By 1972, the blues revival had made artists like Wolf and Muddy wealthier and more famous than they’d ever been, and hopes for genuine racial integration, while fading, still seemed possible. John Sinclair, the notorious former manager for the MC5 and founder of the White Panther Party, co-produced this first of what would become a series of festivals in Ann Arbor less than a year after being released from jail after a trumped-up marijuana sentence was commuted. All the elements were ripe for a hedonistic merging of race, culture, politics and music. The closest thing to Ann Arbor today is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
High-octane guitarists are all over this collection, from Hound Dog Taylor (“Kitchen Sink Boogie”) to Freddie King (“Goin’ Down”) to Johnny Shines (“Dust My Broom”), to Otis Rush (“Gambler’s Blues”). Luther Allison (“Please Send Me Someone To Love”) was so memorable he was invited back to close the festival in 1973. And for vocalists, you had Koko Taylor belting out “Wang Dang Doodle” beside the legendary composer of the tune, Willie Dixon. You had Dr. John’s alley-cat voodoo, Bobby “Blue” Bland’s distinctive coo, and Bonnie Raitt returning to back then-75-year old Sippie Wallace on “Women Be Wise.”
The jazz at the Jazz & Blues Festival did not live up to its end of the bargain. (Although the event did produce an Art Ensemble of Chicago performance that later became their Baptizm album.) The best thing here is an excerpt from “Space is the Place” by Sun Ra & His Solar-Myth Arkestra. No matter. In ’72, Ann Arbor was the place for indelible, incandescent blues. Whether you’re the kind of fanatic who would pay good money for a Peetie Wheatstraw bobblehead or just vaguely curious about the genre, there is more than enough iconic magic on this superbly culled set to suit your needs.