The Top 13 Best Blues Albums to Own on Vinyl
Tracing back to the earliest days of music, blues has always held a special place in musical culture. From the old days of plucking and bottleneck drawls, there have never been a collection of pieces too simple that didn’t tell some sort of story related to freedom, happiness, or acceptance.
In this article, there will not only be an extensive background on the evolution of blues music, but I’ll also provide you with my list of the 13 best Blues albums of all time that should absolutely be owned on vinyl!
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Top 13 Blues Albums of All Time
Let’s kick this list off with Fleetwood Mac.
13) Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac (1968)
It wasn’t until 1966 when Eric Clapton left The Bluesbreakers, giving Peter Green the chance to take his place in the band and meet Mick Fleetwood, late drummer of the band, and bassist John McVie.
After a while, the trio noticed how similar all their influences were, and how easy it would be to break off and have their own music. In 1967, that’s exactly what happened – “Fleetwood Mac” was born, giving rise to hard-core British blues band back in the late 60’s. A few weeks later, their friend Jeremy Spencer joined as their bottle-neck slide guitarist, completing their original, legendary sound.
The band’s self-titled debut album was a smash, making the U.K.’s Top Ten. Later on, Fleetwood Mac would add several bandmates, evolving their sound to their well-known pop-rock musical trend, though these blues roots are essential for every blues fan to have on their shelf – a pure classic with some of the best musicians of the 60’s. Starting the album off with “My Heart Beat Like A Hammer,” the band has a few short riffs that are jammed out, before completely starting out.
The steady strum of McVie and Jeremy’s hand swinging back and forth up the slide guitar’s fretboard, playing higher and higher notes as the time goes on. In conjunction with Peter’s raspy, jailer-like voice, the nasty, quick riffs accentuate the organic, soft sound coming from Mick Fleetwood’s drumming.
While “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Shake Your Moneymaker,” “No Place to Go,” and “Got to Move” are all covers of famous blues artists of their time, Fleetwood Mac’s variations were much more edgy, with a major emphasis on wiry-riffs with the electric slide guitar and bass orchestrate the overall rhythm.
Exquisite, pent-up energy reverberated from every track, especially their classic hits, “Long Grey Marie,” featuring Bob Brunning as the bassist, and “Looking for Somebody.” Only increasing in tempo with every smack of the drum and steady, consistent revving of the bass, “Fleetwood Mac” is one of the most upbeat, villainous albums you can own, perfect for any vinyl collector who has a taste for deep, sensual tracks with a nasty harmonica saddling over the melody.
12) Duster Bennett and His House Band – Smiling Like You’re Happy (1968)
Tony Bennett, later known as “Duster” Bennett, was born on September 23, 1946, in the town of Welshpool, Montgomeryshire. Out here, the blues legends grew up playing the harmonica and guitar with his old friend Anthony Topham, a.k.a. “Top.”
The men decided to enroll in the Epson Art School in 1964 to start focusing on their passion for playing the blues and jazz music for all the kids at their school dances. After a period of time, the pair took their skills over to the Guildford Art School in 1965, where the duo split up to join two different bands – Duster joining a jug band, in particular. Though years went by of the duo finding one another again, in the late 60’s and playing their songs on the Mike Raven and John Peel Radio shows, as well as live BBC television.
Due to his outrageous, lively performances grabbed the attention of Peter Green, (known for being with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers and Fleetwood Mac) who convinced the founder of Blue Horizon Records, Mike Vernon, to reach out to the bluesman.
It wasn’t long after that Duster started recording his first release, which sparked his long career of performing and recording with legends such as Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. While CBS wasn’t fond of his sound originally, it’s clear that with his honest persistence and talent that Duster Bennett is one of the most sensational blues guitarists of all time, treasured now by the general population with eternal appreciation.
Fleetwood Mac & Duster Bennett’s Legendary Collaboration
“Smiling Like I’m Happy” is a special Duster Bennett vinyl, fusing the talents of Bennett and the original Fleetwood Mac band of 1968. Peter’s dirty harmonica paired with Mick Fleetwood’s drums and John McVie’s bass blend effortlessly with Duster’s emotional voice and guitar tracks.
Jeremy Spencer’s work on the piano for songs such as “Trying To Paint It In The Sky” and “My Love is Your Love” is a classic blues hit by Magic Sam, though Duster’s voice mimicking the voice of Jack Bruce much more.
Soothing, heart touching reflection of Bennett’s passion and tone within the lyrical context is sensational, almost like he was acting out the song with the pleasure of crafting the melody behind it. “Jumping At Shadows” and “Got a Tongue In Your Head” are other classics on this vinyl, where Peter’s harmonica takes center stage for several screeching, lung-debilitating solos.
