It’s been called the greatest gathering of blues musicians ever captured on tape.
It was at a time when blues music was becoming increasingly popular with white audiences in North America, the UK, and Europe, and recognized for its profound influence on rock and roll. Yet in the United States it was also a time of high racial tension and division, when blues artists were very rarely seen on national television.
But in January, 1966, Belfast-born producer Paddy Sampson brought together some of the best blues artists of the era for three days of studio sessions at the CBC in Toronto, Canada, to create a television special called simply, "The Blues". The line-up of talent included the father of electric Chicago blues Muddy Waters, "super-harp" player James Cotton, renowned bassist and blues composer Willie Dixon, blues piano masters Otis Spann and Sunnyland Slim, the harmonica and guitar duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, deep country blues singers Bukka White and Big Joe Williams, one-man-band Jesse Fuller, and vocalist Mable Hillery.
The blues performances in these sessions are the genuine article: Muddy and his band burning up the studio with his signature piece Got My Mojo Workin’; Otis Spann in a smoky haze singing Ain’t Nobody’s Business; Brownie McGhee and I Was Born With the Blues; Sunnyland Slim shouting out the words to Tin Pan Alley; Willie Dixon’s Bassology, and much more.
Over the years the sessions gained legendary status among blues fans. It was rumoured that out-takes from the original taping sessions had been saved, but nobody seemed to know where. After months of investigative work, Close Up Films helped track down 10 hours of surviving studio tapes, as well as audio rehearsal tapes, and the negatives to over 600 production stills. Here we have "quiet on the set", false starts, alternate takes, additional songs, small talk, extended interviews, and even a whole set by one performer that was never used in the finished program. Just as important as the music are the casual conversations that musicians such as Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon have about the blues and their lives, with writer and host Barry Callaghan.
Blues 66 will use this extraordinary archive combined with contemporary interviews, to explore the circumstances, dynamics, personalities, and of course the music of these legendary sessions. Who were some of these musicians, and what did they represent in the history of the blues? What was the atmosphere like in that studio for those three days? How did the personalities and egos of these blues legends mesh with one another, and with the almost all-white crew? What was the context of the times that led to such a unique gathering in the first place?
The film will be propelled by the music and personalities of the original performers, and the sessions will be set against the broader social context of the blues scene in the early to mid-sixties. The blues were gaining a white middle class audience, as a new wave of bands in the UK were feeding the raw edge of the blues into their music, such as the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton, and Them with Van Morrison. The blues had also become popular as part of the folk music movement, including in Europe where annual American folk-blues tours were organized. Ironically, in the US it was a time when the blues were losing some of its core black audience, who were increasingly turning to other forms of black musical expression: the sounds of Motown, rhythm and blues, and soul.
Blues 66 will examine this fascinating era in the history of popular music through the focus of these remarkable sessions, in a compelling feature documentary. A companion CD, and a website featuring an interactive archive are also being planned.
A Feature Documentary Planned for Production 2013/14