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Ripped Off! How the blues was stolen

For the bluesmen of yore, the tradition of copying standards was a way of life. But when big business got involved, this honorary way of working was ripe for abuse…

That’s my shit,” declares Linsey Alexander to the packed-out venue in north Chicago. “I play my own shit, not like Eric Clapton and those motherfuckers,” he says, before continuing one of his legendary raucous performances that have seen him inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall Of Fame and win multiple awards while in his seventies. The set is all his own material. The songs have all the traditional elements of the blues, the beat, the sexual innuendo and the walking bass, but the songs are still his own, not like some performers who, as Alexander intimates, have appropriated the music of others. Although he didn’t elaborate, he was possibly referring to Clapton’s 1974 hit Give Me Strength. The record gave Clapton full writing credit but, according to Chicago singer-songwriter Louise King Mathews, it was she who in fact wrote the song in 1939, before Clapton had even been born. How he came to believe he wrote it himself, Mathews couldn’t understand.

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