The subversive nature of the blues has always appealed to singer and harmonica player Mark Hummel.
“The blues was code,” said Hummel, for a lot of things that African Americans couldn’t say in the early half of the last century.
“When they sang about ‘Mr. Charlie,’ they were talking about all white people,” added the 55-year-old, who’s performing with his group, The Blues Survivors, in Red Deer on Thursday, Feb. 24. The Elk’s Lodge concert features guitarist Rusty Zinn.
There were also all kinds of sexual innuendo and double entendres in the blues that evolved from poor, Southern blacks releasing tensions and frustrations through their music.
The form that influenced jazz and later spawned rock ’n’ roll, R&B and soul, has become a major cultural contribution the U.S. has made to the world, said Hummel.
“It’s something we can definitely call our own.”
While the Connecticut native grew up in California listening to all kinds of music, from psychedelic rock to jazz and country, he found himself always returning to the blues because of its very apart-ness.
“Feeling like an outsider or not being part of the status quo — as a teenager, I could relate to that part of it,” said Hummel.
He soon took up the harmonica, or blues harp, because “the mystery of it appealed to me. You can’t see what’s being done or how it’s being played.”
Hummel has since written for an instructional website on harmonica playing but had no real training himself, apart from tips from friends.
“I mostly just listened to records. I’d put a needle down on the record and go back over the same part again and again until I learned how to play it . . . I’d slow the turntable down from 33 1/3 to 16. . . .”
Hummel absorbed the music of such harp blowers as Little Walter, James Cotton and Sonny Boy Williamson. He later went on to perform with local bluesmen, including Cool Papa, Boogie Jake, Mississippi Johnny Waters and Sonny Lane before founding the popular Blues Survivors Band in the 1980s.
It has since toured throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
Hummel remembers a time when he considered himself a blues purist and mostly sang slow, hurtin’ songs. “Now I do all different beats — jazzier stuff, bluesier stuff, R&B stuff . . . dancing is a must.”
He invites everyone down to get subversive.
Tickets are $20 through the website, www.centralmusicfest.com.