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Various Artists
CHICAGO BLUES
(Vestapol/Rounder DVD)
Stars graphics

Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, and Mighty Joe Young were alive and performing at their best, and Buddy Guy was still a relatively young gunslinger, when British director Harley Cokliss took his cameras to Chicago in 1972. Yet like the blues itself, this documentary is nearly as much about social politics as music. For many of the Windy Cityís African-Americans, the "Mr. Charlies" they and their families had left behind in the South were replaced by a slicker urban version who owned the shops and tenements in which they worked and lived. Dick Gregory puts this idea, as well as the times, in perspective when he essentially advocates the creation of a separate black nation in one interview.

Nonetheless, itís Waters and the other performers that Cokliss caught in the raw who really show us the hearts of the people in the thick of Chicago blues at the time, whether itís a spare but crackling audience responding to the slide-guitar gusto of J.B. Hutto in a bare-boned inner-city juke joint, or Guy showing how the style can overtake a musicianís soul and burst from his throat and fingers in bolts of inspiration that transcend any cultural reference points or barriers. Whatís clear is that, at least at the time and in that place, the blues was a music of liberation, and the best players in the early-í70s Chicago scene were proudly carrying its flag.

BY TED DROZDOWSKI


Issue Date: April 9 - 15, 2004
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