John Long & John Greyhound Maxwell
"The best [young] country blues artist playing today." - Muddy Waters, about 45 yrs ago
John Long's uncanny ability to sound like a prewar country blues player -- even as he plays original blues pieces he wrote himself or with his older brother Claude Long -- makes his music sound both like a facsimile of the 1920s and early-'30s blues 78s he so treasures while somehow simultaneously sounding refreshingly modern, maybe because nobody plays this kind of throwback blues anymore, at least not with the care and precision that Long brings to it.
Long was born in St. Louis, MO, in 1950, and grew up listening to his mother's jazz and R&B 78s, and the scratchy sturdiness of the old discs filtered directly into his musical DNA. Before he was even a teen, Long was already trying to figure out how to play country blues songs on guitar. Along with his brother Claude (who also played guitar), he formed the Mystics in the early '60s to play contemporary rock & roll and R&B material, but both brothers were drawn increasingly to the old blues sound, and Long soon realized he had discovered his artistic home in the music of the prewar acoustic blues era.
He moved to Chicago in the early '70s, where he was mentored by Homesick James Williamson and began playing local gigs. After seeing Long perform during this time period, none other than Muddy Waters proclaimed Long to be "the best young country blues artist playing today." Outside of a couple session appearances and some homemade demo tapes (Long on Blues was released as an independent cassette album in 1999), Long did no recording, however. That changed when a demo tape of Long's found its way to Randy Chortkoff, head of Delta Groove Records. Chortkoff was struck by the power of Long's version of the old country blues, and signed him to the label. A full-length CD, Lost & Found, appeared from Delta Groove in 2006.
JOHN GREYHOUND MAXWELL
"The best bottleneck slide player I've heard in years." - David Lindley
High praise indeed from an acknowledged master of the genre. Lindley did not stop there, opening doors for Maxwell that has lead to billings with Lindley, as well as Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo', Albert Cummings, Marcia Ball and Maria Muldaur, who has called John "the finest bluesman I've heard in a long, long time." The Washington Blues Society recently named him the 2018 award recipient for Best Acoustic Blues Guitar.
A listen to his latest CD, Even Good Dogs Get The Blues, instantly reveals that all the accolades are not mere hyperbole. The record showcases his flawless technique on original instrumentals such as "Bella's Romp" and "Salish Sea Slide," as well as his smooth, inviting vocals on "Missed a Good Man" and "Yonder Come the Blues."
With an approach that is authentic and understated, Maxwell plays with the warmth and dexterity of someone who has loved the blues over a lifetime. Indeed, his education began as a teenager after seeing B.B. King play a set in Chicago in 1971. At Chicago's historic Old Town School of Folk Music, he took lessons from a young Johnny Long, himself a student of Homesick James. When Maxwell left for college in St. Louis, he originally studied classical, but grew restless and eventually fronted a blues trio. He counts himself lucky enough to have mingled with blues legends Tommy Bankhead and Henry Townsend, with whom he later shared the stage and formed a friendship. He's been drawn to slide since the beginning. It increases that conversational aspect between the instrument and the voice, he says.
That lineage is evident in the conversations he's still having. In his capable hands, classics are given a deep bow and a quick wink, at once subtle and surprising. Likewise, his originals feel familiar to the genre, at home on a back-roads front porch or a downtown speakeasy.
His style is grounded and focused yet delivered with an ease and a lightness. He says the nice thing about getting older is, Whatever you do, if you've been doing it for most of your life, you reach a proficiency level thats really enjoyable. That comfort and skill is obvious whether he's playing with a full band, as a duo, or just his caramel smooth voice and his shiny silver Dobro. One gets the feeling he'd be equally at home with a symphony or a jug band.
In fact, he's travelled the country, playing bluegrass in Tulsa and punk-rock in Hollywood, with forays into jazz, folk and rock and roll. No matter the genre, he always found himself coming back to the blues. He explains that his interpretation is not about a specific chord pattern or scale, but rather the emotion behind it. I think that helps cross physical and cultural borders, he says.
Now, having rounded the corner of 60, Maxwell is a master of his craft, garnering the admiration of his contemporaries. His previous recording, Blues for Evangeline, made the top five in the Best Self-Produced CD competition at the 2016 Memphis International Blues Challenge. In 2017, he had a song placed in a film at the Sundance Festival, and he taught at the prestigious Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival in Washington state, where he now resides.
Back when I was 16 or 17, I would tell myself I wanted to have a successful music career, and it was okay if it happened at 60, as long as it happened. He laughs softly. I think I set my course there.
Rainshadow Recording Studio (View)
Fort Worden, Bldg 315
Port Townsend, WA 98368
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