We’ve decided to make September “Blues Month” here at Hoodlums. That’s because we can pretty much make up whatever we want – and we love the Blues. That means all Blues CDs, DVDs, and LPs are 10% off regular price.
Now, just like all the other genres, all the hoodlums at Hoodlums have different tastes and specialties within the genre. Kristian loves that Delta, acoustic-sounding stuff more than I do (although I have my share of Delta Blues). Joe and the pups (Andy, Becky, Mandel) don’t play the blues very much… so I’m not sure about where they stand (except if there is such thing as avant-garde blues, Joe probably has a big collection).
Which bring us to our blog author, yours geekly. I tend to play, love, and promote stuff that’s a little quicker, a little more electric. OK… that’s probably an understatement (I hear some of my former colleagues out there saying, “Steve played three kinds of music: Rock, Blues, and Blues/Rock”). Although over the past fifteen years I have been responsible for plenty of jazz, soul, and world in-store play, for the first ten years of my Record Store Geekdom that description was pretty close to being right on. Either way, for close to 25 years, I have been listening to the blues and peddling blues to customers.
Those are the qualifications I bring to this table: Love and experience. So using that love and experience, combined with my desire to spread the blues (in a good way), I have decided to make up a little guide entitled,Blues for Rockers. (NOTE: If you want to read another list, from a man who’s way more qualified than I am, check out “Essential Chicago Blues Albums” by Valley Blues legend and guest blogger Bob Corritore.)
Just like I did with the How to Build Your Jazz Collection blog, I’ll clarify a bit of the logic that went into the list of amazing albums you see below you. That way, I won’t get harassed by blues purists out there because there’s no Robert Johnson or Son House on the list (I can hear Kristian talking about Leadbelly now). You see, those artists are all in my collection, and I do like, understand, and appreciate their foundational contributions, this isn’t a blog on starting a well-rounded blues collection… it’s a blog to help rockers (like all the goofs I hung with in High School) diversify into another genre. The genre that gave rock and roll it’s start.
Here’s are the factors that contributed to the list:
Smokin’ Price. It’s a lot easier to turn someone on to something new if the price is right… and every one of these classic titles is under $10 on CD. I would like to make a list of ten great new blues releases too, but the damn things are all priced in the fifteen dollar zone. Do we stock them? Yes (or we can special order for nothin’). Am I going to use them to promote blues-conversion? No.
Tempo. Most of these CDs kick a little ass. You don’t get to be a blues/rock/blues junkie like me without craving the sound of a wailin’ guitar, and these are some of the greatest guitar players (I’m listening to Albert King as I write… the man just kicks) of all time. There’s more than a few tunes to which you can drink a glass of wine (see Simone, Nina), but don’t expect a ton of puppy stuff.
Love. Amazingly, considering the same idiots still run the music industry, there were so many great blues classics under $10 that I had to really narrow it down to stuff that I know and love the most. As it is, I wanted to at least get to twenty, but I couldn’t do it. If you click on the allmusic reviews (linked on each title) you’ll see that most of the albums are critical darlings, but a few aren’t. I pay that no matter… I love each and every one. Hell, I wrote down the titles before I started writing anything else.
So if you love the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Eric Clapton… if you dig the Black Keys or Kings of Leon… and you’re ready to take a step back on the chain of rock and roll evolution, here we go.
21 Blues Albums for Rockers (in no particular order)
- Willie Dixon – I Am the Blues ($6.99) Why not start with Willie? The dude wrote a truckload of the songs on many of these blues albums, and literally every single song on this CD has been famously covered by rock bands. Don’t believe me? How ’bout “Back Door Man” (Doors); “I Can’t Quit You, Baby” (Led Zep), and “Little Red Rooster” (Stones)… just to cite three. He’s the one they call the seventh son.
