BLUES: Jimmy Rogers, Belfast

Muddy Waters' mojo worker, the man to blame for heavy metal, awes Colin Harper
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The Independent Culture
He was born Jimmy Lane in Mississippi in 1924 and has played guitar alongside the greats of the blues since 1947. If Jimmy Rogers told you he was the blues there wouldn't be many contenders still around to argue the toss. His early recording career, under the Rogers pseudonym or with late harmonica genius Little Walter Jacobs, ran parallel with that of Muddy Waters. When Chess finally allowed Waters into a studio with a full electric band, Rogers was the man who plugged into a primitive amp and blistered on the songs that fired an island of white, middle-class, British, would-be guitar heroes.

Between 1951 and 1955, Waters's band defined Chicago blues with the original versions of virtually all the songs that have cropped up on Yardbirds albums and beer commercials ever since, after which Rogers went out on his own with a stream of generic US solo hits. Gary Moore's recent cover of one, "Walking By Myself" ensured that he needn't work again. So to see a towering figure of 20th-century music subjecting himself to long drives and plane rides round the outer reaches of Europe at such an age is an awesome thing. It's all he knows, apparently, and what would he do if he stopped? The fact is that Rogers's status is beyond contention. Furthermore, he can actually still produce the goods.

Arriving into Belfast from London via Dublin barely an hour before showtime, the whole band - leather trenchcoats, big jewellery and old-time courtesy in tow - were in a visibly exhausted state. The gig was in the Empire Music Hall, Belfast's most sumptuous "new" venue -which was probably still fielding custard pie acts when Rogers was preparing himself to take a good deal of the blame for heavy metal, half a century back.

The band featured Jimmy Lane Jnr on lead guitar, Barrelhouse Chuck (yes, really) on piano/ vocals, Freddie Crawford on bass, ex-Ray Charles man Ted Harvey on drums and the steaming Scott Bradbury on harp. Rogers himself came on in the fourth number. There was a tangible feeling of being in the presence of someone whose achievements are almost beyond comprehension, and a last link to another age.

Impressively tall, dressed in black and gently but effectively stroking a black Gibson 355 with no effects pedals whatsoever, he radiated a love for his craft and a delight to be here and playing for an audience. He introduced the numbers he knew we all knew - "Big Boss Man", "Walking By Myself", and intoxicating, fiery "Mojo Working" - with pristine clarity, and scatted mischievously through the ones not even his band members, it transpired, could put a title to.

"I'm tired and I'm travelling," began one song, and discreet enquiries yielded only blank expressions afterwards from the players in the dressing room. He was probably making it up, but that's the essence of the blues and this was certainly the real thing.