A lesson in U.S. history, set to a blues beat - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

A lesson in U.S. history, set to a blues beat

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Posted: Sunday, January 6, 2008 9:16 pm | Updated: 11:46 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Music can take you to a lot of different places along the space-time continuum. How can you listen to Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” and not see him doing faux karate moves in that ridiculous white jumpsuit on a stage in Las


It’s a fantastic song — arguably Elvis’ best — but it does conjure up the visual, at least for me.

When the Blues Brothers introduced — or reintroduced — generations of listeners to house-rockin’ blues, R&B and soul in the mid-1980s, they also sent me to the library to do some research on our political history. On the album “Made in America,” the group covers the Booker T & the MGs classic “Green Onions.” During a break in the song, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) gives a speech about the state of America in the world at the time. His comments include this passage:

“I’ve got something to say to the State Department. I say take that archaic Monroe Doctrine, and that Marshall Plan that says we’re supposed to police force the world, and throw ’em out! Let’s stay home for the next 10 years, people! Right here in North America and enjoy the music and culture that is ours.”

Through a “Saturday Night Live” side project, I learned about the musical genius of Son House and Robert Johnson, and about U.S. foreign policy initiatives.

I had a similar experience Dec. 29, and I was lucky enough to get to share it with my son.

Blues legend B.B. King performed that Saturday night at the Maricopa County Events Center (formerly known as the SunDome — which, by the way, is a great place to see a concert if you don’t mind the drive). My wife, Melany, and I decided to take our 8-year-old boy, Chaz, to his first concert, figuring there would not be too many more chances to catch the King of the Blues since he is now age 82 and dealing with diabetes.

Chaz was engrossed in the show, clapping along with the music and shouting out the audience part to “Let the Good Times Roll.”

Between songs, King told interesting and insightful little stories, and one was about growing up in the Mississippi Delta under the cloak of segregation. He talked about taking a break from his “job” of standing in front of the furniture store and watching the girls walk by; he went over to get a drink from one of the two water fountains, labeled “white” and “colored.”

King said he had always wondered about that “other” water and how much better it must have tasted, so “I went and got myself a bellyful.”

The crowd chuckled at his youthful naiveté, and King said he was happy that we are now in a place where he can tell that story and have it bring a smile to people’s faces.

On the way home, Melany and I talked with Chaz about the music, the story, and how ridiculous segregation is. So along with taking in his first concert — a stellar show featuring a musical legend, no less — my boy also got a lesson in social justice. That’s a pretty full Saturday night.

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