While not exactly my wheelhouse for music, my being more a product of classic rock and pop of the 70’s and 80’s (though I will say Stevie Ray Vaughan, British blues have been among my favorites for years, and Joe Bonamassa and Keb’ Mo’ more recently), I thought I’d get a bit of the blues. This will not be a comprehensive coverage of the history of the blues, or even modern blues artists, but more a review of one of the most spectacular music events I have had the pleasure of experiencing, the music on board the Norwegian Jade out of Athens, Greece on its sailing for Keeping the Blues Alive Mediterranean II, heretofore called the Blues Cruise.
Blues is a musical genre and form originating in the Deep South of the US in the 1860s by African Americans with roots in African-American work songs and spirituals. Subgenres include country blues such as Delta blues and Piedmont blues, as well as urban blues styles such as Chicago blues and West Coast blues, evolving to blues rock, with influences over the years on rock, southern rock, and R&B (Rhythm & Blues). Delta blues, named for the Mississippi Delta, dominated by guitar, especially slide guitar, harmonica, and soulful vocals, perhaps best exemplified by Robert Johnson, and eventually Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and more recently Keb’ Mo’. Piedmont Blues, named for the Southeast region from Richmond, VA to Atlanta, GA, is characterized by a guitar fingerpicking approach in which a regular, alternating thumb bass string rhythmic pattern supporting a syncopated melody picked with the forefinger and other fingers. The sound is almost ragtime in style, popularized by Blind Boy Fuller, Guy Davis, Ry Cooder, Doc Watson, Keb’ Mo’ as well.
More urban, modern blues is characterized by Electric blues, with electrified instruments, often electric (instead of upright) bass, keyboards, electric guitar, often with distortion, including Chicago blues, with champions Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, and Buddy Guy. West Coast often have strong piano-dominated sounds with jazzy guitar solos, originated from Texas blues players who relocated to California in the 1940, perhaps best exemplified by T Bone Walker. Strongly influenced by early Electric blues were the cadre of British blues acolytes, including acts such as John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Animals. Such acts paved the way for the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Vaughan/Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, influenced Southern Rock such as the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Jeff Healey, and more recently acts like White Stripes, Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, and now the young phenom Toby Lee.
B.B. King is perhaps the face of American blues, with a career spanning 8 decades. He introduced a style of guitar soloing with fluid string bending, vibrato, and staccato picking that influenced many later blues electric guitar players, like Joe Bonamassa, who opened for B.B. at the age of 12.
Joe’s tribute to B.B. King:
Joe Bonamassa performing at just the age of 12:
Joe has taken on the mantle of Blues guitar in the U.S., not only being perhaps the best blues guitarist on the face of the planet, but also establishing his Keeping the Blues Alive foundation, with a mission:
Our mission is to conserve the art of music in schools by funding projects, scholarships, and grants that preserve music education for the next generation. Every week, we donate to a school in need of instruments, sheet music, supplies and more in the effort to uphold the rich culture and history of the Blues as a true American art formKTBA Foundation
One of their fundraisers for the foundation includes his Keeping the Blues Alive At Sea cruises, with 6 Caribbean (with a 7th upcoming 03/23, embarking from Miami porting in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic) and now 2 Mediterranean cruises. Arranged and coordinated by Sixthman, an organization that creates memorable music festival experiences on sea and sand, cruise popular acts have included John Hiatt, Blues Traveler, Bruce Hornsby, Eric Gale, Los Lobos, Monte Montgomery, Buddy Guy, George Thorogood, and Peter Frampton. But if our cruise is any indicator, the less popular acts are equally fantastic.
I’m tempted to compare the KTBA-MII Blues Cruise to other music festivals I have attended, including Live Aid – Philadelphia ’85, as well as the serveral SoulFest Christian music festivals I attended in New Hampshire. While Live Aid was the concert of the decade in the 80’s, if not of the century, Woodstock notwithstanding, featuring everyone who was anyone in the 80’s, as a 15 hour concert in the heat of an open stadium at RFK, it wasn’t as relaxing, comfortable, and intimate as the Blues Cruise. And roughing it in the mountains of New Hampshire was always a much anticipated event with my boys and their friends and other youth from our church, it wasn’t exactly cruise ship accommodations, and beyond the headliners there was a much more significant drop-off in talent, though we did always manage to find some lesser known gems. While headliners on the Blues Cruise, such as Joe Bonamassa, Keb’ Mo’, and Tommy Emmanuel may be what brought many of us on the ship, though there were those well acquainted with the likes of Samantha Fish, King King, Walter Trout, Terry Reid, and Marc Broussard, the talent of even lesser known acts was just unbelievable.
