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An Introduction to the Blues in Five Records

By: Ben Schwind

Blues is a form of music that is often underappreciated today. From an outside perspective it can be easily written off as repetitive and simplistic, but when you dig in to the genre you’ll find one of the most expressive and emotional styles around. Blues music is the soundtrack for the party as well as the struggle. It’s nothing but three chords and the truth. If you’re interested in learning more it can be a daunting task deciding where to start with over a century’s worth of recorded music – B.B. King alone has 46 studio albums. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, we’re here to give you a crash course.

Live at the Regal – B.B. Kinglive-at-regal-cover.jpg
Live at the Regalis considered by many to be one of the greatest blues albums of all time, so that makes it a good spot to start. Recorded at B.B. King’s November 21st, 1964 concert in Chicago, this album shows why the blues is best experienced live. The crowd, which plays almost an equal part on this record as the musicians themselves, responds to B.B.’s vocal lines and inter-song dialogue with hoots and hollers as if it were a Blues State of the Union Address. Eric Clapton – a giant of the genre in his own right – has said he listens to Live at the Regal to prepare for his own concerts.

Hard_Again_LP,_Muddy_Waters.jpgHard Again – Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters, up until this album released in 1977, spent his career with Chess Records making singles in the 50’s and albums in the 60’s. This era brought him international success, spreading Chicago blues around the world and influencing bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and many others. During this time, Chess would not allow Muddy Waters to use his own band on recordings, and instead surrounded him with studio musicians. His first album in the post-Chess era, Hard Again, shows what Muddy can do when surrounded by his own band. The comeback album feels like you’re sitting in a Chicago blues club. It’s a driving force from the first moan on, “Mannish Boy,” to the final harp lick on, “Little Girl.” At 64, Muddy had a swagger to his music that musicians a third his age lacked, and it’s what makes this album a must hear.

Bluesbreakers_John_Mayall_with_Eric_Clapton.jpgBlues Breakers with Eric Clapton – John Mayall
Like The Yardbirds, John Mayall and the Blues Breakers were synonymous with great guitarists. When Clapton left The Yardbirds to join the Blues Breakers, he was already known in the English blues scene as a guitar Phenom – this album would help him reach superstar status. Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton is a great album for an introduction to the blues because it is as much influenced as it is influential. Featuring songs from Ray Charles, Robert Johnson, Otis Rush, Freddie King, and Little Walter, this album is a recorded testament to the effect American blues had on England in the 60’s.

born-under-a-bad-sign-albert-king.jpgBorn Under a Bad Sign – Albert King
Paired with Stax studio band Booker T. and the MGs, Albert King’s second album Born Under a Bad Sign is an incredible collection of soulful blues songs backed with a powerful horn section and driving bass work from Donald “Duck” Dunn. Known as, “The Velvet Bulldozer,” Albert king was a large man with a smooth voice that would draw you in to hit you with a screaming guitar solo. The title track for this album would become a modern-day blues standard, recorded by many different artists over the years, and influencing guitar greats like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The Complete Recordings – Robert JohnsonRobert_Johnson_-_The_Complete_Recordings.jpg
It’s hard to talk about the blues without mentioning Robert Johnson. Nearly every blues musician is influenced by him in some way, even though his career was short and shrouded in mystery. Robert Johnson is at the center of the blues’ most told story in which he traveled to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil to become a great blues musician. While not an album in the traditional sense, The Complete Recordings, is the best collection of songs from, “The King of the Delta Blues.” These recordings are from the 30’s, and are low quality, but they’re important to what the blues would become in the following decades.

If this list has you hooked on three chords and the truth, well we’re just getting started. You can find bluesmen with a modern spin on the genre like Gary Clark Jr., Tedeschi Trucks Band or Doyle Bramhall II (who’s playing the Redstone Room on Friday, April 14th, 2017). Check out other blues legends like Freddie King, Ray Charles, Bessie Smith, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Sonny Boy Williamson II, or Elmore James. There’s even blues influenced bands like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Jack White, The Allman Brothers and The Black Keys. The blues is living history with over 100 years of music for you to discover!

The RME is one of the best venues in the area to catch a blues show. Check out our Calendar of Events or signup for our weekly newsletter for all the latest.


| 4/13/2017 2:19:06 PM | 0 comments
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