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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Friday, December 15, 2006


I was sad to hear a few hours ago of the death of 83-year-old Ahmet Ertegun yesterday in Manhattan. He had been in a coma since October 29. He was a great man in the music business, a pioneering talent spotter, a key partner in Atlantic Records - key to its founding and to its long continuation - and he gave many people a lot of help. The online news reports this morning all offer lists of musicians he loved and signed and recorded. None mentions Blind Willie McTell; yet on a visit to Atlanta in the late 1940s, Ertegun encountered McTell on the street: and promptly recorded him in a downtown studio. It was McTell's first crack at a commercial label session since 1936. (It wasn't commercial enough to do him any good, but that wasn't Ahmet Ertegun's fault.) For the research for my forthcoming biography of McTell, I was able to interview the already octogenarian Ertegun in October 2004. He gave me good, detailed stuff and he was thoughtful, courteous and warm.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's very sad about Ahmet, apprently he had a fall at a Stones concert. God bless him, may he RIP. He deserves to for all he gave to music.

Actually, I've been meaning to ask you about the Stones Michael. Do you rate them as a band and as performers / interpreters of blues material? It's just that I was reading your book the other week and you talk about the blues and terms like 'monkey man' and 'squeezing lemon' and so on, and it obviously reminded me of the song 'Monkey Man' off 'Let it Bleed' which mentions both. I don't think they're as good as Dylan, but they're pretty damn fine when they get it together. And 'Performance' was on telly the other night and Jagger does a nice solo version of 'Come on in my Kitchen' on an acoustic, and also on 'Let it Bleed' there's a great cover of 'Love in Vain'. It was them and Dylan who got me into Robert Johnson actually, and from there I've gone onto Charley Patton and all the others. Now I'm lost in the blues, I guess.

So just wondering what you thought of Mick and co (not their cover of 'Like a Rolling Stone' though, that requires no comment).

3:25 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Hi Alex
Thanks for asking. Actually I've always felt that the Stones made interesting versions of old blues records, and obviously did so out of affection, not to be exploitative. (And come to that, they've also done creative things with country-style stuff too.) I don't play them much at home but I appreciate their greatness. And "Sticky Fingers" remains a favourite album of mine.

I tried to acknowledge, in my book "Song & Dance Man III" that other young whiteys aside from Dylan had done interesting work with the blues. This is what footnote 11 of that book's chapter on Dylan's use of the blues (Chapter 9) said:

'There was conscientious, often creative coverage in several stages and places. Robert Gordon’s fascinating “It Came From Memphis”, 1995, p.7, argues that “The rediscovery of the Delta blues artists began in the later 1950s” and that “The first rock’n’roll audience was also the first blues renaissance audience…” while D. Hatch & S. Millward’s “From Blues To Rock; An Analytical History Of Pop Music’, 1987, say that “awareness of Chicago blues, fostered... by visits to Britain by the originators and the recording of their compositions by groups such as the Rolling Stones, led inevitably to the discovery of the music’s source, the blues of the Mississippi Delta,” while later, “In America, it was the bands of the West Coast who used the blues most profitably during the mid-1960s, rather than the musicians from Chicago or the South.” Whatever the history, the repertoire that aspired to treat its blues material worthily included, among other things, much by Elvis (touched upon in the present chapter’s main text) and his generation; plus: “The Rolling Stones No.2”, Decca Records, London, 1964, which included Muddy Waters’ ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’; John Mayall & Eric Clapton’s LP “Blues Breakers”, 1966, which included Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’: “an early (if not the first) attempt by a British band at music from this source,” say Hatch & Millward; Cream’s debut LP “Fresh Cream”, Reaction Records, London, 1966, which included Hambone Willie Newbern / Muddy Waters’ ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’’, Charley Patton’s ‘Spoonful’, Skip James’ ‘I’m So Glad’ and Robert Johnson’s ‘Four Until Late’; and Led Zeppelin’s debut LP “Led Zeppelin”, 1968, which included Willie Dixon’s songs ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’. From the West Coast, “The Doors”, 1967 included Howlin Wolf’s ‘Back Door Man’, and The Doors “LA Woman”, 1971 included ‘Crawling King Snake’. Jefferson Airplane put Memphis Minnie’s ‘Me And My Chauffeur’ on their 2nd LP “Surrealistic Pillow”, 1967. Canned Heat covered ‘On The Road Again’ and ‘Going Up The Country’, 1968 (both trans-Atlantic hit singles), ‘Dark Road’ by Floyd Jones (itself based on Tommy Johnson’s ‘Big Road Blues’ and other related songs) and Henry Thomas’ ‘Bull Doze Blues’. Their 1969 “Living The Blues” included Patton’s ‘Pony Blues’; their 1970 hit was with Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together’.'

3:32 pm  

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