Warning! I got wordy on this one.
I’m 37 going on 77. I use words like “hokum” and “methinks”. I use phrases like, “I’m mad as all get out!” and “Get off my lawn!” I was 10 when I started drinking coffee and chatting with my mom and nan after school. They say coffee stunts your growth. Boy, am I glad it did. I have enough trouble finding pants that fit and I’m only 6’2″. So it’s small wonder that my musical taste is one that peaked in the 1950s.
There’s a certain irony to being hearing impaired. Things can be too loud. Sometimes a show or movie can be full of whispers and soft music. So I must turn it up. Cue the screaming and explosions! Sometimes a song can be an ocean. The music comes in waves. It starts softly and swells. It keeps swelling until the guitar’s screaming with distortion or feedback. This happens with a lot of post-50s blues rock. And so I always listen with my thumb on the volume.
Then there was my first hockey game in Raleigh. I had just received my first pair of hearing aids a few months before. When the Hurricanes knocked one in and the air horn went off, I went down. My brain was confused at having to process something so loud. My ears ached at the assault. But that’s just one side of the deafness coin. The other is the obvious side.
The Blues was born in The Delta. The recording of The Blues came years later. And when it came, the nascent technology was both marvelous and pitiful. Marvelous because it could be done at all. Pitiful because it was scratchy and faint and filled with ambient noise intruding on the song. As much as I want to heed Clapton’s call to listen to Robert Johnson, the scant 27 song recording career is just too bad for my defective little ears. No thumbed up volume on my iPhone’s Bluetooth streaming in my hearing aids can counter crappy quality. And so I searched for that voluminous middle path. And I found it in Chicago Post-WWII Blues.
Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and other artists not featured in Cadillac Records, just started amplifying The Blues. It was music to my ears. The power and the struggle against prejudice and segregation that I hear in the early blues drew me in. The fact that that struggle has since moved on to hip hop and rap, made me feel the need to listen to that as well. But it wasn’t for me. I’ll stay with The Blues of 60 years ago, thank you very much. Like I said, I’m an old man. This podcast is a refuge for this old man.
Until last year WZLX had a show called Sunday Morning Blues (with Carter Alan). Then iHeart radio bought WZLX and wanted him to do a show based on his Decibel Diaries book. Which I loved. But I also lost. The show. And so I went to Radio’s child, Podcast, and found Blues Unlimited. While not always featuring songs I can hear well enough, it really hits the spot for my Blues cravings.
One last note for the two of you that are still reading this unforgivably long post: the title of the show is also an Easter Egg of sorts. The original Blues Unlimited was a magazine started by an Englishman. I’ve always been surprised that the quintessential American-born music needed English music fans to inform Americans what they had all along.