Friday, February 24th, 2017
Australian blues legend Chris Finnen was to be part of this show, and it was really disappointing to learn that due to sickness he would not be part of the line-up for A History of the Early Blues. Chris Finnen is a remarkable blues player and a great story teller. Harmonica player Bill the Tree (yes that is his name) was recruited to take Chris’ place, and he joined Cal Williams Jr (guitar) and Kory Horwood on double bass for an exceptional evening of blues and early American music.
The band took over the mantle of storytellers about the songs they played and the origin of the blues, and warmed further to the task as the show progressed. In the end they did it so well that Chris Finnen was hardly missed. The show featured songs by folks like Leadbelly, Sun House, Furry Lewis, and blues classics like Got My Mojo Working.
But the focus of the show was actually quite a bit broader than just early blues. A number of songs were from the realms of folk or Gospel. Some were reminiscent of the music featured on the Coen Brothers movie, O Brother Where art Thou. This broader focus added tonal variety and an appreciation of how all these forms of early American music are connected.
A fascinating part of proceedings was the way the group would announce a song and then spend a few minutes warming up – improvising their way to the point where they were all ready to do the song. It was as if the songs began twice.
The musicianship on display in this show was stunning. Cal Williams Jr, playing a metal guitar made from bits of a tin shed, was a revelation. Showcasing multiple techniques - strumming, picking, sliding – he showed us there are many ways to play the blues. Billy the Tree on harmonica told us how blues contributed to the spread of the harmonica and provided a sweet bluesy backdrop throughout the show, and Kory Horwood’s double bass added depth and resonance.
The audience were invited to join in on occasion. We had a go at field hollering music – mimicking the way the blues was born in the fields, and the show ended with everyone joining in the refrain of an old Gospel tune as the band played and sang their way through the audience on their way out. It was a lovely touch.
An illuminating and instructive evening listening to great musicians playing the music they obviously love.
(This article also published on The Clothesline.)