Choosing ten tracks from a blues world that is so huge, sprawling and covers so many styles and musical tastes is a virtual impossibility. From Chicago to Delta, acoustic to electric, slide to steel…where to begin, where to end?
I started my own journey coming from the electric end but moved into the world of acoustic as I discovered more and more astonishing music. Looking back, the first true blues musician I saw live was probably John Mayall in Glasgow in the 1960s when Mick Taylor was on guitar, though Lightnin’ Hopkins also played a part in my blues voyage in the early 70s.
1 – Muddy Waters – I’m A King Bee
First place must be Muddy Waters and ‘I’m A King Bee.’ What a track, one that almost everyone knows, loves and has heard – often without knowing just what it is – some time or other in their weary lives.
2 – Mississippi John Hurt – Richland Woman Blues
Mississippi John Hurt. Richland Woman Blues is a towering track, melodic, delightful lyrically, suggestive and bearing all the hallmarks of truly great acoustic blues picking from an absolute master. While John was the master, Maria Muldaur’s wonderful version (from her album, ‘Richland Woman Blues’) featuring 60s ‘Summer In The City’ Loving Spoonful’s John Sebastian on guitar is maybe just the finest version ever recorded.
3 – Johnny Shines – Kind Hearted Woman Blues
Johnny Shines. Shines was one of those truly remarkable old bluesmen. A guy who worked the road and played with the blues godfather, Robert Johnson, sadly Johnny often slips below the blues radar for that very reason. But, many would say, Johnny could do it all, and I for one would tend to agree. Shines lived a bluesman’s life, full of ups and downs, trials and tribulations but always with a hugely, generous warmth and welcome and a talent that is genuinely astonishing. I’ve had the wonderful good fortune to befriend his family and musical buddies in Alabama recently and believe the recently released for the first time live recordings from the Ann Arbour Blues Festival ‘The Blues Came Falling Down’ is simply superb. Give ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues’ a listen and see what you think.
4 – Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis. An absolute giant in every way, the blind Harlem street preacher picked guitar like nobody else. His vocal delivery was jaw-dropping and his fretwork incomparable. For me, this is as good as it gets. Almost anything from his album, ‘Harlem Street Singer’ works just dandy.
5 – Blind Willie Johnson – Soul of a Man
An essential in any blues toolkit. A track needing no introduction, recorded by many but never bettered than the original, though Pittsburgh’s Ernie Hawkins comes damn near close.
6 – Fleetwood Mac – Hellhound On My Trail
What can be said that’s not been said about the original line-up? And that amazing album, ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’ with Green’s guitar on ‘Hellhound’ or ‘Shake Your Moneymaker.’ An absolute must-have release.
7 – Bonnie Raitt – Love You Like A Man
Now Bonnie’s never easy to categorise. Blueslady for sure, she can slip into the rock world with ease. For me, her cover of the wonderful Chris Smither song, ‘Love You Like A Man’ is always a pleasure…and for once, she leaves that slide behind.
8 – Fred McDowell – Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Fred McDowell was a giant from Como, Mississippi. Thanks to the Stones, he received some recognition before passing in 1972, when they both recorded and credited him for ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.’ And how many of us don’t know and love that same track?
9 – John Mayall
John Mayall. The Godfather of British Blues truly influenced so much of the modern UK blues scene and has made an undeniably enormous impression on the music globally over most of our lifetimes. I guess a track from the revered ‘Beano’ album won’t go amiss – with Clapton making his presence felt – though I personally think John moved way beyond this as his career progressed.
10 – Ry Cooder – Vigilante Man
An odd choice maybe. Ry Cooder and ‘Vigilante Man.’ Not a true blues track, more a modern Americana bit of work. But what a song, lyrics from the legendary US roots giant Woody Guthrie and stunning guitar picking from one of the greatest acoustic slide pickers ever. A combination positively made in heaven.
Today’s list was compiled by our editor at large, Iain Patience, to contact Iain please email firstname.lastname@example.org