Blues Starter Kit
- 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")
- 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")
- 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")
- 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")
- 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")
- 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.
- 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.
- Etta James - See entry under Kopp's Tops.
- 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")
- 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")
- 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")
- 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")
- Koko Taylor (What It Takes: The Chess Years, Chess, 1991; Period - 1964 to '71) - The reigning queen of the Chicago blues, Koko Taylor is a rough-hewn vocalist who fronts a hard-rocking guitar band. (Signature song: "Wang Dang Doodle")
- Angela Strehli (Soul Shake, Antone's., 1987; Year - 1987) - Though this Texas lass has only recorded three albums, Miss Angela has such a soulful voice that I had to mention her name here. (Signature song: "Two Bit Texas Town")
- Tracy Nelson (In the Here and Now, Rounder, 1993; Year - 1993) - An underrated vocalist with an extremely powerful delivery, Nelson is a child of the '60s who fronted the excellent San Francisco rock band Mother Earth. (Signature song: "Down So Low")
- Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons (Giants of Boogie Woogie, Wolf, 1998; Period - 1930s & '40s) - This CD is a fine introduction to the three kings of boogie-woogie.
- Otis Spann (Complete Candid Recordings, Mosaic, 1992; Period - 1959 & '60) - The best of the modern blues pianists, Otis Spann had an incredible right hand, and his left hand worked pretty well, too. An original member of the immortal Muddy Waters band of the '50s, Spann later struck out on his own. Like all too many bluesmen, he died young at age 40, but left behind an impressive body of work. (Signature song: "Walking the Blues")
- Professor Longhair - See entry under Kopp's Tops.
- Pinetop Perkins (Pinetop's Boogie Woogie, Discovery, 1992; Year - 1992) - Another Muddy Waters alum and Mississippi native who moved to Chicago, Perkins is arguably the finest living blues pianist. (Signature song: Pinetop's Boogie Woogie)
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