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Blues Starter Kit

By Published: August 16, 2005

  • B.B. King (Live at the Regal, ABC/MCA, 1965; Year - 1965) - The most influential bluesman of the last 50 years, King's trademark tremulo guitar and impassioned singing distinguish him as the true King of the Blues. (Signature song: "The Thrill is Gone")

  • Freddie King (Hide Away: The Best of Freddie King, Rhino, 1993; Period - 1960s & '70s) - A virtuoso guitarist who recorded many classic blues instrumentals, Freddie was a giant of a man and a giant of an artist. (Signature song: "Hide Away")

  • Albert Collins (Deluxe Edition, Alligator, 1997; Period - 1970s & '80s) - Another incredible Texas guitarist, Albert Collins was heavily influenced by his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins. Collins could make his trebly guitar whisper, weep or wail, often within the same song. (Signature song: "Frosty")

  • Albert King (The Ultimate Collection, Rhino, 1993; Period - 1960s to '80s) - A left-handed guitarist who played a right-handed guitar upside-down, King's unorthodox style could singe or soothe. (Signature song: "Born Under a Bad Sign")

  • Stevie Ray Vaughn (Greatest Hits, Epic, 1995; Period - 1980s & '90s) - A dazzling guitarist who died too young, but not before turning millions of rock fans on to the blues. (Signature song: "Couldn't Stand the Weather")


    1. Little Walter (The Essential, MCA, 1993; Period - 1950s & '60s) - Often called the Charlie Parker of the harp, Little Walter was an amazing Chicago-based musician who pioneered the use of amplified harmonica. Every blues collection should include some Little Walter. (Signature song: "My Babe")

    2. James Cotton (High Compression Alligator, 1983; Year - 1983) - Protégé of Sonny Boy Williamson II, James Cotton is a master Chicago harpist. He also gained his fame with Muddy Waters. (Signature song: "Rocket 88")

    3. Big Walter Horton (Memphis Recordings 1951, Kent, 1991; Year - 1951) Best known as a sideman for Chicago blues legends Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Otis Rush, Big Walter generated a lowdown, amplified sound marked by incredible single note licks. Horton has influenced countless present-day harpists. (Signature song: "Hard Hearted Woman")

    4. Jimmy Reed (Speak the Lyrics to Me, Mama Reed, Vee-Jay, 1993; Period - 1950s to '70s) - Known less for his harp playing than his simple, unencumbered tunes, Jimmy Reed sold more records than any other Chicago bluesman. His brand of blues is more upbeat and accessible than most, and his songs have been covered by thousands of artists. (Signature song: "Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby")

    5. Junior Wells (Hoodoo Man Blues, Delmark, 1999; Year - 1965) - Another former Muddy Waters sideman who went on to adopt a tough-guy persona as a solo artist. Often called the James Brown of the blues, Wells favored funky tunes driven by his nasty harp blowing. (Signature song: "Messin' With the Kid")

    6. William Clarke (Blowin' Like Hell, Alligator, 1990; Year - 1990) - Those in the know will tell you that the late William Clarke was the most technically proficient harpist of the last decade. Average Joes and Jills will siimply appreciate that his music really swings.

    7. Paul Butterfield Blues Band (An Anthology: The Elektra Years, Wea/Elektra, 1998; Period - 1960s) - Butterfield was a tremendously talented harmonica man, but more importantly, he fronted the first really cool white blues band, and one that had tremendous influence on rock music in the '60.


    1. Etta James - See entry under Kopp's Tops.

    2. Ruth Brown ( The Best of Ruth Brown, Rhino, 1996; Period - 1949 to 1959) - R&B pioneer and belter supreme who's still going strong in her 70s. (Signature song: "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean")

    3. Big Maybelle (The Complete Okeh Sessions 1952-'55, Epic/Legacy, 1994; Period - 1952 - '55) - Big of body and even bigger of voice, Maybelle Smith belted out some of the grittiest jump blues and soul of the '50s. (Signature song: "Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On")

    4. Lavern Baker (Soul on Fire: The Best of Lavern Baker, Rhino, 1991; Period - 1950s & '60s) - Baker was a comely R&B vocalist who recorded many classic tunes for Atlantic. (Signature song: "Jim Dandy")

    5. Bonnie Raitt (The Bonnie Raitt Collection, Warner Bros., 1990; Period - 1970s & '80s) - A fine bottleneck guitarist, an affecting singer, and a classy person fully deserving of her recent success. (Signature song: "Thing Called Love")

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