Where blues fans must go for their weekly fix
By the time you read this, the 711th episode of the Bandana Blues podcast will likely be out. It will be around 2 hours long and crammed with blues songs—25-30 of them or even more. The episode could have a theme, often related to what’s happening—such as the violence at the rally by white supremacists in Charlottesville; the devastation caused by a hurricane; or just a plain and simple celebration of something like Father’s Day. Or it may not. It could just be a string of great blues songs—many by musicians that you may never have heard before but also some that are celebrated old classics.
Last week, episode No.710 kicked off with a high-energy, guitar-fuelled instrumental titled Hot Pulldown, by the Wildcat O’Halloran Band based in west Massachusetts. Moving along, the 2-hour stream had an eclectic mix of blues songs. There was the late Irish bluesman Gary Moore’s Driftin’ from his superb 1995 album, Blues For Greeny, an album Moore had dedicated to Peter Green, British blues-rock guitarist and founder of blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac. All the songs on that album are compositions by Green (or Greenbaum, which is Green’s birth surname) but Moore reincarnates every one of them with his fiery guitar licks. When you listen to Moore’s solos on Blues For Greeny, which is one of his best albums, or for that matter on any of his 20 albums released between 1973 and 2008, you can’t help wondering why he’s so underrated and why even many hard-core blues fans may not have heard of him.
Moore is an example of blues musicians that the Bandana Blues podcast can help you discover. The podcast has early roots. Founded by Ted “Beardo” Dames, it began in 1999 on the Live365 network, an internet broadcasting system where users can set up their own internet radio stations by curating playlists. Then, in the early 2000s, Beardo started weekly podcasts of his playlist. He would play batches of songs non-stop, with short commentaries between each batch. Soon, he had a partner, a Dutch blues radio jockey from The Hague in the Netherlands who goes by the name Spinner.
Beardo and Spinner jointly created their weekly podcast: Typically, Beardo would kick off with a first batch of songs; then Spinner would play his; and then they would alternate again. The two complemented each other. Both would delve into the past and play classic blues musicians as well as spring contemporary surprises that you may never have heard of. Beardo would sprinkle his comments with a few, not many, sardonic comments on current affairs—Trump, the US economy, and so on. Spinner would occasionally add his picks of northern European bands, providing a taste of the vibrant blues scene in the region.
I first heard the late Sharon Jones, who died of cancer last year, on an episode of the Bandana Blues podcast. Hers was an unusual story. Honed in gospel music and old-school R&B as a child, Jones’ big-voiced retro-style funk and soul singing won her fame only after she turned 40. Till then she worked as a corrections officer at the infamous Rikers Island prison. In 2002, around the time Jones’ brilliant debut album, -Dippin’, with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, came out, Beardo played a track on an episode of the podcast. Jones’ singing style was a throwback to the glory days of funk and soul—the 1970s—and she helped revive listeners’ interest in that old style at the turn of the 21st century.
Occasionally, Beardo would pull out the real surprises. A couple of years ago, he played Aki “Akarsha” Kumar on the podcast. Born in Mumbai, Kumar moved to the US when he was 18, at first to study computer science and then to work in San Jose at Adobe. As a child in India, Kumar learnt the tabla and keyboards and, like most Indian kids, was influenced by Bollywood music. But he caught the blues bug in Bay Area bars. Soon, he was playing the blues himself on his harmonica, and singing. Before long, the Indian techie had quit his job and become a full-time bluesman with his own band. His first album in 2014 is titled Don’t Hold Back, and, last year, he released his second, Aki Goes To Bollywood, in which Chicago blues meets Bollywood music. This summer he toured Europe, and, going by his gig schedule in the US and elsewhere, he is already a rising star.
You may have noticed that I’ve been referring to Beardo in the past tense. It’s because this September fans of the Bandana Blues podcast received some bad news. Even as he was preparing an episode to upload, Ted “Beardo” Dames died of a massive heart attack in south-eastern Pennsylvania, where he lived. He was 65, a widower, and had virtually no savings and no insurance. The podcast was a free, non-profit labour of love, which ran mainly on passion and whatever Spinner and he could scrape together, and from meagre donations that listeners could make to the virtual tip jar on the website.
I’ve lost count of the number of musicians I heard for the first time on Bandana Blues. I heard the incredible Israeli guitarist Oz Noy; I discovered the French Blues Explosion; I became a fan of the British band Savoy Brown (known as the Savoy Brown Blues Band when it was formed in 1965) and its amazing lead guitarist and founder, the Welshman Kim Simmonds; as I did of Mike & the Mellotones, a Dutch blues band based in Nijmegen.
For me, Bandana Blues had been an appointment listening fixture for more than 10 years; one that I would wait for every weekend, which was usually when it would be uploaded, quite certain that every episode would definitely lead me to new finds. So the death of its founder, Beardo, came as a sad blow.
His comments, delivered in his deep baritone, will be missed. But there’s good news too. Bandana Blues’ co-host Spinner is keeping the podcast alive. What’s more, almost the entire archive of podcasts—hundreds and hundreds of blues songs, impeccably listed and catalogued—is available to download or stream at Beardo1.libsyn.com. If you love the blues, don’t miss it.
The Lounge List
Five tracks to bookend this week
1. If You Be My Baby by Gary Moore from Blues For Greeny
2. Eena Meena Deeka by Aki Kumar from Aki Goes To Bollywood
3.‘Elephant Walk by Oz Noy from Schizophrenic
4. Hellbound Train by Savoy Brown from 5 Live Hits
5. I Learned The Hard Way by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings from Miss Sharon Jones!
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.
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