"From Beale Street came many kinds of blues," observed B.B. King last night. Indeed, the Memphis Blues Tradition concert at the Smithsonian summed up several eras. The rollicking barrel house piano and medicine show charisma of Memphis Slim opened the evening. Bobby Blue Bland's suave, seductive vocals and stylized, brassy modern band followed. And the reigning monarch of contemporary blues, B.B. King, closed out the feverish evening.
Bland's hushed voice was sometimes submerged by his nine-piece band but he swam with the boiling current or crested with his signature growl.
Slim fitted sobs, cries, shouts, whispers, talking blues and even a yodel to appropriate pianistic techniques that included rolling, walking and rocking chair boogie-woogie basses, tinkling tremolos, pounding two-handed drum rolls and gentle strumming of the keys. His lyrics were direct and sometimes salacious. And he fully deserved the two standing ovations he was accorded.
B.B. King, backed by his hot seven-piece band, sang of joy and despair, hard times and happiness. His guitar fired off notes that crackled with heat and hung in the air like smoke on a windless July day. When he sang, "Everyday I Have the Blues," one accepted it as the gospel. And when he urged, "Let the Good Times Roll," it was apparent that he'd had some of those, too.
The Memphis Blues program continues with a colloquium this morning, a workshop by Slim in late morning, a workshop by Bland this afternoon and filmed performances of blues artists this evening, all at the Smithsonian.