Geboren in 1906 in Houston, Mississippi; Gestorven in 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee.
A gruff voice and an intense singing and playing (acoustic slide) style resulted in some of the roughest prewar blues. Bukka White's motto was “I play so rough, I stomp 'em.” No wonder his first hit was Shake 'em on Down, from his first recording date. At the time he didn't enjoy his succes that much though, serving a three year prison stretch at Parchman Farm penitentiary for shooting a man in the thigh. Released late in 1939 he immediately was ushered into a recording studio. Amongst the haul of 14 songs were Aberdeen Mississippi Blues, Parchman Farm Blues and [/i]Fixin' To Die[/i]. It wasn't before long before he disappeared from the public eye. When Bob Dylan covered his [/i]Fixin' To Die[/i], the man born as Booker T. Washington White was believed to be dead. However, he was tracked down by blues fans in Memphis in 1963 and persuaded to start recording again. He made another three records of both old and new material and toured in Europe in 1967 with the American Folk Blues Festival. He died at the age of 70 in 1977, leaving behind a very strong if small body of work.
Favoriete nummers: Pinebluff, Arkansas; Aberdeen Mississippi Blues, New Orleans Streamline, Parchman Farm Blues, Shake 'em on Down, Fixin' To Die, Streamline Special
I saw him live twice, which undoubtedly benefits his place in the list. Check out the first video for a performance I actually witnessed. I like his unassuming, laid-back way of performing. The current living best harmonica player in the blues business? He's certainly the best white blues harpist. He was born in the hill country of Mississippi, but moved to Memphis as a child. He learned to play both harmonica and guitar and befriended Memphis bluesman like Furry Lewis. He als ran moonshine whiskey in his teens. At eightteen, in '62, he moved to Chicago were roommate Big Joe Williams introduced him to such giants as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Big Walter Horton (my #46). The latter took him under his wing and helped him hone his hark skills. Hooker also became a close friend, and years later was the best man at Musselwhite's wedding.
In '66 Charlie started his own band, a year later the first record followed. He moved to San Francisco, and his combination of Chicago and Memphis styles proved popular with rock audiences there. In the 70's he recorded a bunch of albums there, in 1980 his popularity allowed him one album in Germany. After a battle with alcohol he made a comeback in 1990. He still records and tours today, and is a sought after session musician for the likes of Tom Waits.
Favoriete nummers: Christo Redemptor, Arkansas Boogie, Harpin' On A Riff, Azul Para Amparo, Hard Times, Rough Dried Woman, Feel It In Your Heart, Church Is Out, Finger Lickin' Good
In the early 1980's, blues was in dire straits, especially commercially. After it's most succesful period in the early 1950's, it was usurped by rock & roll, only to be revived first at the end of the decade by folk enthousiasts and then in the 1960's by the British Invasion artists all citing the blues as their pride and joy. In the 1970's the genres popularity dwindled immensely, despite such bands as Led Zeppelin mostly playing a new variation of the blues. Then, in the first half of the 1980's it regained enormous popularity, new impulse and new direction mostly because of one guitarist (there's also another, coming soon on this list, but his influence nor his popularity are comparable to this one). His name was Stevie Ray Vaughan, who burst upon the scene in 1983 and made blues part of the popcharts for the first time in over a decade. Old blues hounds and young rock fans alike recognized Vaughan's forceful, imaginative playing as special.
Vaughan's influences can be easily heard in his first record, which has more than a hint of Albert King to it. My favorite recording of his is a session of him and Albert King from december '83, which can be seen in it's entirety by clicking the link below the video of Pride & Joy, which is also taken from that session. During this session, the old and young masters of the guitar elevate each other's playing. A few years later Vaughan hit rock bottom with a drug addiction and alcoholism, went into rehab and entered an even stronger phase of his career, with a new focus in both playing and writing. Sadly, this was cut short by his untimely death in a helicopter crash after just playing at a concert with Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Eric Clapton (who gave up his seat on the helicopter to Vaughan).