Jazz and rock-inspired blues songs like “Worried Mind” and “My Lucky Day” echo with catchy notes and riffs that have one swaying back and forth, almost like a hearty combination of Elvis, John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, and Duster’s own signature sound.
The original vinyl might be a doozy to find – on the bright side, major carriers such as Walmart, Amazon, and eBay offer a remastered vinyl record of “Smiling Like I’m Happy” for less than $50! Considering the mass amounts of fame this album gained with such little time on the top charts, it’s no wonder that Duster Bennett is still treasured today.
11) B. B. King – Singin’ The Blues (1957)
Quick riffs trying to copy the rhythm of Elmore James and Robert Johnson, B. B. King’s sensational jazz-house beat intermingled with the sound of a mean bluesman wailing at the train station to create a new sound.
Theatrical chords in songs such as his greatest hits, “Everyday I Own The Blues,” “Please Love Me,” and “Did You Ever Love A Woman” show off his blend of unique influences throughout his career – a melody that later transcended the sound of electric, blues-rock music, such as those bands like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and Elvis Presley.
Modeling the style of T-Bone Walker and Chuck Berry, this loud, fast, rambunctious scene caused with each solo is greatly accentuated by the slow, rhythmic bass, and heavy drums. “Singin’ The Blues” is B. B. King’s great follow-up album to his debut, “The Blues,” which blew every other album he’s created out of the water.
B. B. King plays with exceptional emotional quality, one of which isn’t shown to this degree while coupled with jazzy piano and consistent, jazz-blues sound.
The Rise of the King of Blues
Riley King, better known as B.B. King, is one of the most successful blues musicians and songwriters the world has ever know. Born back in 1925 on a plantation down in a town near Indianola named Itta Bena, Mississippi, King grew up under humble circumstances while playing his own music up to four nights a week on the street corner, collecting mere dimes for every performance.
Influenced by major artists like T-Bone Walker and Blind Lemon Jefferson, his guitar style transcended the style of the normal blues sound, intermingling slight jazz notes with his calm, hoarse voice.
Later down the road in 1947, King finally felt it was time to pursue his passion for blues music, and he hitchhiked all the way to Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis, the blues community was oozing with talent, blended with subgenres of jazz, blues, and rock that varied in every consistency. Riley learned the ropes with ease from his own cousin, Bukka White, who is also one of the greatest blues artists of his time.
From there, B.B. earned a gig on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio in 1948, which gave him the vast amount of invitations to play over at West Memphis’ Sixteenth Avenue Grill. Once his popularity began to grow, it was time to give him a stage name that would be catchy and easy to remember.
Originally deciding between Beale Street Blues Boy and Blues Boy King, the radio eventually shortened it to B.B. King – starting one of the most legendary strings of performances and recording studio deals history has ever known. Following this, B.B. King recorded over 50 records that gave him the spotlight at the Newport Folk Festival, opening for The Rolling Stones, Blues Foundation Hall of Fame of 1984, a Grammy award, and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of 1987.
Though the jumping bluesman who performed all the way up to the year he passed away in 2015, B.B. King’s legend still lives on, making it impossible to find a used album under his name in any old record store.
Nowadays, if there’s a need for a B.B. King album, the best bet is to jump online and invest about $30 into a solid vinyl, since every store will have them sold out.
10) John Lee Hooker – House of Blues (1960)
On August 22, 1917, near the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi, John Lee Hooker was thrown out of the womb to be raised by a quiet, humble sharecropping family. In his early adolescence, John learned how to play blues rhythm on his guitar from William Moore, his stepfather who was credited for the genius behind John’s playstyle.
Once Hooker found himself in the depths of his passion, he traveled to Memphis and Cincinnati, only to end up north of Detroit. He moved here and earned a job as a janitor though every night he was jamming at house parties along the rural Delta. Playing at parties earned him a ton of popularity around town, even record stores were hearing about the rural madman!
One day in 1948, Elmer Barbee, who was the owner of a local record store in Detroit, introduced Hooker the owner of Sensation Records named Bernard Besman. Hooker then recorded his first few tracks such as “Boogie Chillen,” “Crawling Kingsnake,” and “I’m in the Mood.” These hits were all over, even in the jukebox!
After 15 years, Hooker signed to Vee-Jay Records and recorded consistently, with well over 100 songs released! Nowadays, John Lee Hooker albums are wiped clean off any record store shelf, giving rise to thousands of guitarists who favored his gorgeous style.
