BORN-AGAIN BLUES: It seems delta blues has finally gotten its due, if not monetarily at least culturally. I just read the other day--in Rolling Fucking Stone magazine, of all places--that the Robert Johnson "box set" (read: two-CD collection) that houses all 41 of his known recordings has gone platinum. Let me say it again: platinum. That's the goal that all new bands strive toward, to gain ultimate favor with their label. And Robert Johnson, the fabled blues singer who was once only known to the seekers of the bunch, has sold a million copies of his complete recordings--many of which are duplicate takes--nearly half a century after his death.
Don't get me wrong: It's warranted, as Johnson probably single-handedly laid the foundation for modern popular music as we know it today more so than anyone, ever. The Stones and Clapton based their careers on his stuff, and they're two of the most highly revered Brit blues-rock acts in the history of the game. The point is, it's really surprising, and extremely encouraging, that those who have found Keef'n'God so riveting have found the time and energy to seek out where it all came from. Encouraging indeed.
For the uninitiated, here's a quick crash course in getting started on lovin' the blues in three easy steps:
· Buy Robert Johnson's The Complete Recordings (Columbia) double-disc set. It won't cost you more than $25, and it'll help make more sense of the musical world around you.
· Read Deep Blues by Robert Palmer (no--not the "Bad Case of Lovin' You" guy), which, in its 299 pages, will far more compellingly inspire you to delve into this fascinating subject than I can in this tight space. Palmer covers it all, in sprawling and compelling detail.
· And at least check out--if not buy, at a hefty $86--Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, the six-disc box set that lays out the foundation/blueprint for all American music that would follow.
So what I'm saying here, ultimately, is that--somewhere under the radar--the blues has been fermenting and is finally being imbibed en masse. Recent years have seen: punk rock joke/legend Jon Stewart--oops, I mean Jon Spencer--giving R. L. Burnside a (deserved) career revival; North Mississippi All Stars thriving on the infusion of delta blues and a jam band aesthetic; and for that matter, the huge worldwide success of Tucson's own bastardized delta-fuckall spoonslappers Doo Rag-cum-Bob Log III.
Fat Possum Records, a subsidiary of Epitaph, has been a mama pig to all the sucklings for a few years now, and God bless 'em. They've done as much to bring the blues to a new, younger demographic--fairly selflessly, even--than anyone in a long time. (Even though Columbia never had an inkling they'd sell a mil, they also knew they'd break even. Not so with these indie renegades.)
James "Super Chikan" Johnson is but one of the beneficiaries of the newfound devotion of whitey to the blues. His earlier stuff was Fat Possum-y enough (that means sloppy, direct, and powerfully authentic), even though it was released on Rooster Records. So it's kind of ironic that his newest release, What You See, is actually released on Fat Possum, but it's way slicker than its predecessor: less delta, more rockin', and easily the highest production values an FP release has ever seen. (If the label said "Alligator Records" it wouldn't come as a surprise.)
Still, here's your chance to witness the real thing, a little slice of authentic blues history, and hear a bunch of songs about poultry in the process, when Super Chikan hits Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St., at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 30. Opening the show is The Hidden Tempers, and admission is $8 at the door. Call 745-9175 for more info.
GOOD GOLLY: Far be it from me to think that I could actually help attract more people to a Mollys show than the band will attract already, but it's been a while since the full Mollys lineup has played locally, and so I report to you that your chance is here: 8 p.m. Saturday, September 30, at Plaza Palomino, Ft. Lowell and Swan. Advance tickets are $12, available at Antigone Books, Brew & Vine, Enchanted Earthworks, Folk Shop, and Hear's Music.
SLIP IS SHOWING: Boston trio The Slip packed 'em in at its last Tucson appearance, and now it's back for more. The band, which deftly combines pop with a jazz aesthetic and jammy tendencies, sounds to these ears like a modern-day Steely Dan. Yes, that's a compliment. Check it out for yourself when it performs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 4, at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave., along with openers Leslie Helpert and Good Question. Call 622-0192 for details.
MULDAUR POWER: Best known for her '70s hit "Midnight at the Oasis," one of those songs that everyone seems to love, Maria Muldaur brings her sultry, smoky, roots grooves to town this week in support of her excellent new disc, Meet Me Where They Play the Blues (Telarc). The diva will hit the stage of El Casino Ballroom, 437 E. 26th St., at 7:30 on Wednesday, October 4. Advance tickets are available for $15 ($2 discount for KXCI members) at Hear's Music, Antigone Books, Brew & Vine and Enchanted Earthworks, or by phone at 297-9133. They'll be $17 at the door.
HE KILLED KENNY G! Pat Metheny needs no introduction to jazz fans. Over the course of a 20-year career, he has proven to be both distinctive and unpredictable in his tasty and tasteful guitar playing. Touring to promote his new album, Trio 99>00 (Warner Brothers), Metheny brings bassist Larry Grenadin and drummer Bill Stewart along with him for an appearance at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 1, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance reserved tickets are available for $43 and $37.50 through Ticketmaster at 321-1000, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.