Favoriete nummers: Pride and Joy, Texas Flood, Close To You, Little Wing, Chitlins Con Carne, Change It, Tightrope, Cold Shot.
Geboren in South Carolina in 1896, gestorven in 1972
Reverend Gary Davis, sometimes also known as Blind Gary Davis, made a few recordings in the 1930s but spent long years away from music before his rediscovery in the 1950s. He went on to exert a huge influence on the folk blues revival of the 1960s, inspiring dozens of young guitarists including Jerry Garcia, Ry Cooder, Dave van Ronk and Jorma Kaukonen. His repertoire includes blues, spirituals, marches, ragtime, jazz, minstrel songs and hokum. Davis sang both religious and secular material with the same fervor, beautiful voice and intricate finger-picking. He left behind a body of song that have been covered by Bob Dylan, Donovan, Taj Mahal, Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead, among others.
One of eight children, Gary Davis was partially blind from childhood, but taught himself to play the guitar by the time he was six, making his own instrument from a pie pan and a broomstick. He lost his sight completely, learned to read Braille and found comfort in music and religion. In the late 1920's he worked as a street singer, building his repertoire. Some of his unusual chord fingerings are attributed to an accident in which he broke his wrist, which set badly. Davis was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1933. While he took a position at a church, he also toured. In 1937 he relocated permanently to New York with his second wife, became a minister there and didn't record until the 1950s. When he did, he still sang a lot of spiritual material, but he was a preacher that also sang about his cocaine use. He kept performing until his death, dying of a heart attack on the way to a gig in New Jersey in 1972.
Favoriete nummers: Death Don't Have No Mercy, Mean Old World, Cocaine Blues, Candyman, Whoopin' Blues, Hesitation Blues, Whistlin' Blues, Let Us Get Together.
The other key 1980's blues player I hinted a when I wrote about Stevie Ray Vaughan. A fine blues guitarist but also a sweet soul vocalist who combined both into a hybrid of both styles that somehow found its way on to the charts of the second half of the 1980's. Cray can play straight blue, but there are also strong hints of soul, rock and jazz in some of his songs. After a number of relocations he and his first band settled in San Francisco in the early 1980's. In 1983 he recorded his debut album and toured with Muddy Waters and later with Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker. In 1985 his fourth album became one of the top selling blues records of the decade, got him a Grammy, his face on the cover of Rolling Stone and crossover appeal to the white rock audience. Single “Smoking Gun” was a #2 hit in the mainstream charts. Keith Richards and Eric Clapton invited him for both gigs and record dates. In the 1990s Cray started to drift more and more towards a soul sound before returning to more blues. In the last decade, anti-war songs became an increasingly large part of his repertoire. He has been criticized by blues purists for his blend of the blues, while others have praised him as an artist with a significant vision to take the blues into a new century as a living and vibrant form of music, rooted in tradition but not hidebound by it.
Favoriete nummers: Phone Booth, Forecast (Calls For Pain), Smoking Gun, Consequences, Bad Influence, I Shiver, Baby's Arms, Anytime, Survivor, When The Welfare Turns It's Back On You, I'd Rather Be A Wino, Who's Been Talkin', Back Door Slam, The Dream
Geboren in 1899 in Mississippi, gestorven in 1965.
Most people here will know at least one song by this artist, his version of “Bring It On Home”, since it was featured in Mulholland Dr.. It is one of his greatest songs. Rice Miller was the first blues harp player to use the Sonny Boy Williamson moniker, he was the oldest and he outlived the other, yet he became known as Sonny Boy Williamson II. The other Sonny Boy Williamson placed 33 on the list. Rice Miller became better known in the end, and actually was the more talented of the two. Supposedly he was an awkward and difficult man with a temper, and stories of knife fights with other musicians are among the many unsavory tales of his behavior. From his participation in the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival tour in Europe onwards he changed his image though, performing a pin-stripe suit and a bowler hat. He stayed in England for a year after, until in 1965 he returned to the US, saying he had “come home to die”. And he died not five months later.