It wasn’t until 1960 that “House of Blues” was released, following a number of singles and performances all over the country. Imagine the band playing in a small cabinet sealed with steel, rebounding echoing voices with a metallic elemental disposition – If one can do that, then the sound production of the album down.
In “Walkin’ The Boogie,” Hooker’s scary fast riffs blow off steam quicker than a shot of whiskey reverberate behind his voice while the drummer kicks the drums like a calm, hard slap that slowly speeds up as the song progresses.
The amount of soul and energy pumping through each track soaks into one’s veins and heats up the body with exaggerated detail. The stomping during each song such as “Love Blues” or “Sugar Mama” almost yank at the tip of the head and drag it back and forth, moving to the quiet rhythm that goes along to an eight-count beat – slapping the bass, heavy riffs, and pain with each lyric he yells and hums.
“House of Blues” easily was one of his best albums, as well as one of the easiest to find online. Though there’s plenty in stock, this vinyl will never go out of fashion, being one of the most influential acoustic guitar styles of all time.
9) T-Bone Walker – T-Bone Blues (1960)
Born with the name Aaron Thibeaux Walker in 1910, T-Bone was one of the most successful and influential electric-blues guitar players of all time. Living in Dallas, Texas, Aaron spent his youth leading Blind Lemon Jefferson around the streets of the town. Walker was able to play a variety of instruments with the help of his stepfather named Marco Washington, such as the ukulele, piano, violin, banjo, guitar, and mandolin.
Once T-Bone was just 18, he recorded his first album and toured around Texas where he met Charlie Christian – the first electric guitarist in jazz. T-Bone learned all the ins and outs of the electric guitar, bringing his swinging rhythm to California down the road in 1934.
It was here that T-Bone worked with Les Hite’s Big Band for a year between 1939 and 1940, and then continued to create masterpieces until the time he passed in 1975 – all still spun on vinyl players today.
With a voice like a milky Frank Sinatra, “T-Bone Blues” combines the sound of the orchestra and his whimsical rhythm that’s mistakable for jazz – all the way until T-Bone rails the electric guitar with Chuck Berry-like speed, consistency, and structure. “T-Bone Shuffle” and “Play On Little Girl” show the collaboration of each instrument working in conjunction and with perfect measure within one another.
The mix of T-Bone’s eccentric, jolly tune created a standard for modern blues singers, incorporating harsh harmonica, electric slide guitar, grand-style drumming, quick piano, and a collection of jazz instruments such as a bass, trumpets, and saxophones.
8) Junior Wells – Hoodoo Man Blues (1965)
Over 40 years, Junior Wells played his Chicago-blues style until he passed in the 90’s. Wells was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1934, where he started playing the harp as soon as he was able to. Little Junior Parker, soon-to-be blues star of their time, taught Junior how to play the harp with exquisite finger work until he was the age of 12.
By this age, Wells and his family moved out to Chicago, where the music scene was raging for blues, jazz, and rock music. Joining a few bands like the Deuces and the Aces, he also took the place of Little Walter once he stopped playing with Muddy Waters in 1952. These two created some of the finest records of all time, though “Hoodoo Man Blues” turned out to be his most famous collaborative album, featuring Buddy Guy.
The underground style of Junior’s dirty harmonica in conjunction with the playstyle of Buddy Guy’s scary fast, electric strumming on the guitar, the deepest sense of Chicago blues pours out of each and every note, cloaked in excessively loud bass guitar and dramatic, loud drumming.
Songs such as “Ships on the Ocean,” “Hoodoo Man Blues,” and “We’re Ready” are exceptional examples of the reliance of every faction of the band. The famous covers the band played, such as “Good Morning Schoolgirl,” “Hound Dog,” and “Yonder Wall” were strummed with the same original structure of the song’s basic rhythm, though Buddy Guy’s guitar streamed with great energy alongside the theatrical emphasis on Junior’s harmonica. “Hoodoo Man Blues” is an absolute gem, and must be owned by any vinyl lover in existence who grooves to the sound of true Chicago blues.
7) Charlie Musselwhite – Stand Back! Here Comes Charley… (1967)
From down south in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Charles Musselwhite was born into the musical family of a piano playing mom, and a guitar-strumming dad in 1944. Charlie was a modest man, working dead-end jobs all over town.
After he was old enough, he moved up north in search of a better job out in Chicago, where all his favorite sounds intermingled in one place. Meeting legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy, Charlie was all over the south-side music scene with ease as he played famous quick riffs that were later exemplified by other major artists, such as The Doors’ Robby Krieger.
