Keith Richards makes great play of the way bluesmen are allowed to grow old and retain their credibility. He fondly likes to think that he’s going to follow the same path. Bullshit. Keith is just stretching his wretched adolescence into his equally wretched old age.
The fact is, when white rockers reach a certain time of life, their potency shrivels. What seemed charming even as late as their mid-’30s is frankly cringeworthy come the fifth decade. The obvious exceptions may just be Dylan, Neil Young, and Al Green still has his moments, but by and large most rockers are roadkill by their 30th birthday.
A while back I attended a Muscle Shoals Night at the Barbican. Remnants of the legendary rhythm section backed some of the usual suspects (Mavid Staples) and the less usual (George Soule). I love Mavis, but let’s face it, what with the usual connoisseurs of Dad Rock stinking out the hall, it was a pretty turgid evening. Until Tony Joe White turned up.
Now this was a white man who could give Muddy Waters a run for his gerontocratic money. With no backing, and a Strat plugged into an elderly baby Fender amp, a hat pulled down over beshaded eyes, he growled blues that absolutely lived in the here and now. With none of the sweat-stained effort of the nouveau alt.beards, with no sense of flogging the deadest of horses (see Keith Richards above), Tony Joe White made my blood run cold.
I have no idea what gave Tony Joe White such authority, but there it was. If anything, he seemed stronger and distinctly darker than I ever remembered from his records. Maybe CSI will find his DNA at a crossroads deep in the bayou, whatever, but here was a man who had grown into his skin.
Sorry Keef. It ain’t gonna happen to you.