In the week that the great B.B. King passed away it was fitting that I would be treated to a retrospect on the Blues courtesy of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. A packed house filled the Clive Davis Theater for a screening of Born In Chicago, a documentary about Chicago Blues greats and their impact on the birth of Rock & Roll, which was followed by a bonus performance by some of the legends featured in the film.
Chicago in the early to mid 21st Century was the primary stopping point during the Great Migration, a mass movement of African Americans heading North in hopes of finding work and achieving the American dream. With the people came the culture and music, a sound that Chicago based Chess Records exposed to the world. The Blues. Most documentaries go straight to the beginning and take you down the long road to the present. This movie took a unique narrative by starting with the 2nd generation, the predominantly white suburban youth of Chicago’s North side who discovered the Blues on vinyl, learned under the masters and brought it to the Woodstock generation during the 60’s. Although having been in production for years, it is timely that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a prominent group that the film is focused on, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame this year as the movie makes its rounds.
Paul Butterfield, Michael Bloomfield, Corky Siegel, Barry Goldberg and their friends were teens at the time but realized that the Blues were revolutionary and how privileged they were to live just a few miles from where it was being created, recorded and distributed to the world. They would travel to the rough South Side, talking their way into bars like Big John’s and the Blue Flame to hear Howling Wolf, Little Walter and Muddy Waters. They didn’t just get to listen, they got to sit in and cut their teeth, priming them to become even more successful than their predecessors.
The movie tells the story of the history of the blues from the perspective of the young prodigies with the wide eyed zeal of a fan who got to live out their wildest dream. The Blues community was open and nurturing as Wolf and the rest proselytized the word through guitars, organs and harps, taking the kids under their wings like alter boys. The young, mostly Jewish, kids went on to help Bob Dylan go electric, bring soul to the Folk crowd and mainstream the culture. At the exact same time, the key players in the British invasion were translating their favorite Chess Records the best way they knew how as Rock & Roll was on the brink of world domination. The movie offers interviews with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones (the band name was taken from a Muddy Waters record), Eric Burdon of The Animals and more UK greats of the era helping to complete the narrative of how this great American creation revolutionized music as we know it. As a bonus, the film features B.B. King, a legend who majority of the world most identifies with the Blues.
The audience was treated to a post screening panel discussion and performance featuring Hall Of Fame inductees Elvin Bishop and Sam Lay of the Butterfield Blues Band, harpist Corky Siegel and keyboardist Barry Goldberg who are all prominently featured in the film. Born In Chicago was directed by Grammy nominated filmmaker John Anderson who is known for Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE. Producer John Beug is an Emmy winner for his work on Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival Chicago. The film was Executive Produced by Chicago based Out Of The Box Records and will be distributed soon. Stay tuned to their facebook page for updates on screenings and all things Blues.
– Dominic Painter