By Philip Daniels
The 2020/2021 lockdown has been a huge challenge and it’s also been an opportunity for solidarity and empathy, and not just putting everything on hold until it’s once again safe to start up again. Here, in Mexico and in Latin America, we were fortunate to have the Obregon Sonora Blues Fest organised by Sergio Muñoz that brought together bands from different parts of the world, a great success and still is: the community still flourishes.
This is our 2021 and it is also the context of the 10th anniversary of Cultura Blues. I was delighted when José Luis invited me to write an article for the anniversary issue. The only thing was, entirely predictably, that I wasn’t sure what I would write about. Should I go on again about my favourite obsessions? I don’t think so. This is a joyful occasion, far better not to get into controversies.
Someone asked me recently: how one can you tell if it is blues or jazz. I was not satisfied with my answer then and I very much doubt I can improve it enough to publish it here. Another possibility was something about singers that I had just discovered, for example, Lucinda Williams’ version of the Skip James song ‘Hard Times Killing Floor Blues’, but this deserves a lot more research first. (Still, it is a great track, so here’s the link: https://youtu.be/qk4meeZBFt0).
Then it hit me, for a tenth anniversary, what we want is something great – and why not combine it with some of the best news I’ve had recently: two of my oldest and closest friends have had a totally unexpected success on YouTube with their version of the Robert Johnson song, Walking Blues. When I started the article, they had had over 500,000 views; they’re now at over 650,000.
Liz & Egly – Walking Blues (Robert Johnson)
Liz and Egly are a husband and wife team of musicians who I have known for years and years. Happily, I’ve been in bands with both – and more of that anon. As Liz told me, they thought that doing a daily ‘Lockdown’ version of some of their favourite songs and posting them on YouTube would cheer up their friends during the pandemic. As the videos were for their friends rather than public consumption, they have degree of intimacy that a mass-marketed music-industry video could never have. This includes Egly’s running gag involving different and often really bizarre headgear for each song – the hat he is wearing for Walking Blues might be considered uncharacteristically ‘normal’.
Something like half the songs they chose were blues songs. They’re both deeply into blues music. Liz is the drummer and Egly the guitarist of the Stand In Blues Band, a Lincoln group that, I think, has already been around 10 years since its very informal beginnings. (Given that ‘stand in’ means to replace, they were originally an ad hoc band that would stand in for any bands who cancelled at the last moment in the pubs of Lincoln, England and the surrounding areas).
When you listen to the performances I have linked below and which I hope you all enjoy enormously, you will realise that Liz is an absolutely fabulous singer and a really great interpreter of songs. Watch out for her subtle gestures, movements and glances; nothing is accidental, they are all essential elements that put the song into context, a good deal of them, I suspect, having roots in her work in theatre. When we were in a band together in London, she was concentrating on singing, just as I was exclusively focused on the guitar. Nowadays, she also plays not only guitar and drums and a crazy variety of what we might call ‘domestic percussion’, but the tiniest synthesizer you can find: the Stylophone Retro Pocket Synth.
Liz & Egly – Black Cat Bone (Traditional)
I have known Egly since childhood – back when guitars were made of red plastic and had nylon strings – which would make it something in the region of 60 years. Later on, when we were teenagers and he had a proper guitar, a lovely red Watkins Rapier, he generously lent it to me for my first ever gig in front of an audience. He was in my very first band, Clugston, whose bass player was his older brother Charly, though we had all jammed together before the band became ‘official’. At the time, I played as much piano as I did guitar.
It was a rare delight to have a 50-years-later band reunion, when they visited Mexico in late 2019, an occasion when we had three different drummers – Liz, my son also called Charly, and his girlfriend Daniela, ex-drummer of the Mexican all-girl metal band Herenwen (https://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Herenwen/62226).
Egly is not only a guitarist and singer but is a luthier and makes all the beautiful guitars that they play. His website is here: https://www.lucasguitars.co.uk/. As has been noted, the contrast with the ‘domestic percussion’ is pretty dramatic.
De todos modos, volviendo a la sesión que nos trajo aquí, su grabación de Walking Blues. Egly notó por primera vez que algo estaba sucediendo cuando el número de visitas llegó a 12,000 y después de decir ‘¡Oye! ¡Eso es increíble! ¡Eso es genial!’.
Anyway, going back to the session that brought us here, their recording of Walking Blues. Egly first noticed that something was happening when the number of hits got to 12,000 and after saying ‘Hey! That’s Amazing! That’s great!!’ the question on everybody’s lips was ‘How did that come about?’ It may be that once you hit 10,000, there’s a snowball effect and, as more and more people recommend your YouTube video, the numbers start to increase dramatically, or perhaps, if someone with a large audience recommends it, that too will have a significant effect. One of the things we have all noticed is the number of plays the song has been getting in unexpected places such as Russia and Ukraine.
Clearly, the product has to be really good in the first place. The professional quality of the recording is also striking. Egly told me, ‘The problem with the sound from phones and cameras is that they have loads of compression which generally sounds not very nice and also when the camera’s in the right place for video it’s often not a good place to record the sound from. Our setup is … a pair of condenser mikes for the sound plugged into a Zoom H4N recorder’.
Liz & Egly – It Hurts Me Too (Elmore James)
I think the strengths of the performance are many, but the most obvious is Liz’s performance – and it’s not only her voice which is outstanding and very exactly controlled, but also the energy she channels into her gestures and presentation of the song. As mentioned above, the intimacy of the video – having been filmed in their dining room at home for the benefit of close friends – makes it wholly special and definitely in no sense a music industry product.
But her enjoyment and joking make the song far more than merely music – it’s a real joy to watch. Obviously, a performance like this is only possible when built on the most solid of foundations and Egly’s guitar, both in accompaniment and his slide solo, provides just that. Their version of Walking Blues is an excellent, committed performance by two fine musicians who know each other profoundly.
In addition to their super successful version of Walking Blues, you might also enjoy their performances of these other traditional and gospel blues songs…
Cakewalk into Town (Taj Mahal) – https://youtu.be/gLe_aife6VY
Change is Gonna Come (Otis Redding) – https://youtu.be/3kJde4a0H48
Help Me (Sonny Boy Williamson) – https://youtu.be/KA_a79GWa5c
I Want My Crown (Traditional) – https://youtu.be/1woHBBKEf7Q
Motherless Children (Blind Willie Johnson) – https://youtu.be/YXoAgq1HEmI
Nobody’s Fault but Mine (Blind Willie Johnson) – https://youtu.be/mYtmQJlx9-s
Tell Me Mama (Little Walter Jacobs) – https://youtu.be/HBBGI-PRro0