Erik Lindahl and Tommy Lӧfgren – 44 Days On The Blues Highway | Book Review

Erik Lindahl and Tommy Lӧfgren – 44 Days On The Blues Highway

140 Pages Hardcover edition

Undoubtedly many blues fans have dreamed about taking an extended amount of time off to travel across America to hear blues music performed in all of its various permutations in a variety clubs, while getting the opportunity to talk with many of the musicians you might encounter. Imagine being on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise for weeks at a time. Such a trip would assuredly generate memories that would last a lifetime.

Towards the end of 1980, four friends left Sweden to embark on an adventure like no other. In the days before cellphones and the world-wide web, they made a few arrangements in advance by mail, based on contacts several of them had developed during previous US visits. One of those contacts was keyboardist Mark Naftalin, who was a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and later organized his “Blue Monday Party” series in several San Francisco area clubs. He contributes the “Foreword” that offers readers the first insights on how the trip materialized.

All four men were long-time blues fans, involved in what is now the Swedish Blues Society, and contributors to the organization’s Jefferson magazine, which is the world’s oldest still-published blues periodical. Erik Lindahl, Tommy Lӧfgren, Jӧrgen Sander, and Lasse Linder planned to fly San Francisco to start their journey, then head for Los Angeles with other stops in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Memphis, St. Louis, and finally Chicago to finish the trip on a high note.

Lindahl was making his second visit to the US, having spent every night for three weeks listening to music in Chicago clubs two years before. Working professionally as a freelance photographer, he was responsible of using his camera to document the people and places encountered on their journey. His amazing black and white photographs are the heart and soul of the book. Lӧfgren, who served as the Editor of Jefferson magazine for 19 years, contributes thoughtful reminisces on the majority of the photos. The book is dedicated to Sander and Linder, who passed away before the book was completed.

Divided in sections covering different periods of the trip, the first portion covers two weeks in California, starting with a show featuring zydeco legend Clifton Chenier & His Red Hot Louisiana band. One photo has Chenier on stage with his new accordion while another has Sander and Linder presenting the musician with a $475 check from the then Swedish Blues Association to help with his recent medical expenses. From there, they keep rolling along, from catching guitarist Luther Tucker at Eli’s Mile High Club to one of Naftalin’s parties featuring singers Frankie Lee and Buddy Ace, then off to Los Angeles for more fine fretwork from Phillip Walker, Smokey Wilson, and Pee Wee Crayton.

One delightful aspect of the book is that Lindahl did not limit himself to pictures of the artists live on stage. He also captured them in more relaxed moments at home, or relaxing after a show. His portrait of Crayton and his wife Esther is a beautiful homage to the love they shared. The following page shows pianist Floyd Dixon and guitarist Roy Gaines outside another historic spot, the Dolphin’s of Hollywood record store. The rest of West coast stay finds them enjoying shows by a pantheon of blues legends – Charles Brown,Percy Mayfield relaxing at home, Roy Brown, Gaines about to embark on a bike ride, Big Jay McNeely, and to finish it off, Big Joe Turner!

After seven days of traveling, the intrepid travelers made it to San Antonio for a Flaco Jimenez show before heading to Lake Charles, LA for what should have been a Bobby “Blue” Bland show, but they had received inaccurate information. So they ventured on to Lafayette to spend time with more zydeco royalty including Stanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Dural, the late guitarist Paul “Lil’ Buck” Senegal in a charming photo at home with his wife, young son, and the Christmas tree, and several of Rockin’ Dopsie (Alton Rubin).

Swamp blues fans will marvel at Lindahl’s capture of Silas Hogan and Guitar Kelly playing at Miss King’s Place in Baton Rouge. They also visited the outstanding piano man, Henry Gray, as well as Tabby Thomas, in one photo seen smiling on stage, with his youthful son Chris Thomas King stoically backing him on guitar.

They finally catch up with Bland at a club in New Orleans. As Lӧfgren relates, with one exception, they are the only white people in the audience. There is a close-up of Bland working his magic on stage followed by his two stellar guitarists, Mel Brown and Wayne Bennett, in a relaxed mood. Another fine picture finds a smiling Bland unwinding backstage, pointing at the camera along with his four year old son Rodney, now a drummer of note in Memphis.

The travelers wind their way through Mississippi next, and the encounters with legendary figures continues unabated. A Christmas Blues show, put on by the Mississippi County Blues Society, features a stunning line-up of Sam Chatmon, Big Joe Williams, and the Jelly Roll Kings, with Frank Frost, Sam Carr, and Big Jack Johnson. Lindahl again manages to convey the excitement of that event in through his camera’s lens.

One of the trip’s highlights was seeing Johnson one more time, on Christmas Day in Glendora, MS at Miss Applewhite’s juke joint. The next day, the gents stopped to see Jessie Mae Hemphill for a bit at her home far from town. That visit is memorialized in a close up of the guitarist’s radiant smile. They also stopped by R.L. Burnside’s house, but missed him as he was off chopping wood. Next up was a quick stop In Memphis for an evening with the one man band, the unique Ironing Board Sam. Several days in St. Louis meant more music, with local guitar kings Tommy Bankhead and Big Bad Smitty highlighted.

The last five days in Chicago were a fitting end to a glorious trip. First up was Buddy Guy at his Checkerboard Lounge, playing cards in one shot, then firing off some hot licks in another. There is also a small photo of Junior Wells sitting at the bar. Another amazing photo features Junior Pettis, Guy, and Magic Slim on guitar, backed by Nick Holt on bass and “Killer” Ray Allison on drums. On New Year’s Eve, the quartet was entertained by singers Bobby Jones, Artie “Blues Boy” White, and headliner Z.Z. Hill. Lӧfgren notes that Hill would not achieve real stardom until the following year with the release of his second Malaco album, Down Home Blues.

Also among the Chicago pictures are guitarist Sammy Lawhorn at Theresa’s Lounge, another focused on a boyish John Primer, and a killer shot of Byther Smith & Magic Slim at the historic Florence’s Lounge. The last show of the trip is late on a Sunday night at Mary’s Lounge on the West side, where Taildragger had a regular gig featuring Eddie Taylor on guitar. The final photo has both them outside the club with the owner, another memorable photo.

Looking at pages of amazing photos full of many of the key figures in the history of blues music, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what the four Swedish adventurers were able to see and hear in a six week stretch. Thankfully we now have this fine edition that allows the rest of us to share in the memories, and to spark dreams of our own big adventure.

If you have more than a passing acquaintance with many of the artists mentioned throughout this review, this is a must-have book that is most certainly highly recommended!

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