Sunday, May 28, 2006

Blues Music - Another Tale/Image

Last Night B and I heard the Steven Segall Blues Band perform. Having never heard of Segall, his "name" as an actor/personality meant nothing to me. TO B and others his name and image obviously meant a lot more.

Segall's band came onstage just before him. It included two guitar players, a bass player, a drummer, an organist, and single male and female backup vocalists. They contrasted with him being all Black (he's White), and appearing to be roughly age 30-40 in general, while he is considerably older.

The band was tight and quite good. Despite a sound system which couldn't handle an eight piece band, they stuck together and clearly showed both their musicianship and poise.

It was interesting to watch Segall perform! He looks at least part Native American, is around 6'5" tall, and is a somewhat heavy (though not excessively so) man who was dressed in a bright orange top, with non-descript blue jeans, with his hair back in a pony tail, etc.

Musically to me he seemed "different" in various ways. Technically he could play the guitar quite rapidly, and with obvious skill. His vocals were at best "moderate", and I couldn't imagine anyone finding him "exceptional". The songs were played without any evident ad libbing or freedom of the performers to express themselves freely. They were very good musicians, but seemed to be "on a tight leash".

Most leaders of blues bands blend in with their groups or simply have the groups back up whatever it is that they give to their audience. Segall's style and personna appeared to me to show him as the "loner" in the midst of music he obviously loves. He seems to me to be only tangentially a deep part of that music. His "Whiteness" in the center of "Black Music" seemed visible. He could "play the notes" in some ways, but he seemed to miss the real feeling of most of the music. Much of the audience found him "wonderful"!

Over the past 35+ years I've heard much blues music! Lonnie Brooks and his band played at a party for my first marriage in 1977 with Honeyboy Edwards sitting in. In the mid-1970's I regularly saw musicians like Jimmy Dawkins, Otis Rush, Magic Slim and many others initially in Black Westside and Southside Blues Clubs in Chicago and later in Northside Clubs.

It is sad to see the true artists who usually, though not always, are Black seemingly be upstaged by White "stars" who lack the real soul of the music, but have the marketing presence to draw the money and attention. Segall clearly didn't feel a need to stand out from his group through "being better" or totally dominating the music. His respect for the music was apparent.

I feared that B would think the music "incredible" and it would be a point of division between us. Surprisingly to me, she found Segall a big disappointment - feeling very differently from me.

I would hope that those who want to hear "real blues" will discover some of the many blues musicians available to them. Segall is no more a "blues find" than John Belushi and Dan A. - in the "Blues Brothers" were stars. Each had and has his own expertise, but not in Blues Music, which isn't to say that their shows couldn't be entertaining.

I believe that IF Segall really wanted to "play the blues" he would either play in a trio with a bass player and drummer where he could "be the star" - and sole focus of the Group, or would play in a quartet/quintet with another guitar player alternating lead and rhythm, a bass player, a drummer and (if a quintet) with a keyboard player. Such groups could focus on "the music" instead of being "a show".

I enjoyed the evening! It was interesting!




wheels2 said...


Two thoughts.

How about John Hammond, yes or no?

I heard that John Belushi and Dan A. got the insiration from Robert Cray, who was playing in Eugene, Oregon when they were making "Animal House" there.

geo said...

Don't get what y'er asking/saying? John Hammond has made nice music + his father recorded some incredible music in the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere. I enjoyed Belushi and Dan A - and to the degree that they may have helped other musicians - great!

There are patterns:

* Paul Whiteman - "safe" (e.g. White) - made a fortune vs. even Count Basie - took a long time to make much money

* Dave Brubeck - "safe" - vs. countless Jazz Greats

* Hank Ballard - originate The Twist - but was "too risque" - Chubby Checker (also Black) - was "safe"

* Jonny Lang vs. ?

Many of the White Musicians are great musically and some are really good People! They should add to the mix, not be the "super-stars" - as often as they are.