I did a show with Bo Diddley once in Richmond. He was touring without a band in those days, picking up local backing acts via his management agency. We arrived three hours before showtime to set up, sound check, rehearse and get instructions from the master, but he didn't share our concerns. After all, he was Bo Diddley, the inventor of rock & roll, and if we didn't know his songs by heart, then we weren't worth a damn and weren't going to be worth a damn in any three hours, no matter what. We sat in the dressing room with him, making small talk, checking our watches, and getting wound tighter and tighter. He told a lot of ancient jokes and advised me that if I wanted to get along with women, I should drink Grand Marnier and not smell like a goat.
Finally, 45 minutes before the first show, for which 300 people were paying $8 - $10 apiece to see and hear, I asked him whether we should go out and go over a couple of numbers. He looked as insulted and angry as any fat, middle aged man in thick hornrim glasses and a sequined cowboy hat could look and explained, "This is the way it works. The drummer should watch my hips and the bass player should watch my shoulders." With no more instruction than that, we went out and did two packed shows, figuring out on our own that all of the slow tunes were in E and all of the Bo Diddley beat tunes were in G.
Chuck Berry hated me. Chosen by the same circuit agency that had hooked us up with Bo Diddley to play with the other self-proclaimed inventor of rock & roll from the old Chess label, we showed up on time and ready to open for Berry and then back him, but he didn't see any reason to pay a harmonica player, since there was no such creature on his hit records. Well, I was the lead singer in my band, and we couldn't open for him without my participation, so resolution required rational men, and I don't think Chuck Berry was a rational man that night. We opened for him, I laid back a lot while playing with him, and I've played the traditional Chuck Berry opening riff where required on harmonica instead of relying on guitarists ever since.
The greatest thrill of my blues life, with the possible exception of being chased through the ghetto by an irate husband at three in the morning (ref. my song, "Catching the Creeper") was working with Willie Dixon on "BluesAmerica," a radio series done on spec with syndication in mind. Willie Dixon arranged the first recording sessions for Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, wrote half of the songs made famous by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, played bass on a huge percentage of the blues hits that came out of Chess Records in Chicago during its heyday in the '50s and '60s, and was my friend. We worked together long distance, with him in Los Angeles and me in Richmond, to create 26 hours of blues radio programming. The shows were themed, with one focusing on "The Magic in the Music," another on "Chicago Blues," one on "British Blues," etc. I wrote the scripts, then Willie went into a studio in California, did his bit with an interviewer out there and sent me the resultant reel. Within the general heading of scripting, I was responsible for choosing the right tunes for the variously-themed shows, and for defining blues in the narrative portion of the first program. I defined blues to the satisfaction of Willie Dixon, and thats all the test anyone ever needs to pass. I said that blues was first person, singular, involved music ... as in, Im hungry, or Im happy. By contrast, jazz is created and performed from the second person, plural, detached viewpoint, as in, Lets talk about the concept of hunger. Folk music is first person, singular, detached, as in I saw someone who was happy. Classical is someone was hungry 200 years ago, rock is Im hungry, lets kill someone, reggae is Im hungry, lets kill someone white, etc.
Once I received Willies tapes, I dubbed in my own voice, some commercials, and the songs we'd agreed to feature from my record collection, and sent cassette copies to radio stations and likely sponsors trying to sell the damn thing. Eventually, I got sick of the sales pitches, never a favorite activity. Shortly thereafter, the whole country jumped on the blues radio bandwagon. I think a lot of people had the same ideas about a blues resurgence at the same time; no one stole any of my ideas regarding blues radio. In the course of the project, though, Willie Dixon sent me a draft copy of the script for a movie that he'd been asked to consult on, telling me at the same time that he'd sent the film folks copies of some of my radio scripts for their opinions. Oddly enough, Crossroads came out a couple of years later with several plot elements and details lifted directly out of one of my radio scripts.
Willie Dixon and I had frequent phone conversations about the progress of our syndication project, and the man spoke the blues. I was telling him during one call that the U.S. Army hadnt signed anything yet, but that they seemed interested in sponsoring the series. Just because it cloud up dont mean its gonna rain, interjected one of the top lyricists of postwar Chicago blues. He was something. He told me the story of a late night songwriting session, trying to come up with a song about how important even a small quantity of affection could be, and the song, ordered by Leonard and Marshall Chess, was supposed to be recorded first thing the next morning by the gargantuan Howlin Wolf. It was pushing two in the morning and Willie Dixon hadnt come up with even a title for the song, so he decided to have another cup of coffee. He spooned in some sugar and stirred reflectively, and it came to him -- Could be a spoonful of sugar / Could be a spoonful of gold / Just a little spoon of your precious love / Satisfies my soul -- and Spoonful went on to be one of his most highly regarded numbers.
The man spoke the blues and saw the blues all around all the time. Hed successfully sued heavy metal rockers Led Zeppelin three times by the time I met him, and he cut one of our phone calls short one day, explaining, I gotta go to court with those Zeppelin boys again.
Whats it about this time, Willie?
They say its about Whole Lotta Love, but I wrote the song, and I know its about Whole Lotta Lovin, cause thats what I named it. I was never a big Led Zeppelin fan. Why dont you do the world a favor this time and, instead of asking for cash compensation, ask for Robert Plants tongue, so that hell never be able to sing like that again, I helpfully suggested. Willie Dixon chuckled. I know what you mean. Man, I know what you mean.
At eighteen, armed with fake credentials from some throwaway Norfolk entertainment weekly, I got backstage at a Rolling Stones concert and met the greatest rock & roll band in the world. At eighteen, I was only able to grin uncontrollably and inanely, but I still have the bellbottom trousers I wore to that show. One day, I intend to mail them to Keith Richards with a note stating, You probably remember these from the Hampton Roads show in 75 ... I never get tired of these people. These pages describe the delusions, fantasies &
perspectives of one Arthur F. Shuey, III.
The usual disclaimers about any resemblance between
the characters named herein and real persons apply.
Foot Note: I ran this Three Part Story for your reading pleasure because Country Music contains more Blues than Blues...itself sometimes...and Blood runs thick (smile).