Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks
Many Miles of Blues
Rooster Blues Records

When Andria Lisle, the publicity agent for Rooster Blues Records, sent me a copy of Eddie C. Campbell's CD, she also included a copy of "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks' Many Miles of Blues. I had heard of Ricks, but I had never heard him. He impressed me very much with his writing, singing and playing the acoustic blues. What impressed me the most, though, was an e-mail response that he sent me in appreciation to my review. I'm including his letter here because it is near and dear to my heart and because I want to share it. Sad thing is that Jerry passed away this past December in Croatia of all places. He and his wife had moved there and a tumor was discovered on his brain and he was not able to conquer it. Those that knew him and his music also knew that he was vastly under appreciated for his talents. Here goes:

Dear Richard,

Rooster Records sent me a copy of your review of Many Miles of Blues. Sometimes musicians tend to forget there are as many reviewers that believe in them as there are musicians. Some reviewers are also in an emotional zone after hearing your works as you feel you would like them to be. Too often, both sides have problems conveying that to each other. From the bottom of my heart, I really appreciated your review. Why? In over four decades of playing the blues, this is the review where the reviewer climbed inside my heart and head on everything I've been trying to express as if he could read my mind and feel my soul. So for me and all my mentors, I really mean this, thanks. I know that the giants that I knew would also feel with that kind of hearing and understanding that came from your heart and your pen, will all go forward for many miles of blues.

Thanks again from me and I'll take it upon myself to covey from John, Skip, Son, Bukka, Lightnin', Mance, Brownie, Sonny, Fred, etc., thanks.
P.S-Tell your wife, thanks for her inspiration also.

"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

This is what I wrote back in the day:
Even my wife loves "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks. 'Nuff said. End of review. Just kidding, but some of you know exactly what I mean.

Ricks is the real deal, playing country blues the way it is supposed to be played. He is a bluesman, he plays and sings the blues and he is proud of it. No pushing the envelope here to pull some other crowd into the sport.

I read where one reviewer, in comparing Ricks with a couple of notable acoustic players on the scene, said that he is not as varied. That's good in my book. You can darn well vary yourself right out of the blues. Either it is or it ain't.

This is the way Jerry Ricks thinks. As he says in his liner notes about tradition needing to be preserved before being taken forward, "...if they go so far forward that they don't have any blues element in 'em, you can't call everything a blues." And also, "that's what I play and that's all I play". Right on, Mr. Ricks.

Ricks realizes that it is the words and not only the instrumentation within the standard 12 bar structures that helps add all the variation that is necessary. Country blues is not meant to be listened to passively. It is not background music and the words demand attention to understand what it is all about.

As a matter of fact, What It's All About is the title of one of the five original tunes from his pen. He takes it on a minor key trip with a little New Orleans funeral dirge thrown in. How's that for variety?

He says that the last several years that he spent living and travelling through the "blues zone" in the South gave him the inspiration, visions and experiences he needed for this project. The project is dedicated to the bluesmen that preceded him and gave him his own dedication to preserve the music.

His originals are all deeply personal, reflecting his life experience while living in the "zone". The death of his mother, the shooting of his brother, the experiences of his friends and walking the land his mentors once walked all figure into his songwriting and his interpretations.

He covers his main man, "Mississippi" John Hurt, with a couple of tunes with exquisite finger picking that does ample justice to the memory of the master. The choice of including Louis Collins was a subconscious move that had connections to his brother's shooting.

He gives Big Bill Broozy's Hey Hey a little Lightnin' Hopkins' riffing and even sounds kind of like "Old Sam" vocally. The foot will be a'tapping on this jaunty number and then his guitar evokes Nehemiah "Skip" James' surreal sound on Special Rider Blues without being slavish to the original.

Ricks says that his maturity, along with his recent experiences, gave him the spirit to incorporate elements in his music that has has never utilized before. His guitar is propulsive on his own No More Ramblin' and he gets a string snapping Delta percussion going on Ed "Barefoot Bill" Bell's One More Time. At the same time he weaves his intricate finger picking in, out and around his driving rhythm.

Ricks covers a couple of piano men with Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery's Vickburg Blues and give Walter Davis Jr.'s Red Cross Blues the mournful tone that it needs.

His own Many Miles of Blues really sums it all up. It is destined to be a lowdown 12 bar classic itself and reaches way down in the soul. The song speaks to travelling miles and miles and no matter which road you choose, there's going to be many miles of blues. Amen, brother Rick.

He does want emphasis on the words he sings and he sings them well. His voice is as much of a match for the blues as any of these masters he has chosen to honor here. The experience of listening to this recording is like reading a good novel with a good plot, theme and characterization. You're gonna have to get your own copy and listen carefully to understand the story. It is the story of the blues and as long as there is bluesmen like "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks, it is a story far from over. Did I mention that my wife loved this cd?

Anyway--there 'tis and Jerry left us way too early at age 67.


Brad Knapp said...

Not to digress . . . but any chance you have heard of Kenny Barker? He is playing this Saturday night at the Goat, and we are thinking of checking him out. Hope all is well--


Ricky Bush said...

Hey Brad--

No, I'm not familiar with Kenny Barker. Let me know if you go and how he was. We hung out with a great blues guitarist in New Orleans. I'll post that up when I regain a little momentum. Anyway--

See ya--