Not long after his rise of fame in the late 50s, Charlie became great friends with the owner of Jazz Record Mart and Delmark Records, Bob Koester – such good friends, Charlie actually stayed in the Jazz Record Mart’s basement for a little while!
Charlie’s capability to wail on a harmonica while playing flawless guitar, singing rough, whiskey vocals across the room through and performing with genuine passion is unmatched, especially with help from fast, rock-inspired drums by Fred Below, Bob Anderson’s throbbing bass, Harvey Mandel’s electric-blues solos, and Barry Goldberg’s god-like talent to wiggle his fingers along the organ, keyboards, piano, as well as guitar. “Cha Cha The Blues” is one of the best songs ever written in blues history, collaborating the efforts of tons of solos. These solos include a lightning-fast harmonica on top of a beachy riff and fun, fast drums, almost like The Ventures.
Barry Goldberg’s organ contributions sound like a record screeching, though the speed and consistency of the keys as the tempo of the song increases forms a zealous, almost dangerous anthem to jam to.
In addition to “Cha Cha The Blues,” a few other hits on this album magnified the dramatic quality of each and every electric-rock and Chicago-blues note, such as “Early In The Morning,” “Sad Day,” and “4 P.M.” Though “Stand Back!” was one of the most exceptional albums Charlie has ever worked on, every album he’s had a place in oozes with overzealous, angry rhythm with the subtle, melancholy drawl that’s natural to the sound of blues music.
6) Muddy Waters – Fathers and Sons (1969)
Muddy Waters is perhaps one of the most influential bluesmen of the world – fusing the sound of Delta and Chicago blues with an electric twist. Born in Issaquena County, Mississippi on April 4, 1913, McKinley Morganfield was born.
Raised by his grandmother due to his mother’s death in 1918, McKinley played in a dirty old creek, earning his playful nickname “Muddy Waters.” In his younger days, he taught himself how to play the harmonica and began performing with a band who played only in dingy, Delta nightclubs. One night, Muddy watched the crazy guitar style of Son House, a local Delta bluesman of their time.
It was that performance that sparked his passion for playing guitar to the sound of his favorite Robert Johnson records, Waters picked up his own variation quickly. Revolving into an all-inclusive, versatile artist, Waters moved to Chicago to fully immerse himself in the music scene in 1943.
From there on, he played all over while employed at a paper mill until his friend Sunnyland Slim, another blues star, helped him get a contract with Aristocrat Records in 1946. Though this didn’t work out for a while, once the Chess brothers renamed the recording studio to Chess Records, he came out with his top hit, “Rolling Stone.” He performed all the way until his death in 1987, collaborating with many artists to make sensational pieces, such as Junior Wells, Eric Clapton, Otis Spann, and Willie Dixon.
“Fathers and Sons” was a whole new beast – taking on the sound of his classic electric hop, in conjunction with the constant slapping and scratching of what sounds like a thousand instruments chugging along the underground railroad.
The phenomenal quality being both lively and energetic in songs such as “All Aboard,” “Mean Disposition,” and “Forty Days and Forty Nights”, combining a caffeinated harmonica and piano collaboration with Muddy’s powerful voice and guitar riffs while coating that rhythm on top of the bass and jazz-inspired drums.
Artists Otis Spann (piano), Michael Bloomfield (guitar), Donald Dunn (bass guitar), Buddy Miles (drums), and Sam Lay (drums) all contributed their own part, forming one of the most legendary big bands to ever back one of Muddy’s album.
The album cover for “Fathers and Sons” was extremely controversial, though nowadays it can be appreciated for the sake of the artistic representation of Michelangelo’s painting, “the Creation of Adam,” showing a black God, and a white man with a pair of sunglasses on Earth.
5) John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966)
One of the most versatile blues groups of all time, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers lasted between 1963 and the early 2000’s, performing with over 15 phenomenal artists that went on to make history in bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Cream, and the Rolling Stones.
John Mayall’s band was formed with the intent to evolve younger artist’s abilities to become the best they can be, giving the sound of blues a variety of sounds to rock out to. Based in Chicago-style sound with electric blues rhythm, Mayall wrote original, unique material that constantly tested his creative ability to rearrange the quality of his blues sound. This finishing school for British bands closing up the century released an album every couple of years, performing hundreds of live shows all over the world.
“Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” was released in 1966, a few years after the band’s formation, featuring a harmonica and a Hammond organ. Eric Clapton’s Sunburst Gibson Les Paul created the standard for their natural rhythm throughout their career.
