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Book Reviews
 
Duster Bennett - Jumping at Shadows DUSTER BENNETT - JUMPING AT SHADOWS - Art School Portraits of the Blues by Martin Celmins

Martin Celmins, better known in the region as the blueser Jet Martin, has contributed a fine, affectionate and thorough biography of the great and legendary harmonica player / one-man-band Duster Bennett. Martin provides here, not only a definitive biography of an exceptional person but a revisiting of the whole 60s / 70s British blues scene. He really gets the flavour of the times, and, in describing the art school generated musical scene of those days he offers a reminder of a unique wave of original creativity which swept through the UK and which has influenced musicians worldwide ever since.

Taking initiative and inspiration from newly discovered but ageing (or passed on) American blues greats such as Blind Willie Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry, Blind Boy Fuller, Slim Harpo, Juke Boy Bonner, Magic Sam and Jimmy Reed, Duster and some of his contemporaries developed a whole new style and played with such feeling and conviction that they turned an esoteric and fading form into popular music which affected an entire generation.

Remembered primarily as a solo artist Duster had great influence on musicians such as Peter Green (subject of another Celmins definitive biography) and his discography, session work and touring partners reads like a who’s who. In addition to Peter Green he played (and recorded) with Top Topham, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer (who provides an introduction to this book), Alexis Korner, Pete Wingfield, Peter Frampton, Nicky Hopkins, John Mayall, Chicken Shack, Champion Jack Dupree, BB King, the Yardbirds,
Memphis Slim ....
He was central to Mike Vernon’s seminal Blues Horizons label.

Tony “Duster” Bennett was unusual for his time and his working environment in that he was very clean living. An anachronism. “Between blues and gospel music there’s a dividing line that some artists cross and re-cross without giving it a second thought. Fred McDowell was one. But for other blues artists deciding to play God’s music or the Devil’s is a tormenting struggle”. (BB King). But Duster just stayed clean living.
Towards the end he was maybe musically frustrated and struggling to develop his career but still unswerving. “And listen to this, Duster is definitely the best harp player in Britain .... and he is such a nice guy. So nice he makes me feel evil”. (Peter Green).

The great Duster Bennett died in 1976 after playing a gig with Memphis Slim. At 3.15 am he fell asleep at the wheel of his transit van which careered across the road and collided with an oncoming lorry. He was 29.

This book has dozens of contributions from Duster’s contemporaries, is illustrated with over 100 well chosen photographs, and is essential reading for all with a love of music and musicians.

Check http://jetmartin.co.uk or e-mail jetmartin@fsmail.net for details of how to get your copy.
ISBN 978-1-4276-1938-9
price £15.00


 
hand Me My Travelin' Shoes HAND ME MY TRAVELIN' SHOES - In Search of Blind Willie McTell
by Michael Gray
Bloomsbury 2007

Local writer Michael Gray is hard on the heels of his immense “Bob Dylan Encyclopedia” with this carefully constructed work.
“Nobody can sing the blues like blind Willie McTell” sang Dylan, but Michael reminds us that McTell’s repertoire was, like the man, very wide ranging.

“Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes” is part biography, part travelogue, part social history. Not quite gonzo history (if there can be such a thing) though the process of, and the meetings necessitated by, Michael’s fastidious research are an essential aspect of this illuminating account. And it’s very entertaining too, if “entertaining” is the right word for a personal and moving odyssey into a lost world.

Michael places McTell in an often disregarded historical context shared by near contemporaries such as Tampa Red, Robert Johnson, and Charley Patton - describing in stark detail the savagery and bloodshed confronted by McTell’s almost immediate ancestors during the American Civil War, and the horrifying violence faced on a daily basis when slavery, which transmuted into “the race-hate psyche of the South” was a matter of fact. In McTell’s home state of Georgia there were 500 lynchings between 1882 and the 1960s and “immeasurable numbers tortured”.

Willie McTell had a marvellous voice and delivery and was a master of the 12-string guitar. Difficult to play the 12-string would ring out louder than a 6 in the days before widespread amplifiers, when musicians made their money on the street or in rowdy, and often violent, juke joints. Blind from birth he never behaved as if handicapped, he was extraordinarily sensitive to his environment, amazingly “observant”, and gently independent.

