There was a time when only black folks loved the Blues… or at least were hip to that music.
Then in the 60’s things changed. White musicians found the blues. Then a white audience came along, thanks to the folk “scare” of the early 60’s.
How? Well the story of how the blues became white is here on this page.
But even that page only tells one side of it. Mostly the English side.
The fact is, there were young American whites getting turned on to the blues too at that time. People like Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Elvin Bishop, Paul Butterfield, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Charley Musselwhite, Steve Miller, John Hammond Jr.. and many more. They formed bands by the name of Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, The Blues Project, The Electric Flag, Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, Steve Miller Band, and some less-famous others.
Some of these blues lovers were lucky. They lived in and around Chicago in the late 50’s and early 60’s when the blues greats were still around and playing local clubs. You could find Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy, and all the Chicago greats playing small clubs in the city. Most were gracious enough to share their music with these white, middle class kids who sure couldn’t play the blues… yet.
A New Documentary Tells The Story
So now we can get the “American” side of how the blues became white.
There’s a new documentary called “Born in Chicago,” by film maker John Anderson, that tells the story of these white, middle-class, American kids who decided they had to follow these black musicians around until they taught them the music. They had the nerve to go into mostly black parts of town, into unfriendly clubs, and see their heroes and masters of the music they loved.
They hounded them, got to sit in with them, and asked the questions they needed to ask, so they could learn the music. The proof that they succeeded is in the bands that I mentioned above.
One of them, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was as good as any blues band, white or black, from that era. And the fact that former Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf drummer Sam Lay and bass player Jerome Arnold, were in the band, is proof enough of the regard black bluesmen had for this band. It’s the real deal.
Mike Bloomfield, from the band, has been called the best white blues guitarist of all time. Why even Bob Dylan called him “the best guitar player I ever heard on any level.” Not sure that Bob is an expert on this, but there you go.
And if you are not familiar with the other bands, you might want to give a listen. The early Steve Miller Band was a great blues band (Boz Scaggs was in that first band and album). And Al Kooper’s band, The Blues Project, is one of my favorite bands and their album “Projections” is etched in my memory from hours and hours of drug-enhanced listening. They were based in New York by the way.
Now the bad news…
The documentary was first was shown in New York back in January of 2013, and then at the South-By-Southwest Festival in the spring. Those have been the only two major showings. It is not publicly available as a DVD or download, and there are no official plans to put the film into regular theater distribution… yet.
I’ll be watching and keep you posted when things change.
For now here’s the trailer for the movie and the only thing about it I could find on YouTube.