Jan 10

Guitar practice

The cold weather has made practicing difficult. In particular, the second finger on my left hand and the first finger on my right hand are cracked and sore. I only practiced about half an hour last night. I worked on “Gambler’s Blues” from the Acoustic Blues book that my teacher, Jim Goelitz, gave me some time ago. I had forgotten about it,  but when we were talking about finger picking he recommended I work on that material.

I also started doing a musical analysis of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime,” which I really like. I believe it’s just a one-chord riff-based song in B, but I really like the riff. I’d never heard the song until I heard it on the three CD Chess Box set. When I Googled it last night, I discovered that it had been covered by a lot of musicians, including Stevie Ray Vaughan. I haven’t figured out the riff yet, but hope Jim will help me today.

Jan 10

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Eighty-five-year-old Pierre Boulez conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert tonight. You’d never guess he was that old by the way he walks on stage and conducts.

We heard Maurice Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, Suite for Orchestra Marc-André Dalbavie’s Flute Concerto (2006) and Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Opera in One Act (1918). The Ravel was familiar, but the other two were new to me. I enjoyed the program.

Béla Bartók (1927)

Béla Bartók (1927)

The Bartók was a bit long, but I thought it was interesting both as music and as a portrayal of male and female psychology. I was struck by the familiar pattern of the woman trying to find out about the man she loves, to get him to reveal his secrets to her, to open up the doors to his (well-defended) castle. The man resists, but gradually gives in hoping that the woman he loves will be able to save him from himself—from the monster he is or feels he is or was without her love.

Jan 10

The Howlin’ Wolf Story (2003) [DVD]

I really enjoyed Don McGlynn’s The Howlin’ Wolf Story (2003), which I saw on DVD. I think it’s one of the best blues documentaries I’ve seen. It’s a typical mix of archival footage and photos with contemporary talking heads interviews. It gives an overview of Wolf’s life and music. One of its strengths is that several songs are heard in entirety. Some are recordings behind a montage of images. The best segments are from a 1966 performance of Wolf with Hubert Sumlin, his lead guitarist, and others. There are also some clips of drummer Sam Lay’s home movies of Wolf and the band at Silvio’s Lounge in Chicago (now a vacant lot). One really gets a sense of what he might have been like as a performer. I would give almost anything to have seen him perform before his death in 1976.

Howlin’ Wolf is one of my blues heroes and mentors. While he’s not as well known, perhaps, as Muddy Waters, he’s of equal stature in his importance to the blues and his influence on later music, including rock ‘n’ roll.