As I’m writing this installment of my weekly series on this here blog I’m sitting on a plane bound to the Windy City, Chicago, for a last hurrah of my summer of 2019. And bound towards Chicago, the home and stomping grounds of the many, many artist that turned Blues electric, put it on vinyl and spread it across the world in the 1950s and early 1960s, how could I write about something else then the Blues?
For those of you that have followed the blog for a while or are a recent reader that have caught up with the backlog of “Rambling in B-Flat” shouldn’t be surprised to read that Blues and related music and genres are very dear to me. While I consume and am interested in music from a pretty broad spectrum of genres, I would have to put Blues up their as one of my absolute favorites if pushed into a corner.
So this is going to be my little story, or anecdote if you will, how I found the Blues and how it hasn’t released me since.
For almost as long as I can remember something about music either directly derived from or infused with Blues elements have always caught my ears. Regardless if I’m feeling happy or sad, are in joy or in despair, in ecstasy or in anguish it’s just something about very fabric of that music that I just seem to be attuned to. Likely I have my father to blame or praise for that, given your perspective. More on that at a later time though.
All that said the charm of the really simple form of the Blues alluded me for a long time of my life. For whatever the no frills, all heart 12 Bar Blues just flew past me. It wasn’t until a half a dozen years ago or so when truly got into bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys and hear not only their music but also hearing the band talk about their influences in interviews that both mind and ears got turned towards that stuff for real.
My love for the Blues wasn’t something that was instantaneous. I would rather characterize it as a cumulative build up that even pushed me over something of edge, where on the other side I found an immeasurable endearment for the Blues. The number of artist and songs that went into the cumulative build up are far many more than I can recall, but I do remember the very moment I went over the edge.
I was watching a clip on the Interwebs of a Rockpalast show from 1980, originally a West German TV show from the 1970s that still runs to this days that features popular contemporary Rock acts, where ZZ Top were performing one of their classics “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. I so distinctly remember that about halfway through the song I felt like something just gripped my heart and my body was filled with a feeling I hadn’t truly felt before. It was an experiences that rocked my very core. It pushed my over that edge and I have been falling ever since.
To this date I don’t think there isn’t anything truly remarkable with “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. It’s a pretty standard Blues number in terms of arrangements and lyrical theme. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song and it’s to this day one of my personal favorites in the lil’ ol’ band from Texas immense discography. But on paper there shouldn’t be anything truly special with the song. Yet again some part of me feel there has to be something special about that song which would explain more than it just being a cumulative build up to why I caved in for the Blues… or maybe I’m just crazy.
“Jesus Just Left Chicago” is from ZZ Top’s much hailed, for good reason, 1973 effort “Tres Hombres“. Often their classic track “La Grange” gets picked out from the record, which again is for good reason, but the record is as far as I’m concerned pretty much ace from start to finish. Often when I talk about ZZ Top with people their mind seem to be centered around their 80s albums. It’s much understandable because it was their 1983 release “Eliminator” and their prime time on MTV that made them truly big. I love their 80s stuff also, but for me it’s their 1970s records up until “Degüello” (which is a record I also adore) that I think is where their real good stuff lies. In there you’ll find some really sweet straightforward 3 chord Boogie type stuff but you’ll also find nuggets which makes you understand where pivotal artists of today have drawn inspiration from.
To wrap up let’s get back to the song of the hour. What is it really about? It’s something that I have pondered on pretty much ever since I heard it via that Rockpalast clip. While the direct mention of Jesus of course makes you think of Gospel and biblical themes and implications. However the song also refers to place where clearly Jesus never were in at least according to the Bible, like Chicago and New Orleans. Now I can hardly present myself as a man of religion, therefore I have thought about the song as more of pilgrimage or exodus, possibly both, within the human experience and the arduous journey of life in all of our lives.
Apparently there are records of Billy and the band talking about, which had alluded me until I read up about the song and the band for this piece. During their episode of VH1 Storytellers the band shared that a source of inspiration of the lyrics was the legend from days of yore that people would on certain days be able to hear Blues and Gospel songs being broadcasted from Chicago radio station at unreasonable far distances, even as far south as New Orleans. Almost supernaturally.
Even though I know that the band and particularly Billy Gibbons have proven to be crafty and notorious vague during interviews through their careers and have also offered other but also possibly additional explanation to where the lyrics for “Jesus Just Left Chicago” come from, I really like the aforementioned story though. So unless future indication surfaces that refutes said story I going to hold it as true.
With this story in mind I just had to let this ZZ Top classic take the spotlight on this day. Years back the song reached out and inexplicable stirred something deep within me, and now it’s seemingly calling to me again as I’m currently on my way to one of the most sacred of grounds when it comes to the Blues, the city of Chicago.
Oh, have mercy on me…
(PS. Can I also throw out there as a last remark since we’re talking about ZZ Top; did you know that the guys in the band have this year been at it for 50 years!? That 1969 man… DS.)