This week we revisit a show from 2020 featuring the rootsy super group Capitol Sun Rays. The group is made up by the talented Luther Dickinson, Amy Helm, Grahame Lesh along with the three core members of a real eTown favorite, Birds of Chicago: Allison Russell, JT Nero, and Drew Lindsay. We also welcome eTown friend and bluesman John Long, who became immersed in the blues scene at an early age, traveling and living with blues legend Homesick James starting in 1970. Also, we’ll hear from this week’s eChievement Award winner, Laura Statchel who co-founded a nonprofit that is saving the lives of countless women around the world.
Capitol Sun Rays
Capitol Sun Rays is made up by the Luther Dickinson, Amy Helm, and Grahame Lesh, along with the three core members of Birds of Chicago: Allison Russell, JT Nero, and Drew Lindsay.
John Long was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1950 & was first exposed to the music he’d make his life’s work not long after. By the late 1950s John was absorbing the sounds of Jimmy Reed, Buster Brown, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Junior Parker, and all the rest of the R&B and jump blues of the day, & working on recreating those sounds with his own guitar.
On Lost & Found, his debut album on Delta Groove Records (an earlier demo-styled cassette release, Long on Blues, was released independently in 1999), John Long has stunningly re-created the sound of a pre-war country blues player, right down to the little Tommy Johnson-like upward vocal swoops he takes at the end of phrases. What sets Long aside from simply creating an elaborate facsimile of the style, however, is that the songs he does are not ancient Delta pieces, but originals written by himself and his brother Claude Long, each one done in the template of an old blues 78 from the 1920s or 1930s. The obvious question, though, is why bother making this kind of music in the 21st century when there is easy access to digital renderings of those original 78s? The answer is simple. You have to love the music enough to want to live inside it and use it for a personal means of expression, and you have to respect it enough to stay inside the framework, right down to the least slide slur on the guitar. All of this Long does, and he doesn’t attempt any kind of postmodern update of the country blues, which, ironically, makes what he does all the more postmodern, since by changing little, Long makes the style sound almost radically new. Long doesn’t sample the old country blues; he inhabits it, which is why he isn’t a revisionist in any shape or form.
Yes, he’s derivative, but so was Robert Johnson and everyone else who has ever played the blues, because the blues demands it. The blues demands you take what has already been done and said and put your own personal spin on it, but by the same stead, you have to work between the lines, because the blues is an incredibly conservative form. Break the pattern and it isn’t the blues anymore. That’s why so many of the songs here sound familiar. They’re drawn from familiar templates. That’s also what makes these songs work, because while sounding familiar, they’re also eerily fresh, as well. It’s a difficult walk to pull off, to sound like something from the past in the present, knowing full well the future is going to sweep it all up together soon enough. Lost and found, indeed. Highlights include the opening track, “Hokum Town,” the acoustic funky “Pressure Cooker (‘Bout to Blow),” the moving “Healin’ Touch,” and the piano version of “Leavin’ St. Louis” that closes out the set.
From Delta Groove Productions, Inc.