Blues foghorn Jimmy Witherspoon lays out a characteristically progressive pre-nup with his prospective ‘little girl’, shocking the inevitable hordes of rich white hippies at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival by expressing a willingness to trade cunnilingus for regular dinners of ‘black-eyed peas, red beans and rice, and a little chilli’. His generosity extends so far as to suggest his eventual beau wouldn’t even have ‘to wear nylon hoes’. Ah, the Blues, so earthily compelling, so politically dubious. Jazzy blues guitar wiz Robben Ford sweetly noddles alongside his hollering paymaster.
Truly one of the least prestigious, least sought-after accolades in the history of the world, Billy Jenkins is probably the Bemolution’s favourite living musical artiste*. Please note, sadly, that that’s ‘living’ artiste, not ‘musically active’. Both spiritually worn-down and made financially unviable by the crushing commercialisation of everything, Billy Jenkins the musician has characteristically jacked it all in to officiate humanist funerals.
The Bemolution occasionally, certainly pathetically, writes to Billy to ascertain whether he’s any more likely to strap on his guitar again than he was during the last quarter, and he’s always gracious enough to reply:
“Me and music still not hearing ‘ear to ear’. The humanist funereal duties keeping the muse fully occupied – writing and conducting about sixty a year. That means an average of about 3,500 perfect emphatic words a week. Every week for the last five years…”
“The last CD I brought out – ‘Jazz Gives Me The Blues’ – took 26 funerals to pay for. ‘What you’re really saying is’, said Charlie Hart who recorded and produced, ‘that 26 folks had to actually die to make that record…’ Yup. And, with no-one buying anything, it ain’t worth the literal grief any more… The future is looking rather silent but faced with a smile.” Continue reading
In a jarring follow-on from Carole King-brand late-night serenity, melodic prog-shred produced by the nimble fingers of a genial hippy from Chelmsford.
In Britain, ‘Year Zero’ and the advent of punk dealt guitar virtuosity a terminal blow, with fumbling ‘authenticity’ prized over what was seen as the overblown indulgence of the solo-heavy Genesises and Pink Floyds. While the punks may have had a point, they managed to instil a deep suspicion of actually being able to competently play your chosen instrument in British music that’s only just wearing off in the 2010s.
On the one hand, this has unleashed the likes of Matt Bellamy to noodle euphoric nonsense at baying teenagers in stadium arenas, but on the other it’s brought us the critically-lauded superbly-named Guthrie Govan. Not only staggeringly able on his chosen instrument when on guitar-hero default-setting, Govan can effortlessly switch from super-fast squealing to jazz, blues and funk, demonstrating an unbelievable versatility that can only come from 40 years of doing little else other than playing a guitar – trawl YouTube for videos of him expertly, self-effacingly playing in a breath-taking array of styles.
This here live performance of one of his more tempestuous compositions, ‘Waves’, was captured for your enjoyment at a Californian music equipment trade show in 2010.
For some annoying reason, if you want to actually watch the video bit of a WordPress-embedded YouTube video rather just hear the audio, you have to either watch it fullscreen or click to watch it on YouTube itself.
One stagnant afternoon, this little number popped up on random on the Bemolutionary MP3 player and air-struck away the cobwebs with its howling intensity. That agonised opening fanfare sounds like a blues catastrophe, blaring guitar notes being mangled out of shape, giving way to what surely must rank as one of the most powerful, impassioned vocal performances in the history of blues music.
The Bemolution had never encountered Otis Rush before – this track was from one of the many, many generic compilation albums that have been borrowed, ripped to hard-drive, returned then barely touched. So, delighted with this accidental musical discovery, the next step was to have a mosey around the rest of his musical output. And, vaguely intriguingly, find it quite unimpressive –Rush’s back catalogue is mostly middle-of-the-road electric blues, with little of the fire shown on a small handful of standout tracks, like this and the similarly blazing ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’.
Still, it’s fascinating to ponder the myriad of tiny little factors that have to come together on the day of one recording session to produce a meteor-blow of a three-minute single, and how when some of those factors are absent the same artist can sound completely different.
Messrs Beck and Clapton are certainly very good at what they do, but like that most talented-yet-overrated of psychedelic blues-rockers Jimi Hendrix, they ripped off a lot of what they did from a gallery of illustrious predecessors. This magpie mind-set is hard to fault – ripping off your elders seems to be how music progresses, with one generation cherry-picking from the ones that preceded it, fusing this with their own stylistic preferences, and producing something new(ish). The sad part comes when their venerable forbears don’t get a smidgen of the airplay or acclaim – not to mention remuneration – afforded to the whippersnappers who wouldn’t have got anywhere without them. Continue reading
Billy Jenkins is responsible for much journalistic willy-waving. Music critics tend to use him as a linguistic ordnance test, competing to encapsulate his raging idiosyncrasy in the pithiest, showiest, most OTT way imaginable. This is a man who has been variously dubbed ‘a combination of Woody Allen, Tony Hancock and Keith Floyd’, ‘the Victor Meldrew of avant-garde jazz ‘ and ‘the musical equivalent of Duchamp’s moustachioed Mona Lisa”. Elsewhere, he’s been likened to Vic Reeves, Telly Savallas, Tommy Cooper, Duane Eddy, Duke Ellington and Debussy.
Billy Jenkins is probably the closest thing we have to a British Zappa. He bombards his fanatical listenership with a combination of satire, improvisation, melancholia, cynicism, anti-commercialism, top-drawer musicianship and humour. Both men explore the spikier sides of jazz and blues while refusing to take it too seriously. And both apparently hate being compared to other artists. Presented with the frequently-used Zappa comparison, Jenkins spoke admiringly but briefly of Uncle Frank’s talents as a composer and arranger, dismissively skimmed over his guitar-playing ability before concluding that he was “a control freak, an excellent businessman and a capitalist. I am none of these things”.
Jenkins is a 55 year-old man from Bromley in Kent, the captain of the Francis Drake Bowls Club in Lewisham, and a magnificent live performer, which is a shame, since he’s now permanently off the road organising and conducting humanist funerals.
Here, performed in Belgium, is a shrieking atheistic blues number called ‘There Is No Lord Up There’, which nicely displays what Mr Jenkins is about.