The King Biscuit Time Columns
The Blues Online, #5
By Glenn Weiser

These are the archived columns I've written for my King Biscuit Time column, The Blues Online. - GW


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#5 - Blues-L
Glenn Weiser

   Wondering who played harp on an old Muddy Waters track you just heard on the radio? Going on a business trip and don’t know which honky-tonks feature live blues where you’ll be staying? Or are you an opinionated type up for a lively debate over who was greatest blues guitarist ever? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, subscribe to Blues – L. 
    Blues – L is the Internet’s premier blues discussion forum. The “L” stands for listserv, which is an email-based group limited to subscribers as a way of keeping out spam and sometimes moderating the tone of the exchanges. Founded in the early 1990’s, the mailing list now includes around 700 members, including several the world’s most devoted and knowledgeable blueshounds. Record producers, DJs, musicians, music writers, artist managers, and scholars as well as diehard aficionados will all speak up when the occasion merits. Many “zellers,” as they are known amongst themselves, will tirelessly discuss any blues-related topic, or “thread,” supply hard to find information, donate their two cents on controversial blues issues, and more. Ask anything about the blues here and somebody probably has the answer. It is this enormous collective knowledge that makes Blues – L one of the most of the most valuable online blues resources.        
    Topics include anything related to the blues. News items, such as the recent Ebay auction of Robert Johnson’s National guitar, a wooden body model reportedly discovered in a janitor’s closet in Dallas, are shared. Reading the latest edition of Blues-L, which I get in a digest form of several emails at once rather than as individual emails,  I see the fellow breaking this story, Salty Dog, even has the item number for anyone caring to bid (a steep opening price, $105,000, had no responses at this writing). One subscriber quickly identifies it as a Kalamazoo, and posts an article on the legendary singer’s instrument from the Toronto Blues News. Three more people react with comment, and a new thread is under way.               
    Another member, Pat Boyack, writes in wondering if some artists will be left out of the upcoming PBS TV blues series while others get an undeserved boost. Dick Waterman, who was Mississippi John Hurt’s manager in the 1960’s and is widely respected as an elder statesman of the blues, replies that Bobby Rush may stand to benefit from an episode Waterman understands will be devoted to Rush and B.B. King. B.B. is living quite comfortably these days, but Bobby is not faring as well and the publicity may help the aging guitarist’s career. I read on with interest.                              
    Want to know what blues related event took place on any given day of the year? P. W. Fenton tells you in his daily “On This Day” item. His September 8 entry reads, “On this day in 1961, Sonny Boy Williamson II recorded ‘Nine Below Zero’ with Otis Spann on piano, Robert Lockwood Jr. on guitar, Willie Dixon on bass, and Fred Below on drums. It was released as Checker 1003.” Cool.               
    These are only three items culled from one edition of Blues-L. If you want to subscribe, instructions for this can be found on the Blues-L FAQ Web page at www.blues.net/blues-FAQ.html. Before joining, however, and especially before you post anything, you should read the entire FAQ thoroughly. Several important rules of “netiquette” are laid out, starting with the advice to “lurk” – reading the discussions without participating  – for a while before chiming in. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”- by lurking first you’ll see how the discourse is best carried on.               
    When do decide to post, first and foremost be on topic and stick to the subject of blues. Politics, the Yankees, the Almighty, and the Dow are all fascinating but they don’t belong there. Next, be clear and matter-of-fact. All the nuances of speech and eye contact are lost in the medium of email, with the result that an innocent attempt to kid around with someone online can be taken the wrong way.                
    Above all, be civil if not diplomatic. Although all has been calm on Blues-L for six months or so that I’ve read it, “flame wars”- intense arguments - can flare up in any Internet discussion group, and the blues list is no exception. You should therefore handle potentially touchy subjects like whether white boys can really sing the blues with care. If you do choose to take a controversial stand and wind up taking flak, think twice before firing off a nasty reply that hundreds of people will read and you may regret later. In extreme situations, Blues – L’s moderators will step in and restore order.               
    I’ve had nothing but fun there, though. When I was researching Internet radio for my last column, several members responded to my queries with useful leads. When I was heading to Cape Cod for a vacation, someone on the list knew where a local blues bar (Harry’s in Hyannis) was. When I wondered whatever became of prewar guitar master Blind Blake, someone else informed me he had been hit by a trolley while trying to cross a street. And so on. All in all, Blues-L is highly worthwhile place where you can learn much, stay informed about blues-related events, and make friends with people whose love of the blues is strong as your own.       

© 2003 Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.                                                               

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