Blues Collar

Slingin' hash or singin' the blues, it's all in a day's work

Which isn't to say that transplanted Southerners didn't miss their birthplaces. The genre that was to become Chicago blues, although often raucous, was also often bitterly sad. Winters (especially in Chi-Town) could be brutal, loved ones were left behind, and the hustle and bustle of city life was far more crowded and complex than life on the Delta. "It wasn't peaches and cream, man," singer-pianist Eddie Boyd said of life in the toddlin' town. "But it was a lot better than down there where I was." All of this was reflected in the hard, insistent citified blues that grew up in the postwar era. This was typified in the harp sound of Little Walter, which incorporated roaring trains, traffic noise, and the phrasings of the now-omnipresent saxophone in contrast to the more laid-back Memphis R&B of Sonny Boy Williamson. And then of course there was the electric guitar, which put a new edge to Muddy Waters's always pungent Delta playing, and introduced the mega-influential talents of Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam.

Although no longer struggling with the same overt racism that was the norm way back when, some relatively new releases still deal with the bluesman and his role in the working world, approaching blues playing as just another way to make a living. From Son Seals's bass-propelled "Bad Axe": "Can't pick no more cotton/Can't shine no more shoes/Can't get no job at a car wash/Might as well sing the blues." Or the hard-shuffle title track to Luther Allison's Soul Fixin' Man: "I'm goin' back/Back to the shoe-shine stand/I'll be singin' the blues while I shine your shoes/I'm a soul fixin' man." Seals seems to be saying that these traditional work options for black men are no longer viable, while Allison is all too glad to trade finger poppin' for rag poppin', getting off the road and back to the family.

But the dream of one day quitting the day job and making it as a musician lives on. On their new disc, Bloodlines, Michael Hill's Blues Mob, a hard-rockin' South Bronx bar band, tells a similar story on the track "Bluesman at Heart." Instead of joining his buddies to ogle the ladies during his lunchbreak, the construction-working bluesman is at the music shop, "flirting with a candy-apple Strat that caught his eye." He may be straddling girders on the 52nd floor, but "behind his eyes/he's jamming with Albert Collins, Albert King, and Buddy Guy."

Comforting words for every working Joe with a dream and some talent.

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