McTell travelled a great deal, and Michael traces his journeys, commencing his researcher’s / music lover’s exploration with little evidence, and gradually building up a resounding and striking picture of a great artist. A picture not only of his artistry but of his resilience, personality and canny diplomacy.

Blind Willie McTell was first “discovered” and recorded by a number of labels, Victor included, between 1927 and 1936. Then came John and Ruby Lomax’s recordings of an interview and song session for the Library of Congress. Michael describes this meeting of the Lomax’s with McTell in his recurrent, idiosyncratically humorous style. In the course of the interview McTell happens to say “But Statesboro was my real home”. As Michael observes “later this remark is the motherlode for corporate Statesboro and Bulloch County to promote themselves as players in the tourism they want to get off his name. His larger than life cutout (is in) Jaeckel Hotel, where he would never have been allowed to stand in his own lifetime”.

This 432 page book has been close to the top of the Amazon bestselling music books since it’s recent publication. Their price of £10.78 (r.r.p. £25) makes it a bargain.
Buy it, then get “Atlanta Strut” by Blind Willie McTell (£6.99) www.snappermusic.com.

Then listen again to “Statesboro Blues”, one of Blind Willie’s best known tunes, by the Allman Brothers and put it all into context.

 
Bringing it All Back Home BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME
by Ian Clayton
Route Press (£12.99)

Everything reminds of something. I have filled my house and my head with things; books, records, paintings, stories; souvenirs that have no meaning except to me. Sometimes I think my house is my head and my head has become my house. I am not normally a person who trots out superlatives but I can honestly say Ian Clayton’s book is one of the best ever written about music. And ‘Bringing it All Back Home’ will make sense to anyone who understands the intrinsic value of collecting music and savouring memories.

We live in an age, where we are constantly advised to get rid and de-junk our homes (minds?) and Ian’s book is a vindication that holding on to things does matter and to treasure old LP’s is a perfectly normal and justifiable thing to do. It is always hard when you review a book not to give too much away. I think ultimately you want people to get hold of it and read it for themselves. Ian’s book is a very special thing indeed. Some books about music are very cold and academic and leave the reader very much on the outside. But Ian’s book is funny, moving, wise.......

The last chapter about the tragic death of his daughter, Billie Holiday Clayton is one of the most moving passages I’ve ever read. I hope I’ve said enough to make you want to get hold of this book.

Ian very kindly answered a few of my questions about the book from his Featherstone HQ:

Q. Could you briefly explain how the book ended up being published by Route?
A. Route is a kitchen table publisher, small at the moment but with great vision. Ian and Isobel Daley who run it are friends of many years standing. I worked with Ian at the community publisher, Yorkshire Art Circus, he’s also a Featherstone lad born just a few hundred yards from me, in fact his Mam and Dad live next door but one to our Tony, my younger brother. Check out their website at www.route-online.com. Ian wanted to do a book about music, culture and the contemporary north so he approached me and I just sat down and wrote. He has a good critical eye so we edited it between us.

Q. Although the title ‘Bringing it all Back Home’ is an affectionate nod to Bob Dylan, does it specifically refer to your cultural hunter-gatherer instincts in your many years as a vinyl obsessive?
A. Of course it’s a bit of a tribute to Dylan, I read ‘Chronicles’ just before I wrote it, but it’s also about culture starting at and returning to home, and saying look this is the view from where I live.

Q. Can you believe how positively ‘Bringing it all Back Home’ has been received by critics and fans alike?
A. I have been flabbergasted. We knew we had done something quite good, but when people start saying things like “best book ever written about popular music” and also stopping me in the street and telling me “it’s the best thing i’ve ever read” and I don’t even know them, it’s a shock.

Q. You talk about so many musical journeys in your book but if you were granted one solitary ‘genie in a bottle’ type wish and could travel back in time, what would it be?
A. I don’t like going backwards, but if I travel in my memory I would like to meet Mrs Zi Hill again, the old lady in Clarkesdale Mississippi who told me that she sewed Bessie Smith’s dresses.

Q. And finally, seeing as this mag is published from North Yorkshire, - the Whitby Folk Festival mentioned in your beautiful final chapter. Is it your favourite musical journey in this neck of the woods as it holds so many good memories?
A. It will always be my most special music venue. I only ever get to see the Fringe at the Folk week - my favourite was the yard out back of the Plough until Sam Smith’s stupidly banned live music on their premises.

