Busting out of the box
by arwulf arwulf
From the August, 2016 issue
George Bedard is soft-spoken, dead serious about the music he loves. There is a lot more to him than the crowd-pleasing Duane Eddy-style guitar rock for which he is justly famous. While uncommonly adept at that kind of showmanship, Bedard is deeply in touch with a broad range of musical traditions, some of which trace back to the dawn of the last century. That passion for great music and a healthy refusal to be boxed in have led Bedard to book the Ark each year for an all-star revue he calls the History of American Roots Music.
In 2013 he invited Washington, D.C., pianist Daryl Davis and Ann Arbor trumpeter Ingrid Racine to navigate the road "From Ragtime to Rock 'n' Roll." The following year, a bluesy "Delta to Chicago" reunion with Ann Arbor legend Steve Nardella also featured vibraphonist Cary Kocher in a tribute to guitarist Charlie Christian and his groundbreaking work with Benny Goodman. Last year, Bedard threw down with "Different Trains, Same Time," an evening devoted to modern country singers like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash and electric bluesmen B.B., Freddie, and Albert King. Each show has revealed just how diverse Bedard--and American music--really are.
Sitting in a nearly deserted cafe at dusk on a weeknight, Bedard and Mark "Mr. B," Braun are discussing blues legends Big Maceo and Tampa Red over glass tumblers of iced coffee. "So what are we going to play at the show?" asks Braun. "Come on by the house, and we'll listen to some records." Bedard nods and starts talking about Scrapper Blackwell.
This is serious business. Many of us who came up in Ann Arbor during the 1960s, '70s, and '80s got inundated with the blues at outdoor festivals and spent hours with the records at home, carefully absorbing hard life lessons embedded in the lyrics. We learned to use the blues as a skeleton key for reality, as a bottomless well of tradition that helps us understand and cope
with the way things are in the world.
In 1924 Ma Rainey made a record about a broken relationship that had her so upset that she hit the road carrying a change of clothes under one arm. Her "Lost Wandering Blues" is the source of the famous line about the impossibility of using a matchbox as a suitcase. Blind Lemon Jefferson copped it for his "Matchbox Blues," and what happened afterwards is a classic example of blues-to-rock alchemy. Nestled in the grooves of that record are the seed syllables of boogie-woogie and what eventually came to be called rock 'n' roll.
Bedard's fourth annual History of American Roots Music show, an exploration of the roots of rockabilly in early blues and R&B, takes its title from Blind Lemon's song. Whoever makes it to the Ark on Saturday, August 27, is in for a rare treat when Bedard performs "Matchbox Blues" first in its original solo context and then as gale-force rockabilly, picking up where the mighty Carl Perkins left off.
[Originally published in August, 2016.]
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