Blues Film Review: I Am The Blues

May 11, 2017

Canadian filmmaker Daniel Cross spent three years traveling through Mississippi and Louisiana to search out the elders and originators, in order to compose his love song to the American blues.  

You can almost smell the crawfish boil and feel the muggy heat of the Deep South through the screen.  And of course, the blues is everywhere.

The music and the stories intertwine in a most engaging way in "I Am The Blues."  What might be most striking is the realization that living and working conditions for southern black people, and specifically musicians, have not improved much since the blues traveled from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago.

Bluesman Bobby Rush, now 83, is prominent in the film, telling stories about growing up in Louisiana and about his Mississippi relatives.  His latest album "Porcupine Meat" won him his first Grammy this year for Best Traditional Blues.  He's been recording since 1951.  Rush was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016.

Guitarist Barbara Lynn shows her elegant style.  Other regional favorites include the incomparable pianist Henry Gray,  beloved singer Carol Fran and the notoriously goofy Lazy Lester.

Jimmy Duck Holmes sits with his guitar in the back yard of his Blue Front Cafe, amid 43 years worth of beer bottle caps rusting on the ground, and explains the slide technique specific to Bentonia, Mississippi.  He wonders how the blues will survive if none of the younger musicians want to learn, because it's too complicated, they say.

Could this be the last generation of authentic blues players?  Let's hope not.  Bring a young friend to this movie, and let them hear the real thing.  And then make sure they check out All Blues with John Kessler, Saturday and Sunday nights from 6 to midnight on 88.5 KNKX and knkx.org.

"I Am The Blues" shows at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma on Tuesday May 16 at 2pm and 6:45pm.  The evening showing will be followed by an Artist Talk Back panel with blues artists Kim Archer, Rod Cook and Jay Mabin, presented by Blues Vespers and facilitated by Dave Brown.