|14 February 2004||Strategic Marketing||828768816424|
01. Robert Johnson – Travelling Riverside Blues
02. Johnny Shines – Dynaflow Blues
03. Muddy Waters – Hellhoud On My Trail
04. Muddy Waters – Country Blues
05. Taj Mahal – Celebrated Walkin’ Blues
06. Muddy Waters & The Son Simms Four – Rosalie
07. Son House – My Black Mama Pt 2
08. Son House – Government Fleet Blues
09. Muddy Waters – Gypsy Woman
10. Charley Patton – High Water Everywhere Pt I
11. Lead Belly – C. .C. Rider
12. The Liberatprs & Willie King – Terrorized
13. Napoleon Strickland & The Como Drum Band – Oh Baby
14. Corey Harris & Otha Turner – Lay My Burden Down
15. Ali Farka Touré – Mali Dje
16. John Lee Hooker – Tupelo Blues
17. Ali Farka Touré – Amandrai
18. John Lee Hooker – Down Child
19. Salif Keita – Ananamin
20. Drum Band & Otha Turner & The Rising Star Fife – My Babe
|Triple CD set featuring the Soul of a Man soundtrack album. This compilation accompanies the TV series ‘Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues’.
Soul of a Man features The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion covering Special Rider Blues by Skip James (RELEASE / LYRICS) whereas the documentary includes live footage of Devil Got My Woman (RELEASE / LYRICS).
[Credits from Soul of a Man sleeve]
Produced: Wim Wenders/Alex Gibney
01. Cassandra Wilson – Vietnam Blues
02. Eagle-Eye Cherry, Vernon Reid and James Blood Ulmer – Down In Mississippi
03. Lucinda Williams – Hard Times Killing Floor Blues
04. Lou Reed – Look Down The Road
05. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – I Feel So Good
06. Cassandra Wilson – Vietnam Blues
07. T Bone Burnett – Don’t Dog Your Woman
08. Los Lobos – Voodoo Music
09. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – The Death Of J.B. Lenoir
10. J. B. Lenoir – Alabama
11. Shemekia Copeland – God’s Word
12. Alvin Youngblood Hart – Illinois Blues
13. Beck – I’m So Glad
14. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Special Rider Blues
15. Marc Ribot – Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground
16. Bonnie Raitt – Devil Got My Woman
17. Skip James – Crow Jane
18. Garland Jefferys – Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues
19. Blind Willie – Johnson – Soul Of A Man
20. Lou Reed – See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
|“Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues
I’ll never forget the first time I head Lead Belly singing “C. C. Rider.” I was entranced. Like most people of my generation, I grew up listening to rock & roll. All of a sudden, in an instant, I could hear where it had all come from. And I could feel that the spirit behind the music, behind that voice and that guitar, came from somewhere much, much farther back in time.
Many people I know had the same shock of recognition. Rock & roll seemed to just come to us, on the radio and in the record stores. It became our music, a very important way of defining ourselves and separating from our parents. But then we uncovered another, deeper level, the history behind rock and rhythm & blues, the music behind out music. All roads led to the source, which was the blues.
We all like to imagine that art can come from out of nowhere and shock us like nothing we’ve ever seen or read or heard before. The greater truth is that everything – every painting, every movie, every play, every song – comes out of something that precedes it. It’s a chain of human responses. The beauty of art and the power of art is that it can never be standardized or mechanized. It has to be a human exchange, passed down hand to hand, or else it’s not art. It’s endlessly old and endlessly new at the same time, because there are always young artists hearing and seeing work that’s come before them, getting inspired and making something of their own out of what they’ve absorbed.
When you listen to Skip James singing “Devil Got My Woman” or Son House singing “Death Letter Blues” or John Lee Hooker laying down one of his snaking guitar figures, when you really listen – and believe me, it’s not hard, because this is music that grabs your full attention from the first note – you’re hearing something very precious being passed down. A precious secret. It’s there in all those echoes and borrowings, all those shared phrasings and guitar figures, all those songs that have passed down from singer to singer, player to player, sometimes changing along the way and becoming whole new songs in the process.
