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The starting point of Bill's Odyssey is the journey of African slaves to the plantations of America's Deep South. We follow their descendants as they walk, travel the highways, and ride the railroads out of the Delta and the troubled South via Memphis to the northern cities of Chicago and St. Louis. But this is no superficial history: Bill Wyman's in-depth odyssey reveals a society where poverty and injustice as well as love and faith, found their expression in a musical style that gave birth to rock 'n' roll.
Location shots of smoky juke joints, railroad stations, and endless highways combine with richly detailed maps to bring the Blues alive. Feature spreads with previously unpublished photographs from Bill Wyman's personal archive showcase 40 Blues legends from Robert Johnson to John Lee Hooker, telling the story of their fascinating and often troubled lives.
Bill Wyman is a legend in his own right. He has known and played with many of the Blues legends, and his personal knowledge and unprecedented access give this book an authenticity that is almost impossible to match.
Author Biography: William George Wyman was born in London and joined The Rolling Stones in 1962. The following year Charlie Watts joined the group and the legend was born. The band was later described by Geoffrey Cannon as "Perverted, outrageous, violent, repulsive, ugly, tasteful, incoherent. A travesty. That's what's good about them."
Bill is now the owner of The Ripple Group of companies and the London-based Sticky Fingers restaurant. He has also become known as an author, having written three books. The first was his autobiography Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock and Roll Band, (1990). Next, he created Wyman Shoots Chagall, (1998), a charming, limited-edition book that presented a selection of informal photographs taken by Bill of the late artist Marc Chagall. Each Wyman Shoots Chagall book included a CD of classical music entitled The Chagall Suite, which was written and arranged by Bill Wyman and Mike Batt. Finally, in September 2001, DK Publishing is releasing Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Music's Heart and Soul.
Wyman's solo recordings include Monkey Grip, Stone Alone, Bill Wyman and (Si Si) Je Suis un Rockstar, which reached the top 20 in several countries.
In 1985, Wyman gathered Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Andy Fairweather-Low, Chris Rea, Paul Rogers and Jimmy Page together in the studio, calling them Willie and the Poor Boys, and recorded an album to raise money for ARMS (The Multiple Sclerosis Charity). Wyman also recorded a second album, Willie and The Poor Boys Live, with Gary Brooker and other musician friends.
Bill Wyman has also been seen in several films, including Sympathy for the Devil, Gimme Shelter, Ladies and Gentlemen and Rolling Stones, Let's Spend The Night Together, Digital Dreams and Rolling Stones in IMAX, Larger Than Life. Bill wrote the soundtrack for the film Green Ice and contributed to the soundtracks for two Dario Argento films.
Bill's restaurant Sticky Fingers — which an American critic called, "The San Lorenzo of burger restaurants" — has recently reached its eleventh anniversary and over the years has won a variety of high profile awards, including The Sunday Times (London) award for Best Hamburger of 1999.
In 1996, in conjunction with his co-writer Terry Taylor, Bill Wyman decided to form a new band who would play a mixture of jazz and blues — music which first inspired Bill to pick up a bass guitar. The band, whose members include Georgie Fame, Albert Lee, Martin Taylor and Gary Brooker, became Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings.
The Rhythm King's first album Struttin' Our Stuff was released in 1997 and the second Anyway The Wind Blows in 1998. Anyway The Wind Blows was met with great reviews from magazines such as Q and Mojo and stormed to the top five of the Jazz and Blues album charts resulting in a successful UK tour. Groovin', The Rhythm Kings third album, was met with rave reviews in the UK, where it reached number 1 on the Jazz & Blues charts for 5 weeks and also successfully entered the national charts. It is just being released in the U.S. along with the band's newest album, Double Bill. Double Bill features George Harrison on slide guitar amongst many of Bill's other friends.
In 1993, Bill married Suzanne Accosta and together they have three young daughters — Katharine Noelle, Jessica Rose and Matilda Mae. He also has an older son, Stephen, from a previous marriage.
The war also marked a sea change in the music industry. Entertainment had to give precedence to the nation's need for machinery, raw materials, and military manpower. But music and entertainment did not stop, and records continued to be manufactured and to sell.
