Editor's Note: It is sometimes easy to get discouraged at the current state of the blues. There are adults who don’t care much for this music, or the English language, who take pot shots at those who do. When I attend blues shows at concert halls, festivals, picnics or anywhere that does not have a 21 and over policy, I occasionally meet a young person who takes an interest in this music. These experiences are very encouraging. I met just such a person last fall.
I was listening to an outdoor concert at the Orange County Fairgrounds where The Mighty Mojo Prophets were playing. I recognized young Robert Eliff, the son of Prophets’ singer Tommy Eliff. I asked him if he had any interest in blues music beyond getting a chance to hang out with his dad. He said that he did and that one of his favorite artists was Lightnin’ Hopkins. Young Robert and I began a conversation which I couldn’t have with a lot of folks who are many years his senior and identify themselves as being passionate blues fans. In short, the young man gets it.
A few months later I was thrilled that The Mighty Mojo Prophets were nominated for a BMA and young Robert Eliff would be traveling to Memphis with his dad. It was then I thought perhaps our readers would like to hear about the Memphis BMA experience through the perspective of a fourteen year old. Is there any hope for the future of the blues? Spend some time around young Robert Eliff and your answer might be, YES. In the meantime read what Robert has to say about his experience at this year’s BMA show.
- David Mac
When you are a young teenager learning how to play like Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Rogers and Bobby “Blue” Bland at the same time, it’s just amazing. There are many people who have played with the greats like Matt “Guitar” Murphy and James Cotton, and that’s what I like, the tradition of passing the blues from one generation to the next. That’s what I’m trying to do. I am trying to learn the styles of the great blues artists that shaped today’s Southern California blues scene. I’ve just begun to go “farther up the road”.
I recently went on a trip to Memphis, TN for the 33rd Annual Blues Music Awards. I traveled with my dad, Tom “Big Son” Eliff of The Mighty Mojo Prophets who were nominated for Best New Artist Debut. While in Memphis I had a chance to meet some of the living legends of this music: Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Charlie Musselwhite, and Doug MacLeod just to name a few. I got to see some great performances and legends during the BMAs and the 2012 Blues Hall of Fame ceremony. That was the highlight of my life just getting to meet these great bluesmen. When I have been fortunate enough to meet these great artists over the course of my life, I realize what a joy it is to be able to play the blues.
The night before the BMAs was the Blues Hall of Fame ceremony. Among the twenty inductees, here are some of the legends and recordings: Billy Boy Arnold, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Frank Stokes, Buddy Guy’s Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues, Magic Sam’s All Your Love, and Pinetop Smith’s Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie which was later recorded by the late Pinetop Perkins. Everywhere I looked there were the living legends that invented the Chicago and Memphis Blues sound. I saw legends John Primer, Bobby Rush and Bobby “Blue” Bland.
Then came the big night, the BMA awards show...my dad’s band, Southern California’s own Mighty Mojo Prophets kicked off the show. We got to see other greats like John Primer, Otis Clay, Charlie Musselwhite and Doug MacLeod. Many people shared their thoughts and remembrances of some recently departed legends such as Hubert Sumlin, Etta James, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Mojo Buford, Honeyboy Edwards, Louisiana Red, Johnny Otis and Jack Myers. It was an amazing time getting to see awards won by Doug MacLeod and Charlie Musselwhite, who won two awards. Southern California didn’t come home with a BMA. At least we got a little recognition.
I love this music because there are so many possibilities as to what can happen. I can sometimes relate what I feel and incorporate that raw emotion into my playing as I continue to learn. That’s what blues really is. It’s what you feel when you play. You can incorporate any feeling, whether it’s past or present. You can use that emotion into the type of blues you feel like playing. You can incorporate that emotion into Big Joe Turner swing, Muddy Waters Chicago sound, or a Charlie Patton delta style. Take my advice and play what you feel. Don’t let anybody stop you from following your dreams. I hope to get back to Memphis in the future someday.
All photos courtesy of Robert Eliff