The combination of cruise ship accommodations, cuisine, ports, and multiple atmospheres in which to listen to music made it an unparalleled event. Music on the Norwegian Jade (the same ship I had cruised on 6 years prior from Venice to Split and Dobrovnik, Croatia, and Athens and Santorini, Greece) could be heard in a larger environ on the main stage on the Pool Deck, somewhat of a dance party at sea, as well as in the cruise ship Stardust Theater, or for a more intimate environment the Spinnaker Lounge, Bliss Lounge, Magnum’s Champagne and Wine Bar, or even the cruise ship Atrium. But even the Stardust Theater became an intimate venue with a late night Campfire Session, among my favorite concerts of the trip.
Though our cruise embarked from Athens, Greece, we went on a pre-cruise adventure in Crete. Our stay at the Casa Delfino, a boutique hotel in the Old Port of Chania, was the perfect luxurious spa atmosphere to relax before the cruise. The staff insured that our stay was exceptional, including the concierge saving the day helping us secure a rental car and planning our day exploring the northwest countryside of Crete. A hotel not to be missed.
Lamb chops were an almost daily staple, as the lamb was so delicious, so expertly grilled. The mussels were the best I ever had. And I came to enjoy the after dinner digestive, though I much preferred raki to ouzo. Raki, also called tsicoudia, is a distilled liquor made from the fermented remnants of grapes pressed in winemaking. It is similar to Italian grappa, and reminiscent of brandy, cognac, or even bourbon in taste.
And I came to enjoy the after dinner digestive, though I much preferred raki to ouzo. Raki, also called tsicoudia, is a distilled liquor made from the fermented remnants of grapes pressed in winemaking. It is similar to Italian grappa, and reminiscent of brandy, cognac, or even bourbon in taste.
We ventured to an olive oil tasting at Biolea Astrikas Estates and did the sommelier experience – so worth it! Crete is home to 400 MILLION olive trees, with olive tree cultivation dating back 6000 years. Residents of Crete consume more olive oil than anywhere on the planet, well above runners up Spain and Italy. At 35 liters per person per year, it is roughly the equivalent of weekly consuming olive oil in an amount equal to a bottle of wine. Not only did we sample the best olive oil there, but wine and a 5 course meal beyond compare!!
The azure blue water at the beaches and the surrounding rocks were stunning. And I couldn’t pass up a swim in the Mediterranean.
We then ventured to Agia Triada Monastery, which was breathtaking:
I was even a wedding crasher at a Greek Orthodox Church!
And found a gorgeous little Catholic Church in a small alleyway across from the Greek Orthodox Church. And there was a synagogue behind that!
Then we headed back to Athens, with a spectacular view of the Acropolis from the Areopagus, where the apostle Paul preached conversion to the Greeks.
We stayed at another boutique hotel, B4b Athens Signature Hotel, that not only had a spectacular rooftop view of the Acropolis, but had local cell phones for guests to take and use for the duration of their stay with unlimited call, text and data – what a great idea!
From there we embarked on the most amazing musical adventure. Artists on the Blues Cruise included blues and guitar standouts Joe Bonamassa, Keb’ Mo’, and Tommy Emmanuel. But new discoveries included the likes of Ana Popovic, King King, Toby Lee, Selwyn Birchwood, Jade Macrae, Elles Bailey, Marc Broussard, and Cold Stares.
But of course, Joe was the headliner – just so amazingly good:
Toby Lee, English guitarist from Oxfordshire, England, posted a tribute video to BB King when he was 10 years old that went viral, Lee played with Joe Bonamassa at the Royal Albert Hall at 14 years old.
And here Toby pays tribute to B.B.’s passing. You just have to love those onesies:
Toby has been somewhat mentored by Joe Bonamassa, playing with him at the Royal Albert Hall at just 14. Here he is before meeting Joe at just the age of 11 covering his “Sloe Gin”:
Here’s just a glimpse of Toby from the cruise – just 17? Ridiculous!:
Keb’ Mo’, an American blues musician, oft described as the “living link to the Delta blues”. His bluesy voice and guitar make him among my favorites. I just love listening to Keb’, and was happy to finally see him perform live.
Ana Popovic, a Serbian blues singer and guitarist, a new discovery for us, again one of our favorites, so much so we have tickets to her show in Savannah, GA in December.
King King, one of the hottest British blues rock band, backed by Alan and Stevie Nimmo. While this clip is a cover of one of my all-time favorite Clapton songs, “Old Love” (especially the Unplugged version), they more than do it justice. And their originals are great rocking blues.