He was born either Alex or Aleck Ford or Miller, depending on the source, just before the turn of the century. He took up harmonica at the age of five, and was soon performing on street corners under the name Little Boy Blue. Or not. Over the years Sonny Boy has told a lot of tall tales about his own life, but it's true that on his travels he did meet and sometimes work with Robert Johnson, Elmore James and Howlin' Wolf and that he used a lot of aliases in the 1920s and '30s until he started calling himself Sonny Boy Williamson. In the early 1940's he helped to make the King Biscuit Hour the most influential radio show in blues history, performing daily on the show in Helena, Arkansas, for several years. In the 1950's he recorded his first succesful songs for the Trumpet label in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1955 the label went bust and Sonny Boy moved north and started working in Chicago, where he recorded for Chess and was backed by Muddy Waters and his band.
Favoriete nummers: Help Me, Bring It On Home, Nine Below Zero, I Want You Close To Me, Find Another Woman, My Name Is Sonny Boy, All My Love in Vain, Let Me Explain, Don't Lose Your Eye, Eyesight To The Blind, Your Funeral and My Trial, Checkin' Up On My Baby, Trust My Baby.
Sometimes called “the true king of the Delta Blues”, Charlie/Charley Patton might've gotten as much adoration as Robert Johnson if it wasn't for all the hiss, pop and crack on most of his recordings. By any estimation, he ranks among the most significant and influential bluesmen. In fact, in 1926 a young Johnson followed him and Willie Brown around picking up guitar tips. Patton made his first recording in 1929, and recorded a slew of songs in 1929 and 1930 that made him the biggest selling blues artist of his time. Songs with an incredible intensity. It was said that his gritty singing voice could carry five hundred yards without amplification. He was a clown with the guitar, moving it everywhere over his body while playing. He was also “a great drinker”. Afterwards somebody attempted to cut his throat and damaged his vocal chords. It's a real shame the masters of those 1929 and 1930 songs have not survived, and we've got left is what is taken from scratched and heavily played 78s that cannot be restored to the original sound even by today's modern digital noise-reduction processes. His slide technique, his beat and his hoarse, ravaged voice influenced a generation of Delta bluesmen, from Son House and Robert Johnson to later players like John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf.
Favoriete nummers: High Water Everywhere (Part 1 & 2), High Sheriff Blues, Shake It and Break It (But Don't Let It Fall Mama), A Spoonful Blues, Down The Dirt Road Blues, It Won't Be Long
Geboren in Mississippi in 1923, gestorven in 1992.
B.B. King nabbed the title “King of the Blues” before Albert King, otherwise Albert might now have been generally regarded as the greatest blues guitarist of them all. Albert was a very soulful player with a unique tone, perhaps due to the fact that, like his disciple Jimi Hendrix, he played left-handed on a right-hand guitar strung “upside-down”. He was key influence on both black guitarists like Robert Cray and Otis Rush, and on white guitarists from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
By pure coincidence, they both Albert and B.B. were born in Indianola, Mississippi. Albert Nelson was born there as one of thirteen children of an itinerant preacher, but grew up in Forrest City, Arkansas. He taught himself to play guitar as a child on an instrument he constructed out of a cigar box. He moved to Osceola, Arkansas in 1950 where he drove a bulldozer by day and played at the T-99 nightclub by night. Three years later he joined a band also featuring Jimmy Reed in Indiana. He adopted the name King after B.B. had a hit with “Three O'Clock Blues”.
Soon he met Willie Dixon who got him his first recording, but it failed to sell. Dissatisfied King eventually moved to St. Louis with his guitar “Lucy”, again named in honor of B.B.'s “Lucille”. After some local and then national succes, he signed with Memphis' Stax Records in 1966, the best move of his career. Teamed with house band Booker T. & The MG's, King's blues took on a tight, soul-influenced groove on hits like Born Under A Bad Sign, Oh, Pretty Woman and Cross Cut Saw. He had in immediate impact with his razor-sharp tone, extravagant note-bending and rhythmic lead lines, both on black and white listeners, and directly influencing both Clapton and Hendrix. In the 1970's, King strayed more into soul and funk on albums like I'll Play The Blues For You and I Wanna Get Funky, and even had a hit with That's What The Blues Is All About. In 1983 he recorded an hour and a half special session for a Canadian with a young Stevie Ray Vaughan, one the high points of both their careers (click here for the whole thing on youtube). At the age of 69 Albert King died of a sudden heart attack.
