the blues


 
the blues
 
* Introduction * Where to Begin with the blues * Showcase of bluesmen * Chess Recording Label *
* Blues Hits & Eric Clapton * Blues Musicians to Investigate * Soul / R&B * Great Blues Variety Samplers *


Introduction to the blues
--personal opinion and observations--

The blues is the musical undercurrent flowing beneath much of jazz, country,  rock, and even some American classical music (George Gershwin - "Rhapsody In Blue").  The blues has been called "the original music born on American soil".  So why aren't more people familiar with the bluesmen (and blueswomen) who wrote, performed and recorded pure blues?  Part of the answer may be "racial", part of the answer may be "class" and part of the answer may be lack of curiosity and investigation.

This orginal American music depicts the hardships of those struggling to survive, with all the relationship problems that everyone else, black and white, were experiencing in America.  The black popular music reflected a lot of emotion in the lyrics and in the delivery, as the singers assured one another that they were experiencing the same troubles and the same blues that their brothers were experiencing.

In trouble with their women, in trouble with their bosses, in trouble with each other and in trouble with the law.  NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I'VE SEEN!  But, the blues also has a flip side celebrating life. . . to it's fullest.  A bluesman may sing a song of despair and turn right around a follow it up with a real fest of happiness.  The blues covers both ends of the mood spectrum.  Somewhere along the line, soul music replaced blues as the preferred popular music of many American blacks.  Of recent years, rap is the rage, with blacks and whites.

Blues is now, quite amazingly, appealing to as many or maybe more whites than blacks.  The audiences of many black blues artists are now predominately white folks.  It may be this ongoing search by many to find the roots of the music they enjoy today with country, rock and roll, or whatever.

Blues has been called THE DEVIL'S MUSIC, even by some blues musicians.  Part of this reason may have come from the fact that much of blues came from church goers who acquired their vocal and instrumental skills singing spirited gospel songs.  They then began singing lyrics with secular messages and felt they had abandoned the church and lent their talents to the Devil.  Many believe that the blues has its roots in gospel music.  The Bible has a special message for those who are among the "poor in spirit".

The racial answer to why many today are not familiar with pure blues may be that many cannot relate to these troubles in America, early in the century, because they are not black.  The blues is just another world to many white music listeners and even to some blacks.  The class answer may be that many do not relate to the troubles that a lower class of people expresses in their music (lower class meaning "people who are easily taken advantage of by other people" (or feel they are taken advantage of by other people)--the exploitED rather than the exploitERS).  All blues singers and performers seem to understand and feel empathy for those who are anguished in their lives with all their personal troubles--whether they are black, white or any other color.  The blues in the music of Hank Williams, Sr. expresses the plight of poor whites sharing their hardships in verse.  But again, just because Hank Williams was white, doesn't mean some blacks could not relate to his music.  It works both ways!

With a lack of curiosity and investigation; no doubt, many music listeners will live their lives without hearing the blues in its root form, recorded by these polished musicians.  This page is meant to act as an introduction to the blues for those who are curious and wish to investigate the blues for themselves to gain a better appreciation of what this genre of music is all about.  The first time I watched the movie "The Blues Brothers", I had a hard time relating to the blues I heard in the movie.  Then in time and with several viewings of this classic, I learned to enjoy the rich fabric of this style of music performed by the Blues Brothers and other blues artists.  "Blues Brothers 2000" is also full of blues music and blues musicians.

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Beginning with Robert Johnson
It doesn't always begin with Robert Johnson, but in my case it did!  Robert Johnson is the legendary bluesmen who is the equivalent legend of Hank Williams, Sr. in country and Charlie "Bird" Parker in jazz.  Legend has it that Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads and sold him his soul in order to be taught by the devil to play licks on his guitar like no man had ever played them before.  A blues composer and performer, Robert Johnson recorded what is referred to in the blues as Mississippi Delta blues.  Tommy Johnson made this same claim of selling his soul to the devil for his musical abilities and the event is touched upon in the American roots music movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Out of curiosity, I rented The Complete Works of Robert Johnson from my local library.  His blues were very primitive and raw, but the same is said about the country recordings of Hank Williams, and my page on country music expresses my appreciation for Hank's music.  Johnson had a great influence on many blues artists who followed him and although he was not the first bluesmen, he is the one they still all talk about with such reverence.  More than any other genre of music, blues performers are known for their live performances and the works of many throughout the years were never recorded for future generations of listeners.  Robert Johnson's 29 songs were, along with alternate takes on about a dozen of them.

