The Serious Side of the Blues According to Blues Funnyman Boogie Woogie Red

Here’s a quick little story for you:

Bluesman Boogie Woogie Red, born Vernon Harrison in Louisiana in 1926, was a well-known blues funny man. Red’s father, who brought young Vernon to Detroit as a toddler, instilled a love for the vaudeville stage, since the senior Harrison was a vaudeville comedian. As such, Red became a great impressionist and storyteller in addition to his skills as a musician. But those music influences came from elsewhere…

As a child, he would go down to the bars and listen to his favorites of the time, including being greatly influenced by Big Maceo Merriweather’s performances. (Have a listen sometime and imagine a young Vernon Harrison getting his head full of this):

According to writings on the jacket of Boogie Woogie Red, Live at the Blind Pig, (yes, I have it) young Vernon grew up to be a great impressionist and storyteller on stage as he hosted at the Ann Arbor, MI club, The Blind Pig on what they called “Blue Mondays”. About Red, from his live album cover:

Anyone who comes down to the Blind Pig knows his Mr. Belvedere routine, his English accent, his French accent and his Cock Robin routine. Red’s also a wealth of stories. Stories about his years with John Lee Hooker and some famous spats he had with his wife Maudie. Stories about his trips to Europe…Stories that all have the same insane observations of an incredible wit simmered in 80 proof Canadian alcohol for the past 30 years.  

If you believe, as I do, that comedy and tragedy share the same whiskey bottle, then it’s understandable that the blues and comedy can go hand in hand as it did for Boogie Woogie Red.

It’s interesting, then, that while Red had his own act that included comedy, when it came to blues music, he had a more somber opinion about the blues genre:

“I’ll tell you about the blues – the blues is something that you play when you’re in a low mood or something, and the hardships that you have had through life. It’s just the mood that you are in. And the average person takes the blues as what you might call a plaything, but the blues is really serious. The blues is something that you have to play coming from your heart. ~ Boogie Woogie Red, 1960, Conversation with the Blues

 

Have a share of this youtube video of Red’s performance in Sussex, England, 1973.

“And you don’t have to have anybody around to have the blues, and you don’t have to be around people. You be alone to yourself, time to think about the mistakes you have made in life…the money, everything…that’s what you call the blues.” ~ Boogie Woogie Red, Conversation with the Blues. 1960. compiled by Paul Oliver; published by Cambridge University Press.

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