Even Four Year-Old White Children Get the Blues
July 11, 2013 2:24 PM   Subscribe

My four and a half year-old son has expressed an interest in blues music. Can you help me find enough great blues songs to fill a mixtape for him that are: a) electric; b) kinda rockin'; and c) not overly lyrically troublesome for a preschool-aged tyke?

Last night, my preschool-aged son heard "Bang Bang Bang Bang" by John Lee Hooker and said, with no small amount of urgency, "What is that?" "That's the blues, son." "Play more! Play more!" We ended up going on a mini-odyssey through Spotify, checking out some of the big names in blues. His eyes got huge the first time Muddy red-lined the mike on "EVVVVVVVV'RRRRRRYYYYYbody knows I am!" in "Hoochie Coochie Man." We made it through two discs worth of a Howlin' Wolf box set in full-on dance party mode. It was a gas.

I'd like to find him some more blues to listen to, since he likes it so much. There are a few problems there. The first thing is, my own tastes tend more toward country blues, which I have been told in no uncertain terms are "BO-RING." Slow, sad blues are similarly off the table.

The second thing is, there are obvious issues with lyrics. Obviously, the blues are largely bereft of cheerful songs about teddy bear picnics. I get that. I can tolerate a small amount of saltiness as long as it's the kind that will go over his head and/or be precocious/hilarious for him to sing instead of disturbing. (Is "I'm a natural born lover's man" anything worse than he'd hear on Top 40 radio, for instance? I don't think so.)

While I find it mildly amusing and mostly harmless to hear my son sing along to mild innuendo like, "I'm your hoochie coochie man," I don't particularly want to raise a sociopath or a misogynist. So I can't have him going to school singing about coming at somebody with a straight razor or beating his woman when she mouths off.

So far, he's enjoyed the aforementioned, "Bang Bang Bang Bang," "Mannish Boy," "Hey Bo Diddley," and even "Give Me Back My Wig" by Hound Dog Taylor. I got a particular kick out of him enjoying that last oddball track, but then, it's not really about his jaded old man, so there are no bonus points for deep cuts. He still thinks duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH" is the coolest sound he's ever heard in his life. We don't exactly need obscure stuff to impress him. We're looking for maximum sing-slong/foot-stomping potential here. Any ideas?
posted by DirtyOldTown to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Briefcase Full of Blues.

Then watch the Blues Brothers movie.

Good times!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:27 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll suggest "Let The Good Times Roll" by B.B. King

stay away from "Don't Answer The Door"
posted by thelonius at 2:28 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jimmy Reed has lots of songs clean enough for kids (eg. Big Boss Man).
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:30 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If mild innuendo is okay, "Back Door Man" by the Doors.
posted by seemoreglass at 2:38 PM on July 11, 2013

The Blues Brothers movie is not appropriate for a four-year-old. Maybe a TV version with cleaned-up language would be OK, but even that might be pushing it. The soundtrack is probably fine.
posted by stopgap at 2:41 PM on July 11, 2013

Best answer: He might like Bukka White. Try "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues."

And Elmore James, "Dust My Broom."
posted by colfax at 2:42 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love your kid! (Can he come over and talk to my 4 yr old? She's got terrible taste in music!) How about some Stevie Ray Vaughan? Couldn't Stand the Weather is pretty uptempo.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:54 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Then watch the Blues Brothers movie.

Oh my gosh yes. My dad only likes three movies, and the Blues Brothers is one of them. I remember watching it with him when I was really little, and dancing around to all the songs with my then baby brother. The Blues Brothers is just plain fun.
posted by phunniemee at 2:55 PM on July 11, 2013

May I suggest digging into Stevie Ray Vaughn for that kind of non-boring footstomping blues?

(Even if probably not technically blues, SRV doing Voodoo Chile might blow his little mind.)
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:56 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, on further consideration, he might like these songs too that are more on the soul side of things (good for dancing in the living room):

Sam & Dave, "Hold On, I'm Coming."