This sound created a psychedelic-rock quality to the electric blues notes, such as the songs, “All Your Love,” “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” and “Have You Heard.” Otis Rush is a huge influence on Clapton, Peter Green, and John McVie (bass guitar).
Hughie Flint’s portion on drums in “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” is mind-blowing, mimicking the future sound of Cream while Clapton wails away with the most electrifying guitar, ever. John Mayall’s voice was soothing an easy to jive to. Without too much frequency within his vocal range, the moaning-drawl of his voice paired will with Clapton and Otis Rush’s collaboration of rock and roll blues guitar, influenced from artists such as Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters.
4) Elmore James – Blues After Hours (1961)
Linking traditional Delta blues with the swing of the Chicago-blues beat, Elmore James blasted on the scene with the craziest sound the world has ever heard. Born in Richland, Mississippi on January 27, 1918, Elmore was raised in the home of his stepdad and mother, Leola Brooks and Joe Willie James.
Creating his own guitar fusing a lard can and a broom handle, Elmore learned his famous bottleneck slide before his age hit double digits. Working as a weekend musician at the age of 14, he found himself working all over Belzoni, playing with famous blues legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Sonny Boy Williamson.
Blues After Hours is a classic mix of fast, jungle-like drums and symbols with fast piano keys, just like Chuck Berry’s band. “Dust My Blues” sound almost identical to the riffs in Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” though there is a distinct blues quality to the track as the bass strums slow and steady, with heavy drums that bang like bongos in the African Congo.
“Standing in the Crossroads,” “I Was A Fool,” and “No Love In My Heart” are also fantastic hits on this album that slide with electric rhythm, eccentric speed, and ultimate precision on the composition of his musical lyricism. It’s absolutely no wonder that Elmore James is by far the most influential guitar player the blues world has ever seen.
Behind the Legend
Elmore grew up to repair his own guitar amplifiers, crafting his own sound and mastering the quality of sound production with his own two hands. The creative variations on this amp made the sound coming from his acoustic guitar stream electric notes that wallow in sappy, emotional drawls.
Sticking by Sonny Boy throughout the late 30s, Elmore spent time collaborating on work until he was drafted for the second world war, taking off to Guam as a U.S. Navy soldier. This time away actually influenced a lot of his work on his work to come, such as his lyrical work centered around the war in the song “Look On Yonder Wall.”
Three years in Guam had no effect on the bluesman’s momentum back home, as he worked in clubs over in Memphis with his cousin, Homesick James, and Eddie Taylor, who both have a great reputation with genuine blues music.
Not long after, he played on the “King Biscuit Time Radio Show,” one of the most famous radio shows in Helena, Alabama of the early 40s. With this huge spike in fame, Sonny Boy brought Elmore onto one of his albums to sing the end of his hit, “Dust My Broom,” giving his career the support of a well-rounded record label, Trumpeter Records. Rolling Stone gave Elmore a spot on their “100 Greatest Guitarists” article, due to his swinging, bottleneck slide streamed through his amplifier all over the United States, inspiring artists such as The Doors and Jimi Hendrix.
The combination of Elmore’s melancholy voice bleeding through the stereo and the fast-paced riffs that were dragged all over the fretboard like a bouncy ball gave his rhythm visceral depth and comfort.
The raw, organic quality of the musical production gave each vinyl a sense of his personal recording sessions, a quality treasured by collectors all over the world. Though his original vinyl won’t be available in your area, finding a brand-new, remastered edition of the vinyl is easy online and will cost you under $50.
3) Buddy Guy – A Man And The Blues (1968)
Born on July 30, 1936, Buddy Guy was born in Lettsworth, Louisiana where he learned to play the guitar only at the age of 7. In fact, he even built his very own two-string guitar out of some wood and hairpins to start out with, which made his finger-dancing techniques all the more unique with this type of creative musical practice. It wasn’t until Buddy was 19 that he bought himself a real guitar, practicing with immense passion and stride while considering the move to Chicago.
One night, a friend of his has suggested that he try, and Buddy followed the steps of Hooker and Waters and went for the big city in 1957. The initial goal was to double his salary at the University of Chicago as a custodian, compared to the salary he had at Louisiana State University for the same position.
Shortly after his arrival, Buddy actually found himself meeting Otis Rush, famous blues guitarist, getting himself consistent gigs at a popular joint called the 708 Club. At this club, Muddy Waters watched Guy perform with outstanding charisma and overwhelming control over each and every note echoing from the guitar, making one of the baddest rhythms Muddy had ever heard.
From there, Guy performed with Muddy, as well as on his own at the 708 Club. Willie Dixon, a famous musical composer, watched Buddy perform one night, and snatched him a contract with Chess Records. Guy played all over the place, recording tons of hits under this label with the men who influenced him most, such as Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf.
