I remember the one trip I took to Chicago. I was very excited because I was eighteen, which was the drinking age in Illinois at the time, which meant I'd be able to go and check out blues clubs to my heart's content. Imagine my disgust that on the day we pull into Chicago we discover that the drinking age had been raised to nineteen.
No grandfather clause for people born before that day; you weren’t nineteen, you weren't getting in a bar. I knew they were going to be checking people closely, and I'm the guy who had to carry his passport with him until he was twenty-eight in order to get served. I knew that I had no hope in hell of getting served or seeing the inside of any of the great clubs lining the streets of that town.
Well, I haven't been back to Chicago since, and I probably never will now, but I finally got to at least see inside one of those great blues clubs. Jimmy Burns Live At B.L.U.E.S. is a live DVD produced by Delmark Records shot one afternoon during a summer barbecue at one of those old clubs that I couldn't get in to.
Maybe it's a type of romanticism, but the opening location shot showing the bar's beat-up, storefront-style facade gave me a quick thrill of anticipation. Going inside to see the band gathered on a stage so small that only the two guitar players can stand abreast, and the chart on the wall behind them listing that month's acts, like Eddie "Cleanhead" Vincent, in magic marker, only served to heighten the atmosphere of anticipation.
Of course all that meant that I was giving the band and the DVD a load of unfair expectations to live up to. It's not fair to anybody to load your own romantic ideals upon them, but you know what? Jimmy Burns and his band not only didn't disappoint, they brought that old dream of mine of seeing blues sung in a Chicago club to life.
The combination of who they were, the unpretentious way they presented themselves, the diversity of their music, their obvious pleasure at playing, and their level of skill made them a treat to watch and hear. When that was combined with the wonderful job of capturing all that and the atmosphere of the space by the DVD's directors, it made watching Live At B.L.U.E.S almost as good as being there in person.
Jimmy Burns himself started out playing in the fifties, but when he began raising a family in the early seventies he put full-time music on hold for a while. He never stopped playing; he just wasn't pushing himself to go out on the road and gig every night. However in the mid-1990s he started up again full time and signed on with Delmark Records.
Since then he's been playing regularly and he doesn't seem to have skipped a beat for taking the time off. I was watching and listening to him play guitar and trying to figure out who he reminded me of. It took only a song or two for me realize that it wasn't who he reminded me of that made him sound familiar, it was that he was effortlessly doing all those things that people worship Eric Clapton for attempting.
In fact both Jimmy Burns and his guitar player Tony Palmer are casually better players then almost any other rock or blues guitar player I've seen or heard in a long time. Not only do they not go in for the usual bullshit that you see from rock guitarists, or try to play so fast that you can't hear a note they are playing, they play solos on parts of the guitar neck most guitar players seem to have forgotten existed.
There is more genuine emotion to be heard in a solo played back up towards the pegs than you could believe possible. After listening to the first couple solos by each man I was left wondering why the hell anyone could get excited by some guy bending notes over and over again down by his pickups where it just becomes so much noise after a while.
Jimmy Burns is a blues man, but one who has created his own style of playing. In most of his material you can hear his Mississippi roots but on top of that he grafts everything from soul to R&B. Almost every song he plays has something slightly different to the one from before it, but he doesn't dilute any of the power of the music like so many other attempts to augment the blues.
The nice thing about live concerts is that occasionally the band will bring on a special guest. On this occasion the band brings on another "rediscovered" blues singer, Jesse Fortune, to sing lead on track thirteen of the disc, "Three O'clock Blues"
Jesse Fortune is a real old time blues singer. His vocals have more in common with old spirituals and field "hollers" then the more sophisticated styling of Jimmy Burns. He got up on stage and his voice swooped, soared, shook like a leaf at times, and roared like a lion at others. I don't know if I could take a full set of that style of singing, but it was quite amazing to listen to on this occasion.
Live At B.L.U.E.S comes with audio options for all systems, so even if you have nothing but what came with your television to use for speakers, your sound quality should be okay. You also get a commentary feature with Jimmy talking about each song as he performs it, its history and where it was first played.
For those of you out there like me who have always wanted to see a blues band play in one of the older bars of Chicago, Jimmy Burns Live at B.L.U.E.S is truly a wonderful experience. A great band, a great location, and great material — what more could you ask for?