Blues recommendations
July 27, 2005 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I don't know anything about the blues but really like the sort of pounding ferocity of Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy. What else should I check out?
posted by xmutex to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
John Lee Hooker sounds like your man.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 4:31 PM on July 27, 2005

Elmore James, especially "Dust My Broom."
posted by Rash at 4:32 PM on July 27, 2005

On a good system Folk Singer is jaw dropping.

As a slight derail, I really like the rockin' and angry blues of Janis Joplin or J. Geils Band (pre Centerfold, of course, not that I mind the later stuff). I would love to find more like that.
posted by Chuckles at 4:48 PM on July 27, 2005

Slightly off the beaten path but directly on point, I'd recommend James "Blood" Ulmer. After an interesting but low-key career in jazz, Ulmer began working with Vernon Reid (formerly of Living Colour) in 2001. Since then he has released three albums -- all blues, old school.

The first two, The Sun Sessions and No Escape From the Blues, feature a full band. The most recent, Birthright, is just Blood with his guitar. If you like blues, you'll probably like all three. If you're a Robert Johnson fan, I recommend starting with the solo disc. Judging by the reviews I've read, it's going to make most critics' Best of 2005 lists.

I'd also recommend Jorma Kaukonen's Blue Country Heart. It's a bit more toward the bluegrass side, but it is blues -- and it's definitely good.
posted by cribcage at 4:50 PM on July 27, 2005

R.L. Burnside
posted by Otis at 5:59 PM on July 27, 2005

Well, the most obvious is Howlin' Wolf (if you're looking for something similar to Muddy).

Some of the other suggestions are good. But for example, Robert Johnson is nothing like Muddy, unless you're talking about the recordings Muddy made before he went to Chicago, and I don't think you are (since you mentioned Mannish Boy.
posted by justgary at 6:20 PM on July 27, 2005

(and there's good music out today, but with your question, I'd go back to the beginning...the ones that started it all.)
posted by justgary at 6:21 PM on July 27, 2005

(seconding justgary reference)
If you're looking for pounding ferocity, you can't beat Howlin' Wolf. Here's a discography of Wolf's recordings.
posted by The_Auditor at 6:28 PM on July 27, 2005

Willie Dixon wrote many of the classic Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf songs. Willie's version of Spoonful remains the definitive version.

Lightnin' Hopkins is my favorite classic blues guitarist. The other names I'd throw out there as blues everyone would like are Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. A good primer for classic blues is the Smithsonian Collection.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:37 PM on July 27, 2005

No disrespect, but I just do not get some of the recommendations here. All great bluesmen, mostly all, but the style is so different. John Lee Hooker however, is the real thing and everything that Muddy Waters was but even more. Robert Johnson, Muddy, John Lee, and BB King I think shine above the crowd, yet there are so many more nipping at their heels. Another bluesman who sounds similar to Muddy would be Bo Diddley, but with a more rockin' beat. He is not in the same league as the first four but styles similarly. If you like these guys, you might also like Leadbelly. Howlin' Wolf is also in the same vein, but to my ears at least, less interesting. You should also check out the whole Chicago blues scene. The sound is like these guys, but more rockish. Try Albert Collins and Buddy Guy. Rhino has some great stuff in this area. If you want to go way back, try a little bit of Mississippi John Hurt. Oh, and do not forget Little Walter and Willie Dixon.
posted by caddis at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2005

No disrespect, but I just do not get some of the recommendations here. All great bluesmen, mostly all, but the style is so different.
That's a reasonable point with two holes. If you take a wide view, there really isn't much variety between a group of blues musicians versus anyone else. It's a guy with a guitar playing a 12-bar plagal cadence. On the other hand, if you adopt the narrow view, the variety is inescapable. There really aren't two blues musicians who sound alike. So it's somewhat moot. Somebody asks for a blues recommendation, the best you can do is to say, "Here's who I like."
posted by cribcage at 7:58 PM on July 27, 2005

All great bluesmen, mostly all, but the style is so different. John Lee Hooker however, is the real thing and everything that Muddy Waters was but even more.

