Long time BBC Radio 2 broadcaster and blues musician, Alexis Korner, occupies a pivotal role in the development of British blues and many of the greats passed through his group, Blues Incorporated, and these included Eric Clapton, Cyril Davies, drummers Hughie Flint and John Stevens, vocalist Paul Rodgers and, surprisingly, avant-garde jazz saxophonist, Evan Parker. Myriad line-ups all have their respective merits and it is up to the individual listener to make his/her own mind up. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how the blues in the UK would have evolved without his towering presence. This box set celebrates his life as a musician in the 1960s and brings together some of his most highly regarded albums and 45s. Those who grew up with his sounds may argue that a good deal of the music has been available elsewhere. However, the key point is that you would have to search in numerous directions to find that very material and this box set has the considerable merit of grouping together disparate labels and accompanying musicians into one cohesive whole, with a plethora of graphics to communicate in the clearest manner possible the story of Korner the musician, and to this extent, for younger blues fans and more seasoned observers of the blues alike, it is an essential platform with which to discover and appreciate his musical talents.
This writer first came across Alexis Korner the blues aficionado who recorded a regular Friday evening broadcast programme on Radio 2 back in the late 1970s and early 1980s up until his sad and untimely death in 1984. However, even that knowledge of several years of listening religiously to his masterful knowledge and storytelling qualities barely touches the surface of Alexis’ lifelong devotion to the cause of blues music and it was a cause he was utterly passionate about and committed to. He began way back in 1964 as a broadcaster with the BBC World Service, before he moved over to a regular blues show when the BBC extended their network channels. That distinctively gruff tone of voice, but equally warm heart, permeated the airwaves and influenced many, not least Paul Jones, who would at a much later date take over duties, and occupy the BBC blues slot for twenty-five years up until his retirement earlier this year, with Cerys Matthews now the present incumbent. This extremely informative box set does full justice to Korner’s contribution and includes a highly informative twenty-two page booklet crammed with everything you could possibly wish to know about the musician and broadcaster, complete with high quality original album covers, picture sleeve 45s, original concert flyers and newspaper reviews. As for the music, it includes key coverage of the critically acclaimed albums with Alexis and Blues Incorporated ‘R&B at the Marquee’ (a highly sought after album on vinyl and right up there with the Georgie Fame live classic, ‘Live at the Flamingo’), the equally hard to find, ‘At The Cavern’, as well as albums on Transatlantic, BBC live studio sessions, and former bootleg releases, as well as a legitimate and rare Dutch release on Philips, recorded in late 1969, but made available from 1970.
On a CD box set of this length, attempting a comprehensive overview would be near impossible, but some key highlights stand out and require commentary. The folk-blues instrumental ‘3/4 A.D.’ with a medley of pieces is a stunning way to start off the box and features Davy Graham who co-wrote the track with Korner. A variety of tempos are to be found on the first CD, with the laid back blues of ‘She Fooled Me’, another personal favourite. Gritty Chicago electric blues heavily influenced Korner and is reflected in the driving bass line and harmonica (another Korner trademark) accompaniment to ‘Gotta Move’. In addition to being a gifted composer, Alexis Korner could also interpret contemporary and classic blues standards. Thus, Son House’s ‘Preachin’ The Blues’ fits comfortably alongside Willie Dixon’s ‘I Got My Brand On You’, and even Muddy Waters immortal, ‘I Got My Mojo Workin’, taken at an appropriately sprightly pace, but with a catchy guitar riff and piano. The truth is, Alexis Korner was far less interested in searching for artificial authenticity, or technical virtuosity. What truly mattered to him was catching the true feeling of the blues, and in that respect, he succeeded magnificently. Above all else, it is Alexis Korner’s generosity of spirit that permeates the music contained within and that makes the package as a whole indispensable to any self-respecting devotee of the blues.