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Blues Starter Kit

Ed Kopp By

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If you're just beginning to explore the blues, here's a list of 70 suggested artists and recordings, some old and some new. These picks should get anybody's mojo workin' overtime, but purists will note some flagrant omissions. Unfortunately, many deserving artists had to be excluded for brevity's sake. For a more thorough guide to blues artists and recordings, check out the All Music Guide to the Blues. As to the dates listed after each recording, the CD release date appears first, followed by the year or period when the music was actually recorded.

KOPP'S TOPS: FIFTEEN PERSONAL FAVORITES

Bobby Blue Bland (I Pity the Fool: The Duke Recordings, Vol. 1, MCA, 1992; Period -1952-1960) -In his prime, Bland was a versatile velvet-voiced singer who could croon or roar to suit the mood of any song. His Duke output features some terrifically soulful brass arrangements. (Signature song: "Turn On Your Love Light")

Etta James (The Essential Etta James, MCA/Chess, 1994; Period -1960s & '70s) The young Etta possessed one of the most magical voices in blues and R&B. Her voice is not quite as limber today, but she still makes exceptional music. (Signature song: "At Last")

Big Joe Turner (Boss of the Blues, Atlantic, 1990; Year -1956) -Besides helping to invent rock 'n roll with his hit "Shake, Rattle and Roll," Big Joe Turner was the most soulful of the blues shouters. His best albums married the boogie-woogie piano stylings of the great Pete Johnson with a jazzy jumpin' horn section. (Signature song: "I Want a Little Girl")

Snooks Eaglin (Teasin' You, Black Top, 1992; Year -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. Teasin' You is a recent New Orleans classic. (Signature song: "Dizzy Miss Lizzy")

Smokin' Joe Kubek Band with Bnois King (Texas Cadillac, Bullseye, 1993; Year -1993) -Smokin' Joe is an aptly named blues guitar wizard and Bnois is his soulful sidekick. Modern Texas blues doesn't get any more electrifying than Texas Cadillac. (Signature song: "Mellow Down Easy")

Terry Evans -(Puttin' It Down, JVC, 1995; Year -1995) For my money Evans is the most soulful blues singer alive. He's a Mississippi native strongly influenced by gospel music. (Signature song: "Down in Mississippi")

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters (Language of the Soul, Bullseye, 1994; Year -1994) -A highly spiritual guitarist, Earl made the bold switch to all-instrumental blues with Language of the Soul. The now defunct Broadcasters also had mucho soul, particularly Bruce Katz on keys. Fusion fans might dig Earl's recent music. (Signature song: "Eddie's Gospel Groove")

Magic Slim and the Teardrops (Black Tornado, Blind Pig, 1998; Year -1998) -This CD delivers stinging electric blues from a gritty Chicago bluesman and his hard-rocking band. (Signature song: "Early Every Morning")

Little Willie John (Fever: The Best of Little Willie John, Rhino, 1997; Period -'50s & '60s) -A troubled young man who died in prison at age 30, Little Willie John was an extraordinary tenor vocalist. His music walked the line between blues and R&B, and this Rhino collection contains some of the most infectious soul-blues ever recorded. (Signature song: "All Around the World")

Professor Longhair ('Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology, Rhino, 1993; Period -'40s to '80s) -This self-taught New Orleans piano wizard combined rumba stylings with old-time whorehouse piano to forge an elaborate, inspired amalgam. (Signature song: "Tipitina")

Greg Piccolo (Heavy Juice,, Black Top, 1990; Year -1990) -Tenor saxman and former member of Roomful of Blues spawned a swinging jump classic with Heavy Juice, his first solo release. (Signature song: "Hammer")

Clarence Gatemouth Brown (Okie Dokie Stomp, Bullseye,1999; Period -1981 to '85) -Top-flight Texas guitarman and vocalist capable of playing country blues, big band swing, jump blues, swamp blues and Cajun. Gatemouth's a fine fiddler to boot. (Signature song: "Gate Walks to Board")

Taj Mahal (In Progress and In Motion, Columbia/Legacy, 1998; Period -1960s to '90s) While Mahal is regarded as a country blues revivalist, he often uses traditional blues as a springboard to other musical forms, including R&B, reggae, jazz and Hawaiian music. (Signature song: "She Caught the Katy")

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.")

SEMINAL BLUES ARTISTS

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