The City of Chicago will dedicate a ten-story mural to late blues icon Muddy Waters June 8th as part of the Chicago Blues Festival, TheAssociated Pressreports. The mural is painted on the side of the building at 17 North State Street, at the corner of State and Washington Streets.
Waters was born in Mississippi and learned how to play guitar and harmonica as a teenager. He moved to Chicago in 1943, where he worked various odd jobs while playing clubs and cutting records. After several unsuccessful singles, he scored his first hits at the end of the Forties for Chess Records, including “Rollin’ Stone” and “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” Over the next decade, Waters would help define the gritty Chicago blues sound that would inspire rock and roll.
“We can’t even imagine music today without Muddy’s contributions coming out of the Chicago blues scene,” said Mark Kelly, who led the Big Walls project for Columbia College, “He’s a cultural hero and maybe someone who should be better honored and remembered, and what an incredible opportunity to put Muddy Waters up front and center in the middle of Chicago.”
Two months and change after he accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature in a small ceremony in Stockholm, Bob Dylan has delivered his Nobel Lecture, required of all laureates in order to finalize the award. “Now that the lecture has been delivered and made public, the Dylan adventure is coming to a close,” writes Sara Danius, permanent secretary for the Swedish Academy, in a blog post.
The lecture, 26-and-a-half minutes long, finds Dylan contemplating the literary roots of his work and the nature of it, and of song, more elementally. “When I received the Noel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature,” opens Dylan. “I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I’m gonna try and articulate it to you — and most likely it will go in a roundabout way.”
He opens — as slow, thoughtful, Sesame Street-style piano plinks softly in the background, his paper rustling here and there — with some thoughts on Buddy Holly, who he says looms the largest in his life. “I felt a kin … like he was an older brother. “Something about him seemed permanent.” Dylan says Holly looked him straight in the eye, and claims that a day or two after that, Holly died. Through Holly and Leadbelly, he was exposed to the raw nerve and roots of American music. “I had a natural feeling for the ancient ballads in country blues…. but everything else I had to learn from scratch,” the last word pronounced ‘scrats.’
“You know that Stagger Lee was a bad man, and that Frankie was a good girl, you that Washington is a bourgeois town and you heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek and you’re pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy. You heard the muffled drums, the fifes that played lowly, you’ve seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen.”
Dylan then examines his literary development by looking, through a refracted lens, at the three works that had the biggest impact on him personally and artistically — Moby-Dick, All Quiet On the Western Front and The Odyssey. He penetrates each in a near-breathless examination of the themes and plot points and contours and shapes and colors of each work, much as he does in that kaleidoscopic folk music family tree. “And that’s it — that’s the whole story,” Dylan says of Moby-Dick, after an impressionistic monologue that could have been ripped from Finnegan’s Wake.
“So what does it all mean,” he wonders, concluding a pointillistic breakdown of The Odyssey. “[The themes] could mean a lot of different things. If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs, and I’m not gonna worry about it — what it all means.
“Songs are unlike literature,” he continues, softly contradicting the Academy. “They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words of Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage, just as the lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get to listen to some of these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert, or on record, or however people are listening to songs these days.”
Dylan closes with a quote from Homer: “Sing in me, oh muse / And through me, tell the story.”
Gregg Allman, a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, the incendiary group that inspired and gave shape to both the Southern rock and jam-band movements, died on Saturday at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 69.
His death was announced in a statement on Mr. Allman’s official website. No cause was given, but the statement said he had “struggled with many health issues over the past several years.”
The band’s lead singer and keyboardist, Mr. Allman was one of the principal architects of a taut, improvisatory fusion of blues, jazz, country and rock that — streamlined by inheritors like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band — became the Southern rock of the 1970s.
The group, which originally featured Mr. Allman’s older brother, Duane, on lead and slide guitar, was also a precursor to a generation of popular jam bands, like Widespread Panic and Phish, whose music features labyrinthine instrumental exchanges.
