Having graced the stage and many recordings, Chris Barber announced his retirement from music…well, I for one do not blame him as, after over seventy years of performing on some of the biggest stages and sharing them with the biggest names in many genres, the 89-year-old deserves the rest. He also deserves thanks from the legions of blues and jazz fans that he has entertained and the multitude of performers he has had a profound influence on. Also, do not forget that it was Mr Barber who was instrumental (pun intended) in bringing many blues artists from the US to the UK in the early 60s before most of us even knew the blues existed. So, if you think of him only as a jazz bandleader, please think again in the context of a bluesy jazzman and a talent scout eager to share his and their passions…after all, he did introduce Muddy Waters, amongst many, to the wider British audience.
To mark his retirement, the compilation album, Memories Of My Trip is again available. One glance at the list of contributors gives an immediate clue to the esteem in which he is held…although Keith Emerson’s appearance is from 1966, long before ELP achieved their international fame. With two discs and over thirty songs, I will only pick out my highlights that, inevitably, will be the bluesier and guitar-centric songs. That’s not to say the rest aren’t worth listening to; it is also worth noting that the sound quality on some of the earlier recordings aren’t always, shall we say, hi-fi but there are over sixty decades covered and that small ‘fault’ can be forgiven. The liner notes (or should I say CD insert) is worth reading too as noted jazz expert Alyn Shipton interviews the man himself.
So on to the music and the first of my selections: Memories Of My Trip is a delightful travelogue with just Sonny Terry and guitar telling of his 1959 tour. When Things Go Wrong is a fascinating take on the classic with the horns complementing the New Orleans feel. Weeping Willow has Clapton playing quality blues acoustic. Can’t Be Satisfied is outstanding with only a great double bass behind Rory Gallagher’s masterful slide acoustic playing. An interesting spoken introduction presages Diggin’ My Potatoes with Lonnie Donegan combining with Barber’s band in a great skiffle reading. Three songs with Van Morrison prove again that Van is indeed the Man. The first CD wraps up with a brilliant guitar instrumental by John Slaughter; called Another Sad One it is two minutes of laid back fret mastery.
CD two has that Emerson track…his jazz organ playing on Rock Candy shows what an instinctive player he always was and that is long before he started stabbing his Hammond every show! I’ve also selected Tea Party Blues as this is the Chris Barber Band without any extra names and, although it isn’t true blues, the big band approach is very accessible and shows what can be achieved with a selection of skilled instrumentalists. Jack Teagarden Blues is even better as Barber’s playing expands upon the slow blues tropes. A couple of tracks with Jools Holland (in my humble) illustrates that, when he winds his neck in, he is a very talented pianist. The whole closes with three tracks featuring Mark Knopfler: Blues Stay Away From Me, Dallas Rag and ‘Till The Next Time I’m In Town are all worthy inclusions as Knopfler gels so well with Barber’s Jazz Band. Don’t expect the Dire Straits sound…he is in total sync with the songs and plays some fabulous and studied guitar pieces, especially on the great ragtime of Dallas Rag.
In summary, then, do not expect a load of jazz with umpteen trumpet and trombone solos: there is a hell of a lot of quality on this release that fulfils the blues enthusiasts needs. Personally, I would buy it just for the Rory Gallagher track and then enjoy the rest as well. Give it a listen and be prepared to be surprised.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
CD ONE – blues, jazz & gospel
- Memories Of My Trip – Brownie McGhee
- When Things Go Wrong – Ottillie Patterson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee with Dick Graham, Eddie Monty, Pay & Chris
- Do Lord, Do Remember Me – Ottillie Patterson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee with Dick Graham, Eddie Monty, Pay & Chris
- Weeping Willow – Eric Clapton and Chris Barber with Chris Stainton, Dave Bronze and Henry Spinetti
- Kansas City – The Muddy Waters Blues Band with Chris Barber
- Love Me Or Leave Me – James Cotton, Alexis Korner, Chris Barber and Keith Scott
- Can’t Be Satisfied – Rory Gallagher and Chris Barber
- Diggin’ My Potatoes – Lonnie Donegan with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band
- Goin’ Up The River – Jeff Healey and his Jazz Wizards with Chris Barber
- How Long Blues – Van Morrison with the Chris Barber Skiffle Group
- Goin’ Home – Van Morrison with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band
- Oh Didn’t He Ramble – Van Morrison with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band and Dr. John
- Lonesome Road – Ottillie Patterson with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band
- I’ll Be Rested – Paul Jones with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band
- Precious Lord, Take My Hand – Andy Fairweather Low with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band
- Couldn’t Keep It To Myself – Alex Bradford with Chris Barber’s Jazz Bandand Singers
- Another Sad One – John Slaughter’s Last Blue
CD TWO jazz & blues
- St. Louis Blues/Missouri Special/St. Louis Blues – Ottillie Patterson with Chris Barber Jazz Band and Edmond Hall
- High Society – Edmond Hall and Ian Wheeler with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band
- Rock Candy – Keith Emerson and the T-Bones with Chris Barber
- Georgia On My Mind – Trummy Young with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band
- Rose Room – Joe Darensbourg, Pat Halcox and Chris Barber
- C-Jam Blues – Albert Nicholas with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band
- Tea Party Blues – Chris Barber at the Boston Tea Party
- Jack Teagarden Blues – Eddie Durham with the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band
- Tailgate Boogie – Sammy Price, Sandy Brown and Chris Barber with Keith Smith
- Winnin’ Boy Blues – Chris Barber’s Six-piece featuring Jools Holland
- On The Sunny Side Of The Street – Chris Barber’s Six-piece featuring Jools Holland
- Blues Stay Away From Me – Mark Knopfler – with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band Dallas Rag – – Mark Knopfler – with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band
- ‘Till The Next Time I’m In Town – – Mark Knopfler – with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band
(The iTunes track before Barber this time was the 1928 wizardry of Chicken Wilson on a majestic Chicken Wilson Blues…such a lot of the really early stuff is a genuine pleasure and illustrates where the modern blues owe their debt.)