Talking to Dead People: Blues and the Roots of Modern American Music


I am obsessed with dead Blues and Jazz musicians, but it’s okay. I think? No. I don’t talk to these dead people. But, I listen to their music or play along with them every day. For some reason, their spirits are able to reach the deepest level of my soul. Somehow, they inspire and guide me through the trials and tribulations of our modern world.

At this point you may ask: Why would anybody want to have an emotional, personal and spiritual connection with long-dead African-American musicians?

Jimi Hendrix plays at an amusement park called Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden on May 24, 1967.

Jimi Hendrix plays at an amusement park called Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden on May 24, 1967.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

First of all, let’s get a few things out in the open. I developed a serious interest in blues in my youth, when I started to appreciate this misunderstood and dying art form. When I was in grade 9, Jimi Hendrix inspired me to start playing the bass guitar. Hendrix was fully engaged in every note played, taught himself how to play, played an upside-down right-handed guitar as a lefty and didn’t read music. He was clearly the greatest rock musician of all time and revolutionized the playing of the electric guitar. I soon discovered that his raw playing and psychedelic style was deeply rooted in the Delta and Chicago blues.

My older brother Clifford, who died in 1987, encouraged me in this musical journey. Clifford took me to Jazz shows in Vancouver, which featured great musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Chick Corea, George Benson and Herbie Hancock.

This video features Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who are two of the major figures in the development of of bebop and modern jazz in the 1940’s. Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and improviser. His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, bent horn, pouched cheeks and his light-hearted personality were essential in popularizing bebop.

Dexter Gordon was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. He was among the earliest tenor players to adapt the bebop musical language of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to the instrument. This clip is from Round Midnight, which is a 1986 American-French musical drama film. It stars Dexter Gordon and Herbie Hancock on keyboards.The score for the film was composed by Herbie Hancock.The film is a wistful and tragic portrait that captures the Paris jazz scene of the 1950s. Clifford raved about this film.

I hung out at the Hard Rock café and went to see blues musicians at the Commodore Ballroom, such as BB King and Buddy Guy.

All this happened while I was in high school and before I was old enough to legally enter these clubs. In fact, Dizzie Gillespie called me over to his table between sets and asked me, “Do you play football”. I said “yes”, and then he said, “you are still in high school aren’t you.” He smiled and laughed. I returned to my table to enjoy the rest of the show.

The following video shows Buddy Guy playing an unbelievable version of his classic song, “The first time I met the Blues.”

This is an amazing clip of BB KIng playing live at Sing Sing Prison in East Harlem. BB King considers this one of this best performances.

I also consider myself to be a spiritual person. This does not mean I am perfect or without faults. But, when I have struggled against the most serious hardships in my life, I have always found strength in my faith, the memory of my brother Clifford, as well as blues and jazz music.

Several times just before an extremely difficult situation or hardship was coming to an end, Clifford has come to me in a dream. He speaks words of wisdom and encouragement. Or, I feel Clifford’s presence next to me, when I am enjoying a beautiful evening out with my wife Susan, eating good food and listening to jazz music at an intimate night club.

Fish Belly Blues is a “brand” name for online blues journalism, which encourages people to “Enrich your life through a love of Blues Music”. The blog will write insightful stories on blues news, business, events, shows, album reviews and profiles. The blues news is backed-up by in-depth profiles and features on key figures in blues history and the development of African-American music.

Young boy insists on having his photograph taken at the beach in Nouakchott, Mauritania in Sept. 2008

Young boy insists on having his photograph taken at the beach in Nouakchott, Mauritania in Sept. 2008

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Just like my older brother Clifford did for me, I want to share stories about the lives of inspirational figures in American musical history, share their sounds, as well as introduce these artists to a new generation of music fans. This journey will reveal that blues is one of the greatest inventions in American history. It is the foundation of all African-American music, including jazz, gospel, soul, rhythm and blues, disco, rap, hip hop, techno and house around the world.