If you already know the blues, then maybe these selections will give you reason to go back to it. And if you’ve never heard the blues, and your coming across it for the first time, I can promise you this: Your life is about to change for the better.” – by Martin Scorsese
“THE FILM & THE MUSIC
The Soul Of A Man focuses on three blues singers: Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, and J. B. Lenoir. They recorded bewteen the twenties and the sixties, lived through (short!) times of recognition, but died poor and forgotten. All three of them left highly influential legacies. They certainly never met (except in my film). But the fact that they are my all-time favorites is not their only link…
The first time I heard Skip James was on a compilation album in the mid-sixties. From the first note on, his haunting, high-pitched voice struck a chord in me. I knew immediately that I had to find out more about this singer. It took me a while until I tracked down one of his albums. But every song I heard of his confirmed my first impression: His voice was different from any other voice in the history of the blues – incredibly melancholic and lost, yet, strangely self-confident. His guitar playing was also different, and he played the piano very well. It sounded as if the guitar player in him had influenced each other and pushed his craft into unknown territories. He become my first blues hero.
I discovered J.B. Lenoir in the summer of 1968, a very important summer for my generation. That year John Mayall put out an album called Crusade, and one song in particular haunted me: “The Death Of J.B. Lenoir.” The song was utterly moving and personal, and it expressed such a deep sense of loss. Who was this J.B. Lenoir? Mayall’s song indicated that this was a great blues musician who had died recently in Chicago. So I set out to find more about this Lenoir guy. And I did find a record of his – acoustic blues, mostly songs about the American South. They were very powerful songs, very politcal, especially those dealing with the Vietnam War. And this J.B. (he was actually christened with these initials, I found out; they didn’t stand for anything else) again sang like no one else I had every heard.
Over the years, I found other records of his. I found out that he had made music in Chicago in the fifites, rather different: electric guitar, big-band sound. I grew more and more attached to J.B. Lenoir. In my heart, he was the greatest one, far ahead of his time, truly a forerunner of music yet to come.
J.B. Lenoir had remained obscure – which was a mystery to me, until I found out that the records I had bought in Germany had never come out in America! Musicians knew him. Jimi Hendrix knew about him. And his most famous song, “Mama Talk To Your Daughter,” had been a moderate hit in the fifties. But nobody really knew much about the man. So when Marty gave me the chance to select my territory in the blues, I knew it had to be about J.B. And about Skip James.
But I needed a theme to link them. I was intrigued by the way both men had moved between the worldly side of the blues and the spiritual side. That tension between the sacred and the profane is a red line that goes through the entire history of the blues. Some musicians had been deeply torn by this gap. Some had observed that demarcation line rather strictly. That drew me to a third musician: Blind Willie Johnson.
Blind Willie had only sung spirituals, but in the bluesiest way imaginable. And he had been a phenomenal guitarist. But I knew even less about him than about the other two. There isn’t a single photograph of him in existence, just one strange print that served as an advertisement for a record of his in the late twenties. Blind Willie Johnson was a total mystery.
On a hunch that he would help the film, I added him to my bunch. I did not realize it at the time, but adding Blind Willie really saved my ass when it came to editing the film. He became the narrator. That might sound weird, as Blind Willie died in the early forties. But I was inspired by the fact that his “Dark Was The Night” had been chosen for a record attached to the Voyager spacecraft that NASA launched as a kind of ambassadorial probe into deep space, in 1977. The idea of Blind Willie’s voice moaning over his slide guitar and crossing a distant galaxy became the transcendental image that connected the sacred and the profane. And eventually, in the editing process, I realized that this was a great perspective for the film to be told from.
I wanted the music to be the centre of the film. Of course I would let the music of Skip, J.B., and Blind Willie speak for itself. But I also wanted to honor the enduring quality of their song-writing by finding contemporary musicians who would pick a song or two to reinterpret. I hoped that this would help to make my three blues heroes more accessible again and encourage modern listeners to be attentive to their music.