- Muddy Waters/Howlin’ Wolf – Muddy and the Wolf ($9.99). Blues meet rock as the rock stars (who helped revive the blues in the first place) team up with my two favorite blues artist of all time (First Wolf, then Muddy). This CD isn’t Wolf and Muddy together, it is a combo of the Muddy’s Fathers and Sons album, with Butterfield, Bloomfield, Sumlin and more, and Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions, featuring Clapton, Winwood, and the Stones rhythm section of Watts and Wyman. I would have recommended both albums separately, but the actual Muddy CD is closer to fifteen bucks (the Wolf is $9.99). I’d still truly recommend both.
- Butterfield Blues Band – Butterfield Blues Band ($7.99)
- Butterfield Blues Band – East-West ($7.99) I could listen to these stinkin’ Butterfield CDs once a week. They just never get old. Let’s face it, Mike Bloomfield was one hell of a guitar player, and his impact is long considering his short life. The self-titled album is my favorite thing he’s ever done, but East/West is a close second.
- Albert Collins – Truckin’ with Albert Collins ($9.99) I love Collins’ blistering style and gritty voice, and I had been digging back through his catalog, and I found his first recording at a sweet price, and I was sold. He’s the master… of the telecaster (Don’t believe me? He’ll tell you himself. Over and over again).
- Robert Cray Band – Strong Persuader ($9.99) Along with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather, this is the first blues album I ever owned. It helped me cross the bridge to the blues. I had to pick one, and Stevie is in the rock and soul section at the store, so Cray was the choice. This album is smooth and sweet and Robert is a talented dude. ”She was right next door… and I’m such a strong persuader”.
- Lightin’ Hopkins – Lightnin’. Like many of my favorite albums, this album was traded in by a customer. That’s the great thing about used buying – you get to test all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t have thought to try otherwise. I tried this and loved it. Come down to the store and hear it in the listening post and see for yourself.
- Howlin’ Wolf – Back Door Wolf ($6.99) Another “used buy find” for me (Michael, was that you?). Once I discovered the price, I brought it right in. When I play it; it sells. You need a lot more Howlin’ Wolf than this (Moanin’ in the Moonlight, etc.), but this is a cheap way to start. From the allmusic bio on Wolf: “no one could match him for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits”. Wow. Watching Wolf in his prime in a juke joint would be time-machine journey for me.
- Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign ($9.99) Unquestionably, this is one of the greatest electric blues albums of all time. Featuring Booker T. and the MGs as a band, Albert’s Stax debut lays down some blistering guitar licks on some of the most recognizable songs in blues history. One of the most consistent “play it and sell it” albums in Hoodlums’ history. Great cover too.
- T-Bone Walker – T-Bone Blues ($9.99) Even though I try to avoid greatest hits compilations when I’m recommending stuff… it’s hard to avoid comps when you are dealing with the Blues. This comp is amazing. The best way to get a dose of T-Bone, who is a blues-rockin’ fool, writing some of the most rock-covered blues songs ever (which this CD proudly sports).
- Nina Simone – Nina Simone Sings the Blues ($9.99) This is an album that you might want to play if you are hanging out with a wonderful girl and you want the mood be right (that’s not the way I would have put it in high school). If it doesn’t do the trick, I’d say that wonderful girl may not be that into you. Smart, sassy, sultry, snappy… if there’s an cool adjective that starts with “S”… Nina probably fits the description with this album. It’s an Allmusic Album Pick – and the review is completely glowing. ”Do I Move You?” asks Nina on the very first song. You got that right, sister.
- Muddy Waters – Hard Again ($9.99) From the opening growl of “Mannish Boy”, you know you are in the presence of awesome blues power. That testosterone-laced masterpiece alone is worth twenty bucks, and there’s not a bad song behind it. Johnny Winter leads a top-notch band as Muddy returns to form in all his cocky glory.
