Documentary, structured in three parts, telling the story of what happened to blues music on its journey from southern USA to the heart of British pop and rock culture.
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A lot of people wonder, "What is the blues?"
I'm gonna tell you what the blues is.
This programme contains some strong language.
This is the story of an unlikely love affair, that was awakened, innocently enough,
in the drabness of '50s Britain,
but by the '70s, had blossomed into a global passion.
From its origins as a secret society, all the way to the international stage,
this is what happened when Britain got the blues.
'50s Britain - a bombed-out country marked by austerity,
demob suits, and dreams of better times to come.
A generation of post-war kids found itself stranded
in the dust-covered landscape of national reconstruction.
Yeah, it was grey.
Like, "When the hell are we gonna get out of here?
"I thought we won?!"
Bloody awful. You couldn't get any sweets, either.
We were on rationing, baby, big time.
There was no colour whatsoever in Britain.
Glasgow didn't exist, there was just a sort of grey wash.
You kept bumping into things cos you couldn't see anything.
Dark at 4 o'clock, Ovaltine, all that stuff.
There was nowhere for young people to go, um...
There was nothing specifically for young people.
Everything was run by pretty strict rules and regulations by the establishment.
They were very depressing days.
Musically, the antidote was obvious.
Dance bands and crooners provided all the entertainment the country could consume,
in its dogged determination to make whoopee.
But not everyone sought solace in the two-step.
Britain by about 1953-54, was crying out for alternative music.
The first rock'n'roll wasn't about till about '55, '56, was it?
Before that, it was gutless music.
# Lipstick on your collar Told a tale on you... #
The guts of American rock'n'roll spilled out across Britain in 1957,
creating the teenage phenomenon.
But two years later, the emotional and musical rescue it offered prematurely stalled.
The business had moved in, and the greats had shipped out,
leaving Britain at the mercy of Tin Pan Alley copyists.
Elvis went into the army, Jerry Lee Lewis ruined his career
by marrying his 12-year-old first cousin whilst still married to someone else.
Chuck Berry crossed over the border and did various borderline activities,
and Little Richard went into gospel.
Rock and roll lost its... Well, I suppose really, lost its excitement.
Watered-down trash, a lot of it, wasn't it?
Moon In June and Lipstick On Your Collar,
and all these, "Lipstick on your collar," you know, horrible.
# Travelling light Mmm-hmm-hmm-hmm... #
Rock'n'roll's earlier doctors now needed a new drug.
They discovered the power, depth and authenticity they craved in a music they hadn't heard before,
the very basis of rock'n'roll -
black folk music from the American South -
The intensity and the... It's so direct.
You know, I hadn't experienced anything like that since the first time I heard Little Richard.
# I got my mojo working But it just don't work on you... #
It bypasses a lot of cultural education.
You didn't need any information with the blues, it just went...
# I wanna love you so bad... #
It can be to dance for, get drunk for it,
to fuck by it, you name it.
# I'm going down Louisiana Get me a mojo... #
When it's well put and well performed, it's infectious.
You don't need to know, even,
what it is. You go... That's how people get hooked.
# I'm gonna have all you womens Right here on my command... #
I think that once you get the bug, it's really hard to get rid of it.
Catching the bug was one thing, but feeding it was another.
Specialist shops selling imported American recordings began to appear.
Many of them, mysteriously, in what became known as the Thames Delta,
Britain's distant echo of the American South.
Future British blues artists Tony McPhee, Dave Kelly and his sister, Jo Ann Kelly,
haunted the Swing Shop, in Streatham.
# When you get home
# Please write me a few short lines... #
That was one thing that really got to me.
That so many people are interested more
in how rare this thing was, rather than what was on it.
# Please write me a few short lines... #
That's where I got all my John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf on Crown,
which was 1940s stuff,
Wolf's stuff on...
And Jo Ann, myself, and Tony McPhee used to hang around the Swing Shop
waiting for another consignment to come in, elbowing each other out the way.
There was a shop in what is now Chinatown in Soho,
but at that time,
it was a street of shops selling valves and ex-Army spares.
You know you have this picture of, sort of,
men in long raincoats wandering round Soho?
These were men in long raincoats who'd be standing looking in the window
at cathode ray tubes and valves and diodes,
and on a Saturday, in the basement of one of these shops, a guy started importing records.
There was something very attractive about the fact that
large numbers, huge numbers of people
wanted to listen to Bill Haley, and Tommy Steele,
but that we wanted to listen to Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter.
Jelly Roll Morton and Lightnin' Slim. I mean, extraordinary names, too.
I mean, how crazy is that? You know...
Howlin' Wolf. What is a howling wolf when you live in Surbiton?
And you thought, "God, how can anybody be called Muddy Waters, or Howlin' Wolf, or Bo Diddley,
"or Lead Belly?" Where did these names come from?
What is this? It was a feeling.
# And then I looked around... #
But what were these songs about?
Old 78s, often poorly recorded on the road,
telling of experiences and feelings that were totally alien to the Thames Delta,
were sometimes difficult to comprehend.
Those of us who struggled, like The Rolling Stones probably did a few years before we did,
to try and decipher the words,
and couldn't figure out what some of them were from these recordings,
we would, kind of, make up other words that seemed to fit.
What did he say? Ha-ha-ha...
I didn't quite get that, didn't really jot that down, you know what I mean? There was madness.
Yeah, lyrics were sometimes difficult. And we found that with Little Richard, as well.
My mother tried to slow the record down to try and hear what he was saying,
and couldn't work it out.
She used to come up with some funny ideas about what they were.
But, yes, yeah, eventually your ear tunes in.
But when they did tune in, what they heard was often darkly humorous, and emotionally deep.
Poetic tales of lives untouched by either lipstick, or collars.
The main charm about the blues
is that it has such an authenticity about it,
the fact that when you listen to it you hear these stories,
and you can visualise that these are real stories.
When you were seeing John Lee Hooker, you believed what he was telling you
cos he was talking about the Great Fire of Natchez, which he experienced.
I think his girlfriend died there.
And the flood of Tupelo, Mississippi, they were real things that happened in his life.
I mean, Joe Turner, for instance, is a big favourite of mine.
And he'd be singing things like, "My baby's gone, she ain't comin' back.
"She's lower than a snake crawling down in a wagon track."
I mean, it's so heavy! You think, "What a great image," you know.
Elmore James, "The sky is crying, look at the tears rolling down the streets."
I mean, that's fantastic.
Muddy Waters, "I'm going down to Louisiana, somewhere behind the sun."
This is magical stuff.
It's almost like, Sleepy John Estes,
where he says, "Get away from my window Quit scratching on my screen."
He's turned his girlfriend into, sort of, a wild animal, kind of ripping on the door, you know?
If you were a 15 or 16-year-old kid, you were hearing some words, and phrases and implications...
And that's what made it, not just sexy, I think it made it kind of erotic.
Cos we knew, sort of, there's something going on here,
even if we didn't know the references and the slang expressions.
These blues men, they're talking about getting laid.
And there's me studying what they're doing,
but I ain't getting laid. I've something missing in my life.
Obviously, to be a blues man, I have to go see what this lemon juice is, running down your leg.
And, you know, these guys are actually living a life,
they're not studying, they're not blah-blah, they just are.
And then, so... How do you become what is?