As if to prove that the war was not going to get in the way of the music business, the music trade magazine Billboard launched its first chart, exclusively catering for black music. Called the "The Harlem Hit Parade," it was based on the sales of records at six New York record stores, which included Harlem De Luxe Music Store and Frank's Melody Music. The first song to top the chart, of just 10 records, was "Take It And Git" by Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy. Kirk, a 44-year-old Kentuckian, and his 12-piece swing band from Kansas City had been playing together, in one form or another, since 1929; and by 1935 Mary Lou Williams, a gifted pianist, was a featured artist. Like many other swing bands they had blues influences within their sound, as well as boogie woogie. In 1942, Kirk issued "Boogie Woogie Cocktail," a showcase for Mary Lou's swinging left hand.
BIG BAND SWING
Looking back at the period immediately before World War II, the tendency is to think of little else but the big bands, an era when swing was the thing. Just weeks before Pearl Harbor, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra had become the first band to be awarded a "Certified Gold Record," when "Chattanooga Choo Choo" sold over a million copies. Miller and his orchestra, like many of the most popular blues artists of the prewar period, recorded for the Bluebird label.
From the second half of the 1930s big bands were all the rage in the US and Britain. One of the first big hits of the big band era and a million seller, was Boogie Woogie," first recorded in 1928 by Clarence "Pinetop" Smith. Tommy Dorsey was quick off the mark to capitalize on the craze for boogie woogie that was sweeping the nation in the wake of the From Spirituals To Swing concerts, which was boosted by the success of the boogie pianists at New York's Cafe Society. Dorsey's recording had staying power, as it was reissued in 1943,1944, and 1945 and sold well each time. Boogie woogie was not entirely confined to big bands, either, as one of the best-selling records of 1941 was the Andrews Sisters"'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."
Neither was it just boogie woogie that had struck a chord with the big bands. Many of them, along with their singers, recorded blues songs, or in some cases pseudo-blues material. In earlier years, the word "rag" had been inserted into the title of a song to make it fashionable; now the same thing happened with the blues. As early as 1935 the Boswell Sisters recorded "St. Louis Blues" (a year earlier, the Boswells recorded the first ever song called "Rock And Roll," even if it actually did neither)."St. Louis Blues" was very much a big band favorite, as Cab Calloway recorded it in 1930, The Mills Brothers in 1932, Benny Goodman in 1936, and Guy Lombardo in 1939. Earl Hines, who accompanied a number of blues singers in the 1920s, covered all the bases by recording "Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues."
Other artists followed the same formula. They included Artie Shaw's "The Blues" in 1938, Count Basie's "Goin' To Chicago Blues" in 1941, Harry James' "Feet Draggin' Blues" in 1939, and Woody Herman's "Bishops Blues" and "Blues In The Night" in 1941. In fact, "Blues in the Night" was one of the biggest sellers of that year. The song came from a film of the same name and was written by Johnny Mercer (words) and Harold Arlen (music). Mercer and Arlen were both white, but managed a fairly faithful recreation of the blues. Dinah Shore enjoyed a big hit with the song, and Artie Shaw, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Harry James, and Jimmie Lunceford also cut it around the same time, with many other artists to follow.
The point is that the blues, even if it was only in name in some cases, had moved out of the "race label only" market and edged its way into popular white American music. Doubtless many who heard "the blues" as performed by big bands and singers like Bing Crosby had no idea of its heritage. Racial segregation still affected every aspect of daily life, and musical taste was no exception. Record releases were effectively segregated through the "race" labels, but also through the radio. But there was nothing to prevent a white kid from listening to a black station, other than ingrained prejudices and habit. As time went along white kids, in the spirit and tradition of rebellious teens, did exactly what they thought their parents would find abhorrent. This would bring about some remarkable results for the music industry and American society as a whole.
LADY DAY SINGS THE BLUES
Make no bones about it, Billie Holiday was not a blues singer, but she certainly had them, sang them, and lived them. Because of films like Lady Sings The Blues, and her own assertion in her biography of the same name, many people today think of Billie as a blues singer. She certainly came in a direct line of descent from Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and the other classic blues singers. At the time some record companies, booking agents, and fans categorized her as a blues singer.