A Shift in Record Labels and Sound
Later down the road, the late 60s gave Buddy the desire to produce his own music with more freedom and creative influence, rather than go on recording with Chess Records. In 1968, Buddy’s album called, “A Man and the Blues,” would release his first album with Vanguard – and with a major smash it did! The collaboration between his swift, soulful tracks echoes the sound of heavy rain on a railroad track, as the crew hums and sings away.
Humming and jamming like the prequel to the largest jazz band alive, songs such as “I Can’t Quit The Blues” and “Money (That’s What I Want)” rock with an emphasis on the electric-slide, fingerpicking solos in between the brass band and the slow tapping of the drums.
Other songs such as “One Room Country Shack” and “Sweet Little Angel” are much slower, with the influence of swamp blues or the early works of the pre-war musical era. The emphasis is on the vocal range and lyrics streaming out of Buddy’s lungs, as well as a quiet bass and guitar, monitored with intermittent focus on their individual elements.
“Playing My Axe” actually became one of the most famous sounds ever, due to the majority of the musical composition being incorporated into The Rolling Stones’ rendition of the song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” though with much more powerful guitar solos and a raspy, hoarse voice to complement the melody.
Buddy’s album “A Man and the Blues” carried every ounce of his honest potential burning for years before the recording studio all along the streets of Chicago.
2) Lonnie Johnson – Blues and Ballads (1960)
Alonzo Johnson was born on February 9, 1899, in the historic town of New Orleans, Louisiana in the home of musicians. His father played the violin, encouraging his wife, his seven boys and five girls to play some music of their own.
Growing up on with the influence of early Delta-blues and jazz musicians, Lonnie’s flat-picking style became fluid and consistent, playing in the family band at many gigs, such as weddings or banquets. James, or “Steady Roll,” was a huge influence on his little brother, Lonnie, as he played piano, guitar, and violin – all with exquisite skill and effortless transition between individual notes.
Once Lonnie was a bit older, he started playing the violin at Iroquois Theatre, as well as playing alongside the famous trumpeter of their time, Punch Miller, all around the New Orleans’ Storyville district.
Once 1917 hit, Lonnie traveled to perform in London, England for a revue tour, one of the most exciting things that could happen for a man in this time period. Playing all over, the man came back and joined this man Charlie Creath’s band, resulting in a debut album being released in 1925 after Lonnie had won the talent content by Okeh Records that same year!
A Massive Legacy
This same luck carried Johnson & Creath’s songs to the heights of popularity, giving him the chance to play as Okeh’s house musician for two years. Okeh offered endless opportunities for Lonnie to record, such as with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Eddie land, and the Chocolate Dandies.
Not only that but in 1929 he toured with one the most inspirational blues women of their time, Bessie Smith, which brought his talent to Cleveland for decades. From there, the popularity ceased to end – touring England in 1952, recording over a hundred songs, playing at Town Hall in New York between 1960 and 1961, and playing the American Folk Blues Festival in 1963. Lonnie settled in Canada in 1965, opening his own blues club a year later.
One of the gentlest voices that are easy to swallow, Lonnie Johnson’s “Blues and Ballads” offers incredible songs with the utmost quality and care. Every lyric is written with a visual quality behind the echo of the deep bass line, such as that of “Haunted House” – a slow electric and acoustic guitars playing alongside one another, layering upon one another like the arms of the ghosts around Lonnie’s shoulders.
Other tracks on the album ring back this jolly, easy rhythmic flow such as “Jelly Roll Baker” and “I’ll Get Along Somehow.” The sound of Lonnie’s music evolved from the late 20’s sound to be a little more modern, though he sticks with his usual acoustic-based set with an easy rhythm.
Slow like a man counting his steps, the beat rings true to the melancholy blues rhythm, as well as playing calm, collective solos that give a crisp production of each and every note struck as Lonnie’s hands move about the guitar. The slow, classic blues style is explicated greatly through tracks such as “Memories Of You” and “Elmer’s Blues,” giving off the strong electric-Chicago influenced style.
This vinyl is an undeniable classic – remastered and restored, one can purchase this collection of influential, unforgettable records of Johnson’s unique, quiet yet quick style for under $30! Lonnie’s life was one of the most colorful, influential backgrounds the world has known, encouraging the modern world of blues to pursue itself without the fear of failure.
