As I had mentioned in my last blog, our band was fortunate enough to perform and participate in the 32nd Blues Music Awards in Memphis last month. It was a two-fold event of a lifetime, as my wife’s family, the Steinbergs of Beale Street, had also just been honored with their Brass Note Award on that historic street. Their contribution to the “Memphis Sound” goes back to the days of Prohibition at Pee Wee’s Saloon and continued all the way to the glory days of Stax records. My wife Diane’s uncle Lewie Steinberg played bass on and co-wrote “Green Onions” with Booker T and the MGs. Needless to say, the blues is a subject very close to the heart of our family.
The history of the blues lives inside the ghosts of so many unsung heroes that have now gone where winds have blown. Fortunately some of the pioneers that carried on the legacy are still with us today: BB King, Bobby Blue Bland, Buddy Guy, and Bobby Rush just to name a few . . . but there is something that somewhat troubles me. I noticed at the awards that there were very few young up-and-coming blues artists of color. Most of the notable African American artists that front blues bands, are over 50 years of age. With the exception of the Homemade Jamz Band, Kirt Fletcher, and Bernard Allison, there are only a handful of younger artists of color on the scene today. When all of the old guard are gone, will blues music will turn into a white culture? Is it just me, or does that seem sort of strange?
Yes I know that younger African Americans look at the blues as their parent’s music and would rather pursue hip-hop and rap music as an alternative art form for a newer generation. But blues is part of our national heritage. It’s not going to go away. People all over the world look up to America as the original innovators of blues and jazz, and crave all that we can come up with. There is a market for this art form, and I think some of the inner-city kids that think blues is old folks music should take another look.
When I hear Alicia Keys, Mary J Blige, Jay-Z, and the Black Eyed Peas, I hear the blues in there! The DNA of the blues lives inside all of American pop music in one form or another. I challenge any young hip-hop rapper to put in the time to study the blues and learn to play an instrument as well. If you did that, I’ll bet your music would become more enriched and meaningful than you could have ever imagined! Sanctified boogie-fication with romantic lyricism, that’s the blues. Something that just makes you want to move involuntarily and tells a story of love and life. And as we all know, that is the same recipe for rock n roll; the red-headed step child of the blues.
As much as I love playing and singing the blues, I am only a glee-filled imitator embracing a sacred art form. It’s up to the younger generation to come forth and hold up a cultural legacy for African Americans in America. God knows that we still have a long way to go in civil rights and solving the plight of the inner city. Hell just being involved in real estate the last seven years is enough for one to live and sing the blues! There’s still plenty of material to pull from these days to express the pain and the irony. I am also well over 50 myself, so my generation will also pass with last of the black blues artists of today. Robert Cray, Keb’ Mo, Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson, Eugene Bridges, when these guys are all gone who will replace them? Twenty-five years from now an African-American art form that was born out of the sweat and toil of the post Civil War south will be passed over to a white society unless some open-minded and passionate young folks of color come forward and embrace their own generational heritage. Regarding this form of cultural evolution, I hope that Darwin was wrong.
Kenny Lee Lewis–Steve Miller Band