Billie's father Clarence (a guitarist with Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra) and her mother Sadie Fagen probably never married; in any event, they soon split up. Billie moved to New York around 1929, when she was about 15. She was discovered in 1933 by the legendary Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond, himself only 22 at the time, when he reviewed her performance at the 133rd Street Club and began to champion her cause. Her two earliest influences were Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong; she listened to records of theirs that belonged to a brothel madam for whom Billie ran errands. It was through Hammond that Billie got the opportunity to record with Benny Goodman. Her first two sides were a disappointment, but within a few months she was back in the studio and this time there was no disguising her talent. Teddy Wilson directed the accompaniment, and the relaxed, almost "jam session" feel of "Miss Brown To You" and "I Wished On The Moon" suited her perfectly.
From then on, Lady Day, as Lester Young had nicknamed her, was on her way. She was soon singing with Count Basie and later the Artie Shaw band. In early 1939, she opened at Cafe Society with Frankie Newton's band, which was her first real taste of stardom. During her residency at the club she recorded a musical setting of Lewis Allen's antilynching protest poem. The Commodore label released "Strange Fruit," after her own label refused to release anything so controversial. Opinion ever since has been sharply divided on the song, some (like Hammond) saying it hurt her appeal as a singer. But there is not doubting its impact when it was released, and it was the blues!
Billie was a major star throughout the 1940s, but there were signs of the cracks that would eventually inflict such cruel damage on her career; not least her increasing use of drugs. Despite this she recorded some brilliant sides. The details of Billie Holiday's story really belong in a history of jazz, but she certainly deserved her title of "the first, last, and only." Billie died in July 1959 at Metropolitan Hospital, New York, of drug poisoning.
THE MOVIES & THE SOUNDIES
Many white people's first vision of the blues came through a 1940s innovation, the Soundie. These were three-minute, black-and-white films with an optical soundtrack, which were shown in coin-operated 16mm rear projection machines in bars, diners, nightclubs, and roadhouses throughout the US and Canada. Soundies catered for all tastes, including swing, big bands, jazz, hillbilly, gospel -- and blues. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's son James formed a company to make the films in 1940. Between 1941 and 1947 more than 1,800 were distributed, including Meade Lux Lewis in The Spirit Of Boogie-Woogie from 1942 and the beautiful Dorothy Dandridge performing "Cow-Cow Boogie" to a bar full of cowboys. Among other black artists who made Soundies were Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jimmie Rushing, The Delta Rhythm Boys, and Lucky Millinder. A man who made his film debut in a Soundie in 1942 was to have a profound effect on the rock music; his name was Louis Jordan.
Hollywood barely paid attention to the blues. It featured (but only just) in movies like Harlem Rides The Range in 1938, The Hit Parade of 1943 (which featured Wynonie Harris, another rock'n'roll pioneer), and Stormy Weather, which included Fats Waller and Lena Horne. The last of those films was released in 1943 - the same year as Cabin In The Sky, another film with an all-black cast, including Miss Horne and Ethel Waters. The film had originally been a Broadway stage show which also starred Ethel. Many argue that these films had little to do with the blues, but at the time they were as much as most of America could take of the black man's music. Sanitized and safe, they were at least a start.
By 1939, there were 225,000 jukeboxes in America. Their popularity, plus the increasing sale of records for home use and their regular plays on radio, prompted James Caesar Petrillo, the president of the American Federation of Musicians, to declare that records were "the number one scab," which were taking work away from musicians. The AFM called a strike in 1942; the union's members included the instrumental soloists and players for all the major labels. Its aim was to persuade record companies to create a trust fund to compensate musicians who might lose live work as a result of records played on jukeboxes and the radio. The strike held firm until 1944, when first Decca and then Victor and Columbia capitulated late in the year. During this period, no new music was supposed to be recorded by AFM members. Of course, the record companies, knowing that the strike would probably happen, had already stockpiled new recordings in the months before the ban. There were also some clandestine sessions designed to bolster the output of some of the label's bigger selling stars.
As a result of the strike, union musicians began to be paid royalties on their record sales as a standard practice; prior to this point it had been a privilege for a fortunate few, while session musicians were paid a flat fee for a session.
The strike coincided with America's greatest war effort, which inevitably caused a shortage of the shellac and metals used in the manufacture of records. This allowed the record companies to concentrate their efforts on a few highly profitable releases -- Columbia announced that it was pressing nothing but Harry James records, for instance -- and meant that the major labels were in no great hurry to settle the strike.