Favoriete nummers: I'll Play The Blues For You, Born Under A Bad Sign, Crosscut Saw, Funk-Shun; Oh, Pretty Woman; The Hunter, I Almost Lost My Mind, The Very Thought of You, As The Years Go Passing By, Personal Manager, Blues At Sunrise, Killing Floor, Blues Power, I Wanna Get Funky, That's What The Blues Is All About, Can't You See What You're Doing To To Me.
Favoriete album:Born Under A Bad Sign – een must in de collectie van elke liefhebber.
Geboren in Mississippi in 1892/1893, gestorven in 1966.
This acoustic bluesman was one of the greatest rediscoveries of the folk-blues revival. John Smith Hurt was born early in the last decade of the 19th century. Growing up in Avalon in the southern part of Mississippi, Hurt didn't get to see any of the traveling bluesmen and learned his songs from older field hands instead. Hurt himself also worked in the fields much of his life, but earned small change playing at local dances. In 1928 he made his recording debut for Okeh Records. They added the Mississippi to his name. He didn't sell much however, his brilliant relaxed manner and soft voice being seen as out of step with the times. Nowadays these wonderful recordings, collected on the great Avalon Blues record, are rightly seen as timeless bliss. Because of the lack of succes, Hurt went back to the fields and obscurity.
It wasn't until three decades later that he was found in 1963 by record collector Tom Hoskins, and this wasn't the first search for him. Hoskins listened to Avalon Blues and decided to look for Avalon, but it wasn't on any map. Finally he found a mention of it on an ancient 1878 map of Mississippi. When in Avalon, he asked if Mississippi John Hurt still lived there, he was told: “a mile down that road, third mailbox up the hill.” Hoskins found the 70 year old Hurt driving a tractor and persuaded him to travel with him to DC where Hurt recorded for the Piedmont label ans Hoskins booked a series of live performances for him, including a triumphant performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. Hurt went on to repeat the succes the next year and recorded a number of masterful records for Vanguard Records. His newfound glory was only enjoyed for a couple of years though, since he died in 1966 of a heart attack. With his beautiful unhurried yet driving playing and singing style, he left a lasting legacy on a new generation of folk-blues performers like Bob Dylan and Donovan, who recorded his songs.
Favoriete nummers: Frankie, Nobody's Dirty Business, Ain't No Tellin', Avalon Blues, Stack O' Lee Blues, Blue Harvest Blues, Poor Boy Long Ways From Home, Joe Turner Blues, Farther Along, Funky Butt, Shortnin' Bread, Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me, Nobody Cares For Me, Hey Honey Right Away, You've Got To Die, Lovin' Spoonful.
Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins was the greatest country bluesmen to come out of Texas, bringing a distinct style from the region that is like no other. His father died when he was three and afterwards his brother Joel taught him to play the blues. He made his first instrument himself, a cigar-box with chicken-wire strings. Somewhere during the 1920s he met and learned from Blind Lemon Jefferson. Still in his teens he embarked on the life of a hobo, jumping trains, gambling and playing the blues on street corners. In the 1930s he served a prison sentence for an unknown offence. His big break came in 1946 when he got a contract with the Los Angeles based Aladdin Records. There he was accompanied one session by Wilson “Thunder” Smith. They were billed as Thunder & Lightnin' and the name stuck. He recorded more in the following years, but his fame remained purely with a black audience and due to the emerging Chicago blues his acoustic, lonesome guitar picking seemed outdated and he dropped out of view.