1) Robert Johnson – King Of The Delta Blues (1937)
The King of Delta Blues at only age 26, Robert Johnson revitalized the sound of blues music with the sound of deep, bellowing notes that were crafted with sophisticated structure. Born in Mississippi on May 8th, 1911, the Johnsons were in major poverty, offering Robert the perception of a humbled, melancholy man.
Taking his harsh disposition and crafting his lyrical composition to appeal to people of all different lights of life for various reasons. Since Robert passed away in 1938, he hardly had two full years of genuine praise for his music while he was alive, except for all the people he played to while traveling the United States.
After his death, his work became critically reviewed by millions worldwide, giving life to the sleeping giant that rested between the sounds of his discs played on 78 rpm record players.
Johnson is largely known for his work done in Texas between 1936 and 1937, where he recorded 29 songs with the American Record Corporation, their most famous release being “King Of The Delta Blues Singers.” The quality of each song is phenomenal, plucking with devilish speed and frequency.
In songs such as “Hell Hound On My Trail,” “Cross Road Blues,” and “Walkin’ Blues,” the solo strumming resembles that of the Mississippi Delta, though he strums notes that come from all over the fretboard – almost as if he had two hands controlling the guitar. It’s fantastic how this man found his way around the guitar strings with such ferocity and mastery, while still shouting generous, emotional perceptions on the Great Depression, loneliness, and terrors of being an African-American during the late 30s.
Not only that, but the frequency of his humming seems to be an instrument all on its own, with massive depth as it leaves one calm and warm. “King Of The Delta Blues” was by far the best album ever released by Johnson, holding the majority of his best tracks listed above, as well as “Come On In My Kitchen” and “When You Got A Good Friend.”
His death was a strange event, as he was intentionally poisoned and there’s no definitive person who was responsible. Rumor says he traded his soul to the Devil for his exceptional technique on the guitar, and it may not be that far-fetched. Either way, Robert inspired the most influential musicians of all time such as The Rolling Stones, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan, and continues to inspire blues guitarists to this day.
Evolution of Blues Music
Dating all the way back to before the age of electric guitars and jazz bands, blues artists originated from the early styles of African American music based in Africa, such as their work songs and spiritual music.
African work songs were colloquial tunes that would be hummed, sung, and whistled as time went by. These songs were usually written in a call-and-response shout – a leader sings the order, and the rest of the team hollers back in response. Heard in the fields of slave owners in the United States during the 19th century, the early styles of blues music usually focused on the solo work of a man rather than a band, such as Henry Thomas and Lead Belly.
A contemporary beat with the usual slow, melancholy rhythm matched by the emotional content following their long days at work.
Ethiopian airs, African spirituals and minstrel shows, influenced many elements of the original layout of blues music with the use of instruments such as a harmonica or banjo. Almost identical to the sound of ragtime, though blues music held more of the original patterns of African musical composition and techniques.
With the fusion of European musical structure, these African-derived call-and-response shouts and the strumming of a banjo or howl of the harmonica created a sound that the people regarded as “hillbilly music” to sell amongst the African-American community.
All these sounds were streamed from old phonograph players since the making of normal record players wouldn’t happen until a little later.
“Blues” isn’t a name that came along lightly – this musical genre stemmed from a long line of oppressed individuals. While the appearance of blues music dates sometime between 1870 and 1900, there is no definitive date.
Around this time period, the Emancipation Proclamation invoked the possibility for ex-slaves to get out in their community and dance at small clubs, often called “juke joints.” Here they could listen to good music after a long day of work, gamble some of their cash, and talk about the railroad expansion.
The rustic sound of the railroad workers echoes in the classic blues songs of the early 1900’s, though usually railroad workers were known to follow the call-and-response style due to the excessive workload.
Shortly after the rise of blues, the American sheet music publishing industry blew up, releasing a lot of ragtime to the public, as well as three well-known compositions with blues elements, which were W.C. Handy’s “The Memphis Blues,” Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues,” and Baby F. Seals’ “Baby Seals’ Blues.” The “Father of the Blues,”
W.C. Handy was the first to compose and arrange his work to work with a band. Handy combined the smooth sound of the orchestral jazz-band, blues structure, and ragtime elements in between. It was Handy’s work that landed in the hands of white folk due to his incorporation of female blues singers.
Pre-war blues draw the origins for Delta blues, which was based in Mississippi due to Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Mctell. Their combination of ragtime and rural blues created the light, whimsical nature of the Mississippi Delta sound, fusing elements of finger-plucking, piano work, and jazz instruments such as a trumpet or a bass.
Earlier blues music was considered more country-like, as the urban and rural elements of the southern states of the U.S. By the 1920’s, Memphis, Tennessee was popping with a new sound – the Memphis blues. This blend of electric blues and the classic country sound. This upbeat rhythm incorporated swing elements such as a few jazz instruments.
