June 1966 on 'What's Shakin'' album.
Taken from an album full of curiosities, here's, perhaps, the best blues band the US produced with a fine version of the Butterfield composed song which would not feature on any of their early albums. The reason? The 'What's Shakin'' album was a 'sort of' follow up to Elektra's 1964's 'Blues Project' and 65's 'Folksong '65' various artist albums, which had allowed the label to move from jazz and folk into the 'rock' market, thanks to the signing of Butterfield. Love and, so Elektra believed, the Lovin' Spoonful. Sweeping up five early, rejected recordings from December 1964, three tracks by Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse (more in a moment about that band), one each from Al Kooper (also to follow) and Tom Rush and four from The Lovin' Spoonful. Elektra recorded the Spoonful after offering a $10000 advance in the hope they would sign a recording contract. It transpired a little later that the band had already signed to Kama Sutra! Back to PBBB, and here's a real fiery number which shows that, even then, Butterfield was not only one of the most talented blues harp players (thanks in no small part to regular gigs with Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter and Otis Rush in Chicago's ghetto blues clubs) but also a fine vocalist too. The band itself was a veritable hot-bed of talent with twin lead guitars thanks to Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, ably backed up by bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay... both poached from the Wolf's back up musicians. Butterfield band's career was further enhanced when they were booked to appear as the opening evenings first act at the 1965 Newport Festival, as well as an afternoon slot the following day. Despite some criticism from the respected blues researcher Alan Lomax the band proved popular with the audience, especially with that evenings bill topper, Bob Dylan. Following a hasty back stage rehearsal, Bloomfield, Arnold and Lay, augmented by Al Kooper and Barry Goldberg, produced a now legendary incendiary performance of four 'electric' tracks from Dylan's latest album 'Bringing it all back home'. By this time the band's debut album was in the can and, following its release around the time of Newport, it was no surprise that it garnered glowing reviews and a placing in the album Top 200 chart.
Sticking with 'What's Shakin''.....but moving to this side of the pond for a moment......
Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse- 'Crossroads'. Details as above.
Yep, here's one of the curiosities I mentioned.....Famed Elektra producer Joe Boyd was despatched to the UK to open a label HQ and scout for 'new' talent. Boyd made initial contact with recent but now ex-Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones (MM were popular in the US thanks to 'Pretty Flamingo' climbing the US chart at that time) and asked him if he wanted to help form a new band. Jones recruited the disgruntled and also soon to be ex- Manfred Jack Bruce on bass, the equally disgruntled Stevie Winwood and band mate and drummer Steve York from the Spencer Davis Group, friend and pianist Ben Palmer and, late of the Yardbirds and current John Mayall Band member, Eric 'Slowhand' Clapton! Now THAT'S what I call a line up!!!! Four songs were recorded, Jones' own 'I want to know', curiously credited to his wife Sheila MacLeod, Boyd then suggested 'Standing at the Crossroads (aka Robert Johnsons 'Crossroads Blues') whilst Winwood plumped for Memphis Slim's 'Steppin' out' and, finally an unnamed blues instrumental (still unreleased). During recording, 'Standing at the crossroads' was amended to include lyrics from Johnson's 'Traveling Riverside Blues' and Clapton came up with a new title... 'Crossroads'. Of course, we now know that, within a few months, Clapton and Bruce would get together with the Powerhouse's first choice drummer, Ginger Baker, to form Cream, perform a version of the song on the BBC in December 1966, place a version on their third album 'Wheels of fire' in 1968, and finally record a fine version of 'Travelling Riverside Blues' on Clapton's 'Me and Mr Johnson' album in 2004 . Of course, on the Powerhouse version, it's not Jones on vocals, neither is it Clapton or Bruce... it's that other fine white blues vocalist, Stevie Winwood.
Al Kooper- 'Can't keep from crying sometimes'. Details as above.
