Terry Abrahamson is an interesting guy. Born on the West Side of Chicago, he fell for the blues like a load of bricks from a six-story scaffolding after hearing the Yardbirds as a fifteen-year-old, and he landed just as hard as that tumbling masonry a few years later once he witnessed the shock and awe that was Howlin' Wolf on stage in his prime.
After that once-in-a-lifetime experience, Abrahamson could be found in the city's blues clubs every weekend, breathing in the rarified experience of performances from the likes of Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Dixon and, of course, the biggest and baddest of them all, the King of Chicago, the great Muddy Waters. Although he wasn't a professional photographer, Abrahamson carried a camera with him to many shows, first a low-rent Kodak Instamatic with flashcubes, later a more upscale Minolta SLR camera, and he took photos...lots of them...
Terry Abrahamson's In The Belly Of The Blues
When Abrahamson moved onto other things during the 1980s, his old photo negatives and slides and crusty photos were shoved in a box in his closet for the next three decades or so. As he tells it in the intro to his wonderful In the Belly of the Blues book, it wasn't until 2002 when he was contacted by music historian Robert Gordon, who was in the process of writing his excellent Muddy Waters biography Can't Be Satisfied, that Abrahamson thought about the photos. Gordon had gotten his name from Waters' guitarist "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin, and used some of Abrahamson's photos (and his stories) in the book.
When some of Abrahamson's blues photos made their way to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he thought that some other people might enjoy them as well, and he set about to putting together In the Belly of the Blues, a 60-page, roughly 9"x11" horizontal book filled with (mostly B&W) photos and Abrahamson's memories of some of the greatest bluesmen-and-women that ever walked the planet. Subtitled "Chicago to Boston to L.A. 1969 to 1983. A Memoir," the book not only documents Abrahamson's love of the blues but also his friendships with some of the music's biggest stars.
Muddy, Wolf & George Thorogood
Abrahamson recalls his initial flirtation with the blues, seeing Howlin' Wolf at the Quiet Knight club in Chicago, later witnessing Muddy Waters at Alice's for the absurd price of $2.00. The book includes several color photos of Waters documenting the event, taken with Abrahamson's trusty Instamatic, and they honestly don't look too bad considering the primitive imaging technology used to capture the Chicago blues legend on film. Abrahamson would meet Muddy in Alice's shared backstage bathroom, the chance occurrence leading to a 13-year friendship that would result in a lot of great stories (many told here) and candid, intimate photos of Waters backstage and elsewhere.>/p>
In the Belly of the Blues offers much more than Muddy Waters, however, including a great B.B. King story and photo; Abrahamson's memories of obscure bluesman Blind Jim Brewer; the early days of blues-rock guitarist George Thorogood's career in Boston; and a wealth of photos from the 1975 Rhode Island Blues Festival featuring greats like Koko Taylor, Freddie King, Taj Mahal, and John Lee Hooker. The book also features rare, one-of-a-kind photos of the Rolling Stones (including the British blues-rock legends performing with Waters); Chicago blues songwriter, producer, and musician Willie Dixon; harmonica wizard James Cotton, and much more packed into its 60 pages.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
As I said at the beginning of the review, Terry Abrahamson is an interesting guy. He ended up writing songs for Waters (including "Bus Driver" from Hard Again, and "Electric Man" and the title track from Unk In Funk) as well as for such disparate artists as Joan Jett, George Thorogood, the Chambers Brothers, and Clarence Clemons. He promoted blues shows in both the Chicago area and in Boston, and roomed for a while with Thorogood when the guitarist was still a minor league baseball player.
A playwright, screenwriter, and an accomplished author, Abrahamson produced a commercial for Levi's Jeans in the early 1980s that featured John Lee Hooker, and he made a short film about his attempts to pitch a song to B.B. King. One gets the feeling, though, after sharing Abrahams' memories and the rare photos included in the pages of In the Belly of the Blues, that through a lengthy and storied career as a multi-faceted Renaissance man, that blues music remains near and dear to his heart.
You can check out sample pages from the book, listen to some great music, and watch vintage blues videos on Abrahamson's website. If you're an old-school blues fan...and who isn't...you owe it to yourself to add In the Belly of the Blues to your library. (Rolling Fork Publishers, published July 2, 2012)
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