John’s Blues Picks Jan 2016 – Derek Miller
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The NMAI is the National Museum of the American Indian and Mohawk bluesman Derek Miller’s contribution is an eye and ear opening survey of First Nations contributions to popular music.
The title song is of course by Shawnee Link Wray. Robbie Robertson, Mohawk, is represented by “The Weight”, Jimi Hendrix, part Cherokee, by “The Wind Cries Mary”, Charley Patton, part Choctaw, by “Down The Dirt Road Blues”, Jim Pepper, a fusion jazz tenor saxophone player inspired by native culture, based “Witchi Tai To” on a peyote song of the Native American Church. The version you may remember was probably by Harper’s Bizarre, Brewer & Shipley or maybe Robert Charlebois. Buffy Sainte Marie’s “Cod’ine” is here as is “Corrina” by Taj Mahal with Kiowa/Choctaw Jesse Ed Davis. This arrangement may be better known to you as done by Richard Newell aka King Biscuit Boy. “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” was by Peter LaFarge. Ira Hayes was the American Indian who was one the soldiers holding up the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II.
There are more songs here that are of less interest to this column but all are marvelously performed and beautifully recorded in well-thought-out arrangements. The players are: vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass & percussion by Miller; drums, percussion & e-jaw harp, Matt de Matteo; keyboards & backing vocals, Iva Valent; banjo, Pete Atkins; Mark LaForme, harmonica & backing vocals, Rebecca Miller, backing vocals. “The Weight” is a good example of how Miller has placed a personal stamp on a well-known song here. Except for a lovely guitar solo, Valent’s piano is the lead here. “Down The Dirt Road Blues” is heavily amped-up and sped up – I’m sure showman Patton would have approved. “Corrina” is nicely done as well except that LaForme is not Richard Newell. The program rocks out with a wonderful version of Ritchie Valens’ “Come On Let’s Go”. Valens is generally considered to be the forefather of Latin rock but his background is Yaqui/Maya on his mother’s side. The notes are full of such gems of information but you might be too busy dancing to read them. Kudos go to Miller for undertaking this mission and to the NMAI for taking the steps to transform a one-off concert into a lasting document. The CD is available at www.nmaistore.com.