What happens if you take three young European artists, all musically rooted in the Blues, yet untraditional in their approach, on a journey of discovery to the American South?
I began contemplating this question early in 2005, and the artists I had in mind were Aynsley Lister (UK), Ian Parker (UK), and my most recent signing Erja Lyytinen (FIN), all of whom have a distinct and contemporary blues identity. How would such artists react to an exploration of some of the places of great historical significance in the Blues world - in short a Blues pilgrimage? There was only one way to find out. I decided on three recording destinations, which I figured would give us a broad and varied overview - Clarksdale, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Just one week before the sessions were due to start, nature dealt a cruel blow in the southern states of Louisiana and Mississippi, in the form of hurricane Katrina. Of course, the human suffering, loss of life, and devastation of property in the region, put any concerns over the Blues pilgrimage into stark perspective. However, in practical terms, with the New Orleans studio completely flooded, I had to change my plans.
In the end we decided to head straight for Clarksdale, Mississippi to begin work. I had no doubt that we would find the true essence of the Blues there, as it is not only a place of great nostalgia, but also a place in which the Blues culture is truly alive and thriving today.
The Delta Recording Studio in Clarksdale is an eccentric and old-school kind of a place. One over-head mic on a beautifully simple and dilapidated old drum kit, and a range of charming, yet temperamental amplifiers, greeted us on our arrival in the live room. Jimbo Mathus (ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers and more recently famed in the blues world for his work with Buddy Guy) was on hand to show the Europeans the ropes and make us all feel welcome. The attitude to making music down there in Clarksdale is relaxed to say the least, and the initial sense of panic amongst the artists was tangible - perfect!
The first day was an intrepid experience for the three youngsters, but when they heard the first play-backs of the day, the realisation dawned on everybody that this was going to be a unique experience to be savoured. By day two, any insecurities and pre-conceptions about how recording sessions 'should' be conducted, were beginning to dissipate, and the local 'it's all good' catchphrase was quickly becoming everybody's new mantra. Late night discussions in the shacks on the old plantation revealed everybody's changing attitudes towards making music, a revived passion for the blues, and a child-like excitement about the project. We decided to extend our stay, and in total nine tracks were cut during four long days in Clarksdale, before we headed north for Memphis.
I could not imagine a visit to the Southern States without a stop in Memphis, Tennessee. With the wealth of Soul and Rock'n'Roll heritage on offer out of Stax and Sun studios respectively, no serious music enthusiast can afford not to visit the place. I chose to record at Ardent Studios, which is a very modern and sophisticated place - the complete opposite of The Delta Recording Studio, and therefore a great way of challenging the artists and bringing variety to the album.
The Memphis sessions were produced by Jim Gaines, a man steeped in the musical history of Memphis, and firmly established in the Blues, through his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan and the late great Luther Allison. In fact, Jim recorded the very first Ruf Records release in 1993, Luther's "Bad Love" album (issued in the United States as "Soul Fixing Man" by Alligator Records). Mr. Gaines' subtle approach undoubtedly brought the best out of everyone on the four tracks we recorded there during the next three days.
The endless fun we all had during the 'pilgrimage' is undoubtedly reflected in the music you hear on this record. The trip inspired a good deal of soul searching and maybe even some re-evaluation of musical values. I personally have not felt this excited about the music making process since the sad loss of Luther Allison in 1997. In just seven days of recording I was able to witness my three young artists develop, grow, and rediscover themselves in the wonderful American art-form we call the Blues.
Thomas Ruf, October 2005
- All The Time
- Heal Me Love
- Last Love Song
- You Don't Know
- Too Much To Hide
- Mississippi Lawnmower Blues
- Blues Caravan
- Funky Mama
- Dreamland Blues
- Twinkle Toes Willie
- Time Bears Witness
- Bonus: Jam With Mister Tater, The Music Maker