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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Blues Incorporated: R&B From The Marquee


BLUES INCORPORATED: R&B FROM THE MARQUEE (1962)

1) Gotta Move; 2) Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound; 3) I Got My Brand On You; 4) Spooky But Nice; 5) Keep Your Hands Off; 6) I Wanna Put A Tiger In Your Tank; 7) I Got My Mojo Working; 8) Finkle's Cafe; 9) Hoochie Coochie Man; 10) Down Town; 11) How Long How Long Blues; 12) I Thought I Heard That Train Whistle Blow.

First things first: the absolute main reason why «Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated» get a men­tion on this site is historical. Mr. Korner may not have ever been a great visionary or even a par­ticularly gifted musician, yet it so happened that he became, more or less, the Godfather of British R&B — and, consequently, R&B From The Marquee, recorded in June 1962, may be consi­dered the first proper R&B album to appear in UK territory. And even if it wasn't — diligent re­search, which I do not have time to conduct, always shows that there was always a bunch of no-names before the first big name — it was certainly influential, opening the floodgates for the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals, and all of their younger brethren.

«Blues Incorporated» wasn't even a proper band — indeed, it was more like a flexible «cor­po­ration» of the blues, with people attracted to and repulsed from its only permanent member, guitar player Alexis Korner, in free-flow mode. (A similar model, albeit with a larger amount of discip­line, would later be adopted by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers). Occasional members of the conglo­meration in its early, «classic» days included just about every future member of the classic Stones line-up, as well as Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Paul Jones, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page... — Alexis had a fairly good eye for talent, in recompense for a lack of a good deal of his own.

Unfortunately, at the time when the ensemble finally got a chance to put its sound on record (the title, by the way, is somewhat misleading — the sound did indeed stem «from the Marquee», where B.I. functioned on a regular basis, but the actual recordings were produced in one of Lon­don's Decca studios), most of the future big stars were unavailable. The only «grand name» gi­ven credit here is sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith, one of Britain's finest horn blowers of all time, who would later go on to play with the Graham Bond Organization, the Bluesbreakers, and Colo­s­seum; bass, drums, and keyboards are credited to relatively little known individuals (Teddy Wadmore, Gra­ham Burbidge, and Keith Scott, respectively; some of them at least were also parallel members of Chris Barber's Jazz Band).

Korner's major partner at the time was singer and harmonica player Cyril Davies, another impor­tant figure in the British R&B movement, but by mid-1962, the two were already drifting apart, and this would be the first and last B.I. record featuring Cyril's vocal talent (not particularly im­pressive anyway) — alternating, on a few tracks, with the throatier, croakier delivery of Long John Baldry (Davies would later go on to form the «Cyril Davies All-Stars» and then die two years later from either endocarditis or leukemia).

The setlist, as can easily be seen from the song titles, largely consists of Chicago blues numbers, mainly Muddy Waters, spiced up with a little Jimmy Witherspoon and Leroy Carr; about half of the songs, though, are «originals», i. e. variations on the same Chicago styles and patterns, credi­ted to Korner, Davies, or (in one case) Long John Baldry. The band had a «purist» attitude at the time, focusing exclusively on slow 12-bar blues or mid-tempo jump blues, no Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley allowed (one may amusedly remember how Mick Jagger, in the earliest days of the Stones, was appalled and abhorred at the prospect of the Stones being called a «rock'n'roll band»), an attitude that soon passed, but not before driving a wedge between the more conservative Davies and the more easily adapatable Korner — and not before they released their first album for all the world to marvel at their interpretations of ʽI Got My Mojo Workingʼ and ʽHoochie Coochie Manʼ.

Frankly speaking, there is very little to marvel at. The lack of proper amplification (Korner con­fines himself to acoustic guitar) may be a minus, but not as big a minus as the very fact that this whole thing is, at best, merely «competent» — everybody does his best to imitate the respective player in Muddy's band, but that is just what it is: a faithful imitation, bound to pale against the original when the players intentionally withdraw from offering anything of their own. Even Dick Heck­stall-Smith, who would go on to much higher heights, is perfectly content here with the sta­tus of a bit player — his sax leads on ʽSpooky But Niceʼ, ʽDown Townʼ, and other instrumentals are fun, but do not stand any serious competition against America's «monster tradition».

If anything, it is quite instructive to take one listen to this stuff, if only to see how much of a jump forward the British R&B movement went through in two years' time, and gain an additional ap­preciation for something like the Rolling Stones' debut — everything is always better understood, and sometimes stronger liked, in its context. Nevertheless, no thumbs down here, and not only for the obvious historical reason, but also because, even with all of its blandness, R&B From The Marquee never feels «fake»: all of these people were clearly united by a genuine love for this sort of music, a basic understanding of how it works, and an honest desire to share this love with the listeners. In a way, it is not their fault that the impact of this album had been reduced to naught within a couple of years — every giant leap is naturally preceded by a small step, and this might just have been the small step without which there would be no giant leap. Without Blues Incorporated, there might truly have been no Rolling Stones — and that, to me, is already reason enough for a perfectly «rational», if not altogether «emotional», thumbs up.

Check "R&B From The Marquee" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. Historical importance might be the only reason for a thumbs up on this. I bought a CD re-issue of this many years ago and I've seldom been so disappointed in a recording.

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  2. Great review on this one, George. Although I don't quite agree that they're just competently replicating Muddy's band's sound... To me this will always sound like a precursor to the jazz-blues of Graham Bond Organisation. Not only that, but I've taken such a liking to the Blues Incorporated (especially the first half of their 1966 Sky High LP) that I've actually tracked down some of Korner's later work, most of which is pretty good (although some of his mid-'70s stuff sounds like a precursor to Bad Company).

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