Where to Begin? . . . the bluesmen I'm familiar with!

I'm not saying to begin with the works of Robert Johnson.  That is just were I began.  A good place to begin would be with two excellent bluesmen, B. B. King and John Lee Hooker.  These two are the acknowledged pillars of blues.  Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Elmore James are all three considered at the top of the field.  A highly regarded white bluesman was Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Although Ray Charles is an acomplished musician and composer in jazz, country and rock; he is also a fine blues performer and should not be overlooked when talking about the blues.  And if you like the raw blues of Robert Johnson ("King of the Delta Blues"), then look into the "founder of the Delta Blues"--Charley Patton!  One of the young white newcomers, that I like, is Jonny Lang ("Lie To Me", "Wander This World" and "Good Morning Little School Girl").

The following is a list of bluesmen, I've listened to and enjoyed.  These are the handful that I'm familiar with to a degree, as I'm very new to this style of music.  My favorite at this point in time is Howlin' Wolf--maybe its the Wolf in him that wins me over?:

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Showcase of Bluesmen

Two ackowledged Pillars of Blues
B. B. King (b. 1925; King of the blues)
John Lee Hooker (b. 1920; King of the boogie)

Three Very Popular Recording Bluesmen
Howlin' Wolf (1910-1976)
Muddy Waters (1915-1983)
Elmore James (1918-1963)

Early Bluesmen who Recorded in the 1930's
Charley Patton (1887-1934)
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)

 White Bluesmen
John Mayall (b. 1933; British blues)
Eric Clapton (b. 1945; blues & rock)
Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-1990; blues & rock)
Jonny Lang (b. 1981; debut album at age 15)

Some Other Great Bluesmen
Sonny Boy Williamson II (1899-1965; blues harp)
Lightnin' Hopkins (1912-1982)
Willie Dixon (1915-1992; legendary composer)
Professor Longhair (1918-1980; New Orleans blues piano)
Albert King (1923-1992)
Bo Diddley (b. 1928)
Little Walter (1930-1968; blues harp)
Freddie King (1934-1976)
Buddy Guy (b. 1936; Chicago blues king)

Blues, Jazz, Rock & Country Crossover Artist
Ray Charles (1930-2004); the genius of soul

Synthesizing blues & soul; with rock influence
Robert Cray (b. 1953) "Strong Persuader" - essential blues album
The Robert Cray Band uses horns for a "Steely Dan" rock sound

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CHESS Blues of Willie Dixon
The famous CHESS record label featured Willie Dixon writing many top blues numbers and effectively producing most of the material output.  Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf received a good share of these songs from Dixon.  The 2 CD's Willie Dixon box set by CHESS Records makes a fantastic introduction to some of the stellar numbers of blues songs written by Willie Dixon, but most performed by the bluesmen & blueswomen who made them popular at the time.  Dixon sings about six of the songs on this 36 songs set, including the catchy "29 Ways" and "Walkin' the Blues".  "Seventh Son" was written by Willie Dixon and performed here by Willie Mabon; later recorded by the famous Johnny Rivers.  Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II--both harmonica players--were two other top talents in Chicago at the CHESS recording studio.  Little Walter performs "My Babe" (later recorded by Rick Nelson) and "Mellow Down Easy".

