Guest Artist Bio
Let Them Talk is the first album to be recorded by Hugh Laurie after signing to Warner Bros Records in 2010. Produced by Joe Henry and recorded in Los Angeles and New Orleans, the album is a celebration of New Orleans blues, a genre that drives Laurie's musical raison d'être.
Spiritually inspired by genre albums like Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club and T-Bone Burnett's O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, Let Them Talk brings together an extraordinary selection of heritage tracks, renowned musicians and vocal legends to champion this much neglected body of work.
Laurie drives the album on piano and vocals, and is joined in the studio by the "Queen of New Orleans," Irma Thomas, blues piano and horns supremo Allen Toussaint, vocal legend Sir Tom Jones and in an especially momentous collaboration on "After You've Gone" by his lifelong hero, Dr. John.
Hugh Laurie writes:
I was not born in Alabama in the 1890s. Let this record show that I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south. If that weren't bad enough, I'm also an actor: one of those pampered ninnies who hasn't bought a loaf of bread in a decade and can't find his way through an airport without a babysitter.
Worst of all, I've broken a cardinal rule of art, music, and career paths: actors are supposed to act, and musicians are supposed to music. You don't buy fish from a dentist, or ask a plumber for financial advice, so why listen to an actor's music?
The answer is – there is no answer. If you care about provenance and genealogy, then you should try elsewhere, because I have nothing in your size.
I started piano lessons at the age of 6 with Mrs. Hare. I stuck it for about three months, grinding through Elementary Piano Book One until we reached "Swanee River" by Stephen Foster. Now you could hardly call "Swanee River" a blues song –
in one of its earliest editions, the score was sold as "An Ethiopian Melody" – but it's a lot closer than the French lullabies and comical Polish dances that made up the rest of that hellish book.
The day arrived, and Mrs. Hare turned the page: "Swanee River," she read. And then, with a curl of her hairy lip, she read the subtitle: "'Negro Spiritual –Slightly Syncopated.' Oh dear me no.…." With that, she flicked the page to "Le Tigre Et L'Elephant," or some other unholy nightmare, and my relationship with formal music instruction ended.
And then one day a song came on the radio – I'm pretty sure it was "I Can't Quit You Baby" by Willie Dixon – and my whole life changed. Since then, the blues have made me laugh, weep, dance. . .
At the centre of this magical new kingdom stood the golden city of New Orleans. In my imagination, it just straight hummed with music, romance, joy, despair; its rhythms got into my gawky English frame and, at times, made me so happy, and sad, I just didn't know what to do with myself. New Orleans was my Jerusalem. (The question of why a soft-handed English schoolboy should be touched by music born of slavery and oppression in another city, on another continent, in another century, is for a thousand others to answer before me: from Korner to Clapton, the Rolling Stones to the Joolsing Hollands.)
Over the next decade, I consumed all the guitarists I could find: Charley Patton and Lead Belly, Skip James, Scrapper Blackwell, all the Blinds (Lemon Jefferson, Blake, Willie Johnson, Willie McTell), Son House, Lightnin' Hopkins, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and so many more.
And then there were the towering piano players: Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Roosevelt Sykes, Leroy Carr, Jelly Roll Morton, Champion Jack Dupree, Tuts Washington, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Allen Toussaint and Dr John.
These great artists lived it as they played it: All of them knew the price of a loaf of bread and most had times in their lives when they couldn't scrape it together.
But at the same time, I could never bear to see this music confined to a glass cabinet, under the heading Culture: Only To Be Handled By Elderly Black Men. That way lies the grave, for the blues and just about everything else.
So that's my only credential – my one dog-eared ID card that I hope will get me through the velvet ropes and into your heart. I love this music, as authentically as I know how, and I want you to love it too. And if you get a thousandth of the pleasure from it that I've had, we're all ahead of the game.