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Scissormen – Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues (CD/DVD Set)

CD: Self-Produced / DVD: Mugshot Productions /

CD – 15 Tracks; Total runtime: 66:35 minutes / DVD: 90 minutes

When a blues legend passes on, we often say that they leave behind “some big shoes to fill.” In this CD/DVD set, Big Shoes, the Scissormen, a two-man juke joint band, take this idea a step further. In the title track, Ted Drozdowski, a Mississippi Delta-style slide guitarist/singer/songwriter, says he wants to “fill his own big shoes.” That means keeping the blues alive is not just about performing classic blues tunes. It’s also about taking the music into the future by experimenting with original songs and unique styles. He playfully fixes this image in the minds of viewers throughout the film by sporting his flamboyantly-colored size 12 shoes.

In addition to his musical experience, Drozdowski’s three decades as an acclaimed music journalist made him the perfect person to collaborate with documentary filmmaker, Robert Mugge, in creating this 90-minute film that (to quote the DVD jacket) is “part road movie, part concert film, part history lesson and part state-of-the-art genre report.” Joining Drozdowski in this outing is original Scissormen drummer, R. L. (Rob) Hulsman. (Matt Snow joined the group as drummer in late 2010.)

The film follows the Scissormen on a midwestern tour, stopping in Redkey, IN, Indianapolis and Cleveland. Plus, there’s a stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum. (Don’t miss the amusing story in this segment about Howlin’ Wolf’s suitcase.) The live concert footage was shot at the Key Palace Theatre in Redkey, and there is an interesting conversation with the proprietor, Charlie Noble. Noble has since passed on, and this CD/DVD is dedicated to him. Noble built the Key Palace Theatre and kept it running, largely with his own money. This was one of the things that struck me most about this film…the fact that blues club owners and blues musicians are not generally getting rich off the music. They are doing this type of work because they enjoy it and are passionate about the keeping the blues alive – a mission obviously shared by Drozdowski.

Big Shoes is the Scissormen’s 5th CD, with much of it serving as homage to Drozdowski’s musical influences, such as Jessie Mae Hemphill, R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Drozdowski mentions McDowell’s ability to tell a story in song, and this element is clearly present in the Scissormen’s lyrics. Certainly, a journalistic background also contributes to this story-telling ability. Another skill the Scissormen have picked up from their blues predecessors is showmanship. In any live performance, you’re likely to see them playing the guitar and percussion with whatever objects are handy at the venue. There are also shots of Drozdowski playing his guitar while it is held by (or in front of) a nervous, but smiling, female fan.

As mentioned above, most of the songs included in Big Shoes are heavy on storyline, and Drozdowski effectively uses his slide to accentuate the considerable emotions they convey. The 3rd cut, Mattie Sweet Mattie is about a woman in jail for stabbing someone, and the singer who wishes he could help her in some way. My favorite song, and perhaps the moodiest of the entire CD, is the 5th cut, “Tupelo,” about a 1938 flood. This one adds an echo to help create an eerie, almost desperate feel, while the lyrics tell you this flood was God’s revenge on the people of Tupelo.

This CD makes a valuable supplement to the DVD. In terms of choosing this CD for pure listening pleasure, however, I felt the slide playing lacked a bit in variety – although it’s entirely possible that someone well-versed in Mississippi Delta-style slide might notice more stylistic variation than I did. Either way, my advice would be to watch the DVD before playing the CD, so that you will have a mental picture to accompany and enhance your understanding of the music.

In the lyrics of the title track “Big Shoes,” Drozdowski objects to keeping the blues alive by simply repeating the classics: “There’s ten-thousand different bands trying to play the same damn song.” With this in mind, the Scissormen use Big Shoes not only to pay tribute to the past, but also to showcase their own original style. As Drozdowski sings, “The blues ain’t dipped in amber. Gotta fill my own big shoes.” It’s his mission - a noble one – and Big Shoes invites you to share in it.

Reviewer Sheila Skilling is a self-professed “blues fan by marriage,” who was hooked by her husband’s musical preferences, but reeled in by the live performances of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and others. She lives in the Minneapolis area.

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