Friday May 17, 2013
The odds are good that even if you don't recognize William Stout's name, that you're at least familiar with some of his work. An acclaimed artist, illustrator, designer, and overall creative genius, Stout has written and drawn both underground and mainstream comics; illustrated numerous book and album covers (including a few cool bootleg CD covers); worked on video games and theme park design (including Michael Jackson's private Neverland Ranch); and has even dabbled in film (he designed the alien Edgar for the first Men In Black movie, for instance).
Stout has worked for both Walt Disney Imagineering and George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic and has won numerous awards for his talents. Stout is probably best-known, however, for his dinosaur illustrations, and the original paintings from his book The New Dinosaurs have been exhibited in such lofty venues as the British Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History. As it turns out, Stout is also a HUGE blues music fan, an obsession that has resulted in his recently-published book Legends of the Blues.
Here's the back story: in 2003, Shout! Factory Records released a series of "best of" albums on a number of legendary blues artists, and the label licensed several illustrations from Robert Crumb's Heroes of the Blues trading card set to use as CD covers. There were some musicians they were releasing compilations albums for, however, that Crumb had never illustrated, so Shout! Factory asked Stout to draw portraits of Ma Rainey, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and J.B. Lenoir similar to the Crumb illustrations. Stout enjoyed the task so much that he just kept on going, planning on creating three sets of 50 trading cards each. His publisher convinced him to do a book instead, which resulted in the wonderful Legends of the Blues.
Featuring 100 full-color illustrations similar to the great Muddy Waters portrait on the cover, the criteria for Stout's drawings for the book is that he had to love the artist's music, they were all born before 1930 (nothing but old-school bluesmen-and-women here, folks!) and, with a couple of notable exceptions (Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson), none of the portraits here duplicate any artists covered by Crumb. To be honest, as much as I like Robert Crumb's musical portraits, I like William Stout's even better, and the handy size of the book (roughly 6"x7.5") allows for vivid full-page illustrations that really capture the essence of the featured musician.
Legends of the Blues offers up brilliant portraits of blues music giants like Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Bukka White, Muddy Waters, and many others. Stout also includes several blues-influenced R&B greats like Lowell Fulson and Johnny Otis as well as fringe choices like jazz diva Billie Holiday and blues-rock pioneer Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Stout doesn't overlook the talented instrumentalists of the blues, either, including folks like Fred Below, Albert Ammons, and Papa John McCoy. Each portrait is accompanied by a brief but well-researched and informative biography and many profiles include interesting trivia on the artist.
Legends of the Blues is a beautifully-constructed 224 page hardback book with an attractive $19.95 price tag, less if you want to go with the Kindle eBook version. But then you'd miss out on the included CD that was put together by Stout and the folks at Shout! Factory. Featuring 14 tracks from the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Robert Wilkins, Big Joe Williams, and Blind Willie McTell, among others, it's the perfect accompaniment to a book obviously created by a blues fan for other lovers of the music. Highly recommended!
Find the book on PriceGrabber:
Legends of the Blues photo courtesy Abrams ComicArts
Thursday May 16, 2013
Spring has finally popped up just about everywhere in the continental U.S. which means that blues festival season is upon us! The Reverend has been compiling this annual listing of festivals for five years now, and sadly we lost more events this year than during any year previous. Some, like the acclaimed Monterey Blues Festival, simply disappeared while a few others have decided to wait out a year and see if the financial climate improves for promoting an event in the future.
A few intrepid festivals have cut back to one or two days (from two or three) in an attempt to save some much-needed funds while still holding their event, and others have front-loaded their list of performers with pop and rock-oriented artists that they hope will draw more paying attendees. Regardless, these festivals are a great place to see the best blues artists around for the least amount of cash, and with talents like Buddy Guy, Curtis Salgado, Elvin Bishop, Janiva Magness, and many others touring the festival circuit this year, you just can't go wrong! Check out our 2013 Blues Festival Calendar and find an event near your hometown.
