I guess that’s why they call it “the blues.” Yes, that might be taking Billy Joel’s lyrics out of context, but it seems to fit the new documentary, “I am the Blues” by Daniel Cross. It’s a sentimental and profoundly stirring journey as we travel back to the roots of Blues music in the deep south. Legendary artists and talented musicians discuss what inspired and influenced this style of music through storytelling and soulful songs. You’ll have a deeper or maybe even a new appreciation for The Blues.
“All the good days weren’t nothing but bad days and all the bad days weren’t nothing but good days.” And that’s what the blues are, says one matter-of-fact gentleman as he reminisces about a forgotten era. As Cross travels through Mississippi and Louisianna where The Blues originated, he uses an inclusive style of filmmaking to make you feel a part of the conversation at hand. On a warm and sunny afternoon, we sit down with Jimmy “Duck” Holmes on his front lawn, guitar in hand, to begin our musical history lesson. He recalls a long-gone era when the men and women, after finishing work in the fields, congregated in the “juke joint” for an evening of blues. The journey continues as Cross visits and documents these legends discussing and playing riffs and songs that are now captured for posterity and history.
Traveling along the backroads near swamps and through rolling hills, we get a glimpse of the scenery that influenced the lyrics and tone of the music. Interviews and candid conversations with groups give you insight into what life must have been like in Mississippi and Louisiana decades ago. You hear the trains whistling in the background. You see musicians with guitars by their sides and harmonicas in their pockets. And you experience the music sweetly and pleasantly as it interrupts the conversation to tell an even more emotional story. The gossip of the greats like “Muddy” and “Howlin’ Wolf” makes you chuckle. Bobby Ray, Emmett Ellis and Barbara Lynn take time to tell their individual and unique stories. And these stories are amazing. Imagine making a guitar out of a discarded cigar box or a percussion instrument from the horse’s tail. Or a mother leaving her home to travel with her exceptionally talented daughter to NYC to help her succeed. Hearing their stories of hardship such as picking cotton as a youngster, you begin to understand their lives. You may not have lived what they did, but their words allow you to feel some of what they endured and accomplished. Their hardships didn’t stop them from dreaming of success, though. In fact, it just made the musical story more heartfelt.
There’s a Chicago connection as these talented men and women brought the catchy yet melancholy rhythms north. Imagine Chicago in the 50’s playing at the Squeeze Inn or the Cotton Club in Argo, Illinois and being paid in hamburgers. Thankfully, times have changed regarding payment, but the music still retains that same deeply emotional feel. As these talented musicians and singers are now up in age, “I Am the Blues” captures music history and the major influence on rock and roll. We see and hear these aging artists perform, but they appear to become their 20 year old selves again. It’s magical.
“I Am The Blues” is a road trip through the history of the Blues. Cross allows us to accompany him on this trip as we sit next to him and become a part of each and every story. With captivating interviews, narration, and most importantly a lot of great music, we grow to appreciate the Blues and the backstory of the people who created it. I dare you not to tap your foot and sway in your seat while you watch this film!
For more information about the film, footage from 20 more great blues artists, and a 3D experience, go to iamthebluesmovie.com
To listen to my conversation with filmmaker Daniel Cross, go to archive.org