The dominant gene in the DNA of rock ’n’ roll comes from the blues, which is just one reason why many believe it’s the most important musical genre of the last 100 years. Everyone from Chuck Berry to The Beatles to Led Zeppelin has used the basic 12-bar blues chord progression as the underlying structure for their music. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine much of contemporary music without it.
Cognizant of this fact, the Rock and Roll Museum inducted blues legend Robert Johnson into its Hall of Fame in 1986, the institution’s very first year. The following year it added Johnson acolyte Muddy Waters to its ranks, along with bluesmen B.B. King and Big Joe Turner. In subsequent years, blues artists such as Lead Belly, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, and Willie Dixon, among others, have been inducted into the hallowed hall.
For vinyl record collectors, blues records are particularly appealing because the style spans so many years and formats. For example, collectors of antique 10-inch 78 RPM discs on Okeh and other labels look for Bessie Smith tunes such as “Safety Mama” or “Blind” Lemon Jefferson songs like “How Long, How Long.” In the 1920s, Jefferson’s music was so popular that some of his records enjoyed as many as 750,000 pressings.
The Depression knocked some of the stuffing out of the blues market, and World War II forced many labels to cease operations altogether as raw materials were husbanded for the war effort. But a parallel upheaval was happening in the blues, as artists moved from the Mississippi Delta region in the south to urban areas up north.
In Chicago, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker all made their mark, trading their acoustic Martin guitars for electric ones made by Gibson and others (B.B. King’s black ES-335, which he named Lucille, remains one of the most identifiable instruments in music).
One of Chicago’s leading blues artists was Willie Dixon. He performed extensively in the postwar era, but he also wrote a lot of tunes recorded as 45s on Chess Records, by performers from locals Waters and Wolf to England’s Rolling Stones—their 45 single of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” was recorded in Chicago for Chess in 1965.
In fact, in the 1960s, rock bands would regularly weave blues numbers by Dixon, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Bo Diddley into their repertoires. First pressings of “East-West” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band are prized, as are mint mono LPs of the 1966 “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” album—the leader of that band, John Mayall, was one of the greatest champions of the U.S. blues in England...
Then there were the Yardbirds, a blues-inspired pop outfit that launched the careers of not only Clapton (good luck finding a seven-inch single of their 1965 hit, “For Your Love”) but also Jeff Beck (the U.K. release of “Roger the Engineer” is much sought after) and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (look for “Little Games”).
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Recent News: Blues Records
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For sale: The Beatles, jazz and blues records from shamed Rafael Hui's ...South China Morning Post (subscription), December 19th
He freely indulged in his fetish for classical music, resulting in the collection of 10,955 discs – mainly vinyl LPs – that includes 6,323 classical music albums, 965 titles on operas and ballet, 1,330 jazz and blues records and 835 rock and pop discs...Read more
Here Are A Few Records That Gave Me A Lot Of Feelings In 2014Under the Gun Review, December 17th
I've never been one to shun country/blues records, so to have that infused with good old indie rock, serves up a gem of a release. The attention he's gotten for “Take Me to Church” will spark so many opportunities for 2015. Quite the diverse collection...Read more
Contact: The Downsizing of Daniel LanoisMother Jones, December 15th
I left Bob's house with a nice bit of homework to do—blues records I've listened to over the years but hadn't heard in a while. The records I listened to per Bob's recommendation all had a sense of discovery about them, a sense of urgency, a sense of...Read more
Otis Spann – Walking The Blues – Candid Records (1960)/ Pure Pleasure ...Audiophile Audition, December 14th
Pure Pleasure Records continues to be the leader in re-mastering blues records. This vinyl pressing is devoid of surface noise and hissing. The tonality of Spann's piano is sharp, maintaining the percussive essence. His voice is emotional, with...Read more
Doug Moe: Old blues friendship sparks new CDMadison.com, December 14th
He studied it, bought blues records, and, eventually, borrowed a guitar. Before long Paterson found his way to State Street, and Catfish Stephenson, a guitarist with serious street credentials. “He let me sit next to him,” Paterson said. Paul Black...Read more
ISSUE 87: It's Got Ahold of MeOxford American, December 11th
Would you just stop off like you did for the blues records? Did you know people? Yes. I would do that, and I also discovered that you could go to this-and-this jukebox operator. It was a time when 78s were going out of style and 45s were coming in. Not...Read more
Before Dylan, Dave Ray's Blues Rocked MinneapolisKRVS, December 7th
Ray loved listening to obscure blues records in hopes of finding a hidden gem that he could learn to play. GLOVER: At the time, that kind of music was sort of mystery music. It wasn't really widely available. He had to really look to find copies of the...Read more
Jack White Speaks at Yale About (What Else?) 1920s Blues RecordsBillboard, October 29th
Yale University welcomed rock-legend-in-the-making Jack White to their campus on Tuesday night. And what happens when you invite Jack White to anything? He's going to start talking about blues records from the 1920s, whether it's applicable or not...Read more