Friday, October 29, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
|Chester Burnett (no relation to Leo) a.k.a. Howlin' Wolf|
Talk about a career change! How do you go from being a bluesman to a marketing consultant?
OK, I was not exactly a bluesman. Bruce Iglauer from Alligator Records once told me that I’m not a bluesman, but a “musician who is influenced by the blues.”
Now I’m a marketing consultant. And my guitars are in storage. Sounds like a blues song to me. C’est la vie. As guitarists go, I was always a damn good writer.
But once I began to ponder the question, it didn’t take long to realize that
if you need a marketing consultant, you need look no further than your local bluesman.
Besides conveying their woes, blues singers have always prolifically and creatively marketed themselves, especially to the female population, through song.
The earliest bluesmen put themselves in direct competition with one another through a practice that became known as “cuttin’ heads.” Standing on opposite corners in dusty towns such as West Memphis and Helena, Arkansas, the likes of Johnny Shines and Sonny Boy Williamson worked up a storm to convince passersby to come to their corner, give a listen, and drop a dime.
No different than Macy’s and Gimbels, Beatles and Stones, McDonald’s and Burger King.
How else did bluesmen market themselves?
A classic self-marketer was a rotund singer-guitarist from Chicago named Chester Burnett (no relation to Leo). He knocked down the brand recognition factor by calling himself “Howlin’ Wolf.”
When the Wolf got to marketing himself through song, he was immediately able to turn a negative product feature into a benefit by billing himself as “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy.” He further reinforced that notion, describing his massive frame as “built for comfort, not built for speed.”
Wolf was not the only bluesman adept at brand recognition.
McKinley Morganfield, a sharecropper from Mississippi, moved to Chicago and
transformed himself into Muddy Waters, “the Hoochie Coochie Man.”
John Lee Hooker, a fellow Mississippian, did it with image. Although short and frail with a pronounced stutter, he dominated the stage with his dark glasses and fedora, becoming known as the “King of the Boogie.”
Bluesmen were no strangers to marketing concepts either. Slim Harpo put forth one of the most simple Unique Selling Propositions with his tune, “Got Love If You Want It.
The ultimate blues marketer was Robert Johnson. Unlike most bluesmen, he went by his given name. Johnson was known as the “King of the Delta Blues,” although not during his lifetime. His stature was elevated in death, mostly due to the mystery surrounding his early demise, along with the profound lack of information about his life, and a single, powerful story proclaiming that he
sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his talent.
Johnson’s almost century long legacy proves the art and marketing axiom that “less is more.”
Helmut Jahn, an architect and non-bluesman, stated that “Creativity has more to do with the elimination of the inessential than with inventing something new.”
George Carlin, another marketing genius, said about the blues,
“You don’t just need to know which notes to play, but why they need to be played.”
Hmm. Think I’ll head downstairs and dust off my Les Paul.