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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Bluesmen John Hammond, Billy Branch performThe Detroit News, February 27th
Hammond says he became a "fanatic" for blues records and taught himself to play by ear when he bought his first guitar at age 18. A year later he began playing country blues professionally; now 72, he's never stopped. The singer-songwriter will play...Read more
Millie Jackson on “Stealing” and Reclaiming Country MusicWondering Sound, February 23rd
So we could buy soul and blues records, but if you listened to the radio, it was only country. 'To me, right now R&B is really not R&B. They done messed it up. They done took it away. And now the white folks have taken it, you know.' But you had more...Read more
Barksdale's Top 5 Guitar HeroesStLouisrams.com, February 20th
The sounds he produced in the aftermath were fluid and tender in songs like “Little Wing,” unconventionally soulful in blues records like “Voodoo Chile,” and intense and intricate as seen in his ever-famous hard-rock classics, such as “Foxey Lady” and...Read more
Filson to honors blues history at annual eventThe Courier-Journal, February 19th
The senior Bogert was a jazz man, much like many in the Louisville area around that time, but he slipped on a blues record every now and then — blues records his son was later drawn to when he started going through the collection himself as a ...Read more
London RecordsThe Atlantic, February 13th
It's the sound of belief, and it's the sound of guys who have listened to a boatload of blues records. There's no aping here, but rather a band taking their place in a continuum and offering the latest direction which, as they well knew, is the essence...Read more
Barnard and Columbia to host first Blues SymposiumCU Columbia Spectator, February 12th
Lomax Archive curator Nathan Salsburg, author Gayle Wald, and African American studies professor Sonnet Retman of the University of Washington will participate in a panel on the collection and curation of blues records on the classic 78 rpm vinyl...Read more
Bluesman John Hammond to perform at Monmouth UniversityAsbury Park Press, January 29th
I think my dad and I both had that enthusiasm for the music, that's one thing that I've inherited, and once he saw I was interested in blues, he brought me blues records.” While he wasn't raised with his father, he would see him a few times a year and...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