Musician has rock ‘n’ roux point of view
Today’s blues are getting gray.
As music evolves, some of it has a different sound, but it often falls into the same category.
Harmonica player Kim Wilson, who at a young age performed with many of the all-time great bluesmen, has always been grounded in the old-school style.
“That first James Cotton album I heard as a kid — that really kind of set the tone for me,” Wilson said. “Soul, R&B and (those) kind of rockers, all that stuff goes together as long as you have the juice of the old stuff. You can’t go anywhere without knowing the old stuff well. This is not an opinion, this is fact. A lot of people don’t know this, especially musicians.”
Wilson’s view differs from that of harmonica player Jason Ricci, who performed on the North Shore last week.
“The second you imply that anything needs to be saved, you are contributing to its extinction,” Ricci said last week. “If Little Walter had spent his time mimicking Sonny Boy (Williamson) I and II, he wouldn’t have ever cut sides for Chess. He’d have just been some B-side performer. But no, he pushed the music into a new generation.”
Wilson said he didn’t want to speak ill of Ricci, who he felt had misspoke.
“Before you push the envelope, you have to have tradition,” Wilson said. “What contributes to the extinction of a music is not being able to play it. Some people will skip it because they realize they could never play it. They might say, ‘I think I’ll just skip it and we’ll still call it blues.’ Just don’t call it blues, and we’ll be fine.”
Music critics have called Ricci’s music rock, jam and blues. His CD is listed as rock.
“I have the utmost respect for Kim,” Ricci said. “He’s a very traditional player. He plays the harmonica in an old-school fashion.”
As a teenager from the coastal California town of Goleta, Wilson jammed with blues greats Eddie Taylor, George Smith, John Lee Hooker, Luther Tucker, Lowell Folsom, Pee Wee Crayton, Albert Collins, Huey Lewis, Johnny Shine and Phillip Walker.
“That’s really how I cut my teeth with this stuff,” Wilson said. “Before that, I was wearing out LPs of Little Walter and Sonny Boy and Muddy Waters. I didn’t meet Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers and Buddy Guy until I moved to Texas in 1975.”
There was no argument about what to call the style of music.
“It was a clear-cut thing, now it’s a gray area of what blues is,” Wilson said. “You just have to go out and move (the people). You don’t move them playing scales. Jimmy Reed was not a technical genius. What he played was pretty cool and what he played was the right thing but the bottom line was he knew how to deliver it.”
For people who might not be familiar with the references to bluesmen, Wilson offered a food analogy.
“Music is like gumbo,” Wilson said. “Gumbo starts with a roux. You cook that roux — you cook it down until it’s a beautiful thick thing. Without the roux, you can’t add the rice and vegetables and the shrimp. These days a lot of people are adding the rice and vegetables without ever having the roux. The roux takes years and years to get. It’s not a young man’s game and it’s not a thinking man’s game. It’s all about experience.”