Friday, February 3, 2012



William Thomas Dupree was a great New Orleans blues artist, who played boogie woogie and barrelhouse piano. He was orphaned at 2 and brought up in the same home for orphans as Louis Armstrong. He was a professional boxer for a time and this is where he got his name. He sang about life, jail, drinking, and drug addiction, but often injected his lyrics with a rowdy sense of down-home humor. He recorded off and on through the 40s, even though he spent two years as a Japanese POW. His song Junker's Blues was later cleaned up and cut as Fats Domino's 1949 debut, The Fat Man. In the 50s Dupree recorded for King Records where his biggest hit ever Walking The Blues was produced. in 1958, Dupree made his masterpiece Blues From The Gutter for Atlantic. It is a great testament to Dupree's barrelhouse background, with excellent readings of Stack-O-Lee, Junker's Blues, and Nasty Boogie. He left for Europe in 1959, and lived there the rest of his life and recorded for Storyville and British Decca. He made recordings with the younger players who were influenced by his music, including John Mayall, Eric Clapton, and Mick Taylor.

T-BONE WALKER (1910-1975)

Aaron Thibeaux Walker was one of the most influential pioneers of the jump blues and electric blues sound. He was the first musician recorded playing blues with the electric guitar. His first single Mean Old World shocked everyone with its distinctive sound in 1942. His most famous song was Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad) which came out in 1947. Much of his output was recorded at this time on Black and White Records and other major songs were Bobby Sox Blues and West Side Baby. An excellent record is T-Bone Blues that was released by Atlantic in 1959. Junior Wells and Jimmy Rogers play on some tracks and there is a blistering instrumental called Two Bones and a Pick that features his nephew RS Rankin and jazzman Barney Kessel. Walker's guitar sound is clean and clear and the album contains great versions of Mean Old World and Stormy Monday.

HOWLIN' WOLF (1910-1976)

Chester Arthur Burnett (Howlin' Wolf) was a big man and nobody could match him for his ability to rock the house down to its foundation while simultaneously scaring the patrons out of their wits. His deep growling vocal style was influenced by Delta blues legend Charley Patton. The main source of his hard-driving rhythmic style on harmonica came when he met Sonny Boy Williamson, who taught him the basics of the instrument. In the late 40s he put a band together that featured the explosive guitar work of Willie Johnson, whose aggressive style extended and amplified the violence and nastiness of the music. Wolf had a radio show in West Memphis at this time and caught the ear of Sam Phillips. Eventually, he was recording at Chess in Chicago and Hubet Sumlin came aboard and would be his longest musical associate. He first appeared as a rhythm guitarist on a 1954 session, but soon he evolved an angular attack full of wild skitterings up and down the fingerboard and biting singular notes. In 1956, Evil and Smokestack Lightnin' were recorded and became major hits. Wolf also teemed up with Chess writer Willie Dixon and the magic of Wolf's voice, Sumlin's guitar, and Dixon's tunes brought them great success and produced the great sides The Red Rooster, Shake For Me, Back Door Man, and Wang Dang Doodle. Another great song to emerge later was Killing Floor. Howlin' Wolf and his music was a major influence on the rockers to come including Eric Clapton, The Doors, Jeff Beck, and Led Zeppelin. In the early 60s The Rolling Stones had a huge hit with Little Red Rooster and played the American TV show Shindig with the Wolf. Howlin' Wolf's vocal style was also greatly influential on Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. His collections for Chess and the early recordings from the 1952 Memphis sessions are excellent. He also produced some fine records later on including Back Door Wolf.


Willie Williamson was a great blues harmonica player, singer, and songwriter. He was Howlin' Wolf's brother-in-law and also had a radio program in West Memphis, Arkansas. His first recording session took place in 1951 for Trumpet Records. In 1953 he started playing with Elmore James' band and eventually his contract was sold to Chess where he recorded 70 songs for its subsidiary Checkers which brought much success. His first LP was Down and Out Blues and released in 1959. In the early 60s he toured Europe during the British blues craze and made recordings with The Yardbirds and The Animals. Chess' collection of his work contains many of his major songs including Your Funeral and My Trial, Help Me, and Bring It On Home.