- Freddie King – Burglar ($6.99) As I type, I am listening to Freddie just tear it up in the wicked “Texas Flyer”, off this fine, inexpensive little masterpiece by one of the three Kings of the Blues. Here’s a game to play: Try naming rock musicians that have made a living playing like Freddie King. There’s more than a few riffs on this album to give you a hint or two. By the way, saying Eric Clapton doesn’t count, since he’s playing on this album on “Sugar Sweet”. (Trivia: What song quotes this about Freddie: “I got to tell ya that poker’s his thing”?)
- Johnny Winter - Second Winter ($9.99) Long before helping resurrect Muddy’s career, Johnny was tearin’ it up on his own. Not exactly alone, he has brother Edgar and a great rhythm section behind him. I still can’t believe all these unbelievable albums are so damn cheap. That’s why both Johnny and Edgar’s CD still sell so well (that, and they are great).
- John Lee Hooker – Endless Boogie ($6.99) Even though allmusic beat this title up a bit, I don’t really care. The exact reason they didn’t like it, the contributions from guest guitarists like Jesse Ed Davis, Mel Brown, and Steve Miler, is the exact reason I do like it. Lotsa tasty guitar, lotsa that Hooker growl.
- Taj Mahal – Taj Mahal ($9.99) This could possibly be my number one fave of this whole list. It’s like it just keeps getting better with age. From the first strains of harmonica on “Leaving Trunk”, you just know this album is gonna be good. Featuring Jesse Ed Davis and Ry Cooder on guitar, you absolutely need this CD. (I had its successor, the five-star Natch’l Blues, on the list as well… but I had to include Johnny Winters).
- Etta James – At Last ($9.99) Honestly, I listen to Tell Mama a bit more, but it’s still more than ten bucks. Oh well, including her Chess debut, At Last, wasn’t a tough task. You gotta have some Etta. Etta is a bad-ass. Chicks dig Etta too. High or low; fast or slow. Etta can do it all.
- Rising Sons - Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder ($6.99) ”Want to see me sell this album?”. I don’t revere High Infidelity or anything, but anyone who works in a record store knows that some CD just have power. Add an “it’s only 6.99″ to the conversation, and you’ve got a sale. This Rising Sons album just walks that walk. It jumps right on the customer and makes them walk up and ask. This is the only compilation from the Rising Sons brief career, and it is top notch.
- Big Mama Thornton – With The Muddy Waters Blues Band ($9.99) The newest addition to the list. Like many of the great albums in my collection, Kristian found it and turned me on. The allmusic bio used phrases like “menacing growl” and “hefty belter”… and her name is Willie Mae… and this is Muddy’s band… so how can you not be curious?
- BB King – Indianola Mississippi Seeds ($6.99) Let me see… Kristian found the LP and listened to it. Then we checked the CD, and it was only 6.99, so he bought it. Then I listened to it and bought it. Then we put it in a listening post and sold a bunch. Now we are telling you. You just gotta have some B.B. King, and although this album is hardly enough to represent such a master, it’s a good one to have.
- Buddy Guy – I Was Walking Through the Woods ($9.99) Buddy is the new Muddy, the reigning king of the Chicago Blues. I saw him at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert, and he is still tearing up. This a comp of Buddy’s early Chess recordings… another in a long line of beautiful albums discovered through a customer trade-in.
There it is… a place to start. Come down to the store during September, and we can discuss it more. If these albums aren’t already in a listening post, I will pull them from my personal play list and let you listen to whatever you want. Thanks for reading. Long live the Blues.
Five CDs I probably would have included, except they cost more than $10:
- Sonny Boy Williamson - Real Folk Blues/More Real Folks Blues
- Bobby “Blue” Bland – Touch of the Blues
- Collins, Cray, Copeland – Showdown!
- Bluesbreakers (w/Mayall and Clapton)- S/T
- John Lee Hooker – Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues
Five CDs that are damn good rock-blues, but just a bit too on the rock side to include in this:
- Derek and the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
- Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand the Weather
- Rory Gallagher – Rory Gallagher
- Allman Brothers - The Allman Brothers
- North Mississippi Allstars – Shake Hands with Shorty