Mr. Allman’s percussive Hammond B-3 organ playing helped anchor the Allman Brothers’ rhythm section and provided a chuffing counterpoint to the often heated musical interplay between his brother and the band’s other lead guitarist, Dickey Betts.
Gregg Allman’s vocals, by turns squalling and brooding, took their cue from the anguished emoting of down-home blues singers like Elmore James, as well as from more sophisticated ones like Bobby Bland. Foremost among Mr. Allman’s influences as a vocalist, though, was the Mississippi-born blues and soul singer and guitarist known as Little Milton.
Gregg Allman had one of the most recognizable voices of his generation. And he always felt like a blues artist — one who was haunted by losses that propelled some of the most memorable music of the 1970s. Allman died Saturday due to complications of liver cancer. He was 69.
Gregg Allman and his older brother, Duane, were born in Nashville, Tenn., but raised in northern Florida. They were children of the South, where a blend of country, blues and gospel could always be heard on the radio and in the air. Gregg Allman’s voice reflected all of those influences.
“Growing up in the South at that time, there was a proximity to a lot of different kinds of music,” says Alan Light, co-author of Allman’s autobiography, My Cross To Bear. “There were different influences that enabled you to draw on a spectrum of sounds and different emotions — that in other parts of the country, you just wouldn’t be exposed to in the same way.”
Gregg Allman was just one year younger than Duane. They formed a close-knit bond after their father was murdered when Gregg was 2. As teenagers, they formed various bands that mimicked the sound of the British Invasion.
But when Duane Allman left behind a lucrative gig as a session musician in Muscle Shoals, Ala., he called his younger brother to join a band with two lead guitarists and two drummers. That’s how a collection of friends and former bandmates coalesced into The Allman Brothers Band, which released its first album in 1969.
Two decades after the storied music of Cuba was introduced to the world at large with the album and film Buena Vista Social Club, a sequel to the acclaimed 1999 documentary about the group will arrive this month.
Rolling Stone presents the trailer for Buena Vista Social Club: Adios, which focuses on the Cuban musicians’ history, the fruitful aftermath of the original film and the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club’s final tour in 2016, including their historic farewell show in Havana.
Since the 1999 film’s release, many of the members of the Buena Vista Social Club – including Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez and Orlando “Cachaíto” López – have died. But the sequel deftly and thoughtfully reflects on their legacy and efforts by surviving members Omara Portuondo, Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal and Barbarito Torres to keep the group’s music alive.
“The music and the culture of Cuba are very much intertwined. So as these artists share their music, they are also sharing their incredible history. We are able to experience the last hundred years of the country’s history through their eyes,” producer Zak Kilberg said in a statement.
“Some of these musicians lived into their sixties, seventies and eighties – and nineties in Compay’s case – before finding the type of global success that they did with the Buena Vista Social Club. There is a hope and an optimism in their story that is unique and powerful.”
The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club’s final tour also brought the group to the White House, where they performed for Barack Obama.
“For nearly two decades, this group has been a symbol of the strong bonds between the Cuban and American people. Bonds of friendship, culture and of course music,” the former president said at the time.
Half a century later, Redding’s influence as a singer and spirit of soul music remains. Author Jonathan Gould, who’s written a new biography called Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, joined NPR’s Scott Simon to discuss the singer’s relatively short, yet profoundly impactful career. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.
Scott Simon: You open your book with the most stunning quote from Bob Weir, who had seen Otis Redding at Monterey.
Jonathan Gould: Bob Weir, of course, was the rhythm guitarist in the Grateful Dead, and his comment about Otis was that he was pretty sure that he had seen God onstage. I think that that sort of summed up the response of the whole crowd there, which had never really seen anything onstage quite like this.
How did Redding walk into the door of Stax Records in Memphis?
This is the Hollywood aspect of Otis’ story. He was a singer in a band that was led by a very flamboyant guitarist named Johnny Jenkins. They were managed by the young white college boy in Macon [Ga.] who eventually went on to manage Otis as well — but at that time, the whole focus of Phil Walden, his future manager, was on Johnny Jenkins. And Phil and a colorful character named Joe Galkin engineered an opportunity for Johnny Jenkins and Otis Redding to record at Stax Records in Memphis. The plan called for Otis to drive Johnny to Memphis from Macon, and then hopefully to find a chance to sing after Johnny had finished his work there.
