Around The World With
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
There are some truly great piano players in the Blues World. Gene Taylor, John Cleary, Ann Rabson, Barrelhouse Chuck, Marcia Ball, Eden Brent, Henry Butler, newcomer Victor Wainwright, and a few dozen others, all knock down some serious ivories.
…And then there’s David Maxwell.
Winner of the 2012 BMA Acoustic Blues Album for Conversations In Blue, his prowess is the benchmark by which others are measured.
Whenever I hear a truly outstanding player, I’m always curious to know who has had a major impact on them. In the words of Keith Richards:
“ Who turned their world from black and white, to Technicolor?”
David was generous enough to take some time out of his perpetually hectic schedule and talk with me about some music that has shaped his world.
Here are some of David Maxwell’s favorites:
Blues: “Al Wilson turned me on to Muddy Waters (and a lot of other great artists). The first time I heard Muddy with Otis Spann, I was a senior in high school. My favorite Spann album is the one on Storyville with Lonnie Johnson. I think “Going Down Slow,” “T.B. Blues,” and “Good Morning Mr. Blues” are in many ways his most personal songs. I would also have to include “The Blues Never Die.” His playing on there is absolutley chilling.
“Of course, I could list a hundred more, Sunnyland Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Piano Red, and Big Maceo, too many to list.”
Soul and Rhythm and Blues: “O.V.Wright. There’s such sheer emotional power in his voice. Ray Charles – Any of the Atlantic sessions. Also, any of the live albums from that period.”
Gospel: “Archie Brownlee, and any of the early, really hard, funky groups. Not so much the a cappella, but the ones with organ and piano. The Caravans had some great piano, and singers, Inez Andrews, Shirley Ceaser.”
He stopped suddenly and said,“Now I want to talk about some of the most spiritual music in the world. That’s the classic music of Iran or Persia.”
From this point on, beginning with Iran, he began naming musicians and music completely unknown to me. Following our conversation, I listened to several of them on YouTube. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to do the same.
After listening to several selections, you’ll hear a common thread.
Iran: Mohammad-Reza Shajarian – male vocalist
Parissa - female vocalist
Egypt: Oum Kalthoum – The Maria Callas of Egypt
Japan: Gagaku, also known as Royal Court Music
India: Villayat Kahn-Master of the sitar
Ram Narayan- Foremost exponent of the Sarangi
Cuba: Chucho Valdez –Many call him the “Art Tatum of Cuba”
Gonzalo Rubalcabo- Another great pianist. His most famous work is the album Mi Gran Pasion.
Modern Classical Artists:
I must admit I was taken aback at first. I expected the blues and jazz influences, and he named them all. However, once he began the world music, I was lost.
After we talked, I went and listened to each of them.
There is a common thread. The vocalist from Iran, the sitar master from India, and the Cuba pianist all share a fire and intensity that transcends spoken language and geography.
Put simply, it’s all soul music.
At the end of our interview, David apologized for not talking more about jazz artists, but I assured him, I had more than enough for this column.
He explained that all of the above forms of music had left a profound influence upon him.
In his words:
“All of this music lends it’s vibe to my blues.”
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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