February 2009

American Folk-Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963-1966
Reelin’ In The Years Productions/Experience Hendrix/Hip-O Records B0008353
Format: DVD
Originally broadcast: 1963-1966
DVD released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Image Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

In the early '60s, German jazz publicist Joachim-Ernst Berendt decided it was time to bring American blues musicians to Europe. Jazz and rock ‘n’ roll were already popular there, and both were rooted in the blues. Promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau followed through on Berendt’s idea, and the American Folk Blues Festival was born. For ten years, beginning in 1962, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and many other masters of the form toured Europe, playing to enthralled audiences. According to Mike Rowe’s excellent notes for American Folk-Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963-1966, Britain was nearly passed over by the tour until Melody Maker magazine and a promoter from Manchester, Paddy McKiernan, arranged for dates in England. Many British musicians, already enamored of American blues and rock ‘n’ roll, caught those shows live or on the television broadcasts gathered together in this DVD and were inspired to play the music they loved.

These performances by Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and others were originally shown in black-and-white on such shows as The Blues and Gospel Train. They look somewhat grainy and out of focus on today’s HD sets, but they’re entirely watchable. Eddie Kramer has nicely restored the sound of the original recordings, which are in clear and vivid mono. Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters are best represented on the DVD, with three songs each. Williamson takes the stage carrying a briefcase full of harmonicas, Waters looks strong and regal. Lightnin’ Hopkins electrifies a large audience in a 1964 appearance, as does Howlin’ Wolf. Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s gospel blues might cause a spontaneous altar call in your living room.

"Essential" is an overused word, but no serious fan of popular music in the last 40 years should go without experiencing this DVD.