And the way the session played out was that Johnny impressed no one at Stax. After a few hours Jim Stewart, who was the owner and engineer at Stax, announced to Joe Galkin that he really didn’t think that he was going to be able to make any kind of a record with this fellow. And Galkin pointed out that Atlantic Records had fronted a certain amount of money for this session and there was still time on the clock, and [he] said, “Well, Otis had a ballad that he wanted to sing.” And the ballad turned out to be “These Arms Of Mine.”
Rolling Stone magazine turns 50 this year, and co-founder Jann Wenner has written the foreword to a new book celebrating the anniversary. Wenner started Rolling Stonein San Francisco in 1967 with $7,500 of borrowed money, donated office space and some used typewriters. He was a 21-year-old Berkeley dropout who was into all the great music coming out in the year of the “Summer of Love” — and he wanted to create a magazine that took rock and roll seriously.
“You couldn’t read about it in Time magazine, you don’t read about it in newspapers, it wasn’t on TV, there were no movies — it just was considered somewhat rude and very much a teenage-girl phenomenon,” Wenner tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers.
In other words, rock and roll wasn’t getting the respect Wenner felt it deserved, given the place it occupied in the nation’s culture. Baby boomers were just starting to enter college, to become the best educated and most affluent generation the U.S. had ever seen — and music was an inextricable part of the lives of that generation.
“As it came of age, it had rock and roll as the glue that held that all together,” Wenner says. “[Rock and roll] was kind of the tribal telegraph, [through] which ideas about the world were being shared, and ideas about the American experience were being informally passed around. Dylan and The Beatles and the Stones were shaping a worldview that we were part of.”
NEW ORLEANS — The sound of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a syncopated beat: rooted in Africa, mingled with elements from Europe and the Americas, transmitted through generations, played by hand and determined to get people dancing. The beat doesn’t have to sell a song; it’s a joy in itself. It’s proudly old-fashioned, celebrating its own history. Yet it lives in the immediate present, the moment when music generates motion.
Jazz Fest, as everyone calls it, is as stubbornly exceptional and as proudly nostalgic as the city it reflects. First presented in 1970, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival became one template for the modern pop festival, like Coachella or Bonnaroo, with music on multiple stages, assorted nonmusic exhibitions, and food and crafts vendors geared to the crowd.
But where other major festivals tend to be brief invasions of their locales, Jazz Fest is an institution, inseparable from the city where it also sponsors free events through the year and supports the only-in-New-Orleans public radio station WWOZ. And where other major festivals have current pop hitmakers as their big draws, along with an undercard of new acts striving to reach the main stage in a year or two, Jazz Fest prizes the regional over the national, putting just a few big names in headlining spots.
Its first weekend this year, which started last Friday, included Lorde, Usher with the Roots, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Elle King, the Trey Anastasio Band, Alabama Shakes and Maroon 5. Its second half, starting on Thursday, has scheduled Stevie Wonder, Dave Matthews, Snoop Dogg and Wilco. Nearly everything else — except, this year, for a contingent of superb bands from Cuba — stays local and familiar, as untrendy as a festival can be. (The festival ends of Sunday.) Onstage during the festival, I saw more sousaphones than laptops.
The visiting pop headliners attract hometown residents and a youth contingent. Out-of-towners — many grizzled and wearing Hawaiian-style souvenir shirts from previous Jazz Fests — return for an annual immersion in Louisiana lore. That means brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians, who perform on stages and — simulating the city’s continuing street traditions — in miniparades through the fairgrounds where the festival is held. It also means blues, zydeco from bayou country and a Jazz Fest touchstone, the gospel tent, where singers, preachers and choirs of everyday worshipers belt out praises and gratitude.