CHESS Blues Box Sets

The CHESS label offers many good box sets (3 CD's of Muddy Waters and 3 CD's of Howlin' Wolf) to get acquainted with some of the more popular blues numbers by these two artists.   "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I'm Ready",  and "I Can't Be Satisfied" are three big hits performed by Muddy Waters.  Howlin' Wolf made the charts with "Spoonful", "Back Door Man", and "Evil".  With their 50th Anniversary collection, CHESS also has several 1 CD purchases of featured bluesmen.  For the listener who would like more variety, CHESS also offers a good retrospective 4 CD's box set of 101 blues songs, simply labeled "CHESS Blues Box Set" by their wide array of recording artists (just over 50 individual artists) during their recording years as a record label.  Three dozen of the songs on the 4 CDs CHESS Blues box set are performed by their four blues giants:  Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter & Sonny Boy Williamson II (the blues fraternity had another Sonny Boy Williamson who has the (I) behind his name to distinguish him from Sonny Boy II).
CHESS RECORDS
Blues Recordings division of MCA Records
Home of some of the best Blues recordings
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Some of the Blues Hits
Listening to Professor Longhair shows his strong influence on such rockers as Jerry Lee Lewis.  I really enjoy the voice of Fess and his piano playing is first caliber!  Some Bo Diddley numbers sound much like some of Buddy Holly's songs, so influence can be found here.  Bo Diddley's humor shows on many of his songs.  Bo Diddley sounds great with "Pretty Thing" (another Willie Dixon blues number) and "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover".

B. B. King is known for "Everyday I Have the Blues" and "The Thrill Is Gone".  John Lee Hooker is known for "Boom Boom" and "Boogie Chillen'", among many others.  Elmore James hit the bluesworld with "Dust My Broom", "Standing At the Crossroads", "The Sky Is Crying" and the electrifying "Shake Your Moneymaker"; to name just a few of his famous numbers.

The Crossover Eric Clapton

The famous guitarist Eric Clapton's entire career of songs are either pure blues or definitely blues influenced.  Coming to my attention with his song "After Midnight", which I still rate as one of the finest songs of the rock and roll era, Clapton has dipped in and out of the blues during his whole career.  His 4 CDs "Crossroads" box set is a good way to sample blues mixed with rock.  Clapton also has a nice 1 CD best of called "Timepieces" and a good 20 tracks CD called "The Very Best of Cream".  Cream did such blues classics as "Spoonful" and "Crossroads" ("Cross Road Blues"--a big Robert Johnson song).  Clapton did a nice cover of "Evil" with Derek and the Dominos and with Cream.  It is my understanding that Eric has gone back to recording the blues exclusively at the present time.  Eric Clapton also had a run with the Yardbirds as well as John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, where he was a part of the delightful song "All Your Love".
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I'm not finished investigating the blues that I've not yet heard.  Following is a list of another handful of bluesmen and blueswomen that I hope to listen to someday, if I can find some CDs or tapes of theirs to borrow.  Even this short list will be leaving out many great blues artists.  It would be like listing 50 great rock & roll acts and leaving out Steppenwolf, the Guess Who or Tommy James & the Shondells.  There are times when one of these rock artists sounds great to me, even if they did not make my list of my top 50!  I need to check the library for these blues musicians' works:

Some Top blues musicians
--to investigate--

Albert Collins (1932-1993)
Eddie "Son" House (1902-1988)
Leadbelly (1888-1949)
Robert Nighthawk (1909-1967)
Jimmie Reed (1925-1976)
Johnny Shines (1915-1992)
Bessie Smith (1894-1937)
Taj Mahal (b. 1942)
Otis Rush (b. 1934)
Hound Dog Taylor (1917-1975)
Koko Taylor (b. 1935)
T-Bone Walker (1910-1975)
Jimmy Witherspoon (b. 1923)

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The cousin or sister of the blues is soul / R&B
Listed below are some top musicians of soul / R&B:

Some Top musicians of
Soul / R&B

James Brown (b. 1928)
Ray Charles (1930-2004)
Aretha Franklin (b. 1942)
Marvin Gaye (1939-1984; "What's Going On?")
Al Green (b. 1946; "Let's Stay Together")
Michael Jackson (b. 1958)
Otis Redding (1941-1967; "Dock of the Bay")
Lionel Richie (b. 1949)
Sly and the Family Stone
Stevie Wonder (b. 1950)

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Great Blues Variety Samplers
The following would be my current pick of over 4 hours of great blues numbers