MUDDY WATERS (1913-1983)

McKinley Morganfield is generally considered the father of the modern Chicago blues. He moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1940 and eventually started opening for Big Bill Broonzy, who was one of the leading blueman in Chicago at the time. In the late 40s he started recording with Chess and produced the smash hit Rolling Stone. At first the Chess brothers wouldn't let him pick his own band, but eventually relented. In 1953, Muddy put together one of the most acclaimed blues groups in history with Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elga Edmonds on drums, and Otis Spann on piano. The band recorded a series of blues classics in the early 50s with the help of Willie Dixon, including Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want To Make Love To You, and I'm Ready. Little Walter eventually formed his own group, and along with Muddy and Howlin' Wolf they reigned over the Chicago blues scene. In 1958, Muddy shocked audiences in England with his loud amplified guitar and thunderous beat. His sound was basically Delta blues electrified, but he used microtones in both his vocals and slide playing. In the 60s he made recordings with British rockers including Steve Winwood, and in the 70s the blues guitarist Johnny Winter produced a series of excellent albums on his label Blue Sky. These include Hard Again, I'm Ready, Live, and King Bee. His earlier Chess recordings are the definitive versions of his songs which also include Mannish Boy, Mojo Working, and Trouble No More.

JOHN LEE HOOKER (1917-2001)

John Lee Hooker rose to prominence performing his own unique brand of country blues which featured a talking blues style. He incorporated the boogie-woogie piano style and a driving rhythm into his blues guitar playing and singing. He would play the walking bass pattern with his thumb, stopping to emphasize the end of a line with a series of trills, done by rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs. His best known songs include Boogie Chillen (1948), I'm In The Mood (1951), and Boom Boom (1962). His band increased in size over the years and late in his life he had Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt play on one of his albums. In 1961, Chess put out a collection of gems from early 50s recordings called John Lee Hooker Plays and Sings the Blues. The Definitive Collection that came out in 2006 is an excellent overview of his work.

ELMORE JAMES (1918-1963)

Elmore James was known as the King of the Slide Guitar. He had a unique style noted for his use of loud amplification, and he also had a stirring voice. He was influenced by Robert Johnson, Kokomo Arnold, and Tampa Red. James recorded several of Tampa's songs and it is still in dispute if Johnson or James wrote Dust My Broom, which became one of Elmore's most well-known songs. He took part in the invasion of Guam during WWII, and when he returned started to record with Trumpet Records, first as a sideman with Sonny Boy Williamson and then as a leader. This session produced Dust My Broom, which became a big hit in 1952. He recorded for several other companies and produced the well-known songs It Hurts Me Too, The Sky Is Crying, Shake Your Moneymaker, and Done Somebody Wrong. He was a huge influence on those to come including Brian Jones of the Stones, The Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eric Clapton. He died at the age of 45, partly because of his heavy drinking of moonshine whiskey which he started at a young age.

ALBERT KING (1923-1992)

Albert King was one of The Four Kings of the Blues Guitar. The others were BB King, Freddie King, and Earl King. He was influenced by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson, but also by Hawaiian music. He played a Gibson Flying V and started recording in the 50s, but didn't have a hit until 1959 with I'm a Lonely Man, followed by Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong, which was included on his first album The Big Blues which was released in 1962. In 1966, he signed with Stax Records and released several influential sides including Crosscut Saw and the album Born Under A Bad Sign. His landmark album Live Wire/Blues Power had a huge influence on Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Mike Bloomfield, Robbie Robertson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Derek Trucks, and Warren Haynes.