Jazz Fest’s New Orleans aesthetic is defined not by the big pop chorus but by live, danceable grooves. New Orleans audiences appreciate instrumental music; Jazz Fest has long been hospitable to jam bands and, this year, to bands like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, whose live sets move toward improvisation. The “heritage” in the festival’s name also looms large. Jazz Fest glorifies genre as much as individual musicianship; New Orleans is full of performers who proudly steep themselves in vintage styles and a shared repertoire, handed down from parent to child and embraced by musicians who move into the city.
New Orleans honors its ancestors, keeping old songs current and paying tribute in ways that go deeper than borrowing surefire hits, although this year’s Jazz Fest had its share of crowd-pleasing Prince covers. Inevitably, over 48 years Jazz Fest has faced generational change and loss; this year’s lineup included sets devoted to definitive New Orleans figures like the traditional jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain and the songwriter Allen Toussaint.
Visiting musicians often adapt to Jazz Fest, not the other way around. Nas, the New York rapper, played with the Soul Rebels, a New Orleans brass band, reminding listeners that “these are my roots, too.”
More subtly, the festival leads listeners to hear musical kinships — particularly, this year, from a Cuban contingent that included Gente de Zona, a reggaetón group that has won a Latin Grammy, and the Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro, founded in 1927, playing vintage-style Cuban son. There are longstanding ties between the music of New Orleans and of the Caribbean, particularly Cuba; what Jelly Roll Morton called the “Spanish tinge” was actually the Afro-Cuban rhythms that made their way into New Orleans Mardi Gras music, jazz and R&B.
Stax Records will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a string of releases designed to highlight the label’s history and legendary soul sound and reunite its long-divided catalog. The year-long campaign is a collaboration between Rhino Entertainment and Concord Music Group and launches May 19th with the Stax Classics series.
Rhino and Concord also plan to reissue numerous classic Stax records on vinyl, including a 50th anniversary pressing of Redding and Thomas’ 1967 collaborative effort King and Queenand Redding’s 1965 solo album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. Other projects include reissues of Melvin Van Peebles’ soundtrack to the classic blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and John Gary Williams, the rare solo debut from the Mad Lads frontman.
A three-disc Stax 60th box set is also in the works, as is the fourth installment of the Complete Stax Singles series. The new edition will include selections from the Stax catalog as well as offerings from its sister label, Volt, and various subsidiaries Enterprise, Gospel Truth, Hip and Chalice.
Among the biggest projects of the 60th anniversary campaign will be a massive overhaul of Stax’s digital catalog. Rhino and Concord plan to make numerous Stax records available to stream online for the first time, while they’ll also properly remaster a slew of classic albums specifically for digital outlets.
While Stax’s 60th anniversary is itself cause for celebration, Rhino and Concord’s collaborative campaign notably marks the long-awaited reunification of the Stax catalog, which has effectively been split since 1968. That year, Stax severed its ties with Atlantic Records when Warner Bros. purchased the latter. Nevertheless, Atlantic managed to walk away with much of Stax’s pre-May 1968 catalog, which boasted a bevy of hits from Redding, Booker T. and more.
Music was always her refuge, but Ella Fitzgerald never thought she would be a singer until she won an Amateur Night contest at the Apollo Theater in 1934.
One hundred years ago Tuesday, in a working-poor neighborhood of Newport News, Va., a laundress and a shipyard worker had a baby girl. The father soon disappeared, and the mother and child moved north to New York. The mother died. The girl ran away and became one of the most important singers of the 20th century.
Ella Fitzgerald could sing anything: a silly novelty song, like her breakthrough hit, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” A samba that scatted. A ballad, spooling out like satin.
And, as Harlem historian John T. Reddick points out, she did it all with a certain lightness. “Despite whatever difficulties she had in her life, you could hear the joy,” Reddick says.
Fitzgerald’s joy rang out through what Smithsonian Curator of American Music John Haase says were terrible days. “It was a really tough time: segregation, the Great Depression, poverty, unemployment,” he says.
From early on, music was Fitzgerald’s salvation. It was where she lived. She could lose herself in it and go somewhere else, no matter what was happening around her.
Northeastern University music historian Judith Tick imagines the young girl “singing by herself in a corner of a recess schoolyard and looking happy, smiling and laughing.” Tick, who’s writing a Fitzgerald biography, found some schoolteacher’s progress reports on the young singer from ages 7 to 13, which said that Fitzgerald was an excellent student with a good memory.
“When she was 7 years old, one of her teachers called her ‘self-reliant,’ ” Tick says. “And then a couple of years later one called her ‘ambitious.’ ”
“She was on the streets of Harlem dancing for tips,” Haase says.
She earned more pennies as a lookout for cops outside a brothel. At one point, she was arrested for truancy and sent to a reform school, where she was regularly beaten. So she ran away — this awkward, gawky girl with skinny legs and old, cast-off boots — with no money, living on the streets and sleeping where she could.
Fitzgerald almost never talked about all that. What she did talk about was an Amateur Night contest at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 1934. She was 17 years old.
“I never thought I was a singer,” Fitzgerald once told Brian Linehan of the CBC. “When I first went on the stage, I went out to dance. … But I’d never been in front of the lights and I saw all of those people out there, I just got stage fright. And the man said, ‘Well, you’re out here. Do something!’ ”
But she couldn’t dance, because her legs were shaking — and who could blame her?
“The Apollo audiences were ruthless,” Haase says. “Especially the upper balcony [with] the cheap seats. … Those kids would make the upper balcony jump up and down if they liked somebody, and boo like hell if they didn’t.”
Fitzgerald admired singer Connee Boswell’s style — rhythmic, lilting and sweet. She decided to sing like her.
“And they said, ‘Oh, that girl can sing.’ And I won first prize,” Fitzgerald recalled.
Janis Joplin performed with Big Brother and the Holding Company at Monterey Pop. After the festival, she was swiftly signed by Clive Davis.CreditTed Streshinsky/Corbis, via Getty Images
Fifty years ago, the idea of the rock festival was hatched with a simple but bold ambition: to get the same respect as jazz.
Lou Adler, the Los Angeles record producer and ageless hipster, recalls a meeting in the spring of 1967 where he, Paul McCartney and the Mamas and the Papas — the group that rode “California Dreamin’” to stardom on Mr. Adler’s label, Dunhill — discussed what became the Monterey International Pop Festival.
“The conversation drifted toward the fact that rock ’n’ roll was not considered an art form in the way that jazz was,” said Mr. Adler, who at 83 still sports shades and a whitened Daddy-O beard. “With the possibility of doing something at Monterey, at the same place as the jazz festival, it just seemed like a validation to us.”
Monterey Pop, held June 16 to 18, 1967, at the fairgrounds in Monterey, Calif., down the coast from San Francisco, was pivotal in rock’s evolution as a force in the entertainment business and the culture at large. It served as the blueprint for the explosion of rock festivals that culminated in Woodstock, and with its crowds of face-painted hippies and slogan of “music, love and flowers,” Monterey defined the look, spirit and sound of the Summer of Love.
The impact of the festival’s performances is hard to comprehend now, when buzz bands can crash and burn on social media before ever going on tour. Monterey was the breakout moment for Jimi Hendrix, who lit his guitar on fire, and Janis Joplin, who was quickly signed by another fresh face in the business, Clive Davis of Columbia Records. The Who, Ravi Shankar and Otis Redding got some of their first exposure to the American mainstream there.
For many of the performers, however, it was all just a really groovy time.
“It was a great hang,” said Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, who recalled a backstage jam where Hendrix sheepishly asked if he could sit in on bass. “Everybody was there — everybody but the Beatles.”
Exactly 50 years later, the festival will be celebrated with a new event, again called the Monterey International Pop Festival, and held at the fairgrounds from June 16 to 18. Featuring Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, Gary Clark Jr., Jim James, Kurt Vile, the Head the Heart, Father John Misty and Mr. Lesh with his Terrapin Family Band, the new festival makes a case for Monterey Pop as a continuing influence in the age of Coachella and Bonnaroo, and the organizers will walk a fine line in honoring the spirit of the original.