Here's Al re-writing/covering Blind Willie Johnson's 1928 biggie 'Lord I just can't keep from crying'. Not, perhaps, the most convincing blues holler in my collection but his heart is in the right place!!! I'm not certain of all the musicians on the fine folk/rock version here, with some 'jazzy' piano which perhaps points towards his later work with Don Cherry, but I suspect it's drummer Roy Blumenfeld and bassist Andy Kulberg…..Kooper, though, is another matter altogether. He first hit the US charts in 1958 as a 14-year-old guitarist on the (ahem) legendary 'Short shorts' by the Royal Teens. He was next in the charts as a composer, firstly for Gary Lewis and the Playboys with 'This Golden Ring' and then Gene Pitney and 'I must be seeing things', both in 1965. By this time, he had blagged his way, via his growing friendship with Mike Bloomfield, into the CBS studios during the recording session for Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited' album, famously playing the organ (an instrument he had never played before!!) on 'Like a Rolling Stone'. He was also on the point of joining the Blues Project, formed by ex-folkie Danny Kalb and named after the Elektra album of the same name on which Kalb swapped his acoustic for electric guitar and recorded a couple of blues songs. Kooper's time in the Blues Project, where he re-recorded a superb version of '...Crying' was, like many of his later ventures, short lived and it wasn't long before he formed Blood, Sweat and Tears (so blame Al for all the jazz rock combo's of the late 60's/early 70's!!). Since then he's played/recorded with Hendrix, the Stones, Cream, the Who and even Alice Cooper (no relation... presumably?) amongst many others, as well as discovering or producing the Tubes and Lynyrd Skynyrd and, a high point surely, composing and performing 'You're the lovin' end' as/for the Banana Splits!!! Still performing occasionally today, Kooper recently retired from teaching song writing and record production at Berklee College.
John Hammond-' Long Distance Call'. Released May 1965. Taken from 'So many roads' Released by Columbia Records.
'So many roads' was Hammonds fourth album, his debut long player hitting the shops in 1963, making him one of the earliest US 'white blues' recording artists. His earlier work does tend to bear out the (later) maxim attributed to Sonny Boy Williamson that "those British boys want to play the blues real bad, and they do" which Sonny Boy remarked after being backed, variously, by the Yardbirds and the Animals in 1963/4. By the time of this album, however, Hammond had developed his own fine blues growl and, although there was still a reliance on the familiar songs (at least to the UK's burgeoning blues audiences) his arrangements did show plenty of imagination. For the album Hammond was backed by some of the members of a Canadian band called, variously, the Canadian Squires, Levon and the Hawks or, more often, simply The Hawks. During a concert tour of Canada in 1964 Hammond chanced upon a club gig by the Hawks and was astounded at the high energy blues the band were pounding out. Several jam sessions followed and when his label called him for sessions for 'So many roads' it was no surprise when he insisted that the Hawks back him in the studio. The label, unfamiliar with the band, partially conceded to his request, allowing Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson to appear, but insisted that bass duties were covered by Jimmy Lewis, the ex- Count Basie, Duke Ellington bassist (and who had already recorded with Hammond on 'Big City Blues the previous year), ably assisted on harmonica by Charlie Musselwhite (whose 'Stand back...'album I am still seeking!!) and on piano, session man Mike Bloomfield. Left on the sidelines for the moment were Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. 'Long distance call' is a Muddy Waters song and features the whole ensemble at their best. Robbie Robertson really lets rip and Musselwhite doesn't hold back either.... a great version!! Of course, within just a few months the Hawks would be recommended to Dylan , who was seeking a backing band for his legendary/controversial US and UK 'electric' tour of late 1965/early '66, by (according to some) his managers secretary Mary Martin (who, coincidentally, was acquainted with Hawk bassist Rick Danko and was already feeding him copies of Dylan's latest material). Other reports say that it was Hammond (whose father was the famous CBS record producer who had recorded Dylan from the start) immediately after recording 'So many roads'. Following the Butterfield Blues Bands reluctance to tour as back-up following their success at Newport The Hawks signed up for the tour and went on to back Dylan for many years known simply, of course, as 'The Band'.
One final fact: Hammond is the only person who ever had both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix in his band at the same time, even if it was only for five days in the 1960s when Hammond played The Gaslight Cafe in New York. To his regret, they never recorded together. You can say that again!!!!
Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks- 'Who do you love' . Released 1963 (Canada only). This version taken from 'Rockin' Ronnie Hawkins' compilation.
Hawkins was born in Huntsville, Arkansas in 1935 and had a 'varied career' (stunt-diver!!!, PT Instructor, petrol attendant and a short stint in the US army) before signing up to a new band being formed by Conway Twitty's ex-guitarist Jimmy Luke. Tours of the Southern US states followed, many with Sun Records artists, before Twitty told Hawkins of a two weeks plus engagement at the Golden Rail in Ontario, Canada singing with the Hawks. Pretty soon the outfit were in the local studio (a garage!!) for the single 'Hey Bo Diddley, released in1958 which scored highly in the local charts. End/Roulette signed them up in April 1959 and, by July they were in the US charts with a rewrite/cover of Chuck Berry's 'Forty Days', retitled 'Thirty Days'!!! Further minor hits followed during the next five years, ending with 1965's 'Bluebird over the mountain' which hit the Canadian top ten in 1965. By this time, the Hawks were spreading their wings ('ouch!! Sorry!!!) and touring every bar and whorehouse in the US (their description!) before meeting John Hammond. Here though is one of their finest, pre-fame moments where (possibly) four of the band tear up the Bo Diddley number with fine guitar work from Robbie Robertson..... OR IS IT?? Around this time Hawkins cousin Roy Buchanan was supposed to be in town, ostensibly to give lessons to Robertson, and some credit him with the guitar on this track. Other reports, however, place Buchanan in Canada in 1961..... to me, it sounds like Robbie and, furthermore, the sleeve notes to the album do not make any mention of Buchanan on any recordings by Hawkins around this time.
Johnny Winter- 'Mean Mistreater'. Released October 1969 on Columbia label. Taken from 'Johnny Winter'
After a false start with 1960's Johnny and the Jammers "School Day Blues" (featuring the 15 year old Johnny) and a 1967 single of 'Tramp'/'Parchman Farm ' with Roy Heads Traits as back-up, Winter released 'The Progressive Blues Experiment' on the tiny Sonobeat label. Realising there was a big wide world outside of Beaumont Texas, Johnny moved to Chicago where he was fortunate enough to meet Mike Bloomfield who invited him to sit in on a Bloomfield/Kooper 'super-session' gig. Winters version of B.B. King's "It's My Own Fault" drew great applause and the CBS representatives present signed him on the spot for what was then, reportedly, the largest recording advance ever ….$600,000!! His debut CBS release featured the same backing musicians with whom he had recorded 'The Progressive Blues Experiment', bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner, plus his brother Edgar Winter on keyboards and saxophone. A real bonus was the appearance of the legendary Willie Dixon on upright bass and Big Walter Horton on harmonica on 'Mean Mistreater'. The success of the album, coupled with an appearance at Woodstock (which led to a short 'dalliance' with Janis Joplin) coincided with the chart busting 'three sided' second album....( I'll let you work that out) 'Second Winter' in 1969. Band disputes saw Edgar branch out solo in 1970 and Johnny team up with The McCoys as, errrr, Johnny Winter and the McCoys. Realising this was something of a mouthful, despite Winters next album carrying that title, the follow up featured a shortened nomenclature 'Johnny Winter And...' (with its follow up live album being entitled the same with 'Live' added as an appendage). A variety of early, pre-CBS tracks were released over the next couple of years and, coupled with Winters descent into drug addiction, his star began to wane. His renaissance however, came in 1974 when he attended a concert in honour of Muddy Waters (which spawned a spin off TV series entitled 'Soundstage' that is still running today) and, in 1974, allowed Winter to pay proper tribute to Muddy by producing four albums with, and by, Muddy. These albums, which garnered three GRAMMY awards, were a high point for both artists and saw Winter again touring to huge audiences. He had further US chart success with both live albums and DVD until his untimely death in 2014.
Rare Earth- 'Train to nowhere'. Released July 1969. Taken from 'Get Ready' on Rare Earth (Tamla Motown) label.
