The American Folk Blues Festival was a music festival that toured Europe as an annual event for several years beginning in 1962. It introduced audiences in Europe, including the UK, to leading blues performers of the day such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson, most of whom had never previously performed outside the US. The tours attracted substantial media coverage, including TV shows, and contributed to the growth of the audience for blues music in Europe.
German jazz publicist Joachim-Ernst Berendt first had the idea of bringing original African-American blues performers to Europe. Jazz had become very popular, and rock and roll was just gaining a foothold, and both genres drew influences directly back to the blues. Berendt thought that European audiences would flock to concert halls to see them in person.
Promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau brought this idea to reality. By contacting Willie Dixon, an influential blues composer and bassist from Chicago, they were given access to the blues culture of the southern United States. The first festival was held in 1962, and they continued almost annually until 1972, after an eight-year hiatus reviving the festival in 1980 until its final performance in 1985.
The concerts featured some of the leading blues artists of the 1960s, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson, some playing in unique combinations such as T-Bone Walker playing guitar for pianist Memphis Slim, Otis Rush with Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson with Muddy Waters. The Festival DVDs include the only known footage of Little Walter, and rare recordings of John Lee Hooker playing harmonica.
Attendees at Manchester in 1962, the first ever venue for the festival in Britain, included Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and Jimmy Page. Subsequent attendees at the first London festivals are believed to have also included such influential musicians as Eric Burdon, Eric Clapton, and Steve Winwood. Collectively these were the primary movers in the blues explosion that would lead to the British Invasion.
Sonny Boy Williamson's visit to London with the 1963 festival led to him spending a year in Europe including recording the Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds album, (first released on Star-Club Records in 1965), and recording with The Animals.
Recorded live for TV broadcast throughout Britain, these historic performances have been unseen for nearly 40 years. Filmed with superb camera work and pristine sound, 14 complete performances and 4 bonus performances are included by Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Turner, Junior Wells, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Between 1963 and 1966 huge British tours were undertaken by the likes of Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf, and Junior Wells. This release in the American Folk-Blues Festivals gathers footage from these tours, providing an amazing document of a historic time.
Watch while you still can and definitely get the DVD
Available on DVD:
The American Folk Blues Festival 1962–1966, Vols 1–3 (black and white, recorded live at the Baden-Baden studio of the German public radio and TV network ARD, and (volume 3) of the Danish national broadcaster. The DVD was by Reelin' In The Years Productions.
American Folk-Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963–1966