Buddy Guy, Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues . . . Title cut from the 1991 album that brought Buddy Guy back to mainstream prominence. He had not released a studio album for nine years to that point. Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward was in the core band on the record, which also featured guest spots on assorted tracks by guitarists Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler. The album was the start of a three-album best contemporary blues album Grammy Award streak for Guy, with his next two albums, Feels Like Rain (title cut written by John Hiatt) and Slippin’ In earning Grammy laurels.
Albert King, I’ll Play The Blues For You, Parts 1 & 2 . . . Soulful blues brilliance by one of the three Kings of the blues, the others of course B.B. and Freddie. They weren’t related, in fact Albert’s birth surname was Nelson and Freddie’s was Christian, though he later took the King surname of his mother. But, as B.B. was quoted as saying, about Albert and could be applied to Freddie, “he’s not my brother by blood, but he is my brother in blues.” But Albert is the only King I’m playing tonight. Just didn’t fit the others in and besides, I’ve enjoyed putting this blues show together so much there will be more, perhaps as soon as next week.
Alvin Lee, The Bluest Blues . . . Most of tonight’s show is comprised of cuts from many of the fathers and mothers of the blues from which the inspiration of so many classic rockers came. But I’ve thrown a few from those classic rockers into the set, including this beautiful slow blues from Lee, the late leader of Ten Years After who by 1994 had – aside from a 1989 reunion album of the original band – long since gone solo. This one features Lee’s good friend George Harrison, from some band you may have heard of, on slide guitar. The two met in a pub in the early 1970s, Harrison offered Lee the song So Sad, which appeared on Harrison’s Dark Horse album, Lee used it on one of his records and so began several collaborations between the two artists.
Blind Willie Johnson, Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground . . . Speaking of the bluest blues, this is truly deep blues stuff. Spooky gospel blues, written and recorded by Johnson in 1927. I’ve always loved this tune, just the title alone is cool, and somewhat menacing, to me. Throw in vocals that are essentially just humming and moaning, more vocalizations than articulated words, and, well, it’s great. So good that it’s one of 27 samples of music on the Voyager Golden Record, sent into space, as a sort of time capsule, in 1977 on Voyager space probes. The music, sounds and images were selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth to any intelligent extraterrestrial life that might encounter them. Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode represents rock and roll among the classical works by the likes of Bach and Mozart featured on the sounds sent to space.
Muddy Waters, Rollin’ Stone . . . The song that gave my favorite band their name, which leads into an original, and recent, blues tune of The Rolling Stones’ own plus a run of originals of blues songs the Stones, among others, covered. And that’s the beauty of music, isn’t it? It’s arguably the greatest gift humanity has given itself, and it keeps on giving. I can say without reservation that my calmest, most carefree moments come while listening to music I love including putting this show together every week. It speaks to a point made by Keith Richards of the Stones; that being that the greatest legacy a musician – and I would add music aficionados – can have is that they ‘passed it on.” Muddy took from his roots, passed it on to the Stones and so many others, and here we are, enriched forever by it.
The Rolling Stones, Back Of My Hand . . . Mick Jagger is thought of, generally and obviously, as a singer, but as Keith Richards has said, the pure Mick Jagger comes out when he plays harmonica. And he’s become a decent guitarist, too, including his nice slide work on top of his harp playing on this original blues track from 2005’s A Bigger Bang album. It’s the most recent album of original material by the boys, who did release the excellent blues covers album Blue and Lonesome in 2016. Who knows what will happen in the wake of Charlie Watts’ death; the band has always spoken since A Bigger Bang of having lots of material in the can, being worked on, etc. which was actually the genesis for Blue and Lonesome, where they as usual warmed up for a new release by playing old blues tracks until they realized, heck, this is great, let’s release this. As a big fan, I’d love to see them polish up the various tracks they’ve apparently been working on over the years, with Watts drumming, and finally release the long-promised new studio album of originals. I’d also be up for them continuing with studio work with Steve Jordan on the drum kit. Jordan, of course, is an accomplished musician and songwriter who came to widespread prominence playing in Richards’ X-Pensive Winos solo band both live and on studio record, and filled in admirably for Watts, to great reviews, on the most recent Stones’ tour. So, we’ll see, obviously.
