A background summary
Eric Bibb’s debut CD for Dixie Frog/Stony Plain — Deeper in the Well — may well have been one of the most important roots music albums of recent years. Not only does it cross genres — folk, gospel-infused acoustic blues, and down-home country — but it offers a sound steeped in the rural Louisiana where it was recorded.
It also offers the spirit of hope and optimism in difficult times, in a friendly, warm-hearted and generous manner. To find your way though these darker days, he seems to say, you have to dig — as the album title says — “Deeper in the Well.”
Eric Bibb’s father, Leon Bibb, certainly helped his son dig a little deeper. An acclaimed singer in stage musicals and a senior figure on the New York folk scene of the 1960s, Leon gave his son his first guitar when he was seven, and introduced him to a who’s-who of musical icons. Eric’s godfather was actor singer and activist Paul Robeson; his uncle was jazz pianist and composer John Lewis. Family friends included Odetta, Pete Seeger and Josh White.
A professional player at 16, playing in the house band for his father’s television talent show, Something New, Eric went on to study (psychology and Russian) at Columbia University, but "after a while it just didn't make much sense; I didn't understand why I was at this Ivy League school with all these kids who didn't know anything about what I knew about," he says now. Aged 19, he left for Paris, where a meeting with American studio guitarist Mickey Baker focused his interest in blues guitar.
A few years later he moved to Sweden and settled in Stockholm, where he found a creative environment that, oddly, reminded him of his teenage days in Greenwich Village. He made a handful of albums, starting in 1972, and began meeting and playing with local musicians as well as newcomers from all over the world. He laughs: “There was a budding world music scene going on, long before it became a marketing concept."
His breakthrough album, Good Stuff, was released in 1997 and led to Eric signing to a British label, which in turn released Me to You, featuring appearances from some of his personal heroes, among them Pops and Mavis Staples and Taj Mahal.
The album furthered Bibb's international reputation and was followed by tours of the UK, the United States, Canada, France, Sweden and Germany. And so it went through the 90s and the first decade of the new century — he made consistently good records, and built audiences from Stockholm to Sydney, Vancouver to Vienna, Paris to Peoria, New Orleans to Newcastle, and from B.B. King’s club in New York to the Bluebird Café in Nashville.
Been greeted like a tramp, greeted like a star
From Albert Hall to rundown bars
I’ve seen it all — in my time
— Eric Bibb
A distinguished history
Over the course of many album releases over the years Bibb has been nominated for multiple Blues Music Awards in several categories. In addition to the Grammy-nominated Shakin’ a Tailfeather children’s album (with Taj Mahal and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir), other noted albums included Friends, which featured Odetta, Charlie Musselwhite, Guy Davis and Mahal as special guests. Two collaborations with his father (who lives in Vancouver) were A Family Affair and Praising Peace: A Tribute to Paul Robeson, which Stony Plain released in 2006. More recent was his 2010 Booker’s Guitar, a tribute to blues pioneer Bukka White, on which he played White’s steel-bodied National guitar.
A four-decade career, 35 albums, countless radio and television shows and non-stop touring have given Eric Bibb a world view that’s tempered by curiosity and compassion, and the ability to see himself in other peoples’ shoes.
Gotta help one another
Like the ol’ folks used to do
A hand is on the gate
Let a brother walk through
— Eric Bibb
That’s certainly the hallmark of his records for Stony Plain, the Edmonton, Canada-based international roots music label.
An Eric Bibb performance — and his recent Dixie Frog/Stony Plain recording and the one to come later this year — is an enriching experience, both musically and spiritually.
Music is more than a style or a fashion
It’s ‘bout the swing, the soul and the passion
If I feel it — that’s good enough for me
— Eric Bibb
And it’s more than excellent enough for the rest of us.