Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cream Of The Covers

In the mid-60s, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker of Cream brought the blues to a whole new and wider audience (a new entry in the Covers series).

Here are two of many examples, I'm So Glad (from Cream's first album, Fresh Cream) and Crossroads (from their third album, Wheels Of Fire).   You can click on the song titles to hear the Cream versions.  Crossroads is live and features outstanding bass playing by Bruce and incendiary guitar by Clapton (particularly on the second solo).

I'm So Glad was written by Skip James.  Born in 1902 and raised in the Mississippi Delta, James recorded this song and others in a 1931 recording session.  An album was released but sold poorly and James drifted in and out of music and did no further recording for thirty years.

In the early 1960s a folk-based blues revival movement began in the U.S. and in 1964 one of its founders, John Fahey, tracked down Skip James at a hospital in Tunica, Mississippi.  Later that summer, James played at the Newport Folk Festival and made several recordings before dying in 1969.  Cream's version of I'm So Glad was the first cover of a James song by a popular rock band.
Another Delta musician, Robert Johnson, the composer of Cross Road Blues, is probably the most legendary of the early bluesmen.  He made several recordings in 1936 and 1937 before dying at the age of 27 the following year under mysterious circumstances (including a rumour that he was poisoned by a jealous husband).  There are many other covers of his songs including Love In Vain, which was covered by the Rolling Stones.  This is the original Cross Road Blues.
From a cinematic perspective James and Johnson come together in the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou?  In the film, set in 1930s Mississippi, three white escapees from a chain gang pick up a black blues musician named Tommy Johnson (played by Chris Thomas King) at a crossroads.  Later in the film King does a haunting version of Skip James' Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.

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