Being a blues disciple in late '50s Britain
was like being a part of a hip Masonic Lodge.
A society so secret that even its own members were sometimes ignorant of each other's existence.
It was like the formation of a solar system, you know.
The dust gathers together, the stars form, and all that sort of thing.
Suddenly you realise, yes, there is someone who lives near you who's got a record by Freddie King,
or someone like that, you know?
If you heard someone blew a harmonica in Ealing, you were there.
Or if someone had an album that you didn't, you'd go to Claygate, or wherever it was.
It was like Night Of The Living Dead,
people, sort of, migrating to whoever had this thing that you'd been turned on to.
Someone had given me the address of someone who'd got a Muddy Waters album.
Probably got the bus over to Tooting.
And I knocked on the door at 6:30 in the evening,
and this guy appears from the back and I said, "Have you got a Muddy Waters album?"
He said, "Yeah..."
I said, "Could I see it?"
And he brought it out and showed it to me, and I said, "Could I hold it?"
Some very funny people with record collections.
The things you'd have to do to get in, you know what I mean...
Let alone get out.
It was like, "Oh, you've got that?" Or, "You've got this, I'll come round and listen to it."
We didn't have tape recorders then, so you went round and listened to it.
I knew Brian Jones, but he mostly bought guitar records.
Whereas I mostly bought harmonica records.
So we would share listening to them.
Brian Jones, big collector. Big record collector.
And that's one of the reasons I hit on him in the first place.
They were definitely our versions of Tupperware meetings.
Yeah, you'd stick guys up, if you found their record collection.
"You are going to stay down there, right now, while I trawl through..."
Like, it got like that, you know what I mean?
Oddly enough, for a younger generation in love with the blues, Britain was the perfect place to be.
Trad jazz, which also originated from the Southern states of America,
had stormed the UK in the late '50s.
But popular trombonist and band leader, Chris Barber, had a passion for the blues as well.
He was fortunate to have a successful band,
and to be in a position financially
where he could do what he wanted to do.
And so he did what he wanted, which was to bring over blues and gospel performance.
You know, some people sit back and wait for things to happen, wait for the right time,
but he just said, "To hell with that, I'm gonna do it."
Big names in American blues and R&B, he brought them all over to this country.
I think '57 was the first, with Sister Rosetta Tharpe,
and then Muddy Waters in '58, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee in '58,
and going on right into the '60s, he brought Muddy back again, Howlin' Wolf,
Sonny Boy Williamson, Lewis Jordan, all kinds, I mean, just...
for him, it was just that he wanted to play with those people.
He wanted to hear them, right there, you know, playing in front of HIS rhythm section.
That's why we wanted to get in with the real folk.
They were helping us to play the blues and jazz better.
We want these people to help give us the ingredient that we know about,
but we aren't sure if we're getting it right, we want to get it righter.
When the legends of American blues first stepped out onto the British stage in the late '50s,
thanks to Barber's own money and determination,
the audience that faced them was entirely white, well-educated and well intentioned.
It was all shirts and ties and Ban The Bomb badges.
Jazz and folk disciples, not rabid rock and rollers.
To be honest, there was always a sort of middle class-ness about that sort of audience,
and they also tended to come out of a slightly left-wing side of politics.
It must have helped that we were... I wouldn't say reverent,
but we were obviously caring about playing the music in a genuine way,
as a genuine expression.
We really owe this enormous debt, to a music that is utterly alien to our experience.
Maybe that's why it didn't appeal to black folks living in the UK at the time,
because it wasn't the black experience that they knew of.
Few black Americans settled in the UK. It was mostly people from Caribbean, or black Asians.
The younger rock and roll audience wanted to sing the blues electric,
something the more purist, Chris Barber Jazz Club crowd wasn't quite prepared for.
But it was already a reality.
When Muddy Waters first came to Britain in 1958,
he plugged in a Fender Telecaster.
Established audiences here,
reared on out of date records and quaint ideas of the blues as a rural black folk music, were crestfallen.
Some purists in the audience objected,
because they wanted him to come out and sound like the country boy that they'd heard on records,
you know, playing rural, cotton patch blues.
GUITAR MUSIC PLAYS
They had to consider what the audience wanted,
so when they heard this cry for, "Where's the acoustic guitar?"
Um, they went away and thought about it.
So, like, two years go by and he comes back again, and he brings an acoustic guitar,
by then everyone wants to hear him play the amplified Telecaster.
Cos it's moved on, it's 1962, '63, and everyone's listening to that sort of music.
Memphis Slim was on that bill, and I think I took them back to the hotel.
Either I took them back in my car or we went back on the bus together.
And I was sitting in the lounge of the hotel with Muddy and Memphis Slim,
and Muddy was saying, "I don't know what they want. What do people want?"
Certain English viewers had an idea that you had to be black and wear dungarees,
and play acoustic guitar, and that meant you were playing blues.
If you plugged it in.... No, no, I'm sorry, you've sinned.
People in England had a certain stereotyped idea of what a black folk musician should be like.
When you see pictures of Big Bill Broonzy in the '30s,
and he is, he is just so sharp.
He comes to England in the '50s, and there's this classic film clip of him dressed up as a sharecropper,
playing his guitar and singing something like John Henry,
because...this is what the white folks in England...
# John Henry told his captain
# Lord, a man ain't nothing but a man... #
British television, home of The Black And White Minstrel Show,
hadn't improved much by 1964,
when it elaborately transformed a disused section of British Rail track outside Manchester
into a TV producer's idea of Chattanooga to welcome the latest blues package tour.
I remember some rather staged shot of Muddy Waters with his guitar in one hand
and a very small leather suitcase walking along a station platform,
and then bursting, probably, into some blues song rendition,
which had been staged up, making him look like the travelling hobo kinda guy.
# People ain't that sad... #
Some of Britain's young blues fraternity weren't content with just listening to the music.
They'd learned to play American rock'n'roll, why not the blues?
That the music like this existed,
that possibly, we would, in our audacity, think that we could actually play this music,
I mean, how stupid is that? How extraordinary was that?
You think of some dopey, spotty, 17-year-old from Dartford,
who wants to be Muddy Waters.
And there's a lot of us, you know.
"Oh yeah, mmm-mmm, mmm-mmm," you know.
In a way very pathetic. In a way, very heart-warming.
Wanting to play the blues was one thing, mastering it was something else again.
This black race music wasn't about to surrender its many secrets so easily
to vinyl-obsessed British kids.
# When you ain't got no money
# And can't pay your house rent
# And can't buy you no food
# You damn sure got the blues
# Cos you're thinkin' evil... #
You know, they say blues is just 12 bars.
You've heard one, you've heard... you know,
guy ain't got no money, he's lost his girlfriend,
he's at the railroad station waiting for the train, the train's late...
Of course, of course, my man. You know the problems.
It ain't like that at all.
Once you start to play, you realise that it's something to do with... I gotta know how he did that.
This man just bent the string three yards!
And made it sound simple, you know...
And meanwhile he's got a rhythm going here that is unbelievable,
I mean it's just something you've got to do.
Enjoying it is not enough. Feeling it is not enough.
You've got to learn how to do it properly. There are technical things that you...
To make these sounds come out of a guitar, or a trombone or whatever it is, or a voice, either,
you've got to know how it is. So, you need to study it.
