Back in August I did a column on my door
to jazz, and I got some nice comments and
requests to dig into some other genres. So this
month: The Blues.
his alone. If you have heard Stevie Ray Vaughan
and liked him, then you’ll like Albert. Check his
album Live Wire/Blues Power to hear him at
his best. (I love live records because the music
always seems more urgent and real to me.)
Your Door to Blues Guitar
Winter, who is also no slouch when it comes to
wailin’ out the blues.
As I mentioned last time, I got in to blues via
a record called The History of Eric Clapton. It’s
a shame it’s out of print, because it had some
good stuff on it. Clapton, by his own admission,
is a sort of blues archivist, and it shows in his
playing. If you dig Clapton’s playing, then pick
up Otis Rush’s Classic Cobra Recordings 1956–
1958. You’ll have a pretty good idea of where a
lot of Clapton’s licks came from.
The next hero-o’-mine is Roy Buchanan. He
was one of those guys who dropped me in
my tracks when I heard him. Buchanan was
the master of the Telecaster, and he played it
like a man possessed, which in many ways he
was. Much of Buchanan’s playing has leaked
in to mine over the years, even though I have
never really tried to cop his licks. His use of
volume swells, thumb-pinched harmonics,
and pedal-steel-like bends clicked with me.
So, try out Buchanan’s Live Stock album and
see what you think.
In my earlier column I also mentioned B.B. King
Live in Cook County Jail. As far as I’m concerned, there should be a 100-foot tall statue
of B.B. made of solid gold on some green lawn
in Washington, D.C. This album is just killin’.
B.B.’s singing is so soulful. He chats with the
“captive” audience, and he plays some extended solos that define, for me, what electric blues
guitar can be. This is a must-own album.
Freddie King has another kind of blues style,
what came to be known as Texas blues, and
with Freddie at the wheel it’s always a rockin’
great time. There are a ton of Freddie King
CDs out there, but you might start with a best-of, like The Ultimate Collection. This includes
Freddie’s two signature tunes, “Hideaway” and
“The Stumble.” Be sure to compare Freddie’s
“Hideaway” to Clapton’s cover of it; both
are great, but they have different feelings.
Clapton’s has that wailing Marshall sound, while
Freddie’s is very clean and almost staccato.
Now from B.B., it’s a short stroll to the other
two Kings of the blues: Albert and Freddie.
I got to meet Albert King back when I was
in college. He was a huge man. Take a look
at pictures of him and see at how his hand
looks on the fingerboard. That’s just a regular
guitar, folks, and I suspect he could have easily snapped that neck right off. Albert was a
master of getting the most out of a bent note.
His guitar vocabulary was not large, but it was
Another of my favorites is McKinley
Morganfield, somewhat better known as
Muddy Waters. I think Muddy may be my
favorite blues singer, or perhaps it’s a tie with
B.B. King. Muddy also played some pretty cool
slide guitar and sang the songs (many by Willie
Dixon) that became blues standards. As far as I
know, there are no bad Muddy Waters records,
but I would suggest The Chess Box, a nice set
with 72 songs covering 25 years. And while
you’re spending some dough, you may as well
pick up the Howlin’ Wolf (with kudos to Hubert
Sumlin’s great pickin’) and Willie Dixon Chess
Sets, too, as they are truly wonderful. Just in
case you aren’t on a box-set budget, try Muddy
“Mississippi” Waters Live which features Johnny
I don’t want to end without mentioning some
great acoustic blues. First is Robert Johnson,
perhaps the quintessential bluesman. Johnson’s
too-brief career can be heard on the 41 songs
on The Complete Recordings, and of those,
twelve are alternate takes. But they include
“Crossroad Blues” (later Cream’s “Crossroads”),
“Come on in My Kitchen,” “Love in Vain” (later
recorded by the Rolling Stones) and a bunch
more, all great.
Here are some more you can look up:
Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotton, Rev.
Gary Davis, Son House, Bukka White and
Charley Patton. In electric blues, have a listen
to Hound Dog Taylor, T-Bone Walker, Elmore
James, Rory Gallagher and Buddy Guy. Rhino
Records has a fine series called Blues Masters
(in many volumes) that are well worth a listen.
The blues, like jazz, has a long rich tradition,
and many great artists that will inspire you to
be a better musician. I hope I don’t sound like
a broken record to say it again: if you want to
play a style, you better listen to it. I will leave
you with the immortal words of Bleeding Gums
Murphy: “The blues isn’t about feelin’ better.
It’s about makin’ other people feel worse, and
makin’ a few bucks while you’re at it.”
Pat Smith is the Managing Editor of Guitar Edge Magazine.
He founded the Penguin Jazz Quartet and played Brazilian
music with Nossa Bossa. He studied guitar construction
with Richard Schneider, Tom Ribbecke and Bob Benedetto,
and pickin’ with Lenny Breau, Ted Greene, Guy Van Duser
and others. Pat currently lives in Iowa and plays in a duo
with bassist Rich Wagor.