Every so often a person gets a hankering. Maybe for a cheeseburger, medium rare with crispy fries, or a hot fudge Sundae with whipped cream and nuts, or, in this case, a gigantic helping of The Blues. If you happened to get the hankering on Saturday night August 25, you hustled over to The Boston Blues Festival Legends Revival, a banquet of bluesy sound organized by the Blues Trust. Like the Last Supper, the servings of the good stuff came later in the night (in this case, after intermission).
Ten seconds after his black shoes tapped out the beat for “Leave My Woman Alone,” Louisiana Red transformed the musical spirit in the theater from artful imitation to authentic, gritty, gut-felt singing and guitar picking that come from raw talent and personal experience.
Red didn’t need a brass and reed front line to buttress his singing. Delta blues is predominantly guitar and harmonica based. Mouth harp player Lazy Lester (whose act would follow Red’s) and keyboardist David Maxwell would do just fine, thank you.
Red was not mailing his music in. Watching his lanky frame stooped over his guitar and the silver metal sleeve over his finger flash as he slid it up and down the frets, you could almost see him indulging in a ‘whooo, that’s the first time I did it like that’ grin after he heard himself pick through an especially creative improvised riff. This music is his oxygen.
It was “all in” time on stage. Lester and Maxwell dug deep to match Red’s improvisation. We spectators were treated to a jousting match between friendly rivals who weren’t gonna be upstaged.
The primal force of Red’s music, the utter match between his instrument, emotions and words, transported us to the Mississippi Delta of the mid twentieth century.
We were ripped from our sedate emotional moorings and swept into a churning sea, swirling on the transcendent acoustic currents Louisiana Red let loose. This was not just singing. This was catharsis.
The man has jammed with B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker but he doesn’t sound like anyone but Iverson Minter, born in 1932, better known as Louisiana Red. You wonder how these Delta blues are in his blood? You wonder why he’s called Germany his home for the past twenty years. His father’s death at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan in 1941 and newspaper headlines about persistent race-based problems in his native land might have something to do with it.
His intro to a song on one of his CDs goes like this: “The blues is a thing one has to feel in his soul, you have to feel it in your heart, you got to live it day by day. You got to feel insults, you got to be throwed out into the streets several times, you got to be put in jail many times before you learn the blues. This little song I learned in prison is called Parole Blues.”
The youngest of authentic, roots-based bluesmen are in their seventies. Seventy -five-year- old Louisiana Red has returned to the US every summer for the past seven years.
If we’re lucky, he’ll be here again next summer. And if you’re lucky, you’ll go listen to him rock the house.