All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

General Articles

Blues Starter Kit

By Published: August 16, 2005

  • Earl Hooker (Simply the Best, MCA, 1999; Period - 1950s to '70s) - Hooker is by far my favorite Chicago blues guitarist. Finally someone has compiled a decent retrospective of his work. (Signature song: "Hookin'")

  • Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers (Deluxe Edition, Alligator, 1999; Period - '70s) - If you're throwin' a wang dang doodle and looking for some rockin' Chicago blues to liven things up, this CD is guaranteed to move those feet. Taylor was a slide guitar wildman, and his band was righteously raucous. (Signature song: "Give Me Back My Wig.")


    1. Son House (Delta Blues, The Original Library of Congress Sessions from Field Recordings 1941-1942 , Biograph, 1991; Period - 1941 and'42) - House was the most spiritual of the original Delta bluesmen. (Signature song: "Preachin' the Blues")

    2. Charley Patton (Founder of the Delta Blues, Yazoo, 1969; Period - 1929 to '34) - Patton was a pioneering Delta guitarist and the original gravelly voiced blues singer. (Signature song: "Pony Blues")

    3. Blind Lemon Jefferson (Blind Lemon Jefferson, Milestone, 1992; Period - 1920s) - First in a long line of Texas guitar greats, Jefferson was an extremely creative musician with an adventurous rhythmic approach. (Signature song: "Match Box Blues")

    4. Leadbelly (Leadbelly, Vol. 1: Midnight Special, Rounder, 1991; Year - 1934) - The composer of "The Midnight Special," "Rock Island Line" and other ageless tunes, Leadbelly was strongly influenced by the folk roots of the blues. (Signature song: "Goodnight Irene")

    5. Blind Willie McTell (The Definitive Blind Willie McTell , Columbia, 1994; Period - 1930s) - Talented Georgia guitarist/harpist/accordianist/singer and principal practitioner of the Piedmont Blues, which were more syncopated and ragtime-influenced than Delta blues. (Signature song: "Statesboro Blues")

    6. Robert Johnson (King of the Delta Blues Singers, Volumes 1 and 2, Columbia, 1961 and 1970; Period - 1930s) - Mystery surrounded Johnson's life and music, and his early death made him a legend. He was a tormented man but a brilliant bottleneck guitarist and songwriter. (Signature song: "Crossroads")

    7. Ma Rainey: (Ma Rainey, Milestone, 1992; Period - 1920s & '30s) - Known as the "Mother of the Blues," Rainey was a master entertainer and a popular singer on the minstrel circuit. By adding the blues to her repertoire, she exposed the form to a much wider audience. (Signature song: "See See Rider")

    8. Bessie Smith (The Complete Recordings, Vol. 3, Columbia/Legacy; Period recorded - 1920s) - "The Empress of the Blues" was an enormously passionate singer who imparted emotions from hurt to ecstasy as effectively as any vocalist of the 20th Century, blues or otherwise. Smith recorded with the finest jazz musicians of her time, including Louis Armstrong. Her music still sounds tremendously vital today. (Signature song: "St. Louis Blues")

    9. Cannon's Jug Stompers (The Complete Works, Yazoo, 1992; Period - 1928 to '30) - Good-time troupe that was arguably the best of the Memphis jug bands. Along with black sacred music, jug band music was an important precursor to group-based blues. (Signature song: "Walk Right In")


    1. Muddy Waters (His Best, 1956-1964, MCA, 1997) - A masterful songwriter, a passionate vocalist, a trailblazing slide guitarist, and a true innovator, Muddy Waters was largely responsible for turning the Delta blues into the Chicago blues. (Signature song: "Mojo Working")

    2. Elmore James (The Sky is Crying: The History James, Rhino, 1993; Period recorded - '60s) - One of the first and, in my opinion, the best of the electric slide players, James played the blues with intense passion. (Signature song: "Dust My Broom")

    3. Howlin' Wolf: (His Best, Chess 50th Anniversary Collection, MCA, 1997; Period - 1960s) - A bearish bundle of primal blues energy whose growling vocals influenced people as diverse as Wolfman Jack, Mick Jagger and John Hiatt. (Signature song: "I Ain't Superstitious")

    4. John Lee Hooker (The Very Best of John Lee Hooker, Rhino, 1995; Period - 1940s - '90s) - An unconventional singer and master blues improviser, the Chicago boogie king remains an extremely vital artist as he approaches age 80. (Signature song: "Boom Boom")

    5. T-Bone Walker (T-Bone Blues, Atlantic, 1959; Year - 1959) - Adept at an astonishing variety of blues styles, this Texan practically invented the guitar-based electric blues. (Signature song: "Call It Stormy Monday")

  • comments powered by Disqus