Fast, slow, quiet, pin-drop, loud, poignant, down, up.
# I say it's so hard to know...
# Ah, someone... #
That's the dynamic, in the framework of really three or four chords.
With very little, so much was achieved, in the way it emotionally affected you.
It's an easy music on the surface to play,
but then you think, "How do these cats do this? Whoa, this is weird moves."
You know, where's this coming from?
You say, "What are they doing? How are they doing that?"
It's what keyboard players were actually doing with crushed notes and stuff,
which was in fact trying to duplicate the style of bent notes on the guitar,
which, as you know, is a physical and mechanical impossibility
on a keyboard instrument.
And while this revolution, I think, in music, was beginning to happen,
of course, as normal, the rest of the world seemed to carry on.
You know, the bowler-hatted brigade still got up and got the 7 o'clock train to Waterloo,
not knowing that some of their offspring were buying battered guitars from pawn shops,
and playing Jelly Roll Morton in the back room.
Perhaps no-one got to know these visiting blues legends more intimately than Val Wilmer,
then only a teenage girl in love with their music.
She met them, photographed them, wrote about them and hung out with them,
sharing their experience of Britain at close range.
They met with all sorts of problems here,
you know, the world was very strange.
You should be asking the question - how exotic did we seem to them?
They had to deal with us, and we didn't understand their language,
you know, we thought we did.
This one is me with Jimmy Rushing,
he was Mr 5x5 You know, five foot tall, five foot wide.
Wonderful singer, great guy, wrote to me a few times... Nice one, you know, to have known him a bit.
And that was taken by my mother, who had come to the concert with me.
And that's my mum with Jack Dupree.
When he put his arm around her, it must have been quite an experience for her, cos he was a rogue.
Total rogue. Look at him. Mr Rogue.
It was a shock to me when I first come over here,
when they take me to a big restaurant for dinner,
and I couldn't eat the dinner cos I was sitting next to white people.
And I was shy all the time, I had a terrible feeling because I...
I was thinking that I'd be insulted at any time.
I just felt out of place.
When in London, Dupree often stayed at the evocative sounding Airways Mansions,
a hotel in a small backstreet just behind Piccadilly, but a million miles away from the Ritz.
Airways Mansions was the place where all the musicians stayed.
And I think they'd been staying there from the '50s.
But the thing was it wasn't like hotels,
because the hotels tried to stop people taking guests to their rooms,
and that always created havoc, because black people thought that it was discrimination.
So, Memphis Slim, there, with his little curtain and everything,
and the bottle of whisky on it, you know, inevitably.
And Jack Dupree, who was the first person I knew who stayed there -
he's only just arrived, and both of them - Memphis Slim and Jack -
they've been to Cecil Gee's and bought sweaters.
And on the shelf behind him he's got his requisites for the day.
He's got some bottles of lager,
three different types of whisky,
and the bottle of milk is not for his health,
it's to mix with whisky, cos that lines your stomach.
So, that's one thing I learned from a lot of the old blues singers, was drinking whisky and milk.
By the early '60s, the younger generation of electric blues fanatics had their own scene.
The epicentre of which was Blues Incorporated,
a band formed by guitarist Alexis Korner, and his unlikely harmonica playing partner.
Talk about chalk and cheese.
Alexis worked with a very, very gruff panel beater
from Streatham called Cyril Davies.
But Alexis Korner was this urbane, well-read, beautifully spoken, you know...
Of, sort of, Russian... Goodness knows what... And they were the most unlikely pair in a way.
Cyril had a great voice.
# I got my mojo working But it just won't work on you... #
He sounded really, really authentic.
# I got my mojo working But it just won't work on you... #
He sounded quite black-ish,
but there was a reality in the way he presented his voice.
So he was a key person. Apart from his harp playing, which was also very magic.
Alexis' main skill was not as a performer, neither as a guitarist nor as a singer.
But certainly as a catalyst,
Alexis was the most important person in the history of blues in Britain.
Alexis Korner established a home for young blues enthusiasts on the outskirts of London,
where the Central Line hit the buffers and the buses went to bed.
The Jazz Club in Ealing became THE performance space for would-be British players,
and a clearing house for the first home-grown rhythm and blues movement.
On a Saturday night,
you could see most of the people who would constitute the first British blues boom.
We were all hanging out, you know, and Alexis, bless him, would say,
"Come up and do two songs."
And you'd go up and you'd tell 'em all you had your mojo working and...
So, he was the father of blues in Britain.
Leaving the grandfather spot open for Chris Barber, of course.
A young Brian Jones played perhaps the first slide guitar ever to be heard in Britain at Korner's club
and very quickly tired of catching the coach in from Cheltenham.
The next thing I heard from Brian was when he rang me up and said,
"I'm forming a band.
"So far, it's just me and Keith Richards on guitars, do you want to be the singer?"
And I said, "No..."
He couched his invitation in these terms, he said,
"We haven't been taking it seriously.
"I'm going to take it seriously from now on.
"I'm moving to London, I'm getting a flat, I'm forming a band and I'm gonna become rich and famous."
And it was that last bit that I said, "Oh, Brian. Come off it. We're playing the blues, man."
At the beginning of 1963, British electric blues was still a hard sell to audiences outside of jazz clubs.
But by the end of that year, it had taken off big-time, spearheaded by Brian's group, The Rolling Stones.
We were the only young band doing it, and we were the only real authentic band doing it.
And doing it in jazz clubs.
And then we got banned, because they didn't like us - young upstarts.
And thought we weren't authentic enough, and were doing it too pop-y.
And then we moved into the ballrooms, and all that, and created a new music for England.
This first number we're gonna do's a John Lee Hooker original,
it's called Boom Boom, this one.
By 1964, British rhythm and blues
had hi-jacked every venue in the country.
It was THE live music.
The Stones, The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, The Animals.
# The way you talk
# Whisper in my ear
# Tell me that you love me
# You knock me out... #
The Animals, a Newcastle-based band,
were part of a nationwide blues explosion.
London was Mecca,
but the blues could now be heard in every British city.
A young musician from Belfast, called Van Morrison,
pitched up at Soho's Marquee Club with his R'n'B band, Them.
# You better stop the things you do... #
Well, I listen to, um, Charles Mingus
and, uh, Gerry Mulligan.
I also listen to Lead Belly and John Lee Hooker.
Yeah, advanced jazz plus, you know, real down to earth blues.
-Heavy roots, blues influence.
# You're runnin' around
# You should know better, Mama
# I can't stand it
# Since you put me down
# I put a spell on you... #
'Well let's hear that number now that's shooting up the charts called Little Red Rooster.'
In November 1964, The Rolling Stones stamped a new teenage sexiness
on the blues with a hardcore Willie Dixon cover.
# I am the little red rooster
# Too lazy to crow for day... #
Now I must say,
we must have been wearing brass balls that day
when we decided to put that out as a single.
# I am the little red rooster
# Too lazy to crow for a day... #
Everybody says you'll kill your career if you do that,
if you put that out as a single.
It could ruin you.
We said, "What the hell? That's what we believe in."
# Keep everything in the farmyard
# Upset in every way... #
Oh. I mean, let's stand up, be men and give 'em a blues, you know.
Went out on a Friday night and on the Monday it was number one.
