Blue Fox
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Blue Fox

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"Vermont musician sings the authentic blues"

January 13, 2006

By Art Edelstein Arts Correspondent

Blue Fox's first solo CD, "Solo Blue," harkens back to an era and place legendary in American history, the rise of the blues as the first African-American protest music.

From around 1900 to the late 1930s, a number of black musicians perfected a style of guitar playing using "open" chords and a variety of implements (pipe, glass jars, knife blades) that, when applied to the guitar strings of their acoustic guitar, produced a whining or harsh sound. In the hands of blues men such as Robert Johnson, Son House, Bukka White and Blind Lemon Jefferson the guitar grew in sound and tone. It became an instrument able to express the frustration and anger these sons of the rural and discriminatory south experienced. Solo blues guitar playing is often athletic and definitely soulful. Without electricity to power their instrument these players also took to the new metal-bodied guitars that produced a louder, and yes, metallic sound.

The themes of this style of blues were simple: love, sex, work, jail. The style was simple too, a basic 12-bar repetitive mode, usually three major chords, and call-and-response lyrics.

Blue Fox's music reflects this earlier blues style. But Fox (whose real name is Bill French) is not African-American and his roots lie in Hartford, Conn., hardly a hotbed of blues.

Yet on "Solo Blue," Fox shows he's learned the lessons of the blues masters. His guitar playing is authentic 1930s. Using a brass tube for a slide, Fox's blue National Steel Polychrome Tricone guitar comes alive with a gritty, rough tone.

"It's the sound of blues, for a lot of music and is associated with that sound," he said in an interview. "It has a tough kind of sound; it's almost like the hard rock of acoustic music. It's rough, not sweet and pretty sounding."

He has mastered the slides, bends, and harmonics that are the calling-card of this style of guitar playing.

Fox's voice is full and throaty. Like his guitar sound, Fox's vocals are not sweet or pretty, but then the blues, in its original form, pre-electric, is anything but sweet or pretty.

With his resophonic guitar, occasionally a Dobro and harmonica, and a bag of blues compositions, Fox presents a satisfying solo 16-track set on "Solo Blue." He's penned 10 of the tracks and on those numbers he has updated the themes that inspire the blues. Here Fox sings about a "Juke Joint BBQ," intones that "I can't sleep," tells us "I love my TV," and has a "Back porch harp attack," as he shows his considerable skills on blues harmonica.

The album is a fusion of studio and live performance. Several of the tracks were recorded at Dog River Studio in Montpelier but there are four live tracks from a May 21, 2005, performance at the Langdon Street Café and two tracks from a live radio performance on WMRW radio out of the Mad River Valley.

I like the live tracks best, the playing is flawless and it is obvious that Fox loves playing live and interacts well with an audience. These are fun to listen to and his energy is intoxicating.

Fox, a Vermont resident for 15 years, said he's not sure why he has long been attracted to the blues.

"I don't know exactly why I play it. I love the music," he said.

While he has released two previous CDs with his band the Rockin' Daddys, he said that as much as he loves a blues band sound, "I equally love a solo blues player."

Regardless of the format, for Fox, "all the styles of music I've done melt down to blues."

This 45-year-old Montpelier resident, whose day job is as a para-educator, said he has always played the blues. His heroes from the earlier blues period are Bukka White, Son House and Robert Johnson. More modern musicians he's listened to are John Hammond, Taj Mahal and former Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen.

"They are the three that graced my generation," he said. "I got turned onto them by other musicians."

He also gets inspiration from current acoustic blues singers Roy Book Binder, Rory Block, Bob Brosman, Cory Harris and Paul Rishell.

Fox said he chose to issue a solo blues album because he was "trying to create something full on guitar and tell the story."

He said a solo effort "leaves you more freedom to interpret the crowd. I like the flexibility of playing solo as the mood hits me."

Fox works hard to remain true to the style of music and feels he is successful.

