"This is a welcome addition to every blues fan’s collection."
-Blues Music Magazine
by Joseph A. Rosen
Schiffer Publishing $30
Years ago, when writing about Pinetop Perkins, I wrote, “I’ve heard that the eyes are the windows to the soul. With Pinetop Perkins, I believe it’s his hands that light the way, speaking volumes about his life and telling as much about the man as the man himself.”
With the publication of Blues Hands, award-winning photographer Joe Rosen has immersed himself and his art into that concept to explore the life and music of 95 blues luminaries. From legends like B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, and others to newcomers like Devon Allman, and Samantha Fish, Rosen’s cropped images capture so very much more than just hands on instruments. These pictures capture the moment when a musician’s inner emotion meets the musical notes which ultimately touches the hearts of audiences.
The aged fingers of Perkins, Honeyboy Edwards, LC Ulmer, Eddie Shaw, Louisiana Red, B.B. King, and “Scrap Iron” Robinson tell stories of hard working Delta days. While artists like Lil’ Ed Williams, Rory Block, Kenny Neal, Roy Rogers, Lazy Lester, and others have mature hands that illustrate the effects of enduring a lifetime of rigorous road travel.
Whether Rosen’s subjects’ hands are framed by tattoos or embellished with sparkling jewelry or slide, each set of appendages is as unique as the music the subject creates. One can almost anticipate the notes Derek Trucks is about to play. Ditto the sustain of Chuck Campbell’s Sacred Steel guitar or the vibrato B.B. King is about to broadcast.
It’s not only about hands on strings. There is a captivating joy Rosen captures in the hands of vocalists like Al Green, James Brown, Irma Thomas, Maxine Brown, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Mavis Staples.
And there are the instruments. Though the hands are the focal point, the weathered instruments are the co-stars. Neal’s battered Telecaster, Susan Tedeschi’s and Allman’s autographed axes, Smokin’ Joe Kubek’s white Strat, Richie Havens’ curley strings, Allen Toussaint’s regal piano, and so many more simply complete the visual story.
Each artist also has a small blurb which gives a brief biography and identifies where and when each photo was taken. Finally, Rosen accompanied Bluzapalooza’s tour of Iraq and Kuwait in 2008. His picture of Shemekia Copeland is from that experience. As Copeland sings, she is surrounded by the joyous hands of U.S. soldiers on break from the horrors of war. Appropriately, this is the only picture in the book, which captures the joy of fans who adore the fruits of the blues. This is a welcome addition to every blues fan’s collection.
[Full disclosure: Joe Rosen is a contributing photographer to Blues Music Magazine and his pictures have been a major part of each issue.]
– Art Tipaldi