Rev. Robert Wilkins, Prodigal Son . . . Ten minutes of hypnotic brilliance. The Stones covered it, in truncated form on the Beggars Banquet album. The Stones also played it on their 1969 American tour, just Keith Richards and Mick Jagger would come out, Richards strumming on a stool and Jagger singing, as an acoustic blues interlude. My own great memory of the Stones playing Prodigal Son live was the 1979 Keith Richards benefit for the blind concert in Oshawa, Ontario, his sentence/penance for the 1977 heroin drug bust in Toronto during the time the Stones appeared at the El Mocambo and were recording tracks that eventually appeared on Love You Live. Anyway, Keith and Ron Wood’s New Barbarians band had completed their opening set, the lights went down, except for a spotlight, back out came Richards on an acoustic and then out of the dark came Jagger, all dressed in white, and the dynamic duo broke into Prodigal Son. Great entrance, and then all hell broke loose, on came the rest of the Stones with Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock and on we rocked in the afternoon show. My buddy and I tried to stay for the evening reprise, hid in an arena bathroom, but security found and tossed us.
Robert Johnson, Stop Breaking Down Blues . . . Covered by many, Stones rocked it up on Exile On Main St. Back in ’72, just 13, it drew me to Robert Johnson.
Mississippi Fred McDowell, You Gotta Move . . . The great thing about bands you like, to me, is digging back into their influences – again, the ‘passed it on’ thing to which Keith Richards refers. It’s how I got into blues, and tracks like this, first heard by me on the Stones’ Sticky Fingers. But as much as I love the Stones, when I listen to the originals, Mick Jagger’s thoughts on Slim Harpo’s I’m A King Bee come to mind, although I have a tough time picking versions, if pressed. “What’s the point of listening to us doing “I’m A King Bee’ when you can hear Slim Harpo do it?” Agreed, Mick. BUT, you guys did it, and tunes like You Gotta Move, and it took many of us back to the originals and hence deeper into the blues greats’ catalogs, to endless reward. It’s actually what often perplexed the Stones and other British Invasion bands like The Beatles, Who and Kinks; that in many respects all they were doing was bringing American music to Americans who already had it, but didn’t apparently appreciate it.
Slim Harpo, Shake Your Hips . . . Speaking of Slim Harpo, not I’m A King Bee but another one the Stones covered for Exile On Main Street. Charlie Watts’s drumming is ridiculous. It’s not just the backbeat; to me it’s the little touches now and then that sound like someone hitting an empty pop can, plastic pail or garbage can or whatever, just the occasional single stroke. Pop! Brilliant. Yeah, sorry; I’m talking more about the Stones than Slim Harpo. Well, my excuse is that among my sources for tonight’s show is an excellent double CD compilation, curated by the Stones, from 2018. It’s called Confessin’ The Blues, features artwork by Ron Wood, and is excellent as an overall blues collection.
Howlin’ Wolf, Little Baby . . . The Stones covered this one on 1995’s Stripped, their excellent semi-acoustic let’s sort of do an unplugged album which was all the rage in the early to mid-1990s. But, we’re the Stones so we’ll do it our way with studio and live cuts including some plugged-in material.
Jimmy Reed, Little Rain . . . Great slow blues from Reed, somewhat uncharacteristic to me from other material I know from him. It’s another I plucked from the CD curated by the Stones and one they covered for the Blue and Lonesome album.
Son Seals, Telephone Angel . . . A modern electric blues guitarist/singer, he definitely led the stereotypical life of the blues. Shot in the jaw by his wife, requiring reconstructive surgery, lost part of his left leg due to diabetes complications, lost his belongings in a house fire while away on tour . . . He died in 2004 at age 62 of complications from diabetes. But he left us much enduring work, like this tune from his 1976 release, Midnight Son, acknowledged by many as his best album.