# The dogs begin to bark... #
That's the only blues, pure blues record,
that's ever been a number one.
Anywhere, I think.
Then it was our job to pay back.
# Dogs begin to bark... #
I think we figured we could pull it and we did.
# Hounds begin to howl. #
Double entendre again, you know,
"I got a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for days",
they saw into it more sexual things.
I'm not here just to write pop songs for you.
# Do-do-do, la-la-la-la-la... #
and all that, you know, I mean...
Let's see if we can actually spin it back around
and make American white kids
listen to Little Red Rooster.
And go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
And I go, "Aha, you had it all the time, pal."
Yeah, "You just didn't listen."
But not everyone was as reverential.
There were a lot of people who felt
you had to faithfully copy the record.
Um, which seemed to us to be pretty ludicrous.
You know, and if you did mess with it, you were considered
an irreligious punk.
I mean, I know we bastardised the 12 bar quite badly.
Um, and we put a lot of power chording in and crescendos.
But also feeding off an audience that wanted that as well.
They wanted to swing from the rafters,
they wanted to go crazy bananas.
# I caught a train, I met a dame
# She was a hipster, well and a real cool dame
# She was pretty, from New York City
# Well and we trucked on down that old Fairlane... #
I mean, we were 18, and the people who came to see us were 18.
They didn't wanna, you know, they wanted something with more energy.
So we did Big Boss Man three times the speed.
But, I mean, isn't that what the blues is as well?
I mean, that's, even when I saw it played, you know,
in ramshackle clubs in the Southern States of America,
you know, there was that same electricity.
I mean, we were white kids playing to white kids.
But actually, you know, I sense that there was still the same vibe going on,
all those thousands of miles apart.
They loved the music, they wanted to play it, they worked out how it did,
it came out differently, it will.
If I'm white and grow up in South London it's bound to be different.
It's a...what, you know, but...
Cyril Davies and everybody they were great, brilliant, but...
There was something missing though, wasn't there?
And it didn't connect with our age group.
Yeah, maybe, yeah.
Well, I really don't think it did, you know. It was something...
-It's almost like for a museum.
-Well, they were older.
-They were older than us.
-And all the artists were older.
I mean, we were listening to records by 50-year-old blokes.
You know, and therefore why, there's no way we could have replicated that,
had it been enough.
In a frantic 12 months, ravenous white British blues bands
carved up and redistributed the black blues songbook.
The whole locker got raided very quickly, didn't it,
of blues songs.
I mean, how much of it was jumping on band wagons.
Dick Taylor, he used to play with us, I mean, I know that he was no jumper of bandwagons.
-Everybody had their...
-Their stock in trade.
And we avoided Smokestack Lightning or something cos the Yardies did it.
And, you know, Little Red Rooster cos the Stones did it.
But you picked your way around and came up with your own repertoire.
The Yardbirds followed us, they used to ask us questions all the time and say,
"What strings do you use?
"You know when you do that Little Walter song, how does the middle go?"
You know, and in the intervals they'd come and chat to us and ask all these questions.
We actually made a conscious decision that we weren't
going to play the sort of music The Rolling Stones were doing.
You know, and as far as The Animals up north,
that might have been another country, you know.
I mean you just, you just didn't really worry about that
or even necessarily relate to it.
I mean, yeah, we did learn our stuff though. We did learn our stuff.
And, uh, quite honestly the blues ain't just necessarily black.
On its journey from the American South to Southern England
the blues, in the wake of Beatlemania,
had become a horny teenage music.
Something the purists weren't happy about.
White kids stealing black music for their own needs.
You know, was it racially dodgy? We didn't even think about it.
I mean, you know, why would you think about that?
At that time, I mean, you just, you didn't, you know.
There's a sociological background, you know, to the blues
and what happened and what the people felt and so on and so forth,
um, that make it what it is.
It's very important and I don't think it's right
to just take bits of it as trappings.
I mean, I think you owe it to the people who you admire
not to screw the music up.
The new teenage audience for British electric blues
was, yet again, entirely white.
We didn't appeal to a black audience at all, though funnily enough,
when Paul Jones and I were first trying to get a band together
we were rehearsing in a pub in Colliers Wood, South London,
and the landlord came up and said,
"The band I've booked to play downstairs haven't turned up
"and would you like to play?"
And we went down and played and we were greeted with stunned indifference.
But then a black man came in at the back of the bar
and he probably got a pint of Guinness and stood there
and we saw that he was tapping his foot.
And honestly, we felt so good that one person in that audience
was enjoying what we were attempting to do
and he was black.
British blues players weren't themselves black,
and didn't appeal to black audiences.
But their love of the music lead them to identify themselves
with the black man's burden.
Something far weightier than anything suburban Britain could offer.
They never were sharecroppers, they never lived in abject poverty,
they didn't have to go and sit on a stoop
in the middle of a tiny little town in Texas like Blind Lemon Jefferson
did with a cup, you know, to get nickels and dimes and even pennies.
You know, they never had to do that.
This is what I find absolutely so extraordinary
that the white British blues thing that developed, developed in,
mainly, in this genteel area of Southern England.
I mean, how ridiculous is that?
I suppose one did feel a certain sympathy, empathy or something
with people who were oppressed.
But I was never oppressed, I mean, that's stupid.
It was the romanticism of it, I suppose, to some extent.
"Wow, look how horribly those people were treated.
"Boy, I'm with them."
In the early '60s, being "with them" and being desperate to feel something
meant knowing about the American Civil Rights Movement
and the violent struggles to end slavery and segregation.
It was a cause to live, wasn't it, of our generation.
Reading James Baldwin and, that's what you did
as a young adult in the '60s, really.
Most of the people I knew who were into R'n'B
really knew what was going on in America in terms of civil rights.
And we all knew how black people were treated.
I mean, that's why it was probably dangerous.
White, young intellectuals
going down trying to find old black men in Mississippi.
At that time you had the Civil Rights and you might end up in the swamp.
This is Paul Oliver who was THE blues writer.
And he was very much in evidence in those days.
He and his wife, Valerie, they'd been to the States
and done a tour of the South
and recorded a lot of people and interviewed people
in a rehearsals at the Albert Hall
for a concert and it's important to get the history down, you know. People were very serious about it.
For some musicians it was also important to get the precise sound down.
Exactly, if at all possible.
These records were what we were trying to attain.
The sound of it, the feel of it. The whole concept of it,
but because none of us, including me at that time,
had ever been to America and ever walked into a recording studio,
we had no concept of how they made their records.
Where to put the microphone.
Get the sound of the room, you know?
Where John Lee Hooker would put his foot.
Put the microphone a little further back.
Cos you could hear on Johnson's
where they deliberately pulled the microphone back to get more guitar
and so he's wailing over the top
and there's others where it's almost in his face.
Whatever you do it's never going to sound like the American records
because these are black artists who are from the South,
who have a sound vocally that is uniquely theirs
and that is part of what we talk about as being the blues.
Um, and to recreate that is almost an impossibility.
Recording this music in the UK became a generational struggle
as young blues musicians ran the gauntlet
of jobsworth British recording engineers
in their starched white coats.
Sometimes brown coats!
Yeah, but I mean they were so de rigueur, you know,
like, uh, "You can't do this, you're overloading." Yes!
We wanna overload.
They didn't want to go into the red.
