Reverend Shawn Amos has a obligation to bring his musical ancestors back to life. Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter are some of the black American blues pioneers he wanted keep alive on The Cause Of It All, a collection of 10 classic tracks revisited by Amos, for the sake of longevity.
On The Cause of It All, Amos is a blues conduit, keeping the oral and musical history of his blues forefathers alive and well. Back then, all speak to a time a troubles, isolation, and equality, which speak, reflecting the current days all too well.
A follow up to Amos’ Blue Sky, in 2020, The Cause of It All features renditions of Willie Dixon’s tale of acceptance and survival on “I’m Ready.” Written in 1954, the song was originally recorded by Muddy Waters and stretched genres throughout the decades with covers by Aerosmith and Eric Burdon. Taking on a “parlor music” version of the classic, Amos croons I got a axe handle pistol on a graveyard frame / That shoots tombstone bullets wearing balls and chain / I’m drinkin’ TNT smokin’ dynamite / I hope some screwball start a fight.
All through The Cause Of It All, Amos channels another musical relative with another Dixon classic “Spoonful,’ a tale of man’s more sinister cravings, which was first recorded in 1960 by Howlin’ Wolf—and also covered by Etta James and Henry Fuqua, and Cream. “Willie Dixon is the Gershwin of blues,” says Amos of the track, which has been a staple in his setlist since his earlier club days in Los Angeles.
“Goin’ To The Church” by Lester Butler, the late frontman of The Red Devils, who passed away in 1998, and the only white artist featured on the album is “a rare modern blues that gets it right, that really swings,” says Amos.
“There’s been a part of my life, as a blues musician, where I’ve wanted to reclaim songs stolen by white artists,” says Amos. “Blues music is sort of the ground zero for a cultural appropriation, so over the last number of years, I’ve been taking songs that were blues songs by white artists who were stealing from black artists, and trying to steal them back.”
Mostly stuck in Chicago and Delta blues and elements of its deeper roots, Amos also wanted to capture the guitar-and-harmonic blues duos of that bygone era. “So much of my career, I’ve been touching upon different areas of the blues, or the nexus of blues that has died a little bit,” says Amos. “My favorite era was primarily the 1960s Chicago blues, and the blues duos where one guy plays guitar and the other played the harmonica. All of that faded for some reason into more guitar and drums, or something like The White Stripes—basically, white guys doing rock blues.”
On The Cause Of It All, Amos also revisits on Howlin’ Wolf’s tale of heartache—I love my baby, but she’s the cause of it all —on “Color and Kind,” and John Lee Hooker’s gut wrenching recount of loss on “Serves Me Right to Suffer.”
“The only way to get into that song is to just dive into the your own pain,” says Amos of Hooker’s emotive storytelling. “That’s the only way to do it.”
Amos takes more liberty channeling Waters in his reimagining of “Baby Please Don’t Go,” a song made famous by Big Joe Williams in 1935, through Little Walter’s 1952 “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer,” another track that has remained in Amos’ live sets throughout the years. Amos also paid homage to the Louisiana blues legend on Blue Sky track “Stranger Than Today” referencing Walter’s real name Marion Walker Jacobs.
Moving through three Muddy Waters’ tracks, Amos captures the prowling “Still a Fool,” originally released in 1951, the harmonica soaring “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and closing track “Little Anna Mae,” a 1948 B-Side by the “father of Chicago Blues,” capturing the delicate nature of the Waters’ lovelorn tale.
Playing songs like “Spoonful” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” live for years, for Amos, the actual recording of these tracks took on an entirely different spirit.
“Some of these songs scared the hell out of me,” says Amos. “There was a greater degree of reinvention of the songs—even with the ones that we knew—that I didn’t anticipate. And then there were songs ‘Serves Me Right to Suffer,’ which is so personally important to me, but I’ve never performed it, but I just felt compelled to record. It scared the hell out of me, because there’s just nothing to hide behind in that song.”
There are two sides to The Cause Of It All—five electric songs and five acoustic songs.
“I envisioned the acoustic songs differently,” shares Amos. “The original versions, they’re full of bluster, this bravado and machismo and that swagger, which is a beautiful part of that era of the blues, and I was interested in taking those songs and making them quiet and vulnerable. For the electric stuff, it was more about how can I get into that emotional state. They’re painful, and there are some cathartic moments.”
For Amos, who has written a book, set for release in 2022, and is hosting the “The Cause of It All” podcast, out this summer, featuring conversations on blues, legacy, and race, the album is a gift to blues, keeping its history and stories alive.
“I think it’s sort of an obligation of every blues artists at some point in time to take some of these older songs and bring some life to them, not because they necessarily need to be reinvented, but because they need to be remembered,” says Amos. “If history dies, and if you don’t find a way to keep it alive, so much of this music is hanging on by a thread in terms of its relevance and its ability to capture conversation in pop culture, so I just wanted to do my part.”