Here on the About.com Blues website, we posted the Reverend's review of James Cotton's fantastic new LP Cotton Mouth Man; if you haven't read it, you really should check it out. If you missed our monthly Blues CDs New Releases list for the month, it's worth another look!
John Nemeth and Elvin Bishop photo courtesy Blind Pig Records
Tuesday May 14, 2013
Let's face it, the blues chart for the week ending May 18th, 2013 is kind of dull...in anticipation of last week's Blues Music Awards, which usually gives winners a moderate sales boost, everything this week is pretty much the same old thing. The lone chart debut is the Spin Doctors' If The River Was Whiskey, a doubtful inclusion at best...with apologies to any Spin Doctors fans among the readership, is every hack 1990s-era alt-rock band going to "rediscover their blues roots" and release their own misguided interpretation of the music? At least Shouting Matches, an indie-rock supergroup slumming in the blues, delivered a fresh perspective on the music with their recent Grownass Man album, which manages to nicely mix new ideas with traditional blues sounds. The Spin Doctors? Meh...
This week's scheduled new releases include very cool reissues of classic soul and blues from the great Irma Thomas and R&B legend Swamp Dogg, but the real attraction on the record store shelves this week is Mud Morganfield's The Blues Is In My Blood. A proper reissue of Morganfield's self-produced Mud Morganfield with the Dirty Aces Live album, The Blues Is In My Blood was recorded live in June 2008. Morganfield was backed by U.K. blues veterans the Dirty Aces, featuring raging harp wizard Giles Robson, the singer performing ten red-hot blues standards sure to thrill any fan of the traditional side of the blues. If you enjoyed Morganfield's big league 2012 debut Son of the Seventh Son, you'll want to grab a copy of The Blues Is In My Blood.
Here are this week's Billboard Top Ten blues albums, ranked by sales:
10. Tedeschi Trucks Band - Everybody's Talkin' (Sony Masterworks)
9. Bonnie Raitt - Slipstream (Redwing Records)
8. Joe Bonamassa - Beacon Theater: Live From New York (J&R Adventures)
7. Shouting Matches - Grownass Man (Middle West Records)
6. Beth Hart - Bang Bang Boom Boom (Provogue Records)
5. Spin Doctors - If The River Was Whiskey (Ruf Records)
4. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak and Blu (Warner Brothers)
3. Joe Bonamassa - An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House (J&R Adventures)
2. Charlie Musselwhite & Ben Harper - Get Up! (Stax Records)
1. Boz Scaggs - Memphis (429 Records)
New releases: Irma Thomas's In Between Tears (Alive Naturalsound Records); Mud Morganfield's The Blues Is In My Blood (Blues Boulevard); Swamp Dogg's Gag A Maggott (Alive Naturalsound Records)
Photo of Mud Morganfield's The Blues Is In My Blood courtesy Blues Boulevard Records
Saturday May 11, 2013
The Blues Foundation held its annual shindig this past Thursday night, May 9th, 2013 and handed out the industry's coveted Blues Music Awards to a slate of talented and, let's face it, deserving nominees. After all, it's not like the Grammy® people are going to recognize most of these artists, not even if the pissed-off ghost of Hound Dog Taylor came back and smacked the Grammy® nominating committee upside their collective heads...
So, it's up to the good folks at The Blues Foundation to honor these blues men and women, and they do a thankless task of winnowing the best of each year into a half-dozen or so nominees each in some two dozen categories, which are then voted on by members of The Blues Foundation like you and I.
Curtis Salgado walked off the big winner this year, taking home three awards, including "Soul Blues Album of the Year" for his wonderful Soul Shot, "Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year," and the biggest BMA of them all, the "B.B. King Entertainer of the Year" award. Congratulations to Curtis and all of this year's Blues Music Award winners! See who else won a 2013 Blues Music Award.
Photo of Curtis Salgado's Soul Shot courtesy Alligator Records