DELTA BLUE LIVE (Afrimusik, 1999)
There you are, a bunch of middleclass White musicians in one of the most middleclass towns in South Africa and you quite like the blues, in fact you like it so much you’ve learned to play it, learned some crusty old blues classics, formed a band, put on a live show at a local Theatre, recorded it and released the results as your debut CD. Your manager decides he’ll write the sleeve notes. Better yet, he will claim that Delta Blue “captures the spirit and authentic raw feel of the original 1940/50’s electric blues groups.” This is not exactly true. They sure can talk it but they do not quite walk it.
In brief, Delta Blue is the Blues Broers with a guy who can sing. This is perhaps being too unkind to these young bluesmen (and female drummer) from Stellenbosch but unfortunately that is the first impression one gets on listening to their efforts to “play at the blues.” Delta Blue dishes up a mixture of blues standards and three originals, with commendable blues-rock earnestness and the good taste to err on the side of understatement rather than bluster. Unfortunately the band stills fall far short of the “raw authenticity” of a real blues groove and the vocalist, though he has a fine gravelly voice, and might some day make a great soul singer, is often not able to carry a tune. This band is still influenced more by the White blues interpreters, like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Lonnie Mack (whose “Oreo Cookie Blues” they perform), than the old Black guys who did it first. Maybe they shouldn’t take it all so seriously; the blues is as much about having a real good time as about lamenting that your baby’s done gone. Delta Blue brings nothing new or original to their interpretations and one wonders why they’re so po-faced about it all. I guess the earnestness and stiffness comes from a true desire to do justice to the material and maybe they’ll eventually learn to loosen up and swing. On the other hand, they’ve learnt their stuff from records and there probably is still no substitute for learning at the feet of the masters.
The guys, and gal, do best on their own material and Almuir Botha is sure a fine, tasteful blues guitarist. The cracks show in performances like their version of John Lee Hooker’s “In The Mood” (here called “I Am In The Mood”), which is a not very good facsimile of John Lee’s duet version with Bonnie Raitt, one of the steamiest blues performances ever. Delta Blue has no clue on how to convey the sexual voodoo of the song. On “Trouble In Mind” Gerald, the vocalist, struggles woefully to get a grip on one of the strongest, most hooky tunes in blues and he fails dismally.
There is nothing much wrong with earnest middle class White people who play the blues except that they should stop imitating what they palpably cannot imitate, write some blues that have meaning in their lives and have unselfconscious fun with it. Oh, and never again let on that you aspire to be classed with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf.