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Willie Dixon pretty much nailed the importance of the blues genre when he said that “The blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits.” Blues has influenced every important genre, movement, and scene in 20th and 21st century music from hip hop to rock to soul to funk. Below is a small selection of key blues albums and bluesmen.

Muddy Waters - At Newport (1960)

muddy waters at newport

This seminal performance by Muddy Waters at the Newport Jazz Festival has become a standard. Its powerful and relatively light performances enhanced the appeal of the album, and confirmed Waters as one of the greats of his genre. “Put A Tiger In Your Tank” is a perfect example of the barely restrained ferocity that marks the whole set.

Blind Willie McTell - The Definitive Blind Willie McTell (1994)

blind willie mctell the definitive blind willie mctell

Blind Willie McTell’s beautifully delivered songs of love, lust, and betrayal would be immortalised in the Bob Dylan’s tribute ‘Blind Willie McTell’. This compilation is a great starting point from which to explore a true titan of the blues.

“OF ALL THE GREAT BLUES ARTISTS, BO DIDDLEY HAS HAD THE MOST INFLUENCE ON THE FORMATION OF ROCK AND ROLL, AND NOT SURPRISINGLY, DOZENS OF ROCK GREATS HAVE COVERED HIS SONGS.”

Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger (1960)

bo diddley is a gunslinger

Of all the great blues artists, Bo Diddley has had the most influence on the formation of rock and roll. His hits – including ‘I’m A Man’ and ‘Who Do You Love’ – contained an effusive and contagious beat that pre-echoed and formed the sound of rock, and not surprisingly, dozens of rock greats have covered his songs.

Jimmy Reed - Blues Masters (2000)

jimmy reed blues masters

Of the Post-WWII bluesmen, Jimmy Reed was one of the most influential performers and certainly one of the most popular. While stories abound of his alcoholism (which would lead to his death in 1976 at the age of 50) and the resulting inappropriate behaviour both on stage and in the studio, Reed still managed to place more singles on the pop chart than any other bluesman during his career.

Robert Johnson - King Of The Delta Blues Singers (1961)

robert johnson king of the delta blues singers

Another classic compilation and great starting point from which to explore familiar blues themes from a great in the genre. Though he isn’t as popular as some of his more famous colleagues, he still helped define a genre and is widely acclaimed by musicians and fans of all stripes. ‘Cross Road Blues’ brings a rich, haunting sound to the listener’s ears as Johnson explores the darkness and danger of Satantic worship.

“THE RELEASE OF BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN IN 1967 ‘WOULD CHANGE THE FACE OF AMERICAN MUSIC, MODERNISING THE BLUES’”

Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign (1967)

albert king born under a bad sign

The release of Born Under a Bad Sign in 1967 would change the face of American music, modernising the blues and bringing the sound of the blues to a new, wider audience. Much of its crossover appeal was attributed to Booker T. and MGs, who gave his blues a sleek, soulful sound [which] gave King crossover appeal. Four of the songs on this pseudo compilation would become futuremodern blues classics: “Born Under A Bad sign”, “Oh Pretty Woman”, “The Hunter”, and “Crosscut Saw”.

Howlin Wolf - The Chess Box (1991)

howlin wolf the chess box

The blues has been a wellspring for rivers of pop, rock and R&B and there’s nothing quite like returning to the source. In the mid-’60s, Chess Records released a series of legendary “best of” albums for Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. Under each artist’s name, The Real Folk Blues was issued in 1966 and a More Real Folk Blues in 1967 (though the latter album for Hooker wasn’t discovered and released until 1991). This compilation of Howlin’ Wolf’s work is a great introduction to these box sets. It is also worth investigating his ‘London Sessions’ for a taste of his time on our side of the Atlantic.

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