But then, in 1959, he was tracked down by a young enthousiast and Hopkins recorded a comeback album in his apartment using a borrowed guitar, known either by just his name or as The Roots of Lightnin' Hopkins. Soon he found himself in the company of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters as one of the new heroes of the folk blues revival. He has lost none of his intensity and maybe even gained some, and no less prolific than in the first phase of his career: he cut over 35 records in the 1960s for anyone that would pay up front with a decent cash advance. Most of these he made up on the spot! He played at Carnegie Hall, toured Europe and by the end of the decade opened for The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. A car crash and age slowed him down in the 1970s and he died at the end of that decade of cancer.
Favoriete nummers: Penitentiary Blues, Bad Luck & Trouble, Trouble Stay Away From My Door, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, She's Mine, Feel So Bad, I Can't Stay Here In Your Town, Short Haired Woman, Down Baby, Let Me Play With Your Poodle, Woman Woman, You're Not Gonna Worry My Life Anymore, Moon Rise Blues, Morning Blues, California Blues, So Long, Drinking Woman, Shotgun, Tell It Like It Is, Cotton
Geboren in Mississippi in 1929, gestorven in 1967.
In 1967 the British John Mayall & The Bluesbrakers recorded the heartbraking elegy The Death of J.B. Lenoir, an hommage to this hero of the blues who never got the recognition or status he deserved during his lifetime. In the mid 60s he recorded a bunch of demo, produced by friend Willie Dixon, with just himself on the guitar and vocals and with occasional drums by Fred Below. These fantastic recordings were topical and political, and were not released in the US but rather in Europe by German blues promoter Horst Lippmann on the albums Alabama Blues and Down in Mississippi. Lenoir sung about racism in Alabama, lynchings, the murder of Civil Rights activist James Meredith and the war in Vietnam, and marked him as an articulate spokesman for social justice. It could've been a bold new direction in modern acoustic blues. Sadly, this never happened as Lenoir died in 1967 from injuries sustained in a car crash. His powerful high voice and boogie-style playing hasn't diminished in power in any way on the rccords he left behind though. The two aforementioned albums were eventually released as one CD called Vietnam Blues, an essential release for anybody interested in the blues. Earlier in his career he also recorded with full bands and on an electric guitar, mostly concentrating on humor and dressing in a flamboyant long tiger-striped coat with tails. Though even then in the 1950s he also wrote songs like Korea Blues and Eisenhower Blues (which he was forced to rename Tax-Payin' Blues), already taking on politics.
Favoriete nummers: Alabama, Shot On James Meredith, Move This Rope, I Feel So Good, Alabama March, Talk To Your Daughter, Vietnam, Down In Mississippi, Voodoo Music, Born Dead, Leavin' Here, Vietnam Blues, Tax Payin' Blues, Born Dead.
En als bonus het eerdergenoemde nummer van John Mayall:
Geboren in North Carolina in 1911, gestorven in 1986 (Sonny Terry)
Geboren in Tennessee in 1915, gestorven in 1996 (Brownie McGhee)
Ever seen Werner Herzog's Stroszek? Then you're not liable to forget the ending with the dancing chicken. The beasts accompaniment are Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee with the “Whoopin' Blues”. This whoopin style was a trademark of Terry, who sang and played the harmonica, while McGhee played guitar and sometimes also sang. They both had careers before meeting each other and after a definitive split in the mid-1970's, but it's their recording career together that made them so significant.
McGhee learned to play guitar from his father after polio left him with a heavy limp at an early age, but in his early 20's the church he sang for paid for an operation which improved his mobility tremendously. In 1941 he meets Sonny Terry and prolifically records with and without him throughout the decade. Brownie was doing a heck of a job, but he and Terry understood that the more profitable white audience wanted to hear them as an acoustic duo. He and Sonny were amongst the first bluesmen to reach an international audience. Sonny Terry became blind at the age of sixteen and turned to music for a living, being unsuited for farmwork. During over thirty years spent almost exclusively in eachothers company, their personal relationship deteriorated until they were barely even speaking to each other offstage, sometimes even appearing separately on it until they split for good in the mid-1970's.
