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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Klezmer harp player rediscovers bluesCanadian Jewish News (blog), November 20th
At first, Rosenblatt practised along with blues records, but at 16 – “a young Jewish kid with braces and a kippah,” he remembered – he ventured into Montreal's blues bars. At one of the clubs, he saw harmonica whiz Jim Zeller. “I would sit in the club...Read more
AC/DC Inducted Into The Age Music Victoria Awards Hall of FameLoudwire, November 20th
They moved to Melbourne, sharing a rental house in Landsdowne Road, St Kilda where they jammed and practiced, played blues records and wrote songs through the day and night.” As for AC/DC, Angus Young offered a statement, saying it was “an absolute ...Read more
'I feel like I'm 16'Thegardenisland.com, November 20th
He listened to old blues records and practiced. “As a little kid, I would just make up stuff on it,” he said. “I'd go out in the woods and started making up my own blues. That's how I started playing.” The harmonica, Musselwhite said, is the only...Read more
The Defeat of SorrowSplice Today, November 17th
maintain a consistent rhythm to invite the listener to slip into Slip Into a Dream as effortlessly as one falls asleep after a hard day's work, but they also have enough variety to rescue them from the redundancy that often damages the quality of...Read more
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll by Peter Guralnick, book reviewThe Independent, November 12th
A host of superb blues records followed, discs that would impress the young Presley and lead him to 706 Union Avenue. With Presley on board the dynamics changed. Phillips realised he had a white man who could sing the blues. Now the emphasis was on ...Read more
The Elvic OracleThe New Yorker, November 8th
As if on cue, a swarm of independent labels arose to manufacture and sell rhythm-and-blues records: Specialty, Aladdin, Modern, Swingtime, and Imperial (all in Los Angeles—for a time, oddly, the capital of R. & B.), King (Cincinnati), Peacock (Houston...Read more
Rob Halford Would Like to Record a Blues AlbumUltimate Classic Rock, November 3rd
In a 2011 interview with Examiner.com, Halford credited blues records with giving him “the buzz” to be a musician as a young man, and said he'd like to cut a blues album of his own “because I want to explore what my voice can do in that wonderful world...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