October Blues AOTM: Memphis Slim - Blue Memphis


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strawforest007
09-30-2009, 07:00 PM
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Memphis Slim – Blue Memphis
(Released 1970, re-released 2006)

A blues concept album? Almost. Side 1 is called the ‘Blue Memphis Suite’ an arrangement by Jerry Long, it tells the story of Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman). Side 2 is apparently filler tracks made in a later session just to make the album long enough and consists of more conventional tracks, but with interesting additions, twists and turns.

Not only is Memphis Slim considered one of the great blues piano-men but for this album he’s accompanied by a few other pedigree musicians, notably Chris Spedding, John Paul Jones, Duster Bennett and Peter Green.

I picked this album up primarily because I knew it featured Peter Green and with Memphis at the helm, it wasn’t going to be a bad album now was it?! For those who don’t know about Green’s troubles around the time of recording (June 1970), he’d just left Fleetwood Mac and was in mental disarray, taking a strong dislike to the music business for being the money machine it is. However he jumped at the opportunity when asked for this album, having already collaborated with blues pianists Eddie Boyd and Otis Spann. Honoured I guess.

The vast majority of tracks sound like they were recorded yesterday, the bonus tracks on the CD re-release being the only exception which were poorly mixed back in the day (the master tapes missing, presumed destroyed/reused). Detracts nothing from the overall album and they are indeed a bonus.

The whole album comes up with new and inspired takes on the blues and is seemingly well ahead of it’s time. I’ve never encountered anything quite like this album, particularly the opening Blue Memphis Suite which forces you to listen to it like a proper album. Admittedly at first I wasn’t over-impressed, but I’ve been converted over time and am now convinced this is an album of pure genius.

Track by track:

~ The Blue Memphis Suite ~
1) Born in Tennessee:
Memphis starts his life story to this slick, cool track, featuring trumpets and a clavichord. The tempo change later on develops the song, (Memphis moving on from childhood to leaving home). Peter Green’s wah-wah fills bridges the gap into the later pumping rhythm. Add some chimes in there too for good measure.
2) Chicago:
No stopping, straight into the trumpets which I can only describe as sounding like a theme tune for something. Memphis humorously talks his story of playing in the Chicago blues taverns. Track clocks in at 34 seconds.
3) Me and My Piano:
Slow blues; Memphis and the band play for a while, Peter Green giving his usual tasteful playing then the band stops. Memphis plays his piano in slow blues bliss. Nothing flashy, nothing technically complicated but as deep, soulful, warm and subtle a solo you will hear.
4) Handy Man:
The pounding drums and bass in this track rather reminds me of ‘Stop Messing Around’ by Fleetwood Mac, that aside Peter still takes the back seat. Memphis sings of how busy he’s been with the ladies, ending the track by counting them for you. Nice!
5) Feel like Screaming and Crying:
Slowest track on the album and the opening stand-alone track. A priceless Green and Slim introduction, Green having more freedom on this track to solo away and he obliges with his call-response play to Slims’ singing. Beautiful chimes on this too later on and a complete blues riff change make this one of the strongest tracks on the album. The non-traditional but inspired smooth outro on the electric organ from John Paul Jones who’s cropped up on a few of the tracks already.
6) Riding on the Blues Train:
Slow blues, picking up almost where the band stopped in ‘Me and my Piano’. A very useful lesson is spoken by Memphis about the blues, perhaps symbolising the point where he realised what is was all about (as a part of the Memphis Slim story he’s telling, not him getting a revelation in the actual song being played, that would be odd)!
7) Boogin’ and Bluesin’:
Up tempo again, Memphis tells of his travelling, drinking, playing and fun times. The expert part of this song technically is the fade into the next track. How on earth they managed to co-ordinate the whole band so well to ease the pace down so consistently is astounding.
8) Wind Gonna Rise:
Nothing but Memphis singing his blues, interacting with Green’s guitar. The introduction progression pops up throughout to twist the 12-bar a bit. Green gets to showcase a solo that could only be his. This perfectly contrasts to the previous songs and rounds of the Memphis Suite with aplomb.
~ End of the Blue Memphis Suite ~
9) Youth Wants To Know:
A stunning solo from Slim: a huge highlight on the album. Peter Green back onto the wah with the most beautiful and delicate licks behind Slims’ verses. Sounds a bit like Earl Hooker. Stay tuned…
10) Boogie Woogie 1-9-7-0:
Boogie all the way home with this one. Up-tempo and smooth this track doesn’t disappoint. Duster Bennett harmonises with Peter Green in the solos, just like they do on Bennett’s first solo albums.
11) Otis Spann and Earl Hooker:
This is a tribute to the guys in the track title who had recently past away, seemingly without the recognition due at the time. Peter is wah-wahhing all over this in the style of Earl while Memphis emulates Otis. Memphis reminisces and contemplates in this fitting tribute.
12) Chicago Seven:
Get in this groove! Green plays a familiar riff and we’re away. Everything in this song clicks ever so well. Inspired by the recent political event of the Chicago Seven.
13) Mason Dixon Line:
It’s all about trains. The opening sounds represent the sounds of a chugging steam train. A funkier number with interesting interactions and breaks occur from nowhere.
14) Mother Earth [bonus track on CD re-release]:
One of Memphis Slims’ famous tracks from previous years and this is a killer rendition. Opening with Duster Bennett’s harmonica and Peter Green issuing the signature descending note riff, the track rises and rises with intensity. Backing vocalists add to the haunting aura. Slims’ talk-singing style at its very best.
15) I’ve Got Soul [bonus track on CD re-release]:
A soul/funk/blues that is clearly doesn’t fit too well on this album but nonetheless a good track. Green gets to do lead solo breaks and has more freedom, Duster is on harmonica throughout, but it does seem to lack the refinement and deliberation of the other tracks.

Overall this is not only an interesting album to listen to but has significant importance in blues album history. Why? Creativity. The whole approach to the blues for this album has I feel given it another angle: Autobiographical lyrics, clever arrangements and superb musicians playing to their best on diverse instruments. Had it appeared on the market a year or so earlier before the blues boom declined significantly it would’ve surely made more of an impact.

For those interested, here’s further reading: http://discog.fleetwoodmac.net/discog.php?pid=244

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meh!
10-01-2009, 11:42 AM
Nice one!

cam_sampbell
10-01-2009, 12:27 PM
Anyone know where I could listen to this?

Spotify and iTunes have failed me, and Grooveshark only brought up Feel Like Screaming and Crying

carmour
10-01-2009, 05:26 PM
Anyone know where I could listen to this?

Spotify and iTunes have failed me, and Grooveshark only brought up Feel Like Screaming and Crying

Same here, tried to find it and had no luck, sounds like an interesting album :)

strawforest007
10-01-2009, 06:40 PM
emusic and yahoo have it for download.