Alexis Korner did as much to popularize the blues in his adopted home of England as Alan Lomax did in the States. True, his approach was different, and he didn't roam town to town capturing authentic blues singers on tape, but Korner brought the sound to British audiences nonetheless. Through his music, through the clubs he founded (and booked American artists in), and through his tireless championing of the genre, Korner shaped the nascent late-'50s U.K. blues scene and ignited a passion that would create a generation of British bluesmen. Musically Rich...and Famous roughly covers the second half of Korner's glorious career, starting in 1967 and running through to the artist's death. The two-CD compilation features 32 songs and a surprising number of "guest" stars, and reflects in large measure the entire gamut of Korner's musical interests, from raw country blues to red-hot R&B, from smoky jazz to British skiffle. By the time of the November 1967 sessions that kick off the set, the British blues scene had undergone a radical change, blues-rock bands like the Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers making stars out of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Peter Green. For Korner, however, it was business as usual, as he formed one group after another during the latter part of the decade. Among the highlights of the various late-'60s bands and collaborations to be found here are a pre-Led Zeppelin Robert Plant howling his way through a pair of Korner originals, "Operator" and "Steal Away." Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser of Free back up their mentor Korner on the gospel standard "I See It" and a soulful cover of an obscure Curtis Mayfield gem, "Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)." An inspired rendering of William Bell's Stax hit "You Don't Miss Your Water" illustrates Korner's raw charm as a vocalist and skills as a bandleader.
Disc two of Musically Rich...and Famous begins with what was possibly Korner's biggest U.K. hit during his lengthy career, a unique, gospel-tinged spoken word reading of the Rolling Stones' "Get Off of My Cloud," recorded with assistance from Stones guitarist Keith Richards and Humble Pie's Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton. Another song from those sessions, the Korner original "Strange 'n' Deranged," features Korner's infectious vocals and Marriott's rare turn on guitar. Another Stones cover, an acoustic, country blues-styled version of "Honky Tonk Women," has Korner once again paying tribute to his former students. "A Mess of Blues" and "Hey Pretty Mama," recorded at Korner's 50th birthday party in 1978, offer an all-star lineup that includes Eric Clapton and British blues legends Zoot Money and Chris Farlowe paying homage to the godfather of U.K. blues. Musically Rich...and Famous closes with two stellar live tracks from 1982, Korner and longtime partner Colin Hodgkinson mixing up a little electric R&B and boogie-woogie on the classics "Big Boss Man" and "Hi-Heel Sneakers." As shown by Musically Rich...and Famous, Alexis Korner preferred old-school blues, eschewing the musical experimentation of the late '60s and early '70s in favor of a more traditional approach. Korner's music was the deep blues of the Delta, the jazz-inflected sound of New Orleans, and the brassy electric blues of Chicago's Maxwell Street as filtered through London, England. Any music lovers with more than a passing interest in the blues owe it to themselves to discover the work of Alexis Korner.