Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Who you callin' a Bluesman?!

This rant was written by the late great Northwest blues guitarist Tom McFarland (left, at the Owl Cafe in Seattle, around 1989) for my old Caldonia web site in the late '90s.

In the sixties, amongst the hair and flowers, there was Blues in the Bay Area. There was a club in Berkeley called Mandrakes that I used to play. One night Big Moose Walker came and sat in for four hours with my band. John Lee Hooker played that club, as did Muddy Waters. In 1964 I saw the first West Coast appearance of The Paul Butterfield Band at the Fillmore Auditorium.

There was a small club on Haight Street in San Francisco called the Juke Box. LC "Good Rockin" Robinson appeared there frequently. One night T-Bone Walker played there. In addition to bass, drums and second guitar, Bert Wilson, the tenor sax player who now lives in Olympia, WA, was playing with T-Bone. I must say, on that night I heard more T-Bone Walker licks than I ever heard in my life. He was playing his Barney Kessel guitar, his ES-5 having been stolen in Europe.

In addition to all his hits like Stormy Monday and T-Bone Shuffle, he played the old standards Perdido and Willow Weep For Me. T-Bone had the ability, like Kenny Burrell, to give Blues a Jazz flavor and make old standards sound like Blues. Unlike the so-called blues-rock of today, the musicians actually knew how to play their instruments and had respect for the music. Needless to say, seeing and hearing T-Bone was a once in a lifetime experience.

If it's needless to say, why am I saying it? Because I want people to think about where this music came from. T-Bone was the true father of electric blues guitar. Read what B.B. King has to say about him in his autobiography. Buy T-Bone's music, which has been reissued on CD. Read his biography, "Stormy Monday" by Helen Dance. Learn how to play the guitar solo from Honky Tonk. Study Wayne Bennett's playing on Bobby Bland's version of Stormy Monday.

Get rid of those Strats and get a real guitar. That's spelled G-I-B-S-O-N. Oh, Buddy Guy plays a Strat? Well, let me tell you something my friend: Buddy Guy is a Bluesman-you're not! I'm not either. The most we can hope to be is aspiring blues musicians. To be a BLUESMAN or BLUESWOMAN there are certain qualifications. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: am I descended from African slaves? Get the video "Chicago Blues" put out by Time/Life. The one that has Dick Gregory in it.

Now don't come around asking to sit in when you don't even know the basics. And last but not least, don't bother arguing about what I'm saying - I been there and gone.


Blues Boss said...

Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to see Tom perform or get to know Tom McFarland. And, from what I can gather from others I missed something special!

Mike Lynch said...

Tom was a great guitarist and vocalist, plus a very intelligent and witty guy. I played with Tom for about a year in the late '80s, and learned a lot during that time about what being a sideman is all about.

I see that Arhoolie has re-released his first album, "Travelin' With the Blues", on CD. This is my favorite music of Tom's - I recommend this recording highly.