And Selwyn Birchwood was so amazing, with his gravely deep voice and Piedmont and Delta blues. Our introduction was in the Atrium, just Selwyn and his guitar, but he was equally great with his band at Magnums.
Jade Macrae, a backup singer in Joe Bonamassa’s band, is venturing out on a career of her own. She has some amazing pipes, with a sultry sound reminiscent at times of Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross. In a turn of roles, with Joe Bonamassa backing her up, she’s trading vocal phrases with Joe’s guitar:
Hailing from Bristol, U.K., Elles Bailey provided some smooth, soulful blues. Check out her touching tribute to Janis Joplin “Girl That Owned The Blues” on the playlist. So beautiful. Here she covers John Prine/Bonnie Raitt with “Angel From Montgomery”:
Jackie Venson, with her funky soul-filled blues has been compared to Joss Stone, though I hear more Tracey Chapman and Joan Armatrading in her vocals and musical style:
Samantha Fish was quite the blues rocker, her voice at times shades of Amy Winehouse, here playing some great slide guitar.
While we got rained out mid-cruise at our Mykonos port, our subsequent stop at Kusadasi and Ephesus, Turkey did not disappoint.
The juxtaposition of Ancient World sightseeing and listening to modern blues was a bit surreal. Nonetheless, back on the Jade, Cold Stares provided some great Blues rock:
The Suffers sound is R&B style blues oft described as Gulf Coast soul. Their lead singer Kam Franklin invokes shades of Aretha and Tina. No one on the ship seemed to have more fun and joy in performing than the Suffers!:
Marc Broussard, an American singer, songwriter, has a style, per Wikipedia, “best described as Bayou Soul, with a mix of funk, blues, R&B, rock, and pop, matches with disctinctive Southern roots.” I guess that about covers it all. His sound is a mix of Huey Lewis, Sam Cook, and Otis Redding, the latter of which I commented on to my wife while he was performing. No sooner had I said that he broke into singing “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” one of my favorite Otis songs. I guess I was pretty spot-on.
Tommy Emmanuel is an acoustic guitarist without parallel. Until the cruise I hadn’t realized how the guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela has adopted much of Tommy’s style with flamenco type flourishes and significant percussion of the guitar body (check out “Cantina Senese” on the playlist). From down-under Australia, he is an entertainer extraordinaire. Check out his cover of Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” on the playlist. Here he offers the most delicate finger tapping and styling with “Secret Love”:
Lakota John is cut more from the folk blues mold, sang and played with his dad, who both sang and accommpanied Lakota on harmonica. Lakota has a few songs that are so special, the first about his grandmother, not available on Spotify – I wish I had recorded the song in its entirety:
And here the lyrics to “Good Notes,” which is included in my Spotify playlist. Such a beautiful song.
My body has slowed
just as time has found her wings
my back is now bowed
my heart soars and it sings
shrouded by the cloak
of what they thought of me
not bound by those chains
I’m who I’m meant to be
I listen to the good notes
the bad ones lost in time
here on this journey
living ’till i die
My friends have now passed
their time has reached its end
heaven chose to leave me here
my second wind
spoken words i once swallowed throughout the years, rules I once followed living life with no more fear
Don’t sing like i used toLakota John
can’t hit the higher range
voice don’t travel far no more
old songs find their new way
memories music brings
one more way to pray
fingers slower on the strings
while living every note I play
I listen to the good notes
the bad ones lost in time
here on this journey
living ’till I die
For more videos from the cruise, check out my YouTube channel Keeping the Blues Alive Mediterranean II folder:
From the cruise we headed back to Athens for one last day of holiday after the cruise.
We had the fortune at the port of meeting the most wonderful taxi driver Cristos, who made our day absolutely the best finale of a most memorable vacation.
He offered his services to introduce us and our friends to more of ancient Greece, including the Temple of Poseidon:
Crossing the isthmus and Corinth Canal to the Peloponnesus:
Then on to Ancient Corinth:
Our sightseeing was followed by lunch in a village in the mountains of the Peloponnesus, highlighted by a spicy tzatziki, the meal a wonderful and delicious culmination of the most fantastic trip.
And without further ado the playlist. It is a sampling of songs from the artists on the cruise, by no means comprehensive, but just some of the songs I like by the artists. There are a few duplicate songs, with one version a stripped down acoustic, and the other electric with significant band accompaniment. In these instances they were different enough that I felt both worthy of inclusion. Explore more songs by these artists on your own. I think you’ll appreciate the variety of styles of these great artists. I can see why Joe invited them to participate in the cruise – just fantastic.
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
Live in the moment.
Enjoy the moment.
Love the moment.
Listen to the Blues Music!