By now, you may have heard me lecture on the fact that "House" is TV's best drama and Hugh Laurie is the best drama actor. I do that sometimes; I also blather about his comedy skills, which remain semi-tucked away in England.
Now there's more; he's also a bluesman who is the center of a terrific PBS special. In some markets -- including East Lansing and Cincinnati -- that airs at 9 p.m. Friday. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
The purpose of Englishmen, it sees, is
to tell us what we've overlooked.
Often, that involves the old blues
greats; in the 1970s, they drew tiny crowds at home, huge ones in
Europe. “They were exiled prophets, if you will,” Hugh Laurie
They already had big fans in England,
including Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Laurie, who has a new blues
album and PBS special. “As soon as I heard my first Willie Dixon
song, I was on the hunt,” said Laurie, 52. “I would spend my
pocket money on whatever blues record I could find.”
Fans of “House” – which starts
its eighth, and maybe last, season Monday – have seen glimpses of
this. Dr. Gregory House (Laurie) sometimes obsesses on his guitar or
“When Dr. House sits down at the
piano for solace ..., it's not really an act,” said David Horn,
PBS' “Great Performances” producer. “Hugh Laurie really knows
his way around a keyboard.”
And he knows about getting lost in the
music at home.“I'll look at my watch and go, 'Oh my God, it's 2
o'clock in the morning and I have to be up at 4.'”
Music is one of many things he does
well. “There's barely a field he hasn't conquered,” Horn said.
One of the first was crew. Laurie was a
champion oarsman – just like his dad, the late Dr. Ran Laurie, a
1948 Olympic gold-medalist. When he had to drop the sport because of
illness, he joined Cambridge classmate Stephen Fry for a comedy team.
For decades, Laurie was known for
comedy – “Blackadder,” “Jeeves and Wooster,” “A Bit of
Fry and Laurie” – or for nothing. For many viewers, he was an
unknown when “House” began.
“It's amazing that I was able to sort
of forge a new identity (in the U.S.),” he said. “I arrived with
as blank a canvas as canvases get.”
As the darkly acerbic Dr. House, he
found instant success – six straight Emmy nominations (with no
wins), six straight Golden Globe nominations (with two wins). Along
the way, he discussed his love of the blues; this past year, Warner
Bros. Records suggested a New Orleans album.
“I could feel the word 'no' rising up
in me,” Laurie said, “(but) I thought, 'No, wait a minute, this
is not going to come my way again.'”
The project grew, adding top
instrumentalists, including a horns arranged by Allen Toussaint.
Laurie did the keyboards and vocals – with Tom Jones, Irma Thomas
and Dr. John joining for a few tracks.
Warner also suggested a PBS special.
“Any time there's an opportunity … to have a celebrity shine a
light on a particular styl of music that people wouldn't ordinarily
listen to, sign me up,” Horn says.
Parts of the hour were makeshift,
Laurie said. “I bought this very wonderful car (a classic
convertible) in Texas and drove to New Orleans, sort of making it up
as we went along.”
The peak came in New Orleans, he said.
“It has a sort of fragrance and spirit to me, that even as a young
English boy, thousands of miles across the ocean, it seemed to reach
This is the city he imagined when
hearing those Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters records 40 years ago,
Laurie said. It thrives, even after Hurricane Katrina. “It is
actually humbling to behold people who stared death in the face and
found a way to carry on and … share joy with that sense of
Hugh Laurie, everywhere
– On PBS: “Hugh Laurie: Let Them
Talk – A Celebrations of New Orleans Blues,” a “Great
Performances” special, 9 p.m. Friday (check local listings)
– On Fox: “House” opens its
season at 9 p.m. Monday, with Dr. House in prison
– On record: “Let Them Talk,”
Warner Bros. Records; see www.hughlaurieblues.com
– In video stores: “Blackadder,”
“A Bit of Fry and Laurie,” “Jeeves and Wooster,” more