Blues Selections #1



01  Cross Road Blues - Robert Johnson
02  Spoonful Of Blues - Charlie Patton
03  Dust My Broom - Elmore James
04  Moanin' For My Baby - Howlin' Wolf
05  I Can't Be Satisfied - Muddy Waters
06  Everyday I Have the Blues - B. B. King
07  Boom Boom - John Lee Hooker
08  Shake Your Moneymaker - Elmore James
09  Shake It and Break It - Charlie Patton
10  Preaching Blues - Robert Johnson
11  Rollin' and Tumblin' - Muddy Waters
12  Boogie Chillen' - John Lee Hooker
13  Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughan
14  Lie To Me - Jonny Lang
15  Evil - Howlin' Wolf
16  Hoochie Coochie Man - Muddy Waters
17  The Thrill Is Gone - B.B. King
18  All Your Love - John Mayall
19  Standing At the Crossroads - Elmore James
20  Pride and Joy - Stevie Ray Vaughan
21  I'm Ready - Muddy Waters
22  Hellhound On My Trail - Robert Johnson
23  Good Morning Little Schoolgirl - Jonny Lang
24  Key To Love - John Mayall
25  Spoonful - Howlin' Wolf
26  Big Legs, Tight Skirt - John Lee Hooker
27  Crossfire - Stevie Ray Vaughan
28  Parchman Farm - John Mayall

Blues Selections #2



01  Mardi Gras In New Orleans - Professor Longhair
02  Mellow Down Easy - Little Walter
03  First Time I Met the Blues - Buddy Guy
04  Born Under A Bad Sign - Albert King
05  Bring It On Home - Sonny Boy Williamson II
06  29 Ways - Willie Dixon
07  Hideaway - Freddie King
08  Mojo Hand - Lightnin' Hopkins
09  Pretty Thing - Bo Diddley
10  Crossroads - Eric Clapton
11  Blues With A Feeling - Little Walter
12  Looka, No Hair - Professor Longhair
13  Walkin' the Blues - Willie Dixon
14  Feels Like Rain - Buddy Guy
15  I Wanna Get Funky - Albert King
16  Don't Start Me Talkin' - Sonny Boy Williamson II
17  Lightnin' Boogie - Lightnin' Hopkins
18  Tore Down - Freddie King
19  The Sky Is Crying - Eric Clapton
20  Tipitina - Professor Longhair
21  You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover - Bo Diddley
22  Juke - Little Walter
23  Damn Right I've Got the Blues - Buddy Guy
24  Coffee Blues - Lightnin' Hopkins
25  Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley
26  My Babe - Little Walter
27  Stag-O-Lee - Professor Longhair
28  Crosscut Saw - Albert King

 Blues Selections #3



01  Smokestack Lightning - Howlin' Wolf
02  Violent Love - Willie Dixon
03  Third Degree - Eddie Boyd
04  Seventh Son - Willie Mabon
05  Crazy For My Baby - Willie Dixon
06  Pain In My Heart - Willie Dixon
07  When the Lights Go Out - Jimmy Witherspoon
08  Young Fashioned Ways - Muddy Waters
09  Do Me Right - Lowell Fulson
10  I Just Want To Make Love To You - Muddy Waters
11  Tollin' Bells - Lowell Fulson
12  You Know My Love - Otis Rush
13  I Ain't Superstitious - Howlin' Wolf
14  You Need Love - Muddy Waters
15  Little Red Rooster - Howlin' Wolf
16  Back Door Man - Howlin' Wolf
17  Dead Presidents - Little Walter
18  Hidden Charms - Howlin' Wolf
19  You Shook Me - Muddy Waters
20  300 Pounds Of Joy - Howlin' Wolf
21  Weak Brain, Narow Mind - Willie Dixon
22  Wang Dang Doodle - Koko Taylor
23  The Same Thing - Muddy Waters
24  Built For Comfort - Howlin' Wolf
25  I Can't Quit You Baby - Little Milton
26  Insane Asylum - Koko Taylor
27  How Blue Can You Get - B.B. King
28  The Supernatural - Peter Green with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
29  I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline) - Howlin' Wolf

Willie Dixon wrote all songs in Blues Selections #3 except #1, #27, #28 & #29

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