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Blues Memories - Steve Smith

 Copyright 2010 Steve Smith. All Rights Reserved.Steve Smith - Guitar Mad Lad

The year is 1949. The town is Bolton, Lancashire. I was squeezed into the world on 2nd January. In my short trousered years I didn't know about 'blues', but I fondly remember my parents old 78's of George Formby ('When I'm Cleaning Windows' et al) and my particular favourite - Phil Harris and the 'Dark Town Poker Club'. With my two elder brothers we systematically reduced the 78's to plant pots by immersing them in hot water.

Jerry Lee Lewis was a particular favourite in the late 50's - he sounded so wild - and I also remember clearly at this time listening to Cliff Richard and his 'Living Doll' on the radio whilst with a group of lads in a local park. 

Early Embryonic Blues (1960 - 1970) 

In the early 60's, The Shadows broke onto the music scene  and subsequently had a major influence on my music taste. The guitar had arrived in my life. A few years later, my eldest brother brought home a Bo Diddley LP (the one with Bo sat on his scooter) - I wasn't impressed with the weird sounding music. Hank Marvin still reigned supreme.

Then in '64, I returned home from a school trip in the Lake District and had my ears assaulted by the Rolling Stones first LP. Wow! I liked it - I liked it a lot. I then followed a similar route that quite a few teenagers took during this time - discovering Muddy, Bo, Willie Dixon etc from this one record. Saturday mornings were spent scouring the record shops in Bolton, with one of my brothers purchasing the latest blues offerings on the Marble Arch label at 10s 6d a slab - a real bargain buy as LP's generally at this time were 32s 6d. The first blues boom was well under way and I was hooked. The Pretty Things always seemed more menacing than the Stones (and better), the lyrics to the Beat Merchants 'Pretty Face' were memorised and the Bo Street Runners made an all too brief impression on me.

The Folk Blues Festivals had also arrived, and I remember the '63 Festival being shown on tv in the mid 60's and watched sitting hushed and spellbound whilst the sound of the show was recorded on my brothers reel to reel recorder. The Lonnie Johnson track is still a particular favourite of mine - and I can watch the full show now as it has been recently issued on DVD. A magic memory.

In the late 60's, Hendrix had truly arrived, Cream were disbanding, the guitar sound had got louder and Muddy and the Wolf went 'electric'. I was (and still am) a big fan of the 'Electric Mud' LP  - it seemed to move the music forward - and still think the Wolf's electric re-make of 'Smokestack Lighting' a gem. 

Blues is my favourite colour 

It wasn't long before heavy rock, with it's blues based beat, held my attention. I remember at college, the other music devotees looking at me disbelievingly when I mentioned that Zep's 'A Whole Lotta Love' was actually a Muddy Waters record from the early 60's (it was in my ever expanding record collection!) The Groundhogs, Rory Gallagher and Robin Trower were early concert favourites at the heavy end. A Chuck Berry gig in Manchester in '75 was a farce - he walked off stage after 20mins following an altercation with some 'fans'. Record shops in Manchester (and there were plenty) were regularly plundered at this time - and I was buying predominantly blues vinyl - Robert Jr Lockwood, Otis Spann, Muddy, Wolf, Walter, Buddy, Robert Nighthawk .....and a brilliant Charlie Sayles import on the Dusty Road label.

Heavy rock turned into heavy metal and my guitar record collection just got bigger as the music got louder and gig calendar got busier - Mojo Buford, Louisiana Red, Iron Maiden, Lazy Lester, Judas Priest, Eddie Kirkland, ZZ Top, John Lee Hooker........   Since then things haven't changed too much - blues music still has peaks and troughs - and I still go to (mostly) blues gigs regularly as this is the medium that I like best. Seeing artists ply their trade 'live' is much better than the sterile environment of my living room. In future, you might just see me at a gig near you - nearly always front and centre soaking up the atmosphere. 

To finish - everybody (I think) likes lists. So here is my list of top ten guitar players (in no particular order and not all blues) based on pure playing ability ( I also have a completely different list of most entertaining guitarists!). Luckily some of these guys below are still around today. 

1.  Lonnie Johnson
2.  Hank Marvin
3.  Jimmy Page
4.  Popa Chubby
5.  Joe Satriani
6.  Jimi Hendrix
7.  Preston Reed
8.  Freddie King
9.  John Mc Loughlin
10. T. Bone Walker

Steve Smith
March 2010 

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