BB KING (born 1925)

Riley B. King introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that would influence virtually every electric blues guitarist that followed. Like many of the great blues artists, he as originally from Mississippi, and in the late 40s headed to West Memphis where he played on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio show, and worked on a radio station as a singer and disc jockey, where he gained the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, which he later shortened to BB. Many of his early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips who later founded Sun Records. In the 50s, King became one of the most  important names in R&B music, producing several hits including 3 O'Clock Blues, You Know I Love You, Woke Up This Morning, Whole Lotta Love, You Upset Me Baby, Every Day I Have The Blues, Ten Long Years, Bad Luck, and Sweet Little Angel. In 1964, he recorded the monumental Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago, which would have a great influence on all of the rock guitar players to come. Other excellent recordings include Lucille (1968), Completely Well (1969), which featured the massive hit The Thrill Is Gone, and Live At Cook County Jail (1971). He also made recordings with U2 in the 80s, and made a collaborative album with Eric Clapton called Riding With The King in 2000.

JOHN MAYALL (born 1933)

John Mayall was one of the most prominent blues practitioners in England, starting in the mid-60s and still continuing today. Many great players were in his bands including Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and Mick Taylor. Mayall was influenced by Leadbelly and Pinetop Smith and taught himself to play the piano, guitar, and harmonica. His band backed John Lee Hooker on his British tour in 1964. After some initial recordings, Mayall brought Eric Clapton into his group and they started to attract a lot of attention. They cut the singles I'm Your Witchdoctor and Telephone Blues, and in 1966 put out the great album, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. The album contained the excellent songs All Your Love, Double Crossing Time, Key To Love, and Parchman Farm. Clapton left to form Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker and Peter Green was brought back into the group on guitar and they released the classic album A Hard Road. Green would also leave to form Fleetwood Mac and Mick Taylor was brought in on guitar and they produced the fine albums Crusade, Bare Wires, and Blues From Laural Canyon. As Mayall evolved into the 70s he added the saxophonist John Almond to provide a more jazz-oriented sound. The live album Jazz Blues Fusion featured the trumpet player Blue Mitchell. Two excellent compilations of Mayall's work are London Blues 1964-1969, and Room To Move 1969-1974.

BUDDY GUY (born 1936)

Buddy Guy is the king of Chicago blues today, just as his idol and mentor Muddy Waters was at one time. He is known for his high-energy guitar style that features incendiary rapid-fire fretwork, and his distinctive tortured vocal style. He came to Chicago in 1957 and hung out with the city's blues elite including Freddy King, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam. Willie Dixon produced two of his first sides, This Is The End and Try To Quit You Baby which exhibited a BB King influence. Guy recorded for Chess starting in 1960, producing his first two singles First Time I Met The Blues and Broken Hearted Blues which were fiery, tortured, slow blues, showcasing his whammy-bar-enriched guitar and shrieking, hellhound-on-his-trail vocals. He recorded for Chess for several years and also played on sessions with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Koko Taylor. In 1972 he made an excellent record with Junior Wells called Plays The Blues. Buddy Guy's reputation among rock guitar gods such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix is unsurpassed.

JOHNNY WINTER (born 1944)

Johnny Winter was influenced by Muddy Waters, BB King, and Bobby Bland, and became known for his high-energy Texas blues-rock albums and live performances. In 1968, he released his first album The Progressive Blues Experiment that played covers of classic blues artists. Later in 1968, he met Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper and played with them at the Fillmore East in New York. Columbia saw his performance and signed him and released his first record for them simply called Johnny Winter in 1969. It contains some of his own compositions as well as numbers by BB King, Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, and a version of Good Morning Little School Girl by Sonny Boy Williamson. His brother Edgar played keyboards on the album and he also had contributions from blues greats Big Walter Horton on harmonica and Willie Dixon on bass. Second Winter was recorded in late 1969, and included Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, and Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, which would become staples in live performances. In 1977, after Chess went out of business Winter brought in Muddy Waters to record for his label Blue Sky, and produced four excellent albums called Hard Again, I'm Ready, King Bee, and LIve. Winter played guitar on the recordings with his idol, along with harmonica player James Cotton.

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