Blues in the night

Joe Alexander looks at the goodies on offer at the The Edinburgh International Blues Festival

The Edinburgh lntemational Blues Festival is now well-established as an autonomous adjunct to the Jazz Festival and, on paper at least, boasts its strongest programme in some time. The opening session on Friday night is headed by The Mick Taylor All-Stars (with Zoot Money and Snowy White in the ranks). while Saturday’s headliner is guitarist and singer Larry McCray.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the three bill-topping acts, though. is the Charlie Musselwhite Band. The harmonica player tumed 50 earlier this year, and has been around as a musician since the early 60s, when he moved north from his native Mississippi (where he had been running moonshine whiskey as a hazardous sideline to his musical ambitions) to Chicago.

He gradually began to establish a presence on the local scene, although he well remembers scuffling around ‘with great big holes in my shoes and my feet wet from walking in the snow.’ Musselwhite was around when the late-60s Chicago psychedelic blues- rock craze really hit, but his impact was rather overshadowed by the hard-blowing manner of Paul Butterfield and he eventually decided to give the West Coast a try.

‘After I made my first album for Vanguard in 1967. I took leave from my day job in a factory in Chicago

7‘! harmonica man

" 314.

Charlie hisselwhite:

and went out to California, expecting I’d be back in a month. It was winter and when I saw the sunshine in California, i knew I wasn't going back.

‘My record was getting played on the radio out there and a lot of blues players were moving west John Lee Hooker came out not long after I did, and Albert Collins too. They had the big halls out there, places like the Fillmore, and to them the blues were exotic, and the people were flocking to hear what we

were playing.‘

Musselwhite established enough of a reputation to keep working when the leaner times hit in the 70s. ‘even though it was slim’. and continued to develop as a musician. His laconic, laid-back harp style and rather monochrome singing are now complemented by guitar, an instrument he has been playing informally for years, but only recently introduced into his stage act.

He will lead his own toun'ng band in Edinburgh, on a bill which includes Scotland's leading blues harmonica player. Fraser Spiers. with his Blues Cruisers. the smaller. straight-ahead version of his more jazz-inflected Road Rockets. Spiers also has recently given up the dayjob to concentrate on music and is looking for fresh material to add to his repertoire.

‘We wiU still be playing some of the real favourites, because people expect to hear them. and they can be disappointed if they don't, but there are only so many ways you can do a song like “Hoochie Coochie Man". The over-reliance on the best-known tunes, though, means that there are literally thousands of great songs waiting to be pulled off albums and re- introduced to audiences, and we will be trying to come up with some ofthem.’

Spiers will also guest with singer Suzanne Bonnar and her intriguing new band on Saturday night, returning the compliment following Suzanne’s guest spot with his band in their Jazz Festival gig at the Music Box on Thursday afternoon. Bonnar has recruited Chick Lyall and Nigel Clark, both jazz players, to play in a straight blues style and both are raring to go.

Most of the rest of the featured artists are Scottish, but one other band of American visitors who may be worth checking out are the California-based Lightning Willie and the Poor Boys, who share the Friday night session with Mick Taylor.

The Edinburgh International Blues Festival is at the

Caledonian Brewery. Fri lZ—Sun 14. See Jazz

Festival listings for details.

_ Nashville cat

Doc Cheatham cut his lirst disc for Columbia in 1992, but the title carried a built-in obsolescence. ‘The Eighty Seven Years 0t Doc Cheatham’ has already stretch to 89 and the trumpeter shows no signs of quitting. lie was born Adolphus Anthony Cheatham in llashville in 1905, and his career has spanned lust about the entire history of iazz.

He began playing at litteen, but his lirst serious reputation was made in the swing band era, as the mainstay of the trumpet section in bands led by the likes of Chick Webb, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, and later Benny Goodman. With the demise of the swing are after the war, he turned again to small groups, refined his approach to the business at soloing (as against the lead trumpet status he

had cultivated in the big bands). He has worked back and forward across both tonnats ever since.

Cheatham comes out of an old, old school of tan, but has kept his ears open down the years, and his style sounds classic rather than old- iashioned. lie shares Armstrong’s love oi melody (and his inclination to sing, albeit less impressively), playing with a lovely, lluld legato line which gives lull weight to each note and phrase, while never losing track of the need to tell a story.

‘It’s the only way I know how to play. There is no one way to go in a solo - there are several ways and you must choose the right way Immediately. I have what i think of as a photograph of the melody running In my head, and I don’t worry about chords, because i can hear the harmonic structure in the back of my mind. All that has become like second nature to me over the years, but when I’m gone, it’ll be Just about over, my kind of playing.’ (Kenny Mathleson)

18 The List 29 July-ll August 1994