Someone recently asked me to define roots moderne. Bursting Blue Bone Bark, the Berlin-based project of Knox Chandler and Eric Mingus, epitomizes the answer. Chandler’s combination of National steel guitar and iPad apps, joins Mingus’ guttural blues shouting and vocal noises for music as primal as the Aborigines and modern as tomorrow.
B.B. King in Guitar Moderne? Hell yeah. He did more to modernize the sound of the blues than any other guitarist. King refined the sound of the electric guitar, finding that sweet spot where it drove the tubes and achieved the sustain of a horn, without distorting into unintelligibility. King mashed up elements of big band swing, Django Reinhardt’s gypsy fire, with some be-bop sophistication, all without ever losing the power of the genre’s simpler folk roots.
King was a student of music, working with instruction books during long trips on the road—and there were a lot of long trips on the road. It was this hidden well of sophistication that allowed him to often interject an amazing modern jazz run in the midst of the melodic call and response licks he used to tell his story.
Blues revivalists who mimic his style note for note are not his offspring. His children are players like Robben Ford, Joe Bonamassa, Mat Schofield, and Josh Smith, who start with his lessons and add modern touches of their own.
If Guitar Moderne is about moving the art of guitar forward, B.B. certainly deserves to be here. RIP Riley B King.
You may know Ted Drozdowski’s name if you were a fan of the late, lamented Musician magazine, or read his articles in Premier Guitar magazine and his posts on the Gibson website. A respected music journalist, Drozdowski has also studied Mississipi Hill Country Blues with masters like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. With his band, The Scissormen, he keeps the flame of this elemental blues style alive, while adding a modern psychedelic aspect that only adds to the music’s mystery.
In the Jack White post I introduced the idea of a Roots Moderne section for Guitar Moderne. The response was quite positive so I am going to give it a go.
I want to be as clear as possible as to what I consider to be Roots Moderne. For the purposes of Guitar Moderne, something is Roots Moderne if it is guitar based and embodies a strong link to a popular musical lineage that goes back beyond the last 50 or 60 years, while adding elements that make it relevant to the present. Such lineage would include blues, country, jazz, African, Asian, etc. It also needs to involve some reinvention of the genre. You could say it started with Little Axe (who, with their blues/dub/hip-hop hybrid rate their own post); Jack White certainly embodies the concept, as does Dan Auerbach’s use of the momentary pitch shifting in this Black Keys tune.
To help flesh out the concept I offer some other examples that work for me.
JACK WHITE????!!! That retro, near Luddite musician who is always lauding the superiority of all things analog? In Guitar Moderne? Yeah that Jack White. I am hoping to launch a new section in Guitar Moderne soon. It will be called Roots Moderne and will feature musicians who enjoy a strong affinity to roots music (blues, country, soul) while employing a distinctively modern approach. This instrumental from White’s forthcoming Lazeretto record epitomizes the concept, with its backwards guitar, fuzz on the verge of noise, and odd piano interludes melding with gagrage-blues stomp. And let’s face it—the video is awesome.