They were taught that you don't distort.
"Distortion, dear boy, is bad news."
You're up against this monolithic idea of, like,
the correct method of recording.
And, we're not looking for the correct method.
We're looking for the incorrect method, you know?
But of course in the blues you do distort, you do go in the red.
It is rough, it does go out of tempo.
That's the beauty of it because it's coming from the moment, you know?
"Sorry, mind my microphone."
Well, I'm not trying to hurt it, you know.
"No, you're playing too loud into it and you've moved it!"
After learning to play and learning to record,
came the hardest lesson of all - learning your place.
American blues masters continued to visit Britain,
but now there was a generation of young musicians to back them.
First in line to share the same stage with a blues legend in 1964
were the Bluesbreakers, led by John Mayall.
They wanted to bring over
John Lee Hooker as a test thing
and they booked him a whole string of dates up and down the country
with the Bluesbreakers backing him.
We played all the places and we opened at the Flamingo and there was a phenomenal response to that.
And it kind of pioneered the way.
There's John Mayall looking at him with, well, we can only see half his face!
He looks from here as though he might be a bit dubious,
but I can assure you he's not, he's looking at him with admiration.
The marvellous Mr Hooker. I didn't get to know him well.
We had a meal together one afternoon, but that was when I went to interview him
and we went off and had chicken and chips or something which, you know,
in those days that was the height of cool.
But meeting him was the height of cool, I can assure you.
When The Groundhogs backed Hooker that same year,
guitarist Tony McPhee took the opportunity to look and learn from his hero.
# Boom, boom, boom, boom
# I'm gonna shoot you right down... #
Just watching him, his technique,
well, I saw him, first time we did the first week,
I saw him, he played fingerstyle, without picks. I went,
"That's it, I'll do that."
# Boom, boom, boom, boom... #
And the other thing was he had his strap over his right shoulder.
# Up and down the floor... #
I thought I'd do that as well.
Which, even now, it falls off.
# That baby talk... #
But it's easy to put on.
# I like it like that... #
Everything he did I wanted to do.
# Ho-ho-ho-ho... #
To make me him in white form.
McPhee also learned the real meaning of "backing group".
When I did a solo, he used to stand in front of me...
and do his stuff!
Everybody would probably think it was him playing. That was me.
But I didn't mind, didn't care.
They had no idea about keeping time, necessarily.
Cos often they start out, they play by themselves,
-they would just stamp their feet.
-STAMPS HIS FEET
You know, and when they got more excited they stamped them faster.
So if you were trying to play with them, and follow them,
it wasn't easy, you know.
Telepathy, I think. You learn telepathy.
With John, especially, because you didn't know where he was going to change.
He changed whenever he wanted to.
# Start rolling
# Ah...! #
He said, "What I like about you guys is that I can do
"11 bars, 16 bars, 12 and a half,
"but you know when to change cos you just feel it."
You know, it's coming up to it.
It's the movement in it and the way he's shifting the patterns
and the rhythms and, um, the way the chords are falling, you know,
and what he's doing with them, are just terrifying.
We did realise, you know, pretty early on
that we were these white impostors.
I mean, we played with, you know,
people like Sonny Boy Williamson for Christ's sake.
You know, he used to get very drunk,
would think nothing of changing arrangements, screwing up the band.
Anyway, we were whities, what did he care.
And he'd actually said, when he got back to the States,
"These boys wanna play the blues so badly and believe you me they do!"
Which was probably a very nice thing for him to say.
Manfred Mann, who already had several chart hits to their name,
also accepted the honour of backing Sonny Boy on stage.
Thank you very much.
Sonny Boy was a grumpy old character.
But the problem really was that Manfred Mann
was made up, mostly, of trained musicians.
Musicians who could read music and write music.
And we fell out over how many bars there are in a 12-bar blues.
You know, I mean, the trained musicians
thought it must be 12, surely.
# You just keep it all to yourself... #
And Sonny Boy knew the correct answer, which was,
"Any number that I want it to be."
# Do that for me, darling
# Don't make it to no-one else... #
Here we have the rather devilish, satanic-looking Sonny Boy Williamson
with his harlequin suit
which was in a black and sort of beige, as I recall.
I remember Sonny Boy Williamson was staying with our manager,
Giorgio Gomelsky, in his flat in Lexham Gardens round the corner here
and one day we came home to the flat and there's all this noise going on,
you know, and we opened the bathroom and Sonny Boy Williamson is plucking a live chicken.
In the bathroom, you know.
Like he did back home, you know.
So there was a lot of cultural differences, you see.
Cultural differences became increasingly obvious
the more American blues legends
began visiting Britain in the early '60s.
Tours mounted on shoestrings
often relied on artists staying with their fans, not in hotels.
When Jesse Fuller first came to Britain,
Val Wilmer invited him to stay with her and her mother in South London.
I went to see him as soon as he arrived
and then I brought him over to our house
and this was in Streatham in South London,
which was a rather smart place in those days.
And there he is taking tea in my mother's drawing room.
And then he played for us, harmonica and kazoo,
with a harness round his neck so he could switch from one to the other
and play guitar at the same time.
Allegedly Dylan, Bob Dylan, copied that harness from him.
And there he is with my brother.
I love these photographs, although I took them myself, I love them,
because it was a special time.
We didn't get on all that well, actually,
I found him a very miserable person, to be quite frank.
He always complained about the fact that he didn't have,
he couldn't get a hamburger, you know.
I don't know if Wimpy's had started in those days,
but he was always complaining about it, so my mother got him some mince
and he made his own hamburgers, so there he is cooking it in the kitchen.
And we'd like you to meet the king of Smokestack Lightning,
Chris Barber had first invited Howlin' Wolf to the UK in 1962.
On subsequent visits, young British blues musicians discovered that,
as far as The Wolf was concerned, rehearsals were for pussies.
Wolf walked in with his tour manager.
And he used to just, "Mmm, hmm,"
looked around, looked at us, looked at him, "Mmm, mmm."
And we thought, "Well, we're gonna rehearse now."
And he pulled out a harp.
He just started playing a slow blues and we joined in.
We did about two choruses.
"Hmm, yeah, they're fine.
"See you tomorrow."
First gig, tomorrow in Sunderland.
# Ah, oh, the train I ride on
# Oh, they shine like gold
# Whoo-hoo, whoo... #
I hears, uh, Memphis Slim and, uh, Muddy Waters say,
"The white man can't play the blues."
They should never say such thing as that, "The white man can't play the blues."
Anybody can play the blues, white or black.
But he can't feel what I feel,
because he never lived a slave life.
He didn't have nobody to spit in his face
and he couldn't do nothing about it and he's a man.
See, so this is what blues is all about.
Whisky, women and blues!
But in the States, whisky, women and especially the blues
simply weren't on the menu any more.
In America, even the blacks didn't like the blues any more,
it was considered old hat.
Uncle Tom, you know, like, who listens to George Formby, you know?
Come on, we love him, but...you know.
There's not a lot of George Formby tribute bands. Or maybe there are!
You know, there's the problem of black people
not wanting to be reminded of their roots
and wanting to hear things that were more suave
and middle class and sophisticated.
A lot of the younger black people wanted to move on.
Move on up, if you like.
And the blues were, yeah, they were associated with, you know, the Delta,
the cotton and slavery, even.
