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Blues DVDs - Recommendations

There are many fine DVDs on the Blues, so I thought I would share with you my recommendations.

If you want to recommend any blues DVDs, please email me at: alan.white @ earlyblues.com



Title: Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads
Director(s): Robert Mugge and Robert Palmer
Featuring: R. L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill,
Junior Kimbrough, Big Jack Johnson, Lonnie Pitchford, Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, Booker T Laury,
Napoleon Strickland, Jack Owens and Bud Spire
Date Released: 1991
Running Time: 90 mins

"In this eponymous documentary, Palmer assumes the role of the proverbial veteran "tour guide," casually offering us expert commentary, laced with entertaining anecdotes and served up with dry Southern wit. While we do hear and see a great deal of Palmer, the film never loses its main focus - the blues and the musicians who keep this important element of American musical heritage alive and kicking. Each of the featured artists performs one or two songs in their entirety.

Here we find everything from down-home guitars and mouth harps being played on farm house porches to full bands - influenced by the modern Chicago-style, yet still distinctly "Pure Delta" - playing in dark, smoke-filled juke joints. True to the blues tradition, the music is hot and sweaty. You can't watch this film and sit still - you gotta shake something. Highlights: cane fife player Napoleon Strickland; the totally stylin' Jessie Mae Hemphill (granddaughter of Blind Sid Hemphill, the pre-blues style fiddler/quills [panpipes] player documented in the Lomax field recordings); harp player Bud Spires telling a folktale about the devil, accompanied by Jack Owen's soulful guitar picking in the cranky, individualistic Bentonia style, popularized by the early bluesman, Skip James; and Lonnie Pitchford's intense singing as he accompanies himself on the diddley bow".
- review by Shlomo Pestcoe


Title: Last of the Mississippi Jukes
Director(s): Robert Mugge
Featuring: Alvin Youngblood Hart, Dennis Fountain and Pat Brown, Eddie Cotton, Bobby Rush, Morgan Freeman
Date Released: 2003
Running Time: 86 mins

Last of the Mississippi Jukes is an 85-minute documentary that explores the Mississippi "juke joints" where the Blues was born - from the shabby holes in the wall where the likes of Muddy Waters honed their styles to the newer clubs and lounges still extant today. Robert Mugge's film features interviews and performances at Jackson's historic Subway Lounge (as well the community's efforts to save it from demolition) and Clarksdale's Ground Zero Blues Club (co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman). That most of the featured musicians are virtual unknowns outside the area hardly lessens their appeal or diminishes the fun of this entertaining film, which also features considerable bonus footage (including an interview with Freeman).
- Sam Graham

Documentarian Robert Mugge explores the juke joints of Mississippi in this fascinating film that traces the origins of the blues down to the nearly extinct clubs where many bluesmen first "made their bones." Actor Morgan Freeman gives a tour of his club, which recaptures some of the original passion of the old juke joints. Featured artists include Alvin Youngblood Hart, Dennis Fountain and Pat Brown, Eddie Cotton, Bobby Rush and many, many more.


Title: Cheat You Fair : The Story of Maxwell Street
Director(s): Phil Ranstrom
Featuring: Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells
Date Released: 2009
Running Time: 90 mins

Cheat You Fair: The Story of Maxwell Street is the epic documentary about the rise & fall of Chicago's great Maxwell Street market. For 120 years, it existed as both the "Ellis Island of the midwest" and the "New Orleans of the north".  Maxwell Street was a refuge for the downtrodden, an engine of enterprise, where the only colour that mattered was green!

In its heyday, Maxwell Street was a colourful, urban bazaar where people could find exotic items not available anywhere else in the city. It was the home of the 'electric, urban blues' where blues was transformed into what is now called 'Chicago Blues', a hard-driving sound that helped shape rock n'roll. Music pioneers like Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Little Walter came to Maxwell Street to play, to learn and to get discovered.

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