British Blues Boom, Listen!

Three Essential Songs: Alexis Korner

A very brief introduction in Three Songs I Can’t Stop Listening To. First in a series.

Don't you just long to play music with this guy? I mean, those sideburns alone - !
Don’t you just long to play music with this guy? I mean, those sideburns alone – !

Alexis Korner didn’t care for the sobriquet “Father of the British Blues,” but I’m going to keep calling him that anyway.

He was an unlikely bluesman: born in 1928 Paris to a Greek mother and Austrian father, he grew up in Continental locales before the war necessitated relocation to England. He was fluent in at least four languages, a skill he put to good use in many 1970s West German TV appearances. He was a good but not a great guitarist, and his voice was…unique.

On the plus side, he had a deep love of American folk and blues and skiffle and boogie-woogie and all the other associated micro-genres, at a time when the UK was just waking up to them. He was evangelical about the music and articulate enough to teach while entertaining. His bohemian style flowed right from the Beats to the classic rockers. Perhaps most importantly, he had a gargantuan gift for spotting and nurturing talent and working with the right people at the right time. The Rolling Stones famously got an early break from him. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker (i.e. all of Cream) credited him as an inspiration. He worked with Peter Frampton, Eric Burdon, Steve Marriott…the list goes on and on.

Although Korner was no virtuoso with instrument or voice, he shares a vital quality with the greatest American blues artists: the feel of having an awesome time while performing a music of lament. A sense of humor even in tragic circumstances. What could better capture the whole vibrant, terrifying twentieth century?

Three absolutely necessary tracks:

1. If you wonder what I mean by his voice was unique, listen to him shout Muddy Waters’ ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ with his most iconic band, Blues Incorporated, in 1964.

Korner Stone
Korner’s ‘stone’ outside the modern-day Cavern; the track above was recorded in the historic one.

2. This quirky 1974 cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Get Off My Cloud’ makes Mick Jagger’s howled rant into a character-filled vignette that gets a smile from me every time.

3. And this 1971 blues rocker (by Korner’s then-band CCS) combines rudeness and inspiration with an addictively hummable riff. Seriously, this is like the theme song for the podcast in my head.

Learn more:
Book: Shapiro, Harry. Alexis Korner: The Biography

Documentary by Tom Robinson for BBC Radio 2

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