Chris Bartley

 
Bob Dylan Encyclopedia - book cover THE BOB DYLAN ENCYCLOPEDIA
by Michael Gray
Continuum Books

Perhaps few LiNK readers will know that one of the world's leading Dylanologists lives in our midst (in a market town on the edge of the moors). Michael's 'Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan" (1999/2000) is undoubtedly the most thorough literary critique of Dylan's song writing oeuvre.

His subsequent work The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, published last year by Continuum is massively comprehensive, the culmination of over thirty years of dedicated research and scholarship. Over 700 pages of analysis of Dylan's songs, biographies of Dylan's musical influences and relevant musical contemporaries, accounts of literary and other cultural influences, descriptions of significant places and events (from the obvious - Newport Folk Festivals 1963 - 1965, to the unexpected - "frying an egg on stage, the prospect of" or "1964 car ride through America, the").

As Michael puts it in his preface "there are entries about songs and about albums, about famous and 'obscure' individuals, about ideas and history". Cross referencing is thorough and helpful, end-notes to entries detail source material and, usefully and unusually, the URL of online references.

More unusual, and extremely helpful, is the CD accompanying the Encyclopedia which provides the book duplicated as a pdf, making the finding of specifics really easy. I typed in 'New Orleans' in Edit / Find and was taken, page by page, to all references to the city. Similarly typing in, say, 'Tony Glover' in Edit / Search brings up a list and instant link to all mentions of the blues harmonica player. An exceptional facility.

Michael is neither po-faced academic nor blinkered Dylan fanatic. If hero Dylan is, he can certainly and fairly often do wrong in the author's eyes. But there is academic rigour here - facts are presented after thorough research. The book is also full of opinions. Michael's sometimes provocative opinions are forthrightly expressed, and with quirky humour. He will often give two sides to a story though, and leave the reader to make up his / her own mind (the entry on Johnny Cash for example).

This well presented hardback is a bargain - an essential addition to any musician's or music fan's bookshelf. From all good bookshops (r.r.p. £25.00) and e.g. www.Amazon.co.uk (£16.50 postage free). Check www.continuum.com for dozens of positive reviews:

"Inside these pages, you'll find a world of ideas, facts, and opinions. It's a world in which Baudelaire flows on from the Basement Tapes and A.S. Byatt looks out at the Byrds; in which Far from the Madding Crowd follows Ezekiel and Bob Geldof introduces Jean Genet; and in which Hank and William Carlos Williams stand side by side while J.R.R. Tolkien trails the Titanic. Most of all, of course, it's a world in which everyone and everything interconnects with one of our greatest living artists: Bob Dylan. "

Looking foward to Michael's next book , to be published this summer: "Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell".

For more details visit Michael's modest blog: http://bobdylanencyclopedia.blogspot.com

 
The Life and Times of Little Richard - book cover THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LITTLE RICHARD
by CHARLES WHITE
Omnibus Press (www.omnibuspress.com) £9.95

The sensational Charles White (Dr. Rock of BBC York, Leeds, Sheffield, and Humberside) has written the definitive biography of the sensational Little Richard.

"Tutti Frutti", "Ready Teddy", "Rip it Up" were anthems for a generation of British 'Teds' and rock n' roll fans. Little Richard totally demolished the comfortable and restrained 50's - when he burst on to the scene, sweating, screaming and hammering his piano he sounded like nothing on earth. Films like "The Girl Can't Help It", for which he provides the title track and in which, alongside Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, and the Platters, he shows what rock and roll is all about,helped change British music forever.

Little Richard made himself a star through sheer force of personality, breaking racial and sexual taboos on his way to becoming the primal force of fifties rock 'n' roll. Elvis called him "the greatest", Otis Redding called him his "inspiration", And James Brown called him his idol. Hendrix, during his time as sideman to Richard, learnt about performance and style from the master.

Using Richard's own words,culled from countless interviews, during which the two became great friends, Chas chronicles a staggering career "from the guttermost to the uttermost" and back. An extraordinarily excessive lifestyle, sexual eccentricity, total self-belief - it's all here.

This book from our friend Dr. Rock must rank as one of the best rock biographies of all time. Baz Hampshire, who has guested on sax with the Little Richard band, receives thanks for editing this work. We're privileged that Baz, with "Hamps Tramps" is helping to launch "The Link".

Buy this book.
 
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