The work of Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith and Frank Stokes are the greatest of this era, integrating the importance of vocality and piano with the sound of the slow, vaudeville blues sound.
Eventually, this sound moved over to Chicago, evolving into Chicago boogie-woogie sound – a sound mixing the qualities of Louis Armstrong-like trumpet action, ragtime piano and soulful, blues rhythm.
It wasn’t long until blues started evolving more and more into a big-band sound, offering the best musical opportunities in Chicago above all. Their own blues rhythm was evolving into a mix that carried sections of all genres, though the underlying melody and riff collections are quick, fun and catchy.
Post World War II Blues
After World War II, the electric blues style came about somewhere during the 1950s. This is when Detroit and St. Louis’ music scenes started growing, incorporating the sounds of Chicago blues with electric harmonica, drums, bass, and guitar. During this period, blues artists born in Mississippi usually migrated to Chicago, such as Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.
While the Mississippi Delta style still proves to be the most influential blues sound, fusing components into each Chicago-style blues song there is, the new blues-rock sound was coming alive with smashing hits like “Back Door Man” by Howlin’ Wolf, and “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters.
The electric-blues sound was vibrant and addicting, shifting the sound of the strings on a guitar forever. Not only did this unique playstyle rub off on the culture itself by creating a sense of excitement with every song, but it also changed the functionality of music, forever.
Rather than being a simple way to express gorgeous lyrics and sweet meanings, blues music found the audacity to tell the world the truth – about slavery, evil, sadness, and loss. There was nothing this real in the world other than the wars, that constantly worried the families back at home quietly working to get by.
Blues music helps revitalize the broken hearts of the men and women who were oppressed and forgotten, lost and upset, and who lost their loved ones much too soon due to violence or illness. It was a hard time, figuring out the basic mechanics of life and human nature. The delicate balance between optimism and understanding in the melancholy vocals of the early post-war blues movement really spoke to the hearts of the world, giving everyone a sense of togetherness.
From the 50’s sprung the rock and roll movement, such as the wild chords streaming from Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Bo Diddley, all of which were majorly influenced by the handwork of all the Chicago-style & boogie-woogie artists out there.
Exonerating the fast-paced rhythm of the Chicago-blues in order to get more catchy tunes and riffs, rock and roll songs were simply quicker, more mainstream versions of this music that appealed to every audience, giving fame and glorious reputations to the men and women before the rock and roll era even began.
Rock influenced blues sound even further, though, creating a new sub-genre based by Baton Rouge called “swamp blues – a much slower paced guitar with simple, easy harmonica riffs. Not only that, but boogie-woogie also evolved into a groovy, soulful jam that would later be known as the early traces of R&B, such as “Boogie Chillen” by John Lee Hooker.
By the 60s, artists such as B. B. King, John Lee Hooker, and Buddy Guy became some of the most popular bluesmen in the world. Straddling the blues with slight R&B influence, as well as electric-slides and brass support, the experimental age of blues was starting to flourish even more.
Though there were a ton of sub-genres forming from Delta and Chicago sound, though once the Freedom of Speech movement was recognized by the United Nations in 1948, all hell broke loose within the artists’ homes and compositional creativity.
With absolutely no restriction worldwide, as well as the U.K., every artist began letting loose, singing songs about Vietnam, racism, political issues, and more. By the end of the 70s, every major rock and roll artist such as Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix had their own renditions of famous blues songs, offering extensive production quality and variation on the classic collection of sounds and keys.
This new era of studio sound, layering, and psychedelic influence on distorted notes crafted one of the most unique generations of blues-rock music ever, still replicated by hundreds of artists to this day.
Though blues music after this era swindled its way into the world of soul and pop, there is something that musical history has taught us above all – that no matter how exceptional a guitar player may be, their style and room to create material is limitless, without any barrier on the imagination, lyricism, musical composition, or flow. With bands like Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and The Rolling Stones, the versatile underlying melody of the classic Delta and Chicago-blues sound will always have a place in rock and roll, blues, and jazz history.
I Can’t Quit The Blues
Most of these blues artists are long gone, though the intensity of their impact is laced within each rock song of our generation today. Blues music not only helped mend the souls of the beaten, but it also influenced the development of millions of lives. The intent of creating a rhythm that beats like the heart and courses through speakers like warm honey compares to nothing else, as well as the genuine passion, truth, and imagination behind these courageous artists of the 20th century. As it continues to stand the test of time, blues music has found it’s part in society – and it’s here to stay.
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