the annotated CD recommendation list for blues newbies
by mr. big
click on the title to buy the CD through


recommended books


Swooshing organ lines, down-home harp, crunchy guitar, and a great sense of fun from some modern Delta legends. This trio (Big Jack "the oilman" Johnson, guitar, Sam Carr, drums, and Frank Frost, harmonica and keyboards) had been playing together for almost 15 years when this album was recorded in 1979, and their rapport is obvious in the infectious sense of humor that lives in the grooves on this LP. Jack Johnson has a Dr. Demento laugh that appears on several tracks, and despite his menacing Hubert Sumlin-meets-Big Black guitar lines, you get the feeling that he's having as much fun as you are, especially on the trademark cover of "You Are My Sunshine".

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I AM THE BLUES, Willie Dixon .
His greatest hits. If you have the extra cash, get the boxed set,
THE CHESS BOX. This is truly essential stuff from one of the greatest arrangers, producers, and songwriters of any musical genre.

GENUINE HOUSEROCKIN' MUSIC, Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers.
This is the first, and quite possibly, the rawest, Alligator LP, and very possibly still the top seller of their catalog. Crank this one up and let the neighbors howl. The rough guitar edges and simple charm of songs like "Gonna Send You Back to Georgia" make it great party music.

HOODOO MAN BLUES, Junior Wells with Buddy Guy.
The blues album that established the funky soul trend. Junior plays some acrobatic harp, with Buddy adding just the right amount of guitar to make it very tasty. Standout versions of "Hound Dog" and my personal fave, "Snatch it Back and Hold It". Seminal album. Great Walkman tape.

Okay, so this is by one of those English guys, and it's not quite all blues. Don't matter. This all acoustic live album was recorded without drums and includes some of the most haunting passages I've heard on record. Some of it slips west into jazz, but it includes the harp workout "Room to Move". Also, check out Mayall's
BLUES BREAKERS LP, which includes Eric Clapton before he was a rock god teetering on the brink. Another fine record, currently released as "Behind the Iron Curtain", is a live release that features some extended jamming with a fine set of players from a 1985 concert tour. Mr. BiG has an import release of this for sentimental reasons. He attended the show the night previous to the recording date, in Budapest, Hungary. The record was good enough to be out as an (apparent) bootleg for a while before the official release, and includes some nifty reworkings of two songs from the Turning Point LP, and one from the Blues Breakers LP.

GREATEST HITS, Howlin' Wolf.
The great thing about Wolf is that all his songs have quirky little twists that make them well worth listening to over and over again. The collection that I have is almost all in the second half of his career, with Hubert Sumlin on guitar (a particularly iconoclastic performer himself). You really can't miss with an assortment of Willie Dixon tunes with a wide variety of rhythms and patterns. Also, for yuks, try out
Muddy & the Wolf, an LP set that on one side has Wolf trying to pound some sense into the young British upstarts like Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Stones bassist Bill Wyman. The other side has Muddy Waters getting along pretty well with most of the(Chicago-based) Mike Bloomfield/Paul Butterfield blues aggregation.

Although there is a huge selection of Muddy recordings to choose from, and most of the CD reissues are well-compiled, I think that the most interesting part of his career is these early sides cut during the late 40's and very early 50's, which are all acoustic either solo or with minimalist backing, and include some ferocious slide work. These tunes have been repackaged into several collections, and there's an excellent boxed set that is well worth the cash if you'd like to have an overview of the man's career. But purely on sonic power, the acoustic recordings of some basic blues patterns like "Goin' Down South" (a/k/a the Rollin' and Tumblin' pattern) and the scary, threatening quality of the vocals make this unforgettable. All this stuff was done with (maybe) 8 tracks and very basic recording equipment, and it's as compelling as any 48-track powerhouse of sampling artistry today, and at least as evocative. If you listen to these recordings and then listen (again) to the most famous
records made with Johnny Winter at the production helm in the 70's (Blue Sky label), you can tell that the strength of Waters' performances, like Sinatra's, was in his phrasing and ability to get inside the song rather than the size and volume of the backing band.

IT'S THE BLUES MAN, Eddie Kirkland.
Excellent early 60's classic from a veteran Detroit bluesman, with some low down guitar over cool cool Ray Charles-ish backbeats. You'll either end up twisting or singing along.

This might be out of print now, but it's worth the search. Acoustic blues with vocals obviously derivative of Howlin' Wolf, but something about this record just cries and it's probably my favorite acoustic blues record. Apparently out of print, but well worth searching for.

Also strongly recommendable after you get your feet wet: the Robert Johnson complete recordings on CD (excellent remastering of a masterful performer); the Blues Masters series on Rhino records (well catalogued and organized in interesting ways); the Legacy of the Blues series (if it's still available) put together by Samuel Charters in the 60's, with many great traditional and acoustic performances; the Blues Roots 10-volume series compiled by historians Paul Oliver and Pete Welding; in the excellent, but still an acquired taste category are albums by John Primer (on Earwig, including a great blues reworking of Rhinestone Cowboy, believe it or not) and the amazing harmonica virtuoso Sugar Blue (John Popper of Blues Traveler ripped his sound off big time), and the funky first full-length effort by Washington, DC veteran Bobby Parker (couple unbelievable tracks here, including one that Zep ripped for "Moby Dick").

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