I think it’s worth me running through DJing at the Blues night last Sunday, seeing as how I took the trouble to blog about it.
Much of this I’ve copied from my post on Swing Talk, so feel free to skim-read/skip. But I have added some additional comments, so you might just miss out if you do.
To start with, here’s my set list (Sunday 4th June 2006, first set (9.30-10.30pm)).
|Willow Weep For Me||Louis Armstrong||Ella And Louis Again [MFSL]||1957||90|
|My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More||Alberta Hunter||Amtrak Blues||1978||76|
|Reckless Blues||Velma Middleton with Louis Armstrong and the All Stars||The Complete Decca Studio Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars (disc 06)||89|
|I Ain No Iceman||Cow Cow Davenport||History of the Blues – disc2||89|
|Save It, Pretty Mama||Sidney Bechet||The Blue Note Years||1945||91|
|I Left My Baby||Kansas City Band||Kansas City: A Robert Altman Film||1995||83|
|Stormy Blues||Billie Holiday||The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes (disc 2)||2005||62|
|I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl –||Nina Simone||Nina Simone Sings the Blues||2006||66|
|I Never Loved A Man||Aretha Franklin||Greatest Hits – Disc 1||90|
|Please Please Please||James Brown||Sex Machine||1991||74|
|Amtrak Blues||Alberta Hunter||Amtrak Blues||1978||95|
|Back Water Blues||Dinah Washington with Belford Hendricks’ Orchestra||Ultimate Dinah Washington||1957||71|
|Baby, Get Lost||Billie Holiday||The Lady Of The Blues||70|
|Rocks In My Bed||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Day Dream: Best Of The Duke Ellington Songbook||1956||68|
|Hamp’s Salty Blues||Lionel Hampton and His Quartet||Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop||1946||86|
|Long John Blues||Dinah Washington||22 Original Classics||96|
There are some incomplete details there – missing dates etc. This is partly the result of slack cataloguing on my part, a complete disinterest in cataloguing on The Squeeze’s part (he’s responsible for the Aretha and JB stuff) and general all-round pftness.
This was my first time DJing to a blues crowd at anything other than a party. It was a bit weird, for a few reasons:
- technical issues. there are always technical issues. but there were only two pissy speakers, no bass to speak of and a very crowded room. so i had to really fiddle with the knobs. mostly to no effect. but this screwed with some of my song choices. i learnt a lot about playing under these conditions.
- it’s really dark. so you can’t see what people are doing. this makes it tricky to judge the mood of the crowd.
- blues dancing is kind of samey. so you can’t really judge the mood or energy levels of the room by what people are doing on the dance floor
- i felt like they would have danced to anything – this isn’t like playing for experienced dancers or picky lindy hoppers.
Blues dancing has a different wave than lindy. You work in longer sessions and with longer-term goals. I found I rely on tempo to change the mood in a room when I DJ for lindy, but this wouldn’t work with blues. I found I could play any old tempo, really, so long as I was very careful with mood. I found I was DJing according to mood and musical style rather than tempo. This could have been a major mistake, and I need some feedback from dancers to see how this worked out. I could be full of crap on that part. But the floor is always full at blues, so you can’t use that as a gauge.
- The Kansas City song I Left My Baby, while it sounds great on my home stereo, at CBD and at funpit, kind of sucked on this system. It just ended up sounding like a slurry of sound with no depth or variation. If you know those albums, though, they’re a good indication of the mood of the room tonight: like a loud, raucous bar with people laughing and talking and having a good time.
It got quieter when I played mellower music, but seeing as how I mostly played dirty nanna blues, the mood stayed pretty dirty nanna – loud, boisterous, rowdy, laughing fun. Which is what I want from a blues night.
- I was heavy on the vocals, mostly because the instrumental stuff just sounded rank on the sound system. And I guess that was kind of an archetypal beginner DJ set – heavy on the vocals. But I was also going for high-energy, sassy but kind of tongue in cheek sauciness.
- That last Dinah Washington song was an emergency song as Josh and I were playing the DJing equivalent of doctors and nurses, trying to figure out what went in which hole. In retrospect, Long John is kind of not appropriate for a noob blues crowd, as it’s really quite explicit.
It is, however, one of my favourite songs.
- Back Water Blues is my most favourite song ever. EVER. I love it so much – that’s blues dancing music to me. Saucy, kind of miserable, but really relishing the misery, not getting maudlin, but really stomping the blues with some sauce.
I love Dinah Washington to bits. More than any other woman blues singer. I like the way she sings about sex and men and violence with a sense of humour and couldn’t give a shit about what people think.
- Note the Aretha Franklin and James Brown. Perfect rhythm n blues moment that went down a treat with the crowd. A bit too serious for my liking, but a nice contrast to the rest of the stuff. It was nice to play ‘unswing’ as well, as it really worked for blues dancing, but was totally wrong for lindy hop.
- During James Brown I had a request for Tom Waits, and I was sorely tempted as I’ve been digging Heartattack and Vine (thanks to a tip from Russell), but I wanted to bring the energy up, and that song is really hardcore and dirty.
I really like playing ‘unswing’ for blues dancers, but sticking with the ‘vibe’ of blues music. I wouldn’t do this for lindy though, as it feels wrong. But it feels just right to have Aretha singing about dirty low down men or James begging his woman while you’re camping it in blues dancing. I’d have liked to follow up with ‘Root Man Blues’ by Buddy Johnson, from ‘Walk ‘Em’, but it was too strident and brassy for the sound system. But it would have been perfect, with it’s 50s sound and kind of queer lyrics. Really would have set off James’ dramatics perfectly.
- The old scratchies went down a treat, not that I played many. But I was pleased when people appreciated the sauciness and humour of Cow Cow Davenport.
- This blues dancing crowd is much more tolerant and interested in a wider range of music than the lindy hoppers I usually DJ for. Blessed be.
There was no after party that night, which is a shame, as that’s a chance for people to get all serious with their blues dancing. And I would have liked a chance to really try DJing hardcore for a crowd of blues dancers. But I had a nice time otherwise. Only danced for half an hour (or even less), but I really like Vibe as a venue – high ceilings, bar, wooden floor, olden dayes feeling. And I really like the mood of the blues nights.
…why do I keep typing bleus?