One of my favourite things that Randy Newman does is engage other artists on songs which appear to be about them. There was even a theory postulated by a pal that Rider In The Rain was written as a parody of his Californian fellow troubadours, The Eagles. I never bought it despite Randy persuading Paul Simon to guest on another song which appeared to owe a little to his own narrative. In The Blues Randy tells the story of a singer songwriter from a broken home who plays the piano in an attempt to make sense of his troubled childhood. In all honesty, the character in the song sounds more akin to Jackson Browne than Paul Simon. Maybe Jackson said no?
I was reminded of the song on encountering an interesting article about the current state of Blues Music in America. One of the key conversations in the piece was with Buffalo Nichols who reflected on some of the reasons young black artists have shied away from engaging in the genre which, perhaps more than jazz or soul, defined what we understood to be roots music from the early part of the last century. His own diagnosis of where The Blues sits, is a little depressing, but anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention will recognise there’s some truth here.
“So much damage has already been done that getting somebody under 35 to even consider listening to the blues is such a struggle,” he says. “From where I’m sitting, there’s a lot of great potential, but the potential is limited by the old guard, all the older white guys who have been doing it. They’ve ruined it for everybody else. And they’re still there and they’re still taking up way too much space, and they’re still making terrible music.”
It got me thinking about some of the guilty parties. I’m sure we can all think of a few candidates. What I also reflected was how much the British musicians of the sixties learned from their own adventures in blues. If some of that has got a little mushy, there’s no doubt that the early followers held the southern blues masters in high regard. Led Zeppelin covered a number of Willie Dixon songs and, in a rich and varied career path leading all the way into country music, Robert Plant has carved an interesting and visionary catalogue built around his understanding and knowledge of folk, blues, hillbilly and almost every other kind of roots music. We will catch up with where Robert is currently by going back a few decades and exploring some old time and contemporary country blues music for ourselves.
Elsewhere we will have more news of C2C in Glasgow, some great new music from Brent Cobb, Brandi Carlile, Molly Tuttle and Dolly Parton. There will be some familiar moments and, we trust, the odd song which will have you clicking your favourite retail app to add some music to your collection. We will do it all in two hours and put the needle down at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland this Tuesday evening. You can join in from anywhere and at a time of your own choosing on BBC Sounds. Whichever way you do it, fo join me if you can.