Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blues magazines complement genre

Singer Maria Muldaur was the subject of a
cover story in "Blues Revue" magazine in 2000.


Listening to the blues will teach you great lessons not commonly found in books.

However, the genre is so intricately rich in tradition and personalities that books offer an insight into the music that listening alone can't.

Personally, I depend on a trio of periodicals to keep me informed about the latest developments in the blues and to provide me with historical insight into the music.

The full-color publications appear bi-monthly in the highly competitive blues marketplace.

"Living Blues," "Big City Blues" and "Blues Revue" each offer a distinctive look at the music which has fascinated me for years.

Although I had appreciated rock 'n' roll's kinship to the blues, I didn't buy a blues magazine until March, 2000.

That's when songstress Maria Muldaur appeared on the cover of issue No. 55 of "Blues Revue."

Reading about Muldaur, I learned she was much more than just the singer responsible for "Midnight at the Oasis," the Top Ten smash from 1974.

Despite the rock 'n' roll hit, Muldaur hung around with blues legends such as Sippie Wallace, Victoria Spivey, Mississippi John Hurt and Rev. Gary Davis.

That's according to Eric Fine, who wrote the feature for "Blues Revue."

She never repeated the commercial success of "Oasis," but instead honed one of the most distinctive voices in American music.

Over the years, Muldaur has performed many styles of music, although she considers herself a blues singer today.

Beyond the cover story, I found "Blues Revue" contained enough attention-grabbing features, columns and departments to occupy my time for hours.

Needless to say, I subscribed.

Calling itself "the world's largest blues publication, devoted to the listener and musician whose musical passion is the full spectrum of the blues," the magazine is owned by Visionation in Urbandale, IA. Published by Chip Eagle, "Blues Revue" is edited by Art Tipaldi.

Founder and original publisher Bob Vogel guided the publication from a quarterly newsletter about acoustic blues to a glossy edition in 1994 featuring guitar slinger Johnny Winter on the cover.

The magazine's most recent issue continues to deliver the goods with a cover story about Joe Louis Walker and a piece on Thornetta Davis.

Davis is one of the best performers on the local blues scene in Detroit, along with Alberta Adams and Johnnie Bassett.

All three have played at the Marquette Area Blues Fest, held annually over the Labor Day weekend since 2004.

Davis released "Covered Live at the Music Menu" in 2001. The compact disc comprises 11 cover songs by the likes of Ma Rainey ("C. C. Rider"), Willie Dixon ("I Just Wanna Make Love to You") and Bill Withers ("Kissing My Love").

Even then, Al Spangler's liner notes called Davis "Detroit's most loved and respected female vocalist. No one can match the smooth power of her voice or her over all soul."

At the time, Spangler wrote from his perch at "Big City Blues," the second of my favorite three blues magazines.

The magazine's masthead promises coverage of "The Motor City, the Windy City, the Music City, the River Cities and the Crescent City."

In fact, "Big City Blues" is edited and published by Robert Jr. Whitall at the magazine's headquarters in Royal Oak, MI.

Whitall and partner/photographer Shirley Mae Owens (aka Sugar Mae) traverse the country to cover many blues festivals and concerts in person.

They brought their blues caravan to Marquette last summer where I felt compelled to buy a subscription.

Their current issue offers a cover story on seven fantastic harmonica players including Curtis Salgado, Watermelon Slim and Jason Ricci. Salgado and Slim had thrilled crowds at the Marquette Area Blues Fest, while Ricci bowed out of this year's fest at the last moment.

Published since 1996, "Big City Blues" also publishes reviews, blues astrology, blues cartoons and blues art.

"Living Blues," meanwhile, founded as a quarterly in 1970 by Jim O'Neal and Amy van Singel, is the country's oldest blues periodical.

A recent edition featured a cover story on Aaron "Little Sonny" Willis, known as Detroit's harmonica king.

The 12-page spread offered a comprehensive look at Sonny's career from a historical perspective, including vintage photographs.

Sonny recorded a handful of singles beginning in 1958 and cut three albums for the Stax Record's Enterprise label starting in 1969.

A master player, Sonny moved from Alabama to Detroit at the age of 21 and has been a mainstay on the local scene for decades.

He played on Hastings Street with many blues greats including John Lee Hooker, who settled in Detroit during the 1940s.

In addition, the Little Sonny edition of "Living Blues" carries CD reviews, news and radio charts. The radio data is compiled by Jim McGrath from playlists gathered from around the country.

"Living Blues" began as a 38-page black and white magazine about the blues put out by a group of mostly college kids from a basement apartment and sold from car trunks.

In 1983, the magazine's founders donated the publication rights and a collection of blues memorabilia to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

According to editor Brett J. Bonner, "Living Blues" has published "over 200 issues, nearly 2000 articles and over 10,000 reviews.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that I have stacks of blues magazines hanging around and refer to them from time to time.

Those magazines have been a tremendous resource in deciding which blues compact discs, whether vintage or contemporary, to add to my collection.

Not only are the magazines a fine reference tool, all three offer free CDs when you sign-up for a year or more.

If you love the blues like I do, you might want to consider subscribing to a blues magazine or two or three.

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