It goes back, I mean it goes back to that, it goes back to West Africa.
In a kind of unofficial exchange programme,
British R'n'B bands began visiting America,
unaware that the blues were ignored in their own country.
They were about to change the course of popular music forever.
Some bands finally achieved the recorded sound
they'd so desperately sought in Britain at Chess Records in Chicago.
2220 South Michigan Avenue.
And suddenly you're in the room.
One of THE rooms.
They knew about sound, they knew about guitars.
They knew about guitar players.
And they had it all geared up, you know, and it was just amazing.
In came Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, um, Muddy,
um, Buddy Guy, all came in to listen to us.
Yeah, they wanted to know, like, how we were doing it
and WHY we wanted to do it.
You know, "Why you wanna play like me?"
Oh, well, it happens to be very good stuff, you know.
You know, and one day I might get there!
..what, what were they thinking about us?
You know, you're doing our stuff and da-da-da-da
and coming into our world.
Luckily it was a happy marriage
because we paid attention and we knew, you know,
in truth, really how to behave.
Just the first take, I mean,
I mean, I think we all went outside and wept and said,
"Yes. I mean... It's that easy?"
That was the time that The Yardbirds got their sound down onto tape.
Then we moved down to Memphis and had an amazing opportunity to record at Sun Studios.
With the very guy who recorded Howlin' Wolf and Elvis Presley,
He came in from a weekend's fishing trip.
I don't know how we did it.
And it was in a room, a tiny little room, you know,
the size of a kitchen.
Where everything, you know, old amps, mics that weren't moved.
But what a kick-arse sound, I mean, these guys...
Blues hasn't been a popular music in America.
And, in fact, it seemed like white America didn't even know about blues,
only little corners here, corners there.
But when The Rolling Stones,
and I can name you quite a few groups
that came over HERE after The Beatles.
Oh, boy, it opened up then.
In America, the audience for blues was black
until the British thing...
and then people started listening to, like, John Mayall or maybe us,
or whoever and I talked to a guy, said he actually discovered
that John Lee Hooker, who he'd never heard of, lived two blocks away.
The media didn't know what it was.
You know the famous thing about The Beatles when they said, you know,
"What do you most want to see when you're over here?"
And they said, "Muddy Waters." And they said, "Where's that?"
And when anybody ever asked us, "Who did that song?"
We'd say, "That's an Elmore James song, a Muddy Waters song,
"that's a Howlin' Wolf song, Little Walter,"
and gave them the credit and talked about it in interviews and how great they were and all that, you know.
We were getting letters from people in Chicago
saying, "Where can I find this music?"
We used to say, "Go across the bridge and it's there."
They did start to sell records, they did start to cross over,
they did start to sell in the white man's territory.
It's an awful thing to say, isn't it? White man's territory, but it was like that.
"Hey, these English cats are getting the hang of it and they're gonna help us."
So sometimes you use that fame bit as a...
yeah, to do what you think you gotta do.
British R'n'B bands had not only sold their take on American blues to white kids in the States,
they also brought their heroes to the attention of teenage audiences in the UK.
We got Jimmy Reed over.
And Jimmy did it for, you know, he couldn't believe what he got,
he told us he was working for 30 the night before in New York,
and I think we got him 1,000 and a bottle of Jack Daniels under his stool.
And he said to me,
"There's more young pussy than you can shake a stick at in front of me,
"like I died and gone to heaven."
And he'd played to 25 people the night before.
Come over here and they were playing at the Albert Hall, you know.
2,500 people, you know, sitting down,
lovin' them and knowing all the songs.
And it kind of threw them, I think.
Yeah, I mean, I've no doubt they all looked at each other and said,
"Well, that's the strangest audience I've ever seen."
A bunch of wimpy English guys with long hair, going, "Duh."
"Well, I didn't expect to hit THEM!"
You know, any port in a storm!
By 1965 British R'n'B was at high tide and blues-based bands were flooding the charts worldwide.
# I live in an apartment on the 99th floor of my block
# And I sit at home looking out the window... #
But these British bands now stood at the crossroads of blues and rock
and were writing their own original material.
# Then in flies a guy who's all dressed up just like a Union Jack... #
Which may have been inspired by the blues, but it wasn't quite the blues any more.
# And says I've won £5 if I can have his kind of detergent pack
-# I said hey!
-Get off of my cloud
-Get off of my cloud... #
There was a kind of frantic quality to the way that The Stones
and The Manfreds and The Animals all did it, you know.
Um, it was all...
I gravitated towards The Yardbirds.
Um, and I always used to think to myself, you know,
"Why don't they ever play any slow songs?"
It was always like, ding-ding-ding!
It was necessary, creatively and as human beings, my God, you know,
to do something for ourselves, so we did start to experiment
and sort of move away a little bit from the blues format.
You had to go somewhere else, we had to make our own music.
# I never see
# The people I know
# In the bright light of day
# So how can I say
# That you're any friend of mine... #
We got to a point where we'd done that for three or four years.
# I'm feelin' fine... #
And if we hadn't of found a way
to sort of break out of that
we would have, probably, stopped being a band.
# Midnight, midnight till six
# Midnight, midnight till six... #
The Yardbirds now boasted a serious young blues guitarist who quickly established his own fan base.
He soon became known simply, to those who idolised him, as God.
I mean, they named him God.
He never woke up and said, "I'm gonna be God."
Although I did go out one night and scrawl it on a bridge with a piece of...
No, I didn't, it's not true actually. I wish I had.
# I love you baby Yes, I love you so... #
What he brought with him was his intense love and appreciation
for this music that only he was just discovering.
And I realised later that he identified himself with these guys,
these suffering guys, you know, Robert Johnson.
And that, in a way, he was living the blues, actually,
more than I was living the blues, you know.
We did gel for a very intense, short period of time
and we even shared a bedroom together, would you believe.
And we were very close.
Eric did have these very intense relationships with people.
For Your Love was The Yardbirds musical prophecy of the shape of things to come.
# For your love... #
But Clapton wasn't interested in the imminent psychedelic future.
At least, not yet.
For him, the blues, pure and simple,
had still to enjoy its day in Britain.
For Your Love was "too commercial, man."
# For your love... #
I don't know if there was an electricity
in that studio afterwards that, you know, was tangible.
It was gonna do something, it was unique.
And he played on the middle section
and then, basically, quit.
I think that was a, sort of, a step too far for him.
It was too, not the route he wanted to go to.
He had his blinkers on at that point.
Eric was the first person who saw that what really differentiated
the blues that we were trying to play from the real thing
was they just slipped into it because it was natural.
And if you could make the music feel natural to yourself,
that's the key to the whole of Eric Clapton's music.
If you could make the music feel natural, you were away.
Naturally enough, Clapton joined a real blues band.
Produced by Mike Vernon, the album, John Mayall's Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton,
known as The Beano Album,
announced the arrival of the second, more hardcore British blues boom.
I had a very hard time getting to grips with the difference
between the way I remember him when he played with The Yardbirds,
and the way he was when he first stepped out on a stage with John Mayall.
It was like a completely different guitarist.
He must have got a serious dose of Freddie King.
Really serious dose, you know, because those, the Freddie King records
were sort of somewhere in between and Eric took it a bit further.