Well, it's opinion. For example, reading that john lee hooker was everything that muddy waters was but more hurts my eyes. I couldn't disagree more. But it's just opinion. Unless you're talking about influence, and then muddy can't be beat.

It's such a deep subject. Much more than naming 4 best. Sounds more like the 4 most famous. I enjoy skip james as much as robert johnson, but he doesn't have the reputation that johnson has.

Somebody asks for a blues recommendation, the best you can do is to say, "Here's who I like."

A general question, sure, but he gave an example, so a "here's who I like" answer is not the best that can be said.

On topic, I second the buddy guy recommendation. Especially stone crazy if you like ferocity but a more modern feel.
posted by justgary at 8:06 PM on July 27, 2005

Well, the poster specifically mentioned ferocity, which is something John Lee Hooker doesn't have much of. I like him, to be sure, but I don't ever think of him as fierce. If you want to call Hooker fierce, you might as well throw in Mississippi John Hurt. :-)

For fierce blues, there's B.B. King, when he's on point, or Johnny Winter, who made a name for himself playing with Muddy Waters, or Jimmy Rogers, who also played with Waters.

Bobby "Blue" Bland's early work sometimes fit the category, but not much after, say, the late 1950s (he got into soul and gospel and his sound turned a bit smooth). There's also Otis Rush, who's undersung IMO and has a great voice (but only occasionally a startling ferocity, though when it comes up--wow. You can hear it on some of his recordings for Cobra, and it's amazing when it happens).

More recently, if you don't mind it mixed with a bit of rock, there's Stevie Ray Vaughan's work and also Eric Clapton's from the 1960s (say, with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers), but certainly not any later than that. The man got soft, and then he got softer still.

Of all of these singers, I think Winters, Rogers, and Rush are your best bets. I'd poke around on and see which ones come highly recommended.
posted by Tuwa at 8:31 PM on July 27, 2005

I'll probably be poo-poo'd for this but I'd recommend the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's first album, especially "I Got My Mojo Workin'" and "Born in Chicago".
posted by dobbs at 8:42 PM on July 27, 2005

Wow, cribcage, those Ulmer albums sound amazing. I'll have to track those down.
posted by Tuwa at 8:51 PM on July 27, 2005

Some of Ulmer's music is on for cheap.
posted by dobbs at 8:53 PM on July 27, 2005

And here's where I chime in with my obligatory WREK plug: listen to the Friday Night Fish Fry live Friday nights from 6pm to 8pm, or listen at your leisure online via the mp3 streaming archive. You can also download the shows (e.g. to your mp3 player) but you have to poke around inside your computer's music program to reverse-engineer how to do that.

Listen to a couple shows to get a feel for the breadth of the blues. There are other blues shows on the radio of course but few as accessible (technically) as this one.
posted by intermod at 9:04 PM on July 27, 2005

I've been into the blues for just 2-3 years now, so I'm still very much in the beginning stages of learning about all the artists out there. I found in a lot of cases, I didn't like an artist at all until I heard the one recording that helped me figure out how to hear them. And sometimes, I had to come back to an artist or recording after getting exposure to some others before I could learn to appreciate it.

John Lee Hooker is great. The one recording of his that's really gotten under my skin, though, is his concert live at Soledad prison- I got it on a CD along with his gig at Cafe Au Go-Go. Both halves of the album are great- the cafe half is much more laid-back, but the half performed at the prison is seething and intense in a way I think you'll like- not as subtle as Muddy, but still potent.

You might also like Jimi Hendrix's covers of Muddy/Willie Dixon tunes. You can find them on his "Blues" collection or BBC sessions, and maybe others. Obviously, he captures the ferocity more in his guitar work than in his singing, but it's still there and Muddy-inspired. I get my hands on every version of his rendition of "Catfish Blues" I can. Some of his originals, too, like "Voodoo Chile Blues" and "Midnight Lightning" also capture the spark.

