Various Artists

The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966, Vol. 1 [DVD]

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The American Blues Festival tours in Europe in the 1960s were instrumental vehicles for popularizing the blues on a global level. And they also preserved the legacy of many major performers in a way that few probably realized at the time, since many of the festival participants taped studio segments for German television. This DVD has 17 such performances, most of them apparently totally live, from a rich assortment of blues notables, including Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Otis Spann, Eddie Boyd, Memphis Slim, T-Bone Walker, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Walter Horton, and Sippie Wallace. The black-and-white footage, thankfully, has been preserved in excellent quality. And while the sets can be hokey approximations of American landscapes, the music is usually good to excellent. Particularly notable is Waters singing "Got My Mojo Working," with Williamson backing him on harmonica and whooping it up with responsive vocals; Wells's "Hoodoo Man Blues," which captures him at his absolute 1966 peak; Rush's "I Can't Quit You Baby," also from 1966; John Lee Hooker's customarily somber "Hobo Blues"; and Dixon's "Weak Brain and Narrow Mind," a good showcase for a figure known more for his behind-the-scenes contributions than his work as a spotlighted artist. These are among the few surviving video documents of these musicians in their 1960s prime or near-prime, and as such are to be treasured, though volume two of this DVD series is slightly better simply by virtue of its searing clips of Howlin' Wolf (who isn't represented on this disc). Also included is a good "bonus track" of Earl Hooker performing live in 1969, and fine liner notes by Rob Bowman that are way above the usual standard for historical music DVDs.