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Blues Starter Kit

By Published: August 16, 2005

  • 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")


    1. 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.

    2. 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")

    3. Professor Longhair - See entry under Kopp's Tops.

    4. 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)

    5. Johnnie Johnson (Johnnie Be Back, Music Masters, 1995; Year - 1995) - This longtime Chuck Berry sidekick finally stepped out on his own in the '90s to cook up some rollicking St. Louis blues. (Signature song: "Tanqueray")

    6. Floyd Dixon (Wake up and Live!, Alligator, 1996; Year - 1996) - A superb jump-blues pianist with a risque sense of humor. (Signature song: "Hey Bartender")

    7. Dr. John (The Very Best of Dr. John, Rhino, 1995; Period - 1970s to '90s) Is he blues, jazz, rock or R&B? Does it matter? Despite a somewhat inconsistent recorded history, the hoodoo pianist embodies the Crescent City spirit. (Signature song: "Right Place, Wrong Time")

    8. Marcia Ball (Gatorhythms, Rounder, 1989; Year - 1989) - Long, tall Marcia Ball plays piano like Dr. John and sings a bit like Bonnie Raitt. (Signature song: "That's Enough of That Stuff")


    1. Louis Jordan (The Best of Louis Jordan, MCA, 1977; Period - 1940s & '50s) - The father of the jump blues, Louis Jordan was a huge talent equally adept at raucous party music, hilarious novelty tunes, straight-ahead blues, and swingin' syncopated jazz. Along with Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole, Jordan was one of the first black musicians to make it big in the snow-white world of '40s pop. (Signature song: "Caldonia")

    2. Big Joe Turner - See entry under Kopp's Tops

    3. Wynonie Harris (Bloodshot Eyes: The Best of Wynonie Harris, Rhino, 1994; Period - 1940s & '50s) - A raucous R&B pioneer with a powerful voice and a great sense of humor, Harris spawned some of the most sexually charged music of the '40s and '50s. (Signature song: "Good Rockin' Tonight")

    4. Roomful of Blues - (Turn It On! Turn It Up!, Bullseye Blues, 1995; Year - 1995) A nine-piece jump blues outfit from Rhode Island that's the finest and longest lasting contemporary jump band.


    1. Charles Brown (Driftin' Blues: The Best of, Collectables, 1995; Period - 1940s & '50s) - Brown's after-hours blues is sublimely smooth and silky. (Signature song: "Merry Christmas, Baby")

    2. Johnny Adams (Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me, 1992; Year - 1992) - Another terrifically smooth vocalist who, had he not been barred from joining the Motown label by Ric Records, might have become as famous as Smokey Robinson or Diana Ross. (Signature song: "Reconsider Me").

    3. Percy Mayfield (Poet of the Blues, Specialty, 1990; Period - 1950 to '54) - One of the most sophisticated and personal of blues songwriters, Mayfield's music is predominantly slow, soulful and sad. Mayfield was known as the "Poet Laureate of the Blues." (Signature song: "Please Send Me Someone to Love")


    1. Mississippi Fred McDowell (You Gotta Move, Arhoolie, 1993; Period - 1960s) - Perhaps the most talented master of the acoustic bottleneck guitar the world has yet seen, Fred McDowell became a folk sensation in the '60s, and deservedly so. (Signature song: "You Gotta Move")

    2. Lightnin' Slim (Rooster Blues, Excello, 1987, Year - 1960) Slim pioneered the lowdown country blues from the swamps of Louisiana. (Signature song: "Rooster Blues")

    3. Ry Cooder (Paradise and Lunch, Reprise, 1974; Year - 1974) - A wonderfully earthy acoustic and electric guitarist who now devotes most of his energy to movie soundtracks. (Signature song: "It's All Over Now")

    4. Taj Mahal - See entry under Kopp's Tops.

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