THOSE WARTIME BLUES
The effect of all this on the blues performers was to virtually curtail all their recording activities. In actual fact there was a rapid fall off in blues records released in the first half of 1942. While Sonny Boy Williamson No. 1 had cut six sides just for days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was just one of the few artists who recorded. Others included Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Rosetta Tharpe, Roosevelt Sykes, and Joe Turner. In essence it was the big names, established artists, and those likely to sell.
In actual fact, Lead Belly and Josh White were two of just a very few blues people who made records during the post-1943 period up until the end of the war. White was particularly active for the Asch label, which at the same time recorded Gary Davis, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. Lead Belly even went to Hollywood and recorded a few sides for Capitol, making him one of the first bluesmen to record on the West Coast.
In 1942, Capitol signed T-Bone Walker, and he became the featured guitarist with Freddie Slack and his Orchestra. Slack, an excellent boogie woogie pianist and veteran of Jimmy Dorsey's band, was white, and his band was of mixed race. They actually helped to establish the fledgling Capitol label when "Cow Cow Boogie," featuring the excellent singer Ella Mae Morse, made the charts in late 1942.Two of the sides T-Bone cut with Freddie, "I Got a Break, Baby" and "Mean Old World," did much to establish T-Bone's standing with those that were to follow. These seminal recordings of what we now call the West Coast blues sound feature T-Bone's mellow and polished riffs, the epitome of laid-back. While the sound was neither as definitive nor as successful as the Chicago sound, it has an important place in the story of the blues, as well as rock and pop music. For it was in the immediate postwar period that the "West Coast Sound" did much to prepare the ground for rock'n'roll.
Further along the California coast from Los Angeles, many black people from Texas and Louisiana went to work in the San Francisco shipyards of Oakland, Richmond, Vallejo, and Hunter's Point. Bandleader Johnny Otis recalled hearing boogie and barrelhouse piano players while growing up in Berkeley. The area's first blues hit came when bandleader Saunders King's "S.K. Blues" was recorded by Joe Turner in 1945.
Like its competitors, the Bluebird label suffered a distinct slowdown in its recording activity after July 1942. Bluebird releases were confined to more mainstream activities for the next two years. The label had moderate hits with artists like The Four Vagabonds, The King Sisters, country singer Carson Robison, and Alvino Ray and his Orchestra. However, on Thursday and Friday, December 14-15, 1944, the label rediscovered the blues, and recorded. Sonny Boy even cut "Win The War Blues" in a rare show of recorded wartime patriotism from a blues singer. One of the sides that Roosevelt Sykes cut on December 15 was "I Wonder," which became the second No. 1 record on Billboard's new black music chart. The "Juke Box Race Records" listing, as it was now called, was launched in February 1945.
On December 15, 1944, while the busy blues session in Chicago was in full swing, Glen Miller, Bluebird's biggest star, was flying across the English Channel. Miller, who had enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942, was on his way to perform for the troops who were engaged on the post D-Day push to Berlin. Something happened to his aircraft, but no one ever found out what that was, as no wreckage was ever discovered. The precise fate of the most popular of the big band leaders is still a mystery. Between July 1935 and his disappearance, Miller had 128 hit records. Some would argue that he was not the best of the big band leaders, but no one has come close to matching his enduring popular appeal.
In the summer of 1945, two weeks before the US tested the A-bomb at Los Alamos in the New Mexico desert on July 16, the Bluebird regulars were back in the studio. Sonny Boy recorded "We Got To Win" on July 2, but it was not released at the time as events overtook both Bluebird and Sonny Boy. A month later on August 6, Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb, with Nagasaki suffering a similar fate three days later, and the Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945.
With the war over things began to get back to normal -- although identifying what was "normal" for the blues was not easy. The evolution from country blues to urban blues that had started back in the 1930s was about to become a revolution -- the effects of which would be felt all over the world.
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Wyman
Barnes & Noble.com: Since the very beginning of your career as a musician, you've been involved in blues-based music. Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey must have been a very meaningful project for you.
