The Devil Ain’t Got No Music
“As long as there is a Black Church there will be blues musicians”
– Sterling Plumpp (Chicago, 2011)
When Lurrie Bell was chosen as a recipient for the prestigious annual 3Arts Grant and was informed that he could use the funds in any manner he wished, the answer for him was easy. “I had always wanted to make a record to show my gratitude for gospel music. I’m a bluesman but I’ve also played a lot of gospel songs for myself and for my family when I’m at home. The music gives me a sense of peace that I can’t find anywhere else.”
“The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” is not a pure gospel record nor is it a pure blues record. It is a musical journey where both genres fit seamlessly together. From the uplifting Swing Low that opens the set to the yearning Peace in the Valley to Bell’s meditative solo take on the classic Reverend Gary Davis song Death Don’t Have No Mercy, “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” plays out like many of the greatest blues recordings, reflecting all the emotions that life conjures. And also like the best blues records, real stories about real life unfold.
“The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” is a stripped down affair, which allows Bell to shine on both vocals and acoustic guitar more so than in any of his past efforts. The songs come from a wide range of sources.
Trouble in My Way and Search Me Lord come from Bell’s early years down South. Other material dips into the gospel repertoire of bluesmen Muddy Waters, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Reverend Gary Davis. Contemporary compositions by Tom Waits and James Taylor also grace the collection. The title track is the one new original, written by his longtime friend and producer Matthew Skoller. Skoller was inspired by a Mavis Staples interview with Chicago journalist David Whiteis. Whiteis asked Staples if the blues really was the Devil’s music. Mavis immediately retorted “Come on, the Devil ain’t got no music.”
Musicians featured on the recording include Billy Branch on harmonica in the full band arrangement of Trouble in My Way, the ever creative Chicago percussionist, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and noted New York blues and gospel musician Bill Sims Jr. Critically acclaimed guitarist, songwriter and singer Joe Louis Walker laid down a languid slide guitar on Peace in The Valley and a rough and tumble slide on It’s a Blessing. Joe also had the opportunity to testify on I’ll Get To Heaven on My Own, written by Walker.
The growth and transformation of many of our great vocalists began in the black gospel church. From Etta James to B.B. King to James Brown, the list is extensive. Lurrie Bell had a different path learning his trade, he started in the blues before finding himself immersed in spiritual music.
As the son of noted blues harmonica player, Carey Bell, he was first exposed to the world of blues at a very young age. Bell grew up with the likes of Muddy Waters, Eddie Taylor, Big Walter Horton and Eddie Clearwater who were frequent visitors to his home. Somewhere between the age of five and six, he first picked up one of his father’s guitars and taught himself to play. Not only was Bell recognized as an exceptionally talented guitarist and musician, his knowledge of different blues styles, his soulfulness and his musical maturity garnered praise in publications such as Rolling Stone and The New York Times.
Bell’s gospel journey began when he was sent from Chicago to Macon, Mississippi (at the tender age of 7) where he lived for 3 years. From there he and his brother moved to Lisman, Alabama where they lived with their maternal grandparents for four more years. “My folks down in Alabama– my grandfather he was a preacher, I had to go to church and play my guitar in the church… Once I began to play with the singers and learned about the gospel music I began to love it. I played acoustic guitar and was already very familiar with the blues so I would listen to the singers, and, well, the music just came naturally to me.”
In spite of being forbidden to play the straight ahead blues songs he absorbed in Chicago, Lurrie crafted his own personal blend of blues and gospel, “I was a bluesman so I would play blues lines off the guitar, in church, but I would sing those gospel lyrics.”
Although closely related, blues and gospel have distinct differences in content and delivery. With this new recording it is clear Lurrie Bell has mastered both idioms with power and grace. And like his blues, Bell puts his own individual stamp on his gospel interpretations, creating a highly personal sound that is instantly recognizable. For Lurrie Bell, blues and gospel do not meet at a crossroads down in the delta nor do they exist respectively in a church or a barroom, they are one continuous, glorious road stretching from Lisman, Alabama to the streets and churches of Chicago. Matthew Skoller ( Chicago 2012 )
Rick Bates / Nancy Meyer – Bates Meyer Inc.
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