In Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey: A Journey To Music’s Heart & Soul, the former Rolling Stone bassist informs and entertains about the blues, armed with maps, photographs, song timelines, lyric slang definitions, and story after story. A spin-off double-CD and DVD is also in the works and a two-hour documentary airs on Bravo November 1-3.
“This project started with a radio series that never materialized,” says Wyman, who planned to do thirteen half-hour specials on such greats as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. After wrapping the Howlin’ Wolf pilot, Wyman was told the project should be a television special. Wyman then further expanded the project to include a book, teaming with writer Richard Havers to “sort through” the blues archives he’d accumulated over forty years, and the monumental research that followed.
“There was difficulty knowing what was the truth and what was hearsay and legend, but in the end I think we came close,” Wyman says. For two years, he went through books, documents, his personal diaries, memories and recorded conversations of when he’d met or played with such important figures as Son House, John Lee Hooker and his favorite, “Mr. Howlin’,” as Wyman sometimes refers to Howlin’ Wolf.
He had also amassed another 800 vinyl blues albums and 600 CDs, and poured through all the liner notes, even though the credits weren’t always accurate. He investigated birth names, dates and places for artists who had multiple identities. “John Lee Hooker recorded for different record labels under eight to ten different names,” Wyman notes.
As well as the legends, the 400-page book covers artists who may only have recorded three sides. And there’s a wonderful nod to “those low down dirty blues,” naughty songs from the Twenties and Thirties, which would require a parental advisory sticker today. Lucille Bogen recorded a song called “Shave ‘Em Dry,” described in the book as “without a doubt the dirtiest song ever recorded.” Wyman recites the lyric recently bleeped on Late Night With Conan O’Brien: “I’ve got nipples on my titties, as big as your thumb/I’ve got something between my legs to make a dead man cum.”
“That’s the cleanest verse,” he half-jokes. “A lot of people think that the blues is a sad music, but the blues can be hilarious.” Wyman’s intention for Blues Odyssey was to parlay his genuine excitement for the blues within its pages. “I’ve got lots of blues books that are very boring, and they’re great but a heavy read,” he says. “You have to be a blues fanatic to get through them, and I wanted to make a book that was visual for everybody, with many different things in it.”