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Blues Music Now! feature

Bibb cooks a musical goulash of blues and folk

by Amelia Feathers

Photo of Eric Bibb

Eric Bibb was a budding musical artist in the United States with his first three CDs. He is now in full bloom with his latest recording, "Painting Signs."

In its first week out, the CD was in the Top 5 most added on Gavin's AAA non-commercial charts. Also, the CD was at number 27 two weeks after release on Album Network's Totally Adult charts. "Painting Signs" debuted at number 35, then climbed to 15. The album held a position on the charts through October and is still charting in the Top 20 in Living Blues magazine's album chart.

Bibb was also a featured artist on Jools Holland's new European release "Small World Big Band," which went silver its first week out in November. Other featured artists include Eric Clapton, Sting, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, Dr. John and Van Morrison. Bibb and Steve Miller performed a duet, "All That You Are," which was penned by Bibb and Holland. The CD is to be released in the United States in 2002.

The acoustic blues and folk guitarist delivers a bouquet of fresh new music along with colorful covers of some old familiar tunes on "Painting Signs," his latest release for the California-based Earthbeat Records.

Bibb is an artist that critics can't resist comparing to Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Although the comparisons are warranted, Bibb is his own blues man. He is credited for the New World blues sound, which reaped him three Handy Award nominations. He has had a Grammy nomination for best children's record with Taj Mahal and Linda Tillery. He is one of the centerpieces of the new breed of blues/folk singer/songwriter in contemporary music.

If anyone was destined to be a musician, Bibb was. He is the son of Leon Bibb, a nationally known folk singer. The late John Lewis, the renowned jazz pianist is his uncle and Bibb's godfather was Paul Robeson.

Bibb started playing guitar at a young age while experiencing several different genres, schooling himself and then graduating with an eclectic musical taste. Although people call him a blues singer, he opts to be known as a songster.

"Painting Signs" is described by Bibb as a highly-seasoned effort of cooking a musical goulash. From his home in Sweden, Bibb said in a telephone interview that for a long time, he wanted to assimilate his love of singing and songwriting and meld together his varied musical interests. "When it comes to blending related genres on records, "Painting Signs" is my most successful work to date," he explained.

Bibb also said he wanted to see how his songwriting would hold up in context with songs written by music notables Rev. Gary Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Pop Staples, for whom the CD is dedicated to.

Bibb's admiration for Staples' ability to sing gospel and Delta blues was heightened even more when they recorded together on the CD, "Home To Me."

"When I met Pops for the session he brought Mavis with him. I told him I didn't know he was going to bring Mavis and he said, 'Well, I want it to be a hit, don't I?'" Bibb recalled fondly. Photo of Eric Bibb

Bibb's new CD reflects and compliments his own style. Bibb, who was born in 1951, grew up in New York listening to Odetta, Richie Havens, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Earl Robinson, Joan Baez, Son House and Judy Collins.

Bibb learned early in life that blues and folk music are siblings. He listened to Jerry Jeff Walker and liked his storytelling style. He admired John Hurt's gritty side. Bibb incorporates both styles as well as his own uniqueness to his music. Instead of letting the music of his past wilt, he started a music hybrid that showcased his own style.

When Bibb started writing songs at age 11, it didn't take him long to find out he "loved the feeling when a song happens."

In his musical laboratory, Bibb dissects the roots of folk and blues.

"Folk music, which includes blues, was passed on without big time music publishers in the mix," he explained. For Bibb, blues can stay underground without having the publicity and money backing pop music has.

"Young blues artists like Johnny Lang get played in the mainstream arena. And although he has the look, he is obviously a good musician; however the real lineage artists won't get mainstream play unless they are endorsed by Oprah, but there is always hope for blues and folk singers to be heard. I recently saw the Five Blind Boys on David Letterman," Bibb said.

Bibb also credits the Internet as a big factor in providing music education and keeping the blues tradition. Bibb himself is a docent for the music mastery of blues and folk music, which is evidence in his songster creativity.

A single release, "Hope in a Hopeless World," which followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, featured a revised version of the song released to benefit the Red Cross. The single CD also includes the song "For You" from Bibb's "Home To Me" CD released last year. "For You" also aired on the CBS program, "The District," in December.

In his compositions on the "Painting Signs" CD, he called "Kokomo" a modern blues song. Another song he penned, "The Light Was Worth the Candle," was written with heavy influences of country, gospel and soul music. "I could hear Willie Nelson singing that song," Bibb said.

Yet, of all the influences Bibb has had he says his father, Leon, was the first artist he emulated.

Fans of Leon and Eric Bibb will be interested in a tribute specialty album they recently recorded. Eric produced the album in honor of Leon. The recording celebrates some of the music they have shared through the years.

Bibb completed a tour with Robert Cray for several dates last year. Following tour dates in January and February, Bibb will travel to Australia in March and Germany in April.

For a complete listing of U.S. tour dates, visit earthbeatrecords.com and for his international tours, visit ericbibb.com.

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