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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Telling the Damn Truthlareviewofbooks, January 23rd
A friend of mine, his brother went to the Newport Folk Festival and came back with [folk music by] Burl Ives and Buell Kazee but also some blues records. This friend of mine and I started listening and that just turned me on, eventually, to every other...Read more
Metallica's Kirk Hammett stomps on Spotify's inferior soundDigital Trends, January 22nd
For many guitar players, finding the right tone is like striking gold or winning the lottery — or both. But finding it and nurturing it are quite different, so having the exact right guitar pedal(s) in the signal chain is a critical venture, to say...Read more
Phil Cook stands alone (with a little help from his friends) on 'Southland ...Washington Post, January 21st
Cook grew up in northern Wisconsin and started playing piano when he was 3. By 14, he'd become obsessed with old Chicago blues records and had learned to play 25 Bruce Hornsby songs by ear. “I like to say that I woke up when I was 14,” Cook says...Read more
The Road Goes on ForeverOxford American, January 12th
Duane and Gregg grew up listening to soul and r&b and blues records; Gregg has talked about pedaling his bicycle across the tracks—literally—to buy two-dollar LPs from a convenience store in a black neighborhood, toting home albums by B.B. King, ...Read more
Grizfolk: The Best of What's NextPaste Magazine, January 12th
“Growing up, my dad's a doctor but he's a blues guitarist and he practices his scales every day and he's always jamming out to old blues records and stuff,” he said. Around age 13, the younger Roth traded his guitar for pen, paper, and a microphone and ...Read more
Mississippi blues, music scene drew Deaton to OxfordOxford Eagle, January 11th
“I started buying blues records and learning to play that stuff. I saw a documentary on TV called 'The Land Where the Blues Began.' It came on PBS. “It just blew me away, and most everybody on that documentary was still alive, so I was like 'Whoa. This...Read more
Remembering the Sudbury blues explosion of the 1980sCBC.ca, January 11th
Len Miller has always loved music. But for most of his life, he couldn't play anything but the stereo. That changed in the 1980s when, in his mid-to-late 30s, the Sudbury man suddenly found himself fronting a blues band — first the Rock-a-Tones, later...Read more
Grinder Blues records at DMI's 'Abbey Road of South'Jackson Clarion Ledger, October 17th
Long before dUg Pinnick became one of the music industry's most coveted bass players and a founding member of the acclaimed progressive metal band King's X, his musical foundation was shaped by the music of the Mississippi Delta. Born in Illinois in ...Read more