Favoriete nummers: Hootin' the Blues, Whoopin' Blues, Mountain Blues, Me and My Dog, Train Whistle Blues, Fox Chase, Lonesome Train, Mean Ole Frisco, All Alone Blues, Beer Garden Blues, Crow Jane's Blues, Telephone Blues.
Geboren in Mississippi in 1911, gestorven in 1938.
“He seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor.” – Bob Dylan
Perhaps the most influential Delta blues musician, even though he recorded not more than 41 songs in his life, including alternate takes. It is amazing collection of songs. As Dylan put it in his Chronicles: “They were perfected pieces. They jumped all over the place in range and subject matter, short punchy verses that resulted in some panoramic story – fires of mankind blasting off the surface of this spinning piece of plastic. It felt like a ghost had come into the room, a fearsome apparition. I just couldn't imagine how Johnson's mind could go in and out of so many places. He seems to know about everything.” And he doesn't even directly mention that incredible high voice and the guitar playing that prompted the myth that he sold his soul to the devil after having dramatically improved his skills during a year of abscence out of the public spotlight.
He was born out of a short lasting liaison between Julia Dodds and Noah Johnson, the latter which left the mother and son soon. At the age of three his mother left him with the new family of her husband from before she took up with Johnson. Four years later he was send to his mother again. In the mid-20's he took up first the mouth harp and then the harmonica. Within a few years he graduated to guitar, with the harmonica fixed on a rack made with baling wire around his neck. Around this time he met blues legends like Charley Patton and Son House, whose fame and name he would surpass tenfold. In 1936 and 1937 he recorded the songs that would make him a legend, dealing with themes of loss, alienation, paranoia, demonic possession and despair in an elemental way. Even when adapting from earlier songs he fashioned his material into something utterly unique and original. His womanizing ways (he married three times in the 1930's, though one of them died during childbirth, and all of them were left alone for long stretches of time) caught up with him in 1938 when he died from being poisoned by a jealous club owner whose wife Johnson had been seeing.
Favoriete nummers: I Believe I'll Dust My Broom, Last Fair Deal Gone Down, Sweet Home Chicago, 32-20 Blues, Come On In My Kitchen, If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day, Travelling Riverside Blues, Me and the Devil Blues, Cross Road Blues, Hellhound On My Trail, Honeymoon Blues, Stop Breaking Down Blues, They're Red Hot, Love In Vain.
Geboren in 1910 in Mississippi, gestorven in 1976.
When Sam Phillips talked about his greatest discovery, he wasn't talking about Elvis Presley, he was talking about Howlin' Wolf. His statement might be disputed, but not the fact that Howlin' Wolf was a giant of the postwar Chicago blues scene, both in stature and status. An electrifying live performer who used his physique (standing over 6 feet tall and weighing 300 pounds) to enhance the emotional intensity of his singing. He could play the harmonica, but his most impressive instrument was his raw, booming voice. With this he can still penetrate your soul.
Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) taught him how to play the harmonica in the 1930s, after which he served in the army for three years during the war. After moving to West Memphis and forming his first band in 1948, Sam Phillips 'discovered' him and started recording him in 1951. In 1953 Wolf moved to Chicago to sign with Chess, where Willie Dixon steadily supplied him with songs like “Spoonful” (later covered by Cream) and “Back Door Man” (covered by The Doors) and Wolf developed a rivalry with Muddy Waters. In the early 60's his 'rocking chair' album gained him new popularity with the R&B crowd, and the aforementioned covers in the late 60s also got him attention. In 1971 a heart attack slowed him down but didn't stop him from performing and recording, until he died of kidney failure in 1975.
Favoriete nummers: Moanin' At Midnight, How Many More Years, Smokestack Lightnin', Evil, Shake for Me, The Red Rooster, Who's Been Talkin', Wang Dang Doodle, Spoonful, Going Down Slow, Back Door Man, Built For Comfort.