'High Water Everywhere' and the father of Delta Blues
Charley Patton is considered by many to be the father of Delta Blues. What does that actually mean? A combination of location, timing and talent, put him
Early blues with fife & drum
In 1942, Alan Lomax discovered a community of musicians in North Mississippi, who played their own hybrid music that was unmistakably African-sounding.
Obscure origins of 'You Don't Love Me'
"You Don’t Love Me" is a classic blues song that has roots in the 50's and is still being recorded and re-invented. Willie Cobbs, an Arkansas rice farmer,
Bo Diddley's 'Before You Accuse Me' influential as the...
Bo Diddley may not have had the commercial success of some other performers, but his contributions to American musical culture are huge. Besides his
'Another Man Done Gone' - a powerful tale of woe on a...
Repression of African Americans didn’t stop at the end of the Civil War, and prisons and chain gangs were full of black people arrested for minor
'Somebody's got to go' - the path from from blues to rap
Lonnie Johnson was one of the first American guitar masters, with a style that bridged jazz and blues, as well as country styles. Though often labeled as
'Back Door Man' - good blues is rarely about behaving...
Willie Dixon didn’t make his career writing songs about people who behaved themselves, and “Back Door Man” is no exception — it’s about a guy who cheats
Waters' 'Trouble No More' came out of Estes' 'Someday...
Sleepy John Estes was a master of country blues with a “down-home” feeling. A little rough around the edges, but loaded with emotion. Though his music
'Early in the Morning' - samba, rumba and history
Louis Jordan is one of the pioneers of American music, and an important force in the transition from the Jazz Era to Rock and Roll. He was one of the
'Shake 'Em On Down' created the cutting edge for blues
Most blues started in the country before becoming urbanized, and Bukka White brought his brand of Mississippi blues to Chicago in the 1930’s and 40’s. It
Little Walter's 'Mellow Down Easy' rips through time
Little Walter made a harmonica sound like nothing that had been heard before – somewhere between a saxophone and an electric guitar. By the early 1950’s
Still a mystery who wrote 'One Way Out'
It’s another one of those mysteries — who actually wrote “One Way Out”? Elmore James recorded it in 1961, but didn’t release it until ’65. Sonny Boy
The long flight of Muddy's 'Honey Bee'
Muddy Waters was born in rural Mississippi, and learned his blues at the feet of Son House and Robert Johnson. By the 1940’s he took that delta blues to
Many rivers converged to make a New Orleans classic:...
It’s one of the most iconic songs from New Orleans, and like the city, it’s origin and meaning are a product of may different influences. Its meaning is
'That's All Right' and the father of rock and roll
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup has been called the “father of rock and roll” for writing the song that launched Elvis Presley’s career. His own career had a
Hendrix inspired by Earl King's 'Come On'
Earl King is one of the great songwriters and performers to come out of New Orleans, and his legacy continues to live on. Many of his compositions,
'Black Rat' comes from the most powerful singer to walk...
The urban blues of places like Detroit and Chicago came from country blues. Little Son Joe and his better known partner Memphis Minnie were among the
'Dust My Broom' sets the standard for blues guitar
"I believe I’ll dust my broom" is an old saying meaning to make a new start.With that catchy phrase, and a distinctive guitar riff Robert Johnson created an important piece of blues history when he recorded “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” in 1936.True to Johnson’s form, it synthesized existing musical elements in new ways, creating a sound unique to him, a sound that would influence virtually every guitarist to follow him.Elmore James was certainly influenced by his time playing with Robert...
"Going Up The Country" and the roots of the Blues
Henry Thomas is literally a link to an earlier time.Born in 1874, his music is a patchwork of blues, rags and folk songs. His use of quills, or pan-pipes, is a relic of a nearly vanished African American tradition. Listening to Henry Thomas gives a glimpse of what music might have sounded like before “the blues."Thomas recorded “Bull Doze Blues” in 1928. This is a website with a lot of information on the history of quills in American folk music: The Quills: the forgotten American folk...
'Help Me' goes from blues to alt-rock
Sonny Boy Williamson’s career had a wide range. He played with Robert Johnson in the 1930’s and with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page in the 1960’s. His ability to span eras is a testament to the timelessness of his voice and harmonica.Sonny Boy Williamson recorded “Help Me” in 1963, and it bears a striking similarity to the instrumental “Green Onions," from Booker T and the MGs one year earlier. It is unusual because it uses minor chords, and has a sort of dark and foreboding sound.Sonny Boy...
'Mercy, Mercy' and young Hendrix showcase the rhythm in...
This song emphasizes the “rhythm” in “rhythm blues."“Mercy, Mercy” or “Have Mercy” was recorded by Don Covay in 1964. It features 22-year-old Jimi Hendrix on guitar. He’s still a few years away from his own solo career, but his guitar playing is recognizable.After his stint in the Army, Hendrix did gigs and sessions with people like Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, and Ike Tina Turner. “Mercy, Mercy” was one of Covay’s many hit songs. He also wrote “Sookie, Sookie," “See Saw” and “Chain...
Just a 'Spoonful' of blues ... and the rest is history
It’s a modern blues standard with roots in the 1920’s, one of Willie Dixon’s many great compositions, and it can trace its origin in part to a Charlie Patton song from 1929: “A Spoonful Blues."In 1960 Howlin’ Wolf recorded "Spoonful," a track many consider one of the defining songs of modern blues. By the mid-60’s, many rock musicians started taking blues in different directions. Cream is considered the grand-daddy of rock trios, combining virtuosity with the ability to improvise. Here’s a...
Everybody's got the 'Fever,' but Peggy Lee's got it bad
Chances are you’ve heard Peggy Lee’s iconic version of “Fever”– it’s one of the steamiest love songs ever written. But the original recording was released two years earlier by Little Willie John in 1956.Little Willie John had a hit with “Fever," but after Peggy Lee recorded it in 1958, it became her signature song. Here’s Peggy Lee and “Fever” from a 1958 television show:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0HsmpmFmNwfeature=relatedPeggy Lee’s is still the best known version, despite remakes by...
"Kokomo Blues" among the roots of "Sweet Home Chicago"
“Sweet Home Chicago” is one of the best known blues songs ever written. But historians seem to agree that when Robert Johnson recorded the song in 1936, he borrowed heavily to make his masterpiece.“Kokomo Blues” is clearly one of the building blocks of that better known blues song. Scrapper Blackwell came out with it in 1928.In 1934, James Arnold would have more success with it, calling it “Old Original Kokomo Blues." It was so popular it became his signature tune, and he was known then as...
Following "Blues With a Feeling" through cutting-edge...
Here’s a perfect example of a song that changed with the times, and was at the cutting edge of those changes.Drummer and singer Rabon Tarrant recorded “Blues With a Feeling” in 1947, a time when big band swing music was in transition to rock and roll. This version straddles both genres with the beat of rock and roll, but the more jazzy instrumentation of piano, sax and trumpet.Just a few years later, in 1953, Little Walter’s recording of the song is bristling with electricity-literally.One...
Robert Johnson at the Crossroads represents Delta blues...
If I had to pick one person to represent Delta blues at the peak of its expression, it would be Robert Johnson.Saying that he was a superlative guitar player, impassioned singer and masterful lyricist seems barely adequate to convey the importance of the work he accomplished in his 27 years. Many of his songs became not only blues standards but would be a huge influence on rock music.Although the legend of Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the Crossroads is ingrained in blues lore, it...
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