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Chicago Blues:
A Living History
The (R)evolution Continues (2011)

Chicago Blues:
A Living History

Billy Boy Arnold
John Primer
Billy Branch
Lurrie Bell
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With The (R)evolution Continues, Chicago Blues: A Living History continues its tribute to the Chicago Blues with a second release that celebrates the evolution of this music that was at the vanguard of a 20th century American music revolution. This evolution not only laid the foundation for Rock & Roll and Pop music as we know it today, but came to have an incalculable effect on American society as a whole, and eventually influenced people's lives on a global level as much as any other American art form.

As with Chicago Blues: A Living History, our first release, The (R)evolution Continues covers the early piano-driven Chicago Blues of the 1940s through to the classic electric-guitar-and-harmonica-driven period of the 1950s. The (R)evolution Continues further emphasizes the shifting away from the classic Chicago Blues sound which has been described as the ''electric-country Blues'' towards the music that would become Rock & Roll.

1955 was a pivotal and decisive moment for the Chicago Blues. It marked the year that key African-American artists crossed over to white audiences, resulting in massive commercial successes for the record companies which had been previously selling Blues records to a predominately African-American market. It was also the beginning of the decline of the classic Chicago Blues sound. Record companies had begun moving away from this sound in favor of the more up-tempo rocking rhythms that the nation's young white audiences were purchasing in huge numbers. With sales fueled by breakout hits in 1955 from Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry on Chicago's Chess Records, Rock & Roll had in large part combusted out of what would eventually be known as the ''Golden Age'' of the Chicago Blues.

The events of 1955 had forced even Muddy Waters, the reigning king of Chicago Blues, into near obscurity. It wasn't until the early 1960s that he began to gain notoriety outside the African-American community; by the mid-1960s, a new-found white audience would revive his career. This same audience was introduced to the Chicago Blues through the recordings by the Rolling Stones and other British Rock groups of songs from Muddy Waters, Billy Boy Arnold, Howlin' Wolf, and Willie Dixon, among others. Blues may have been born in the USA, but it was largely (re)introduced to white America by these British bands doing Chicago Blues covers. Eventually, American listeners began to look behind this new British music to discover that Rock was indeed a ''Child of the Blues''.

Few groundbreaking innovations in contemporary music are the result of a ''big bang.'' They slowly evolve from geographical and social factors and from the varying conditions of life that might converge at any given moment. The Chicago Blues artists, most of whom came from the South and who were the inheritors of field hollers and the Mississippi Delta Blues, were the musical bridge to the Chicago Blues's golden age. Like the Delta bluemen Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson before them, these artists were the innovators of their day, and by the mid-1950s they had pioneered the electric ensemble sound that would be the foundation from which Rock and Pop music would come. Although this golden age had peaked by the mid-1950s, their music remains vital and keeps the tradition alive to this very day.

In the 1960s, artists like Buddy Guy and James Cotton were taking off on their own and introducing a more modern, high-octane take on Chicago Blues. Along with Otis Rush, Magic Sam and others, they were pioneering a sound that incorporated more volume, more virtuosity, adding elements of soul, funk and jazz and, ironically, the emerging Rock sound that was already indebted to the Chicago Blues. These contemporary influences marked the evolution of African-American music during this post-classic Chicago Blues era in much the same way that the sophisticated sound of big-band jazz that dominated the African-American music scene in the 1930s and 40s influenced Chicago Blues musicians like Little Walter, Dave and Louis Myers, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Fred Below, who then introduced those elements into the Chicago Blues sound of the 1950s.

In producing a tribute that spans the history of such a groundbreaking musical genre, it was critical that we not be locked in by an archival notion of purism. Although for the most part sequenced by the year of its original release, as on our first album, the track order does not adhere to a strict chronology. It is above all a listening experience meant to articulate the dynamic evolution of the Chicago Blues sound.

By tradition, the genre is defined through a music that lives; it breathes, it proliferates. The (R)evolution Continues is neither an anthology nor a compilation of period recordings; it is a new recording, including contemporary interpretations of certain songs, that celebrates the past, the present, and the future of the Chicago Blues.

The (R)evolution Continues

The critical success of Chicago Blues: A Living History's debut--including a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album--gave us the opportunity to expand this vital project. It allowed us to further achieve our goal of supporting this music by raising and broadening the public's awareness of its tradition, history and greatest artists.

The key to building on the first volume was to invite seminal and emerging artists who could not only make an important musical contribution but, more significantly, would complement the outstanding principal artists of the previous recording--Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell and Carlos Johnson--around whom this project has been designed.

It didn't take long to figure out who the artists on the new recording should be.

On the top of our list was Mr. Buddy Guy, the reigning king of the Chicago Blues. Perhaps more than anyone else alive, he personifies the Chicago Blues tradition, and is one of the greatest living exponents of the genre, a treasure of American music.

Another legend still among us, and one of the most important and innovative Chicago Blues artists with an irrefutable place in this music's history, is the brilliant bandleader and harmonica master, Mr. ''Superharp'' James Cotton. He not only helped pioneer Blues harmonica alongside Muddy Waters in the 1950s, but his powerhouse funky, boogie-based bands helped define contemporary Chicago Blues after the 1960s. Of course, the glory of deep Chicago Blues at its most raw had to be represented and integrated on this recording. With his fusion of the gritty urban and electric country Blues styles that are the genre's DNA, Mr. Magic Slim was our one and only choice.

We knew that there is no one more qualified to represent the important presence of Chicago Blues divas from the early 1980s to the present than Zora Young, who has been on the Chicago Blues scene for more than thirty years. A relation of Howlin' Wolf who came to Chicago from Mississippi at the age of seven, she was mentored by Sunnyland Slim; she, fittingly, pays tribute to him on this recording.

Finally, we asked Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of the great Lonnie Brooks, to participate. Ronnie is at the head of the pack of the Chicago Blues artists who are combining the old with the new, the past with the future, leading the genre's new generation into the 21st century.

Not only did these icons of the Chicago Blues accept our invitation, they brought their extraordinary passion and generosity to the project. Their intense enthusiasm made it clear that the opportunity to participate in this tribute to the music they had pioneered meant something very special to each and every one of them.

Although the Chicago Blues and its artists may never get the chance to be part of the current pop-culture it had such a big hand in creating, we hope that, along with the group's first release, Chicago Blues: A Living History, The (R)evolution Continues, will serve not only as an exciting and unique listening experience for Blues lovers, but will also contribute to the music's legacy for generations of Blues fans to come.

Larry Skoller, producer