In the end we recorded seventeen new versions of songs by my heroes. We shot them all on Mini-DV, while they were recording, so there’s no playback. It was all done under live conditions.
One of the highlights for me was Beck. He wouldn’t play the same song in the same way twice. He covered two songs by Skip James – “I’m So Glad” and “Cypress Grove” – and each time he would start, he would play it on a different guitar, with or without harmonica, or with a different rhythm. He played twelve highly different variation of “I’m So Glad,” so I had twelve takes but no way to intercut, and that was challenging to say the least.
Bonnie Raitt performed “Devil Got My Woman” on her own, and she chose the difficult road, because she played it in Skip’s tuning, in open D. You really have to bend your fingers; that tuning is quite unusual and very hard to play.
Eagle-Eye Cherry put together an extraordinary group of musicians – two monster guitarists, James Blood Ulmer and Vernon Reid, and the great harp player David Barnes – for a dark and raw version of J.B.’s “Down In Mississippi.” Eagle-Eye was the only one to use a sampled drum kit, which gave the song a totally contemporary kick.
I was very much taken by the performances Cassandra Wilson gave. She has such a warm and mellow voice. And her band really makes her singing shine. She sang three songs, of which two ended up in the film. “Vietnam Blues” is one of my own favorites of J.B.’s. Her version was deeply moving, and strangely contemporary, given that is was written about forty years ago about a war that many have forgotten. But when she sings the line, “Mr. President, you always talk about peace, but you must clean up your own house before you leave,” it was a chilling reminder of the present.
Lou Reed did two songs with his great band; Skip’s “Look Down The Road,” which became the most optimistic and fun song of the collection, and a seemingly endless version of the classic “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” which became the end title track of the film.
T Bone Burnett hesitated between two of J.B.’s songs from the fifties, “Don’t Touch My Head” and “Don’t Dog Your Woman,” and finally decided on the latter. He arranged it for an incredible band that included three percussionists and a three-piece brass section. That band was really swinging, and after the first take, they decided they cold never play it that well again, let alone better.
Shemekia Copeland covered J.B.’s “God’s Word.” She was by far the youngest of our contemporary artists – but what an energy, and what a powerful voice!
Nick Cave and I go back quite some time. He appeared in Wings Of Desire and has contributed songs to four of my films over the years. He just had to be part of this one, too. Nick and his Bad Seeds rocked so hard on J.B.’s “I Feel So Good,” it felt as if we had to tie down the instruments.
Marc Ribot, who in my book is one of the greatest contemporary guitarists, gave us two versions of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night,” one acoustic and one electric. I chose the acoustic one – but this was one of the toughest choices to make in the editing room.
Lucinda Williams went for Skip’s classic “Hard Times Killing Floor Blues.” We filmed her playing it at a concert in Brooklyn, with a couple of extra takes after the show. I love her subdued and minimalist version of this song.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was the only band we could just shoot live, and once, But the raw energy this three-man group (they don’t have a bass player) brought to “Special Rider Blues” translated well, and gave our shoot a rough edge.
Los Lobos decided to cover J.B.’s “VooDoo Music.” They really filled the small stage of the knitting Factory in Hollywood, all seven of them, with their physical presence as well as their raunchy fat sound. They must be one of the tightest bands on this planet.
Alvin Youngblood Hart gave us a congenial performance of Skip’s “Illinois Blues.” He is a rock of a man, and his big hands seemed to almost crush that little guitar, but the sound that came out of it was tender and fluid. And if you expect a deep bass voice to come out of his mouth you’re mistaken.
Garland Jeffreys performed one of Skip’s last songs, his “Washington D.C. Hospital Blues.” He sang his heart out, and when he sang one chorus in a falsetto voice, in honor of Skip. I got goose pimples.”
ARTWORK: The Soul of a Man
Packaging Manager: Abe Velez
Photos: Peter Amft, Damion Lawyer/Blues Inc., Sony Music Archive, Lisa Rinzler/Blues Inc., Brian Smith/Chansley Entertainment Archives, Donata Wenders, Wim Wenders, Dick Waterman.
Cover: Keith Brown as Skip James, from the film.