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Bluesman/roots-rocker Jon Paris laughs aloud when asked about the Senate decision to declare 2003 as "The Year of Blues." Facing the possibility of war, he finds the honor ironic, even though he believes that "it's always going to be great [to have] a general audience recognizing the music, and the amount of history that went into this -- the blood, sweat, and tears that went into creating the blues." On the other hand, he warns, "the world has the blues, and there still are a lot of unsolved problems."
Paris is one of the most famous sidemen in rock and blues history, with an impressive list of partners in crime. You name it and he'll tell you what you want to hear. Do you want legends? What about Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Les Paul, Bob Dylan, Johnny Winter, Mick Taylor, or Peter Tosh? Although he is best known for his work as Winter's touring and recording bassist in the Eighties, Paris is a superb harmonica player and the leader of a roots trio who has been struggling to steal the spotlight on his own stage.
"Sometimes it's frustrating because I've played with Johnny Winter for such a long time people just associate me with him, rather than knowing that I have my own thing," confesses Paris. "The whole time I was with Johnny Winter I also had my band in New York, and we played all around the East Coast while he was off touring. He was playing larger places and we were in the smaller places. Hopefully one day we'll have a hit record or an album that does well. The album I've released [Rock the Universe, 1996] got great reviews and sold fairly well, but we never had a hit record."
Nevertheless, he's a grateful musician who considers himself "very fortunate" after working, touring, or simply jamming with people like Freddy King, Muddy Waters, and Hooker. "You can't buy these experiences," he says, "this is what you live for, to get to rub elbows with other musicians that you can learn from. I was lucky enough to meet Les Paul in NYC, and I often sit with him in his Monday-night gig. He's 87 years old, still plays, and it's a complete inspiration."
In his second visit to Miami as a solo artist, Paris will offer some of the songs that could fill not only his unreleased second album but "the next twenty CDs," plus an array of traditional rock and blues songs from the likes of Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin. "Anything that has the blues in it," he says.
But Paris doesn't want to buy all the blues hoopla. The government initiative, and the upcoming documentaries from directors Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, could end up as a "Hollywoodization of it, because it's hard to cover everybody, but hopefully they will get it to the public eye, and more people will know how great this music is," Paris concludes.
For Paris, there are far more important quotes on the blues still riffing in his head.
He remembers Muddy Waters's comment in the late Sixties, laughing off the idea of a blues revival: "What revival are you talking about? I've been playing this stuff for 30 years!"
And Willie Dixon's definition of the genre speaks more than a thousand words.
"Willie Dixon said blues is the truth, because people relate to it," remarks Paris. "Someone was saying this to me the other day: The minute you play the opening Chuck Berry riff it doesn't matter if they're 16 or 60, people light up and they want to dance."
That's what's on the menu this weekend. Pass it on!