Bob Dylan, Blind Willie McTell . . . When this Infidels album outtake from 1983 came out on Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 in 1991, fans and critics alike were amazed and perplexed all at once. How could he have held this back from release at the time? Well, that’s Dylan. Just a brilliant song, with spiritual overtones, like much of Dylan’s work, both musically and lyrically.
Blind Willie McTell, Statesboro Blues . . . And here’s Blind Willie himself, singing those blues as nobody else could or can, on a song The Allman Brothers later took to the masses via their live version on At Fillmore East.
Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers, Taylor’s Rock . . . Blistering instrumental featuring Taylor’s great guitar playing, from the longtime bluesman’s first studio album, Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers, which came out in 1971 after many unrecorded years on the road.
John Lee Hooker, It Serves You Right To Suffer . . . Spooky Hooker tune, the title cut from his 1966 album. The J. Geils Band later recorded an extended near-10 minute version on their great Live Full House album.
Bo Diddley, Crawdad . . . B-side to Diddley’s Walkin’ and Talkin’ single in 1960; typical of the propulsive Diddley sound. I like it better than the A-side.
Robert Nighthawk & His Flames Of Rhythm, Maxwell Street Medley . . . Nighthawk taught Muddy Waters and our next player, Earl Hooker, slide guitar but never achieved the commercial success of, particularly, Waters. And Nighthawk was influential beyond those two greats; B.B. King adapted parts of this tune for his own Sweet Little Angel.
Earl Hooker, Wah Wah Blues . . . Speaking of Earl Hooker . . . A great wah wah guitar instrumental from 1968.
Koko Taylor, I’m A Woman . . . Taylor’s adapted lyrics answer, from a female perspective, to Bo Diddley’s I’m A Man and Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy. Terrific stuff, from her appropriately titled 1978 release, The Earthshaker.
Willie Mae “Big Mama’ Thornton, Hound Dog . . . Yes, the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller-penned tune that Elvis Presley made famous. But it was a No. 1 hit for Thornton on the R & B charts for seven of the 14 weeks it spent on that list in 1953. Elvis did his more rocked-up version in 1956. Great versions, both.
Zu Zu Bollin, Why Don’t You Eat Where You Slept Last Night . . . Up tempo jazzy blues recorded in 1952 by the somewhat obscure Bollin that I dug up from a great series of blues compilations I own, a multi-volume set called Blues Masters: The Essential Blues Collection. Bollin, a Texas bluesman, worked with such arguably better-known talents as Duke Robillard and Percy Mayfield.
Johnny Copeland, Down On Bending Knees . . . Fun relationship-oriented stuff from Copeland, a T-Bone Walker disciple.
Dinah Washington, Baby, Get Lost . . . Speaking of relationships, Dinah ain’t taking no shit, here. “I got so many men they’re standing in line’ she sings. No kidding. She was married seven (!) times. Or six, depending on your source. All in 39 years on the planet, a life cut short due to hard living, booze and pills she took to battle insomnia, apparently. Her last husband was 1950s and 60s football great Dick (Night Train) Lane. A sad loss of a wonderful, expressive voice.
Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mojo Hand . . . Great up-tempo title cut from the Texas guitarist-songwriter’s 1962 album.
Bessie Smith, Me & My Gin . . . You listen to these old blues tracks and so much of it is so mind-blowing; one can hear the obvious influences on the artists, especially the white blues rock/rock and rollers, that followed. Sight unseen, I hear Janis Joplin in Smith’s terrific raw vocals, and Joplin indeed credited Smith as an influence.
Little Walter, I Got To Go . . . A giant of blues harmonica, a major influence on so many, including Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones covered it, one of four Little Walter (born Marion Walter Jacobs)-penned tunes, on their 2016 album Blue and Lonesome.
Lead Belly, Good Night, Irene . . . So many versions of this standard, including several by Lead Belly (Huddie William Ledbetter) himself. This is the 2:38-length version I pulled from The Essential Recordings. And on that note, good night until next week.