Once it grabbed me and held on tight, the blues never released its grip on my soul. The first time it hit me, my pulse slowed, my head lightened and the hair on back of my neck tingled. The Rolling Stones laid down that low down, gut bucket version of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” in 1964 and turned a generation of American teenagers onto the blues from their own backyard. Years later, I would find the Howlin’ Wolf’s version way more low down and way more gut bucket and way more hair tingling, but the Stones pointed the way to the deep end.
It’s an old story familiar among those of us that blues music snagged back then.
All those English cats, the Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Cream with Eric Clapton, John Mayall, etc…were enamored with the blues and their music was available and more accessible than records by the bluesmen (many still alive and well at the time) they emulated. Those bands mostly rocked and rolled, but always tossed a few blues songs into the mix and those nuggets were the ones that caught my ear. White boy American blues bands were well represented at the time by groups such as Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite. They were the first blues harmonica blowers that got to me.
Each time I grabbed a Stones or Beatles, Cream or Led Zeppelin album, checking who wrote the blues songs was always a prerequisite. I would then try to find albums by those blues artist. In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, the popularity of blues music increased due to exposure by the songs being covered by rock royalty. The Stones had many bluesmen opened for them early on, including Muddy Waters and B.B. King.
What really sent me on my way occurred while shooting pool in a bar in college. A fellow long-haired student walked in badly needing rent money. He had a trunk full of records that he’d sell for a dollar a piece. Having a fresh twenty dollars bill, courtesy of a poorer pool player than myself, I checked out a trunk full of nothing but the blues. BB King, Albert King, Freddy King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Albert Collins, etc…I walked off with an armful of twenty albums. It was a jackpot that me pulled way out into the deep end of the blues and I’ve never come back.
I quickly found that the originators touched me the deepest. The Allman Brothers live album from the Fillmore and Eric Clapton’s Derek and Dominoes “Layla” do tend to curl my toes when they drop into that deep end. Oh, Boz Scaggs on Fenton Robinson’s “Someone Loan Me A Dime” with Duane Allman on guitar is one of the best covers ever and always pulls me under. Never mentioned to anyone just how the music affects me, because I assume that everyone has a music genre that touches them…or none does because they really don’t care a whit about music. So, I’ve quit trying to get someone, who hasn’t a clue about blues music, to listen to Otis Rush singing “I Can’t Quit You Baby” or Elmore James pouring out his heart with “It Hurts Me Too” and claim it doesn’t move them in some way.
I’ve always listened to other genres of music because radio stations have rarely featured blues music. Nothing moves me like the blues. I’ve found a bit of redeemable value in most of it all, from Elvis to Ozzy (actually, Ozzy’s harmonica playing on “The Wizard” turned my head back then) from Disco to Reggae from Hank to Willie from Iggy to Miles. Nothing moves me like the blues. I play harmonica in a band that goes from Bob Marley to Merle Haggard from the Eagles to the Beatles, from Buddy Holly to Bobby Darin from Jimmy Reed to Cookie and the Cupcakes. Nothing moves me like the blues. Oh, I could go on and on and on.
Over the course of a decade, I interviewed blues harmonica musicians and wrote their stories and reviewed their music for various publications. So, yeah. When I decided to sit down and write a crime novel, what the hell else could it be about but the blues. Since I play blues harmonica, then well yeah, the protagonist just might have to blow the blues. Hence, the creation of the dynamic blues harp duo of Mitty Andersen and Pete Bolden. Blues and trouble tend to follow them as they try to stomp out evil in the state of Texas and points beyond.
The first book, River Bottom Blues, is basically just a love letter to blues fans. A crime story steeped deeply in the blues and characters to which they can relate.
After finishing the book, I felt like “There! I got that out of my system”, but realized that Mitty and Pete’s story was far from over. The two bluesmen from Texas continue to find themselves thigh deep in murder, mayhem and the blues in The Devil’s Blues and Howling Mountain Blues.
Fahrenheit Press will be bringing all 3 of these tales of the crime-fighting bluesmen to its readers in short order. And maybe, just maybe, nothing will move you like the blues.
Ricky Bush, Texas, March 2020
River Bottom Blues, the first book in The Crime Fighting Bluesmen series is published today.