Every once in a while a release shows up in my mail box unannounced that is just an unexpected delight. Memories Of My Trip by Chris Barber is a two-CD anthology that will hopefully bring him the overdue recognition in the United States that he has earned and richly deserves.
Chris Barber was a seminal figure in British music during the mid-1950s and 1960s. He formed his traditional Dixieland jazz band during 1953, and they remain a touring unit down to the present day. If there were two things that he always had, it was a sense of adventure and the willingness to try new things. During the 1950s he arranged tours for such blues artists as Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Muddy Waters. He established musical relationships and shared the stage with such luminaries as Keith Emerson, Van Morrison, Jeff Healey, James Cotton, Paul Jones, Eric Clapton, and dozens of others as he was always willing to experiment with his sound.
His new album is a wealth of material that spans his career that ranges from his traditional jazz approach to some of his eclectic and brilliant unions with a variety of artists. Many of the performances are seeing the light of day for the first time.
Barber and Muddy Waters first crossed paths in 1958. Near the end of Waters’ life, Barber sat in with him on a performance of “Kansas City” at the 1979 Capital Jazz Festival. It was recorded on cassette by a member of the audience who gave the tape to Barber. This gritty track from a bygone era is representative of the rare gems contained on the album.
During the late 1950s he had a weekly radio show called Chris Barber’s Bandbox. From that series emerge “When Things Go Wrong” and “Do Lord Do Remember Me” with Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, who fuse their raw blues with Barber’s traditional jazz approach.
Other tracks of note include “Love Me Or Leave Me” with James Cotton, “Diggin My Potatoes” with Lonnie Donegan, “Goin’ Up The River” with some guitar and trumpet play by Jeff Healey. and “Can’t Be Satisfied” with guitarist deluxe Rory Gallagher where Barber switches to the bass.
His modern work is well represented by performances with Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton. The collaboration with Clapton on “Weeping Willow” finds Barber in his late 70s as he fills in the spaces behind Clapton’s guitar runs.
Chris Barber is now an octogenarian and shows no sign of slowing down. If you have not been exposed to his music, then this set is a fine introduction. It was released in the U.K. last year and will make its American debut in early May.