Bill Wyman: It has been one of the most interesting projects I have ever undertaken. My passion for the blues has continued to grow since I first became interested in the early '60s. To begin with my Blues Odyssey was more like a small trip, as I found out about men like Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker. From them I went backward, tracing the roots of the music to the wonderful prewar performers like Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell, Tampa Red, and Robert Johnson.
B&N.com: How did you get the initial idea for the book?
BW: My first idea was to make a radio series. This evolved into a TV series, which is being aired on Bravo on November 1, 2001 in America. Dorling Kindersley was involved in making the TV shows, and it seemed natural to collaborate on a book. It also enabled me to include so much more about the blues than I could in two hours of TV.
B&N.com: In Blues Odyssey, you trace the blues back to its origins on the slave plantations and then go on to describe how it developed in the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, Chicago, and St. Louis. I'm curious about the research you did for the book -- did it involve travel to the south and to the cities that figured so prominently in the music's history?
BW: Touring America with the Stones for so many years gave me the opportunity to visit lots of different cities. On our first tour in 1964 I was amazed to go into a bar in San Antonio and find Jimmy Reed records on the jukebox. Three days later we were at Chess studios in Chicago recording, and we met Buddy Guy. The following day Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters were at the studio. Between then and now there were opportunities to visit different places and talk with a wide variety of blues musicians. All of them have added their input to the making of Blues Odyssey.
B&N.com: Is there a particular moment from your travels that stands out as a symbolic or powerful encounter with the history or spirit of blues music?
BW: It's difficult to choose one moment, or one person. Meeting and recording with Howlin' Wolf in London and then visiting his home shortly before he died were very special moments. Wolf's connection back to Charley Patton and the greats of prewar Delta blues meant that he had a certain purity of the blues. Likewise, meeting Muddy and later playing with him at Montreux in 1974 was a fantastic experience. Another great time was when I met Furry Lewis in Memphis in 1975, while on tour with the Stones. We arrived onboard our aircraft in the middle of the night, and there was Furry at the bottom of the aircraft steps sitting on some whiskey crates playing the blues -- it was pretty special.
B&N.com: Did the process of researching the book -- especially as you visited the sites of blues history -- bring you to a new understanding of your own connection to the blues?
BW: Of course, you learn from everywhere you visit, you get something of the feeling of a place. In turn you can understand a little of what it meant to live in such a place. But in truth it is difficult to fully appreciate what people's lives were like when you are staying in luxury hotels. I think I understood more from listening to the music, listening to what they sang about, and the things that affected their everyday lives. My own upbringing was tough, and so perhaps I had something of a connection through that, albeit without the misery of segregation.
B&N.com: Your extensive collection of blues memorabilia plays a major role in the book and is a fascinating offshoot of your involvement with the music. How long have you been a collector? What would you consider your most cherished collectible?
BW: I have been a collector all my life; as a kid I even sold my stamp collection to get enough money to buy a wind-up 78rpm gramophone. I have collected blues records since the early '60s and now have thousands of LPs and CDs. They give me fantastic pleasure, and they have also inspired me to record some songs from the 1930s and '40s with my band, The Rhythm Kings. It is difficult to single out one item, but I have some pictures of Howlin' Wolf and myself at his house shortly before he died that I treasure, and perhaps most of all are the wonderful memories.
B&N.com: What was it like in the late '50s/early '60s as British musicians began to discover the raw energy of the blues through the music of legends such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters?
BW: They were fantastically exciting times. It was not like today, when everything that happens anywhere in the world in instantly on our TV screens. Back then, if you had an interest in something you really had to search things out. When I first discovered Chuck Berry in the 1950s I had to write off to record stores in Chicago to try and buy the records, because you couldn't buy them in Britain. People used to swap their records or lend them to friends so that they could hear what was new and exciting. I had a group before I joined the Stones called the Cliftons; we used to listen to records over and over again in order to learn them.
B&N.com: What message do you want readers to walk away with after reading the Blues Odyssey?
BW: I am not sure there is a message, other than the fact that this is such wonderful music. It's music that is real, that has substance and meaning. I would like to think that people would seek out the music of the blues greats and listen to the original versions of what have become "standards" today. I would like to think that when people read the book that they have a little more understanding of the context in which this music was written, and performed. The great thing about the blues is that it is real music played by real people on real instruments, there is not a computer in sight. So perhaps another message is that we should all be a little more interested in the roots of our music.