As a preliminary point, he noted that the average music fan asked about living blues musicians will answer BB King (age 88), Buddy Guy (age 77) or a young Eric Clapton (age 68)
Could it be that the star of the blues can only be a person of great experience and in advanced age?
Do fans of blues accept bluesman without gray hair? Asks Ted Gioia.
At whom in the new blues generation should we pay the attention, according to Ted:
(1) Quinn Sullivan:
I spoke to Quinn Sullivan earlier this month—he had just finished his tour with Buddy Guy and was getting ready to start ninth grade the next day. I want to see his homework essay on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” He gave me a thumbnail sketch. “I did about 25 dates with Buddy Guy. We started at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival at Madison Square Garden. We ended up on the West Coast at Hollywood Bowl. Just before coming home, I did the Tonight Show.”
Of course, TV appearances are old news for Sullivan. He got his first taste of fame on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show at age six. Since then audiences have seen him play his guitar for Oprah, Jimmy Kimmel and on The Today Show.
I was more curious how Sullivan learned so much guitar, so fast. But when I asked him about the method to his badness, he shrugged it off: “I don’t practice a lot. When I was first learning, I practiced. [Pause] But even then, I didn’t practice that much.”
Sullivan did get an early start, and despite his tender years has more than a decade of playing experience under his belt. “When I was three, I got a guitar as a Christmas gift. I just picked it up, and I loved everything about it. The way if felt. The way it sounded.”
I also like the way the guitar sounds in his hands. I have seen many prodigies lose their mojo around the time they reach their twentieth birthday. But I have a hunch that Sullivan will survive the growing pains and emerge as one of the leading blues stars of his generation.
(2) The North Mississippi Allstars:
Not long ago, I sat next to an older woman at a music event in Oxford, Mississippi. She asked me point blank what I thought of the North Mississippi Allstars. Fortunately I recognized her as Mary Lindsay Dickinson, mother of two of the band members. I complimented her on her talented sons, and said they had the best young band in the world of blues.
But even if I hadn’t recognized Luther and Cody Dickinson’s mamma, I would have said the same thing. No blues band of the current day impresses me more, and the Allstars’ new album World Boogie is Coming, released this month, may be their best yet.
Too many electric blues bands are just rock bands in disguise. But these musicians know their roots, and play blues as if they were on hand when it first
showed up in the visual spectrum. It didn’t hurt that Luther and Cody’s father, the late Jim
Dickinson, was a legend in Southern music. But he was cult figure known mostly to music business insiders. His sons are destined for genuine fame.
(3) Shemekia Copeland
Many record labels put their faith in the children of famous blues artists. The offspring of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, R.L. Burnside and other guitar icons have given us a chance to determine whether bluesiness is encoded in the DNA. Maybe you don’t need to pay your dues to play the blues, just secure a hip set of chromosomes.
Shemekia Copeland stands out as the most successful of these children of blues stars. At the dawn of her career, fans knew her as Johnny Copeland’s daughter. While still a teenager she toured as her father’s opening act, but Shemekia soon proved that she could fire up an audience on her own. She didn’t have much choice. Johnny Copeland died shortly after his daughter’s 18th birthday, and she had to do it alone.
Since then, Copleand has released a stack of hot albums, won a shelf of awards, and performed at the White House for the Obamas. I’m not surprised one bit by her success. Copeland’s voice possesses not only the rawness that blues fans prize, but also a vulnerability that is missing in so many modern-day blues records. She is my candidate for the great blues diva of the under-40 generation.
(4) Guadalupe Plata.
Here’s a band you haven’t heard about. When I tell blues lovers about Guadalupe Plata, they look back at me with blank stares. But after they’ve heard the music, they always come back for a second helping.
I can’t blame music fans for their ignorance. Blues bands from Spain don’t get much press in the United States. But this group deserves more recognition and a record contract with a major label. In the meantime, check out their Bandcamp page, where you can hear their most recent recording for free.
(5) Gary Clark, Jr.
I hesitated about including Gary Clark, Jr. on my list. Not because he isn’t a major blues talent—in fact, he is one of the very best. But I wonder about his commitment to the blues. I was disappointed by his recent Blak and Blu album, which showed Clark dabbling in a range of commercial styles, but without much conviction. On the other hand, his Bright Lights EP from 2011 ranks among my favorite electric blues albums of the last decade.
Photo Flickr by moonjazz