Originally formed as the Sunliners as far back as 1960, the band changed their name but not their fortunes with the 'Dreams/Answers' album on Verve in1968. The following year, Motown signed the group for their, as yet, untitled 'rock' label. Jokingly, the band suggested Rare Earth and, whadduknow, it got a big thumbs up!!! Rare Earth were not the first 'all white' group on Tamla (The Rustix, The Dalton Boys, and The Underdogs had that privilege) but they were the first to chart, in 1970, with a truncated edit of their side long version of Smokey Robinsons 'Get Ready' (No4 and a gold disc winner). There were no band compositions on the album with covers including 'Tobacco Road', 'Feeling Alright' and this version of Savoy Brown Blues Bands 'Blue Matter' album opener from May 1969. It's a fair reflection of where the blues were headed Stateside in the late sixties but it's certainly a long way from Lonnie Mack!!! Perhaps a measure of the bands credibility can be gleaned when it was mentioned dismissively in Gil Scott-Heron's 1970 poem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", which included the line, "The theme song [to the revolution] will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Engelbert Humperdinck, or the Rare Earth." The album does, however, have several highlights in 'Magic Key' 'Tobacco Road' and the full version of 'Get Ready' which is quite dreamy at the start before morphing into some classy 'funky' singing and jamming 'Iron Butterfly' stylee but, beware, there's a five-ish minute drum solo right at the end!!! Plus, who can resist a band whose sleeve notes ask the question 'What explains Rare Earths charisma? Appearance... Each cat stands handsomely tall as if from a fashion rack at Carnaby'. That explains it all then!
Koerner, Ray and Glover- 'Honey Bee'. Taken from 'Lots more Blues, rags and hollers'. Released May 1964 on Elektra Records.
Heading back to the earlier US white blues exponents, let's start with what Allmusic critic Jeff Burger called "the best white blues group......Koerner and Ray were first-rate guitarists, Glover could play harmonica like nobody's business and they all sang with style, enthusiasm, and a dash of humor. Plus, they had great material, some from blues giants like Lead Belly and Memphis Minnie, but much of it original." And here's a Muddy Waters tune, first released as a single in 1951, to prove it. I picked up one of those two-for-one CD collections some years ago which included 'Lots more....' and its cunningly entitled predecessor 'Blues, rags and hollers' and then, about two years ago, I happened on an original US release of 'Even more...', with an additional sticker stating it was a New Zealand issue. That's quite a journey from the US West Coast to New Zealand to a second hand stall in Norwich!!! KR&G first connected in New York City in the spring of 1962. Glover was visiting his pal Ray when Koerner dropped in from Upstate. Amidst the bar hopping and jamming, the three clicked, and the trio was born. By that fall, they were back in Minnesota, jamming and playing clubs and parties but unusually, they didn't regularly play as a trio on stage. In fact, Ray suggested that it would be more accurate to refer to them as "Koerner and/or Ray and/or Glover". They released their debut album in 1963, appeared at the 1964 Newport Festival and, around that time, they played frequently in the Dinkytown area of Minnesota. It was here where they met Bob Dylan on his first visit to the Ten O'Clock Scholar club which, as well as proving a musical influence on Dylan, was also the start of a long friendship between them. As well as recording further group and solo albums for Elektra the trio never made the commercial breakthrough afforded other musicians who emerged during that period. Indeed, the trio's fame was probably only enhanced when Tony Glover published the first instruction book on how to play the blue on harmonica, a book which is still in publication today. Despite appearing regularly live in solo, duo and trio format, they only released six albums in over 30 years in the trio format. Sadly, Ray passed away in 2002 and Tony Glover passed away as recently as May 2019.
Honourable mentions should also go to Captain Beefheart, Janis Joplin/Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Rising Sons (one of the earliest multi-racial groups, discounted from here as lead vocals are, in the main, by the wonderful Taj Mahal), Judy Henske (whose 'High Flying Bird' escapes all efforts to land in my collection...) and many others too numerous to mention here.