With as many good CDs as we receive for review, it can be a real challenge to find the time to write about anything other than the music itself, which is why it’s taken us a bit longer than it should have to tell you about this book of musician portraits shot over the past decade by European photographer Beate Sandor.
showtime: Kings & Queens from A to Z contains images of more than 120 mostly blues artists captured during performances that took place from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis, to Tampa, to Switzerland, France, and Sandor’s hometown of Vienna, Austria. Having been taken between 2004 and 2014, the book of course includes photos of many musicians who are no longer with us, including, for example, B.B. King, David Honeyboy Edwards, Koko Taylor, Etta James, Allen Toussaint, Percy Sledge, Michael Burks, James Brown, Willie Kent, Chuck Brown, Solomon Burke, Sharon Jones, and Marva Wright, which alone makes this a worthwhile volume for any true blues fan’s coffee table.
You’ll also find pictures of such living music greats as John Primer, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Bob Stroger, Eddie Shaw, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, Lazy Lester, Chris Thomas King, Dave Mason, Bobby Rush, John Mayall, Bryan Lee, James Blood Ulmer, Lucky Peterson, Jon Cleary, Liz Mandeville, Lil’ Ed Williams, Mitch Woods, Otis Taylor, Dickey Betts, and The Blind Boys of Alabama, as well as regional and rising acts like Nikki Hill, Trombone Shorty, Eric Lindell, Eden Brent, Dani Wilde, Shakura S’Aida, Hans Theessink, Dawn Tyler Watson, Madeleine Peyroux, and Sue Foley. With proceeds from the book benefiting the Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sandor also included photos of a number of MMRF artists, including Beverly “Guitar” Watson, Little Freddie King, Cool John Ferguson, and the late Willie King.
Although a few of the photos are a little blurred, and Sandor tends to favor rather extreme close-ups of many artists (often choosing to capture just the performers’ heads or faces where other photographers might be inclined to offer a fuller picture of them singing or playing their instruments to more effectively convey the artists’ stage presence, as, for example, with the likes of Bernard Allison, Bobby Rush, Dani Wilde, John Mayall, Jon Cleary, Dave Mason, and Popa Chubby), there’s plenty to like here, with the shots of B.B. King, Bryan Lee, David Honeyboy Edwards, James Blood Ulmer, and a two-page spread of Dr. John being perhaps some of the most powerful examples of Sandor’s work.
While the idea of spending a decade traveling the world taking pictures of blues acts might seem appealing (and we’re sure that it often was), it’s obvious from this finished product that this project was a true labor of love on Sandor’s part, requiring both an enormous amount of time and money to bring to fruition. Kudos and thanks to Sandor for sticking with it in order to be able to deliver this impressive pictorial chapter in blues and music history.