Eric had told me, he said,
"I'm gonna play loud, I'm gonna play the way I do live and I don't want anybody telling me I gotta turn down.
"I don't want that to happen."
And I said to him, "I promise you it won't happen."
Soon as Eric plugged in and turned on, everything went to buggery completely.
All the drums were like, "Pwwww!"
But God works in mysterious ways.
Yeah, I just really play blues all the time, you know.
Having briefly blessed John Mayall's Blues Breakers,
Clapton was spirited away again,
this time by two young jazz tyros, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce,
to complete the holy trinity that was Cream.
Eric and myself went to Ginger's house,
I think he was the only one who actually had a house,
in Neasden, and we set up and, eh,
we started to play and it was just magical.
# I'm so glad
# I'm so glad, I'm glad I'm glad, I'm glad... #
So...that's where the blues was born, folks.
We had no idea what we were going to play, but luckily, Eric, being really into the blues,
had some rather lesser-known esoteric kind of people like Skip James
and some of the lesser known Robert Johnson things,
which was really good for us to be able to do.
My idea in the Cream days was to take the blues, but respectfully,
and then use it to kind of create a new kind of British thing.
# They might fill spoons full of water
# They might fill spoons full of tea
# Just a little spoon of your precious love
# Saved you from another man... #
Cream appeared just as things went all weird and druggy.
First with the coming of psychedelia,
swiftly followed by the strange sounds
that announced the arrival of progressive rock,
under the flagship of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's album.
Even The Rolling Stones were wrong footed.
When we went the wrong way with Satanic Majesties,
trying to copy The Beatles, I suppose, they were,
um, with the cover and everything,
we had to get back to our roots when we did Beggars Banquet in '68.
It was much more bluesy.
# 2,000 light years from home... #
But the blues were more alive than ever in the mind of guitarist Peter Green.
Having replaced Clapton in John Mayall's Blues Breakers,
he too was now ready to take his own no-frills version of the blues on the road.
While many British groups were busy copying The Beatles,
abandoning live performance altogether in favour of complex studio recordings,
Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac stepped on stage and rocked like it was 1963.
I wasn't exactly Buddy Rich. I did my best to play, I wanted to play.
I happened to meet people who turned me on to blues music.
And what I did, as a player, really was a good fit
because it was less is more and I couldn't do more anyhow.
They were the best band on the road at that period of time, live.
The atmosphere was absolutely, I mean, you know, my God,
it was electric.
We needed an album. We needed it fast and the band were so popular
they were out there working eight days a week.
# I got a girl and she just won't be true... #
We had to put something out.
# I got a girl and she just won't be true
# Won't let me do the one good thing I tell her to. #
I did two or three tracks at Decca
with Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood
and, actually, Bob Brunning playing bass,
as demos for a future Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac band.
-'We got the sound now, lads.
Mike Vernon absolutely was the boffin of boffins.
He was so passionate about, like, if he had something to play you,
I mean, this is like, "No, no, no, you gotta come round,"
and "duh-duh-duh", like stuttering over his words.
"It's just unbelievable, Mick, it's just unbelievable,
"the horn section's coming in," and this and that.
The adage about being in the right place at the right time is fine,
but you have to be the right person in the right place at the right time.
'Shake Your Moneymaker, take one!'
He wasn't looking for perfection.
'Remake, take one.'
But he was looking for, you know, the shit, the real deal.
-And he knew what it was.
It was all about real stuff.
'Can you hear it? It's fuzzy and keeps cutting out.'
On the production side at that period of time,
I probably was the right person, I actually was probably the only person.
There wasn't, to the best of my knowledge,
not anybody else that was as active as I was,
nor as committed as I was.
Fleetwood Mac's first album, released at the beginning of 1968,
was an international hit.
The Dog And Dustbin album, it's commonly known as.
Yes, Peter Green's dog.
I think, or was it Mike Vernon's? That's trivial.
But the Fleetwood Mac album outsold The Beatles and The Stones put together
for the first few months.
It was an extraordinary success.
And nobody could understand it,
here was this little blues band not playing very fashionable music.
Cos that album was, for sure, a blues album.
And people loved it
and most of them didn't know from whence it really came, I'm sure.
Peter Green's a great, great guitar player.
At that time, I think he'd gone beyond Clapton in terms of his tasteful playing.
There's something about the formula.
You know, and it's been twisted and bent and everything else.
Like the R'n'B groups before them,
some of this second wave of more hard-boiled blues players
also looked beyond a mere 12 bars in their quest for originality
and a blues form more relevant to '60s Britain.
I was only interested in writing new material.
I've always wanted to be a composer.
To me, Cream was like a vehicle for my composing.
# Hey now, baby
# Get into my big black car... #
It actually came from the Profumo scandal.
You know, you got this idea of an old politician,
an older politician, in a limo starting to be very, very turned on
by the young girls of the '60s,
you know, with the very short skirts.
And wanting a piece of the action.
# I wanna just show you
# What my politics are... #
There's a line in it which I always think about,
"I don't care if you are a Russian spy,
"what I want from you is your red velvet thigh next to mine."
Some of the funniest things you'll ever hear are in the blues.
The success of what was becoming blues rock in Britain in 1968
meant that even emerging, progressive bands
could sail into the album charts under the blues flag.
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson factored an unusual choice of instrument into the blues equation.
It was almost like, well, Eric doesn't play the flute.
It was about being a bigger fish in a small pool -
you could actually stand out of the crowd a little bit as a flute player
at the Marquee Club doing the blues cos no-one else was playing it.
But, you know, very quickly Jethro Tull was not just a blues band.
That was Anderson's plan, but Tull's management was uneasy about the mix.
This is just not an instrument you should be playing in a blues band.
You should push the guitar player, Mick Abrahams, get him to stand at the front, and do more guitar,
and let him do more of the singing. Why don't you learn to play a little rhythm piano and stand at the back?
# Gonna lose my way tomorrow
# Gonna give away my car
# I'd take you along with me
# But you would not go so far... #
The band was formed on the basis that you need a guitar player in the band,
that can play blues.
Because blues is the thing, and this was purely a commercial adventure.
The blues was the essential part, then, of Jethro Tull.
If you can play one note in the 12-bar solo, and make somebody cry or laugh or...
all the lovely emotions that are associated with music,
that's truly, to me, the blues.
It's almost like a prayer.
I had never any desire to be a third-rate copyist
of a music form that I had such respect for then, and do today.
One of the great blues pieces of all time, and not terribly well known, is JB Lenoir's Alabama Blues.
And he's singing about race riots. Well, for me to sing that song would be patently absurd.
Because it is so deeply personal.
Ian had his own plan. Ian had his own plan for music.
So, my influence... It was like there were two Jethro Tulls.
After a battle of guitar versus flute, and blues rock versus progressive rock,
Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull.
Just as they hit the big time.
It's not that I'm, you know, so snobby, or...
demanding some kind of intellectual outlet beyond this simple and vital music form...
Actually, it is both of those things!
It was this "simple and vital music form" that bagged a bunch of trophies for British blues artists
at the Melody Maker Awards in 1969.
Some thought the blues had become a license to print money and guarantee international fame.
There is, of course the element of - can blue men sing the whites?
You know, people start off trying to copy people that they love,
and then, the good thing is if you recognise why you love them,
and try to pinpoint all the things that are great about those people,
and then incorporate it into your own personality, so it comes out being original.
