Young Blues Guitarist Honors the Late Great Singer
on Eve of HBO Biopic Premiere
Listen to “Careless Love” Here,
Today, on the eve of HBO’s premiere of “Bessie”, a biopic honoring the late great Blues singer, Sunny has released her own version of “Careless Love”, which Smith helped to make famous.
“Bessie Smith is one of my favorite Blues women,” says War, “and this song lyrically really speaks to me. I love how she speaks of love as if it is a living being. That's how I like to think of love, some kind of monster that possesses and tortures you.”
"’You fly through my head like wine…’"
More About Sunny War
Sunny War has the Blues in her blood, the latest in a long line of musicians expressing the African American experience through song. Like many before her, she came to it humbly, through hard times and good, a train-hopping squatter from Nashville literally singing for her supper until she landed in Venice Beach and the crowds started to gather. Soon cultural beacons and gatekeepers alike were singing her praise, and KCRW was spinning her tunes.
“Can someone please tell us why Sunny War isn't famous?” –Los Angles Times
“War has the sob and throb of Billie Holiday — if Lady Day had emerged in Mississippi and not Harlem during the Depression. As if Bukka White, not Lester Young, were her mentor. Like Billie, War undersings. She doesn’t push the notes — the notes push her.” - Michael Simmons, L.A Weekly
Sunny War is channeling Bessie Smith today, and it’s true she’s got the Blues in her blood. But being “retro” – a revivalist – isn’t really Sunny’s thing, any more than being “punk” is her thing, despite her penchant for Bad Brains stickers, anarchist T-shirts and the fact that her “other band” is called Anus Kings.
In fact Sunny is just making it up as she goes. A mind-blowing guitarist whose technique has been compared to “a young Robert Johnson”, she is largely self-taught, developing her own claw-hammer fingerpicking style while trying to learn to play the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”
“…her right thumb plunks the bass part while her forefinger upstrokes notes and chords, leaving the other three fingers unused… Her fingers are long and strong – Robert Johnson hands – in jarring contrast to the waif they’re attached to. The walking bass line sounds like a hammer striking piano keys in perfect meter, while the fills are dynamic flurries – like cluster bombs.” - Michael Simmons, L.A Weekly
And yet Sunny War is upholding a tradition, in the same way Jack White, the Black Keys, the Carolina Chocolate Drops or Hurray for the Riff Raff uphold the tradition, channeling a deep legacy of American “folk” tradition and making it their own.