"I've had many black people say I could sing or play the music and sound authentic," he noted. "I think I can do this because I need to do it. People sometimes need to do things. I need to do this because I find it's a spiritual connection and it keeps me from losing my mind."

Blue Fox is one of Vermont's few authentic acoustic blues performers and well worth a listen. "Solo Blue" is a fine example of the solo acoustic blues style.
- Times-Argus


"BLUE FOX, SOLO BLUE"

Montpelier bluesman Blue Fox is a regular on central Vermont's pub circuit. An enthusiastic performer, his steel string guitar work and rugged baritone vocals can be heard nearly every week at area watering holes and eateries. Solo Blue finds him going it alone on 10 originals and six covers. The disc is a decent example of beer-soaked, workin' class blues -- the kind of stuff that sounds best while shooting a friendly game of pool.

Opener "Big Boss Man" kicks things off with a sly shuffle. Fox knocks rhythmically on the side of his axe, firmly anchoring the tune to a steady, 4/4 pulse. The uncluttered instrumentation serves to highlight the guitarist's every lick and strum, as he works overtime to fill the empty spaces. The busy runs don't always serve the song, however. Fox's eagerness often exceeds his emotional range, and raw emotion is a cornerstone of the blues.

"Juke Joint BBQ" provides a fine example of the songwriter's musical disposition. It's hard to imagine a song about grilled meat being anything but corny, but Fox's laid-back charm more than makes up for the tune's light lyrics.

"Deal with the Devil," on the other hand, evokes the blues' more sinister sensibilities. A rural cousin to Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying," the song's central slide guitar riff certainly has teeth. Still, it failed to convince me of an infernal bargain struck by moonlight. Probably a good thing for Fox.

The jaunty "Front Porch Boogie" is another instrumental number, recorded live at the Langdon Street Cafe. While it might not fly down in the Delta, it's pretty damn good for a Northern boy. The solo harmonica workout "Railroad Blues" is culled from the same performance. As the crowd hoots enthusiastically, Fox unleashes a mighty stream of skronk, barely pausing for breath.

"Yo Bro, get Your Dobro" is one of my favorite cuts. On it, Fox sings joyfully of homebrewed beverages and impromptu jam sessions. Album closer "Pickin' for Pam" is likewise enjoyable, containing some of Fox's most inspired performances. The song's namesake should be pleased.
- Seven Days


Discography

Blue's first CD, The Way Things Go, was with a trio. His second CD, Shades of Blue, is a mix of solo and his band. Both got good reviews and sold well. Songs from these CDs are featured on all four of the Best of the Green Mountain Blues CDs.
His third CD, Solo Blue, features Blue as a solo artist in a mix of studio and live performances.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Blue Fox is a well-traveled bluesman from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Steve Blood of Three Mountain Lodge says, "He takes time with the kids, gets the place rockin'. EVERYONE likes his music." Pamela Polston of Seven Days Newspaper said. "Blue Fox's vocals are deep-lazy-growly-sexy, and his guitar playing is ultra-strength."
Art Edelstein of the Times Argus Newspaper says” One of the few authentic blues musicians in Vermont - well worth the listen.”
Blue is currently booking his next tour. Due to a big interest in his solo steel guitar/harmonic shows, it will be focusing on that style, as well as doing local shows with his band, Blue Fox & the Rockin’ Daddys.

In the 1980's, Blue played almost everyplace that had street musicians (Boston, New York, New Orleans, Austin, San Francisco, etc.) and quite a few that did not. "Blue Fox has been a fixture on the blues scene since he arrived in Vermont in 1990... Charlie Frazier, Good Citizen Magazine.

Two different persons were so inspired by a Blue Fox performance, they put on their own music festivals. (Bill Eustis - Brookfield Blues & Funk Festival & Sandy Bazzano - Pondstock)

He is well-known locally as a player of relentless energy, passion and showmanship." Charlie Frazier, Good Citizen Magazine.