Buddy Guy is a favorite of mine- I just saw him in concert and he is an unbelievable showman. He's a good deal more frenetic and whimsical than Muddy, but he's not lacking in the ferocity department. He played on quite a few of Muddy's recordings- his delicate touch adds something really nice to Muddy's "Folk Singer", which Chuckles mentioned. I have to second the recommendation- one of the most breathtaking albums I've really heard. It might be better to start with some "lesser" albums, though- Folk Singer effortlessly captures something I feel a lot of other blues music is working toward but doesn't achieve as consistently.

Freddie King is a great all-around blues player, but his "best of" from the Shelter Records Years might be of particular interest. Some really searing, impassioned guitar playing and vocals.

To round out your Chicago blues knowledge, you can't miss out on Howlin' Wolf or Willie Dixon. The Wolf can hardly avoid ferocity with that voice of his. Willie was a great singer and bass player, and he infused the songs he wrote with a mojo that even the lamest cover can't hide.

Check out B.B. King, too. He has a bit more of a pop sensibility than the rest of the guys, I've felt, but listen to his album live at the Regal. You'll scream.
posted by MonkeyMeat at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2005

I listen to mostly solo performers, not so much full band blues stuff.. but as far as "pounding ferocity" goes..
The top of my solo performer recommendations would be Son House, the Library of Congress recordings, not the later stuff.

Fred McDowell might be better described as "jangly ferocious dance music", but there are two tracks on Arhoolie 304 - "You gotta move" with Eli Green that are ridiculous, canonical heavy blues songs.

Part of the problem is that heavy blues generally doesn't make up a full album or repertoire, there are a lot of people with a handul of songs that fit your description, spread across several albums.

R. L. Burnside, as mentioned, is a good suggestion. Along with that would be T-Model Ford, and maybe "20 Miles" (Never heard them)
Robert Pete Williams sometimes plays strange airy stuff, and sometimes very heavy rhythmic stuff. I think the album "Free again" might capture a decent variety.

There are a couple modern NON-blues albums that I think are worthy of mention as decendents of this stuff, or are very informed by it, if you want some of the same flavor, in a different wrapper. PJ Harveys "To bring you my love", and even some White Stripes songs like "7 nation army" might make the cut.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 12:40 AM on July 28, 2005

Son House
Blind Willie McTell
Screaming Jay Hawkins
John Lee Hooker
posted by koenie at 2:39 AM on July 28, 2005

Oh, oh, almost forgot: Mr. David Viner.
posted by koenie at 2:40 AM on July 28, 2005

I have a love/hate relationship with, but if you're wanting to learn about a genre and its exemplar performers and performances, it's a pretty decent way to start developing a web of knowledge and a base music collection.

Note that you have to register (it's free) in order to see a performer's representative songs. You can try "explore by..." genre, then choose blues, or just search on a performer's name or an individual song title. Enjoy!
posted by kimota at 5:12 AM on July 28, 2005

After just watching Legends of Country Blues Guitar, I wanted to come back and recommend Son House. Something about seeing his performance in about "ferocity." (But I see that others have beat me to it, so I'll just 3rd the recommendation).
posted by Otis at 6:36 AM on July 28, 2005

Little Walter has always been a favorite of mine. He started out as Muddy's hamonica player and basically created the Chicago blues harp sound.
posted by tirebouchon at 9:54 AM on July 28, 2005

In terms of raucous intensity, I'll second (third?) Howlin' Wolf. I'd also suggest Lightnin' Hopkins, whose style is equally intense, but chillier and scarier. And of course, if you like Muddy Waters, he's got a pretty big discography for you to explore.

Anything on the Alligator Records label will be in the "houserocking blues" style. You can pretty much pick at random from their catalog.
posted by adamrice at 11:16 AM on July 28, 2005

Most of the folks I had in mind have been mentioned. For reference, they were Son House, Howlin' Wolf, and Jimi.

Albert Collins at his best also projects a fierce, ferocious energy that has everything to do with the violent attack of his brilliant work on the Telecaster. He is not a pretty player or a technical artist but he is my favorite blues guitarist, hands down; his singing is gritty and joyous and funny too.

T-Bone Walker, another of the all-time greats, played with Muddy sometimes and they complemented each other nicely.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:48 PM on July 28, 2005

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