# Quit hangin' around in bars
# Sold off all my green guitars
# Even got half the money back
# On my BMW car
# But you still... #
The essence of the blues is...
an expression of a person's... social and spiritual condition.
# But I'm still tryin' to flag a ride... #
Eventually, try and recognise it in yourself,
and if it comes out sounding like whitey playing the blues,
as long as it's got that recognition, I think that it works.
# But I ain't getting no replies. #
And it WAS working.
Another day, another blues group success.
This was the age of Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After and Chicken Shack.
Savoy Brown, The Groundhogs and Taste.
They provided the soundtrack to arguments about allegiance to the blues versus originality,
authenticity versus theft.
The accompaniment to white middle-class guilt.
# I got the Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack
# John Mayall can't fail blues
# I got the Jethro Tull Belly full
# Savoy Brown, Reach-me-down blues
# I got the Fleetwood Mac Chicken Shack
# John Mayall can't fail blues
# From the deep, deep south Of the river Thames
# A bottleneck guitar is the latest trend
# I'm gonna earn more money than I can spend
# I got the blues... #
# I've been waiting so long
# To be where I'm going
# In the sunshine of your love... #
Under the steam created by Cream,
British blues was now a runaway train, pulling rock, jazz and psychedelia along with it.
When we were actually out-grossing everybody else put together,
we were just jamming. I always like to say improvising, cos it sounds better.
Eric Clapton joined up with two jazz players,
you know, so, naturally jazz players improvise,
and they stretch things out, you know.
A ten minute number is kind of normal.
So, Eric learned a lot about improvisation,
and taking it to new areas, taking his guitar to new places,
as a result of him working in tandem with two of Britain's greatest jazz players.
Like John Mayall always tried to reconstruct
a sort of a Chicago blues sound, note for note, basically,
he's a kind of trad jazz version of the blues.
What we were trying to do, was use the language of the blues
to create a new kind of unique and original and personal music.
Nothing to do with Chicago, or the Delta,
except that's where the inspiration and the actual language comes from.
British blues had arrived at another crossroads,
one that now signposted hard rock, progressive rock and jazz rock.
At the height of their popularity, Cream decided to call it a day and go their separate ways.
They said goodbye at the Royal Albert Hall on the 26th November 1968.
The devil expected payment for all the adulation
and unforeseen international success.
Fame and fortune also proved too much for guitarist Peter Green.
Down at his crossroads, he met LSD, abandoned the blues, and departed Fleetwood Mac.
But not before telling it like it was, for him.
# Shall I tell you about my life?
# They say I'm a man of the world
# I've flown across every tide
# I've seen lots of pretty girls... #
Peter's voice was as important as his guitar playing.
And... He could break your heart.
# I guess I've got everything I need... #
We just didn't realise, because he was sort of a happy guy.
And yet, you listen to the words, like, Man Of The World... You know.
# But I just wish that I had never been born... #
He was way more sensitive than one could possibly have known.
The pain that we found out he was going through,
was put into a lot of the stuff that he did in those three years.
In truth, when Peter left,
we had departed from being a pure blues based band.
But we departed with... the lessons learned.
But some British blues bands didn't attend lessons.
They were too busy frantically chasing gymslips.
# Good morning, little school girl
# Can I go home, home with you...? #
You don't, as you develop your musical expertise,
start tuning out, you know, music that looks blacker on the page with a lot of notes, blah-blah-blah-blah,
it's still to remember those really great lessons taught to us by the likes of BB King,
you know, less is more.
Do-de-do-de-do-de-do, they think that's blues.
do-de-do-de-do-de-doo-doo-doo, oh de-de. You know, diddly-diddly-diddly-do.
It's not blues, really. Blues is doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, diddle-uh-duh.
You know, "I lost my baby...
"Where am I gonna live?"
It's more heart-felt, it isn't bash it out, um...
as loud as you can, and play your lead guitar as fast as you can with as many notes.
That's jerking off, for me.
And I know a lot of those cats
and I realise that a lot of them didn't really wanna go that way.
But the business was growing and growing and growing.
And the money... And managements were coming in and the...
You know? I mean, what are you gonna do in this world? You know?
Why did you start it, how do you wanna finish it?
Now that's the blues.
'Lead guitar, Jimmy Paige!'
Finishing it, or starting it all over again, fell to a pheromone-fuelled new fab four.
Zeppelin got a lot of criticism early on for, sort of,
thieving things from Willie Dixon, or whatever,
but, you know, everybody did.
They, like the very best of British bands of that era, took it to a new place.
That place was the stadium,
where, in the '70s, British blues was subsumed in the heady mix.
# How many more times?
# Treat me the way that you wanna do... #
# I don't mean the USA... #
But what about the black American blues artists who personally brought their music to these shores
and lodged it firmly in the hearts of British audiences and musicians?
Champion Jack Dupree never went back.
He settled in Halifax and married a Yorkshire girl.
Since I come into England
and I found England was a heavenly place for me,
I don't care who else finds it difficult,
but to me it's heaven.
When you leave from slavery and go into a place where you're free...
I couldn't go back there. Because anybody spit on me, I'd kill them.
Everybody here know me, including the police.
So, I'm known by everybody and this is home for me.
When we began playing the blues in England in the early '60s,
we were trying to recreate something we heard on record.
That's the best you can do. But I would say that,
whether we were authentic or not, we all came to it with great love.
It's a living and breathing expression
of people's suffering and desire.
And that's what the blues is. It's not the kind of music that the Brits nicked and sold back to America,
although that happened.
It's a woman, it's a drum,
it's everything like that.
It's much more important than something you can even sell or put a label on.
Much more. It's humanity itself.
As to whether we can ever begin to emulate
the people who really began it, the Robert Johnsons,
the Howlin' Wolfs, the Muddy Waters. No!
# Nobody saw me cryin'
# Nobody knows the way I feel
# Nobody saw me cryin'
# Nobody knows the way I feel
# Yeah, the way I love the woman
# It's bound to get me killed. #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Documentary telling the story of what happened to blues music on its journey from the southern states of America to the heart of British pop and rock culture, providing an in-depth look at what this music really meant to a generation of kids desperate for an antidote to their experiences of living in post-war suburban Britain.
Narrated by Nigel Planer and structured in three parts, the first, Born Under a Bad Sign, focuses on the arrival of American blues in Britain in the late 50s and the first performances here by such legends as Muddy Waters, Sonnie Terry and Brownie McGhee.
Part two, Sittin' on Top of the World, charts the birth of the first British blues boom in the early 60s, spearheaded by the Rolling Stones and groups such as the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, the Animals and the Pretty Things.
The final section, Crossroads, looks at the next, more hardcore British blues boom of the mid-to-late 60s, with guitarists Eric Clapton and Peter Green and the international dominance of their respective bands, Cream and Fleetwood Mac.
Featuring archive performances and interviews with Keith Richards, Paul Jones, Chris Dreja, Bill Wyman, Phil May, John Mayall, Jack Bruce, Mick Fleetwood, Ian Anderson, Tony McPhee, Mike Vernon, Tom McGuinness, Mick Abrahams, Dick Taylor, Val Wilmer, Chris Barber, Pete Brown, Bob Brunning, Dave Kelly and Phil Ryan.