STEPHEN HARRISON’S Top 10 Blues

I started listening to the Blues through listening to Led Zeppelin when I started High School. Its what they had based their music on by re-working some old Blues tunes and keeping the Blues as a base for their own material. As an impressionable teenager I was immediately hooked on Zeppelin and through this began my life- long obsession with the Blues.

1 – Travelling Riverside Blues – Led Zeppelin

This was probably the first Blues tune to really get me interested and it also began my journey and obsession with Robert Johnson. It was so different from anything I’d heard before. The sound and the structure sucked me in from the first note and I was hooked.

2 – When The Levee Breaks – Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie.

Obviously the first time I heard this was on Zeppelins amazing untitled fourth album. The deep drum beat and the blowing of the harmonica was so eerie but so spellbinding. But my favourite version of this is the 1929 one, by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. It tells a historic tale of woe and loss that occurred following the Great Mississippi Flood in 1927. A true Blues tune done so well.

3 – Nobody’s Fault But Mine – Blind Willie Johnson

Another Zeppelin tune but once again I’ve chosen the original version by Blind Willie Johnson that was first recorded in 1927. The sound of his voice and the sound of his acoustic guitar is so powerful and mesmerizing. It’s hard to think that almost a hundred years ago a blind musician would create something that would last and still be as important today.

4 – Black Betty – Sari Schorr

It would have been very easy to choose the original version done by Lead Belly or the rockier version by Ram Jam, but when I first heard Sari Schorr do it I was totally blown away. The power and force of her voice is simply sublime. But it’s the feeling that she puts into it that is what makes it so good. It is a dark tale of horror and humiliation that needs to be captured by someone who fully understands what the song is all about. That is why I chose the version by Sari Schorr.

5 – The Thrill Is Gone – B.B. King

This song is almost purpose-built for Lucille, B.B. King’s guitar. The sound that he gets from it together with his powerhouse vocals makes it inconceivable that anyone else could do this song justice. The master at the top of his game.

6 – Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out – Bessie Smith

This is another song that was recorded in 1929. It seems that was a great year for Blues music. For me, she has one of the greatest voices in Blues history. It was later recorded by Eric Clapton for his unplugged album and gig but Bessie Smith is the one to hear.

7 – Need Your Love So Bad – Fleetwood Mac

One of the greatest Blues guitarists of all time, Peter Green wrote and performed this with Fleetwood Mac. Desperation and longing pour from his vocals and out of his guitar strings. A truly magnificent song.

8 –  Sweet Home Chicago – Buddy Guy

There are so many versions of this song to choose from, but I chose Buddy Guy’s version. It could be his song because he does it so well and because he is the Chicago Blues Man. His playing on this is one of the finest things I’ve ever heard in my life. Magical.

9 – Cross Road Blues – Robert Johnson

When compiling my top ten blues songs, I could easily have chosen ten songs by Robert Johnson. But I didn’t think that was fair on all the other great Blues artists. This is the pinnacle of Blues music. The greatest Blues artist of all time in my opinion. Robert Johnson is where I go to when I need to find my way home.

10 – I’d Rather Go Blind – Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart

As with my other choices, there are a few other versions to listen to. But this for me is the definitive one. I’ve heard it done by so many people, including the original by Etta James. But this towers above every other song in so many ways. The guitar playing of Joe Bonamassa is out of this world, starting slowly and building to a guitar solo that has the hairs on the back of my neck standing up every time I hear it. For me, it’s the finest guitar solo I’ve ever heard.

Then there is Beth Hart. For me, she is the greatest female Blues artist of all time. Her power and the emotion that she pours into every song are bewildering and mind-blowing. On this song she takes it to another level that will never be reached by anyone. In my opinion, this is the single greatest performance by any artist in the history of music.

List compiled by Stephen Harrison our Reviews Editor to contact Stephen please email reviews@bluesmatters.com

 

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