Martin Feldman – Further On Up The Road
268 pages Softcover edition
It is no secret that blues music is highly regarded in Europe, where touring acts often play in upscale clubs and historic theaters, a far cry from what many artists are used to in this country. But being a devoted blues listener, author Martin Feldman made five trips to America from 1979 to 1988 at his own expense to witness the blues in it’s home environment. Coupled with some of his blues encounters in his native Germany, those trips are the primary focus of this compelling saga of one man’s quest to learn all that he can about the music that captivates his soul.
The book adopts a unique format. The pages with text are split – one side is in English, the other in German. While that allows the book to appeal to a larger audience, and eliminates the need for language-specific versions, it also limits the space for the author’s comments about each facet of his journeys. But that concern is quickly dismissed once readers start exploring the treasure trove of photographs and memorabilia from Feldman’s private collection displayed on every page, much of which has been stashed away, unseen for years.
The initial trip was the author’s first visit to Chicago. He and his companions spent a weekend making the rounds at Kingston Mines, B.L.U.E.S., and Wise Fools Pub. Included in this section is a flyer from Kingston Mines listing the nightly line-up of artists, with autographs of some of the artists and candid photos of guitarist Johnny Dollar, Eddy Clearwater, Mighty Joe Young, and Floyd Jones.
For his 1981 excursion, Feldman returned to Chicago for a more extended visit, venturing out to notable spots like the Checkerboard, Florence’s, and Theresa’s Lounge as well as Chicagofest on Navy Pier The 30-plus pages are filled with eye-catching photos like one full page color shot of Queen Sylvia Embry on stage, another of Sunnyland Slim and Tail Dragger hanging out, Lefty Dizz sitting on a fully decked-out motorcycle, or a B&W shot of the decrepit conditions in the Maxwell Street.
Feldman also made a point of visiting Chess Records and includes a photo of Jim O’Neal from his days running Living Blues Magazine. An added bonus is a page with several photos took during a visit with gospel legend Rev. Thomas A Dorsey, who earlier in life was known as Georgia Tom when he partnered with Tampa Red to cut a series of risque blues songs. Feldman also manages to fit in a couple days in New York City, catching Eddie Kirkland at Dan Lynch’s Blues Cafe.
Two years later, the author made it San Francisco for a short visit, starting off with a packed house at the Last Day Saloon for a high energy show by Albert Collins and the Icebreakers. Then he crossed the Bay to Oakland to take in the show at Eli’s Mile High Club before heading to the Viking Lounge for a show featuring Johnny Fuller and piano great Dave Alexander, documented with two pages of photos.
Covering more than a month, the 1986 trip yielded a bonanza of material. Traveling with Louis Reitz, the author takes in some of the sights along the West Coast and Los Angeles before heading to Texas, through Louisiana, into Mississippi, on to Memphis, and once again, Chicago to bring a end to the trip. There are too many highlights to list, but a shot of Tabby Thomas’s Blues Box at night will resonate, as do photos on facing pages of Smokey Wilson and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, not to mention Fenton Robinson at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, swamp blues stalwarts Silas Hogan and Arthur “Guitar” Kelly at the Blues Box, and Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis in the market that gave him his nickname.
The last of the US trips extends from Chicago through Kansas City to California. Readers will delight in discovering musicians like Kansas City Red, Earring George Mayweather, Little Hatch, and Joe Kincaid. In Los Angeles, he attends a tribute to the outstanding singer and songwriter Percy Mayfield, including a photo of his wife and a letter she later sent to Feldman.
The second half of the book documents musical events that took place in Germany, the Netherlands, and other far-flung parts of the world. Readers can easily get lost in admiring the photos of musicians who no longer walk the planet. One excellent shot features Good Rockin’ Charles Edwards, Chico Chism, and Lester “Mad Dog” Davenport. Another shows Buddy Guy working hard as two young fans sit spellbound on the edge of the stage. Another smaller photo has Otis Rush with Lacy Gibson next to him. Then there is a page with 18 year old Lucky Peterson at the keyboard, and a shot that captures Little Milton and Magic Slim sharing the stage. And don’t forget the picture of Lurrie Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, and John Primer signing autographs at the 2009 Gaildorf Festival.
At the end, Feldman devotes one page to the variety of cameras he used over the years, and includes a six page listing of blues literature that he found helpful. Another point, covered at the start of the section on each trip, is that the author also made sure he used part of each visit to enjoy the natural wonders and historical sites that the northern hemisphere has to offer, undoubtedly seeing more of our country than most US citizens will lay eyes on during their lifetime.
It adds up to a fascinating glimpse at a world that barely exists any more, with many of the artists having passed on and the venues they called home now closed, and most likely torn down. Thanks to Feldman’s efforts to document his “vacations,” that world lives on, bringing back memories for those who were there, and giving others a vivid taste of what the past was really like.