Original Greats - Blues Pioneers
The Shades site is not intended to identify the beginning of the Blues or its historical forefathers - so although there are a number of what many might term pure blues artists in the artist section of the primer, Shades clings to the belief they are included because they incorporate R&B and soul into their playing! It is important however to at least reference some of the stalwarts of the genre, those deemed part of what might be termed the 'old school'. Calling them originals is perhaps a little inappropriate, since each had his own clear influences. Most of these (though not all) are far from my favourite artists and are included here in recognition of their importance rather than personal preference - this is probably reflected in the accompanying commentary.
|So much myth has grown up around Robert Johnson, it's difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. The man who 'struck a deal with the devil' was born around 08/05/1911 (other dates have been given) in Hazlehurst, Mississippi and became a template for those that followed. Johnson recorded all of his known sides in 1936 and 1937 - they include the well known blues standards 'Sweet Home Chicago', 'Crossroad Blues' and 'Love In Vain'. Even those who find it difficult to listen to some of what Johnson recorded (and that includes me) cannot deny the power and intensity of these performances. His ability to project such emotion set him apart from many of his contemporaries but whether you actually enjoy the experience is another matter (a view that will be anathema to most blues lovers). Listen to "Robert Johnson - The Complete Recording" and decide for yourself.||
If there is a link between Johnson and today's blues, then Elmore James is probably the lynchpin, taking the spirit and many of the songs from Johnson's performances. He was born on 27/01/1918 in Richland, Mississippi and had a recording career of only around ten years, during which time he recorded for Trumpet Records, Chess and Fire Records. Listening to his recorded work, including 'Shake Your Moneymaker', 'It Hurts Me Too', 'Done Somebody Wrong' and the superb 'The Sky Is Crying' belies the assertion that he hit on a winning formula with 'Dust My Broom' and simply kept recording variations of it (although he did record the song many times). The "Best Of Elmore James", currently available on Recall is an excellent 2 CD overview.
|Sonny Boy Williamson (born Alex Ford 05/12/1899 in Glendora, Mississippi) was often referred to as Sonny Boy II to avoid confusion with John Lee Williamson, who first recorded under the name and died in 1948. Sonny Boy II first recorded for Trumpet before moving to the Chess label in 1955, hitting immediately with tracks such as 'Don't Start Me Talking' and then as late as 'Help Me' in 1963. He formed a link between the earliest recorded blues and the boom of the 60s, counting most of the earlier performers amongst his acquaintances. Again, there are many compilations around, including "The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson" on Chess Records, now difficult to get hold of. "His Best" on Chess is a great single CD retrospective and is a fine place for the uninitiated to start.|
One of the most successful blues artists ever, Jimmy Reed managed the impossible for the time and crossed over into the USA Billboard pop charts on no fewer than 12 occasions. Born Mathis James Reed on 06/09/1925 in Leland, Mississippi he generated a music both simple and infectious, with its rolling rhythm, laconic lyrics and biting but limited harmonica playing. Recordings on VeeJay such as 'You Don't Have To Go', 'Bright Lights, Big City', 'Honest I Do' and everyone's favourite encores 'Baby What You Want Me To Do' and 'Big Boss Man' made Reed the most accessible of post war Blues players. However, it should also be acknowledged that much of Reed's success is owed to his guitarist Eddie Taylor, who did most to create the sound, and to Reed's wife, who wrote much of the material. Try the Recall 2CD collection "Big Boss Man".
|Howlin' Wolf (born Chester Burnett 10/06/1910 in West Point, Mississippi) cut his first sides in 1951 in the Memphis Sun studios, although the tracks were leased to Chess, for whom he subsequently recorded. His impassioned singing style (the Howl!!) is an acquired taste, but no-one would deny the power of his music, guitar playing and all. Listen to tracks such as 'Smokestack Lightning', 'Little Red Rooster', 'Back Door Man' and 'I Ain't Superstitious' and see what you think. "His Best Vol 1" on Chess is a good introduction but a Chess Box Set is around for those who want more. Muddy Waters (born Mckinley Morganfield on 04/04/1915 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi) had the chance to be influenced by some of the early exponents of the blues form through first hand exposure to the likes of Son House and Robert Johnson. He ended up being one, if not the dominant force, in post war blues. Much of his material is now extremely well known (even if it did suffer the indignity of a Levi's advertisement - at least they have good taste), including 'Mannish Boy', 'Got My Mojo Working', 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' and 'I'm Ready'.||One of the few artists you can like in parts (some I love, some I struggle with), John Lee Hooker is a unique talent who pays no heed to any particular blues form. Born on 20/08/1917 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he is one of the most famous bluesmen around, thanks to his longevity and resurgent recording career - typified with albums such as "The Healer" on Silvertone (ORE CD 508) with guest appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Robert Cray and Los Lobos among others. "Mr. Lucky" continued in the same vein, with long time fan Van Morrison putting in an appearance. In the 40s and 50s he recorded for Modern and had success with 'In The Mood', 'Crawling King Snake' and 'Rock House Boogie'. From 1955 onwards he recorded for VeeJay and another array of classics ensued, including 'Boom Boom' and 'Dimples'. Try "The Very Best Of John Lee Hooker" on Rhino. The same label's "John Lee Hooker - The Ultimate Collection" is a more comprehensive two CD compilation covering 1948 through to 1990.|
|Muddy's 60s work was generally disappointing ("Father and Sons" with Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield was a notable exception) but he did achieve a renaissance with four excellent collaborations with Johnny Winter (including the album "Hard Again"). The MCA "Anthology" covering 1947 - 1972 is a good place to start. |