263

Blues

Ed Kopp By

Sign in to view read count
The blues is the progenitor of most popular music in America, but it hasn't always gotten the respect it deserves. The recorded history of the blues proves the point. Prior to World War II, very few white people had ever heard any authentic blues music. Up until the late 1950s, blues labels could only afford to record and market singles, never albums. Even today the blues is widely regarded as the old-fashioned cousin of jazz, rock and rap, when it is actually the father of all three.

Defying the odds, the blues is still with us approximately 100 years after black plantation workers began to popularize the form. Though the music hasn't changed drastically in a century, it continues to inspire people and find new listeners. I submit two possible explanations for such endurance: First, the blues lends itself to boundless improvisational possibilities. Second, the music is as honest, infectious and life affirming as any ever created.

To really sing and play the blues, the artist must be blessed with a certain quality that harpist/singer Raful Neal calls "the special feeling." The relatively small number of musicians who have this special feeling are able to transcend the genre's limitations and communicate the complete range of human emotions like no other entertainers can. The 12 artists listed here definitely had the special feeling. You can catch it, too, simply by listening to their music.

Related Articles
A Brief History of the Blues
Blues Starter Kit









Muddy Waters: His Best 1956-64 (Chess 1997)

A masterful songwriter, passionate vocalist, trailblazing slide guitarist, and true innovator, Muddy Waters was largely responsible for turning the Delta blues into the Chicago blues.


Elmore James: The Sky Is Crying -The History of Elmore James (Rhino 1993)

One of the first and, in my opinion, the best of the electric slide players, James played the blues with intense passion.


Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (Columbia 1990/1936-7)

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, and probably the most influential bluesman of all time.


Big Joe Turner: Boss of the Blues (Atlantic 1990/1956)

Big Joe Turner was the most soulful of the blues shouters. He and boogie-woogie piano master Pete Johnson were truly a dynamic duo. Several Count Basie sidemen, including Frank Wess and Freddie Green, helped make Boss of the Blues a jump classic.



B. B. King: Live at the Regal (ABC/MCA 1965)

For my money, Live at the Regal is the best live blues album ever recorded.


T-Bone Walker: Very Best of T-Bone Walker (Koch 2000)

Adept at an astonishing variety of blues styles, T-Bone Walker practically invented the guitar-based electric blues.


Little Walter: His Best, The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (Chess 1997)

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.


Etta James: Her Best, The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (Chess 1997)

The young Etta possessed one of the most magical voices in blues and R&B.


Otis Spann: Walking The Blues (Candid 1972)

Walking The Blues is a great album from the master of blues piano.


Snooks Eaglin: Teasin' You (Black Top 1992)

Snooks is a blind New Orleans native who seldom leaves the Crescent City. He's a ferociously rhythmic guitarist, and his singing has been likened to Ray Charles. If I had to pick a favorite blues album of the last decade, this would be it.


Magic Slim and the Teardrops: Black Tornado (Blind Pig 1998)

This CD delivers stinging electric blues from a gritty Chicago bluesman and his hard-rocking band. This is my favorite Chicago blues album of recent vintage.


Howlin' Wolf: His Best, Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (MCA 1997)

Howlin' Wolf was a bearish bundle of primal blues energy whose growling vocals influenced people as diverse as Wolfman Jack, Mick Jagger and John Hiatt.

Shop

More Articles

Read Jazz From Around the World: Asia Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Asia
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: October 4, 2016
Read Jazz From Around the World: Africa Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Africa
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: July 21, 2016
Read Jazz From Around The World: Latin America and the Caribbean Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around The World: Latin America and the Caribbean
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: July 5, 2016
Read Jazz From Around the World: Europe Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Europe
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: June 29, 2016
Read Stan Getz Building a Jazz Library Stan Getz
by Mark Barnett
Published: March 2, 2016
Read AMM at 50 Building a Jazz Library AMM at 50
by John Eyles
Published: December 18, 2015
Read "Jazz From Around the World: Asia" Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Asia
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: October 4, 2016
Read "Stan Getz" Building a Jazz Library Stan Getz
by Mark Barnett
Published: March 2, 2016
Read "Jazz From Around the World: Europe" Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Europe
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: June 29, 2016
Read "Jazz From Around the World: Africa" Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Africa
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: July 21, 2016
Read "Jazz From Around The World: Latin America and the Caribbean" Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around The World: Latin America and the Caribbean
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: July 5, 2016
Read "Dmitri Matheny: Flugelhorn Evangelist" Catching Up With Dmitri Matheny: Flugelhorn Evangelist
by David Becker
Published: September 1, 2016
Read "Simin Tander: Daring To Surrender" Interviews Simin Tander: Daring To Surrender
by Ian Patterson
Published: June 7, 2016
Read "WOMAD 2016" Live Reviews WOMAD 2016
by Martin Longley
Published: August 15, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!