Wilson Pickett, "Land of 1,000 Dances" and "In the Midnight Hour."

Marvin Gaye, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

J.J. Jackson, "It's Alright."

Booker T. and the MGs, "Green Onions."

Sly and the Family Stone, "Everyday People."

Aretha Franklin, "Respect" and "Think."
posted by colfax at 3:00 PM on July 11, 2013

If mild innuendo is okay, "Back Door Man" by the Doors.

Might as well go with Willie Dixon. A lot of his stuff a) has some sort of double entendre that will b) go over your kid's head. And 60s rockers covered/ripped him off enough that the tyke will have a branch off into something else should he ever want to (see quoted text for example).

I'd second the recommendation of "Back Door Man", and add "Spoonful", or pretty much anything off of I Am the Blues.
posted by LionIndex at 3:11 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lisa Simpson's Blues, sung by Lisa Simpson

or how's about the whole Simpsons blues album?
posted by DMelanogaster at 3:12 PM on July 11, 2013

I Put a Spell On You by Screamin' Jay Hawkins
posted by matildaben at 3:13 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jonny Lang's first album (which he recorded when he was, like, 15 years old.) It's the real deal, it rocks, and as I recall, since he was a 15 year old christian boy from a nice family, it's fairly clean. Besides, how adorable would it be for your 4 year old to be jamming to "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl"?

(Also, Jonny makes great "oh, god, I'm in enormous emotional pain!" faces when he sings.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:15 PM on July 11, 2013

Brother Yusef has a kids blues album called Kids Get the Blues Too
posted by kbuxton at 3:15 PM on July 11, 2013

Response by poster: For the purposes of answering this question, it may help you to think of me as Steve Buscemi in this scene.

I like some of the R&B suggestions, but I think it's the booming, outsized personalities and the raw, stomping beats my kid is responding to so far, so the Elmore James/Bukka White type answers are probably more what I am looking for.

posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:24 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Natch'l Blues by Taj Mahal fits the bill!
posted by Specklet at 3:32 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Junior Wells - Snatch It Back and Hold It
"All the kids in the neighborhood, they doing a brand new dance" is something I think a four-year-old can enjoy.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:37 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Up Above My Head
Lightnin' Hopkins - Lightnin's Boogie
Koko Taylor - Wang Dang Doodle
Magic Sam - I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie)
posted by hydrophonic at 4:35 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: John Lee Hooker, Boogie Chillen'
posted by drlith at 5:20 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might have to do some vetting, but Katie Webster, swamp boogie queen, is my big goddamn hero. She can get quite risque, but there are definitely some tunes in there that might appeal to him (she's performed with all the greats, as well). Can I just say how freaking adorable I find that your tyke likes the blues?
posted by emcat8 at 5:49 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and Otis Taylor is a huge favorite, as well -- he's done a lot of work to reclaim the banjo as an instrument of African Americans, and his music is amazing.
posted by emcat8 at 5:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ray Charles, especially in the late 50s Atlantic period. Play "Mess Around" and you can't go wrong.

Son House


Sonny Boy Williamson

Eddy Clearwater



posted by zooropa at 7:09 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

For a four year old, I can't believe no one has suggested Babysitting Blues.
posted by Michele in California at 7:11 PM on July 11, 2013

Sun Ra and the Blues Project: Batman Theme (the vocals are nuts)
posted by sexyrobot at 12:26 AM on July 12, 2013

Grover sings the blues
(Yup, Sesame Street Grover)

There's a lot of pounding and growling in Janis Joplin's stuff.

I'd also recommend some selections of Tom Waits. Really early stuff is probably too smaltzy, though Step Right Up might be really good. I'd suggest the albums Rain Dogs, Blood Money, Bone Machine, and Frank's Wild Years. Of Waits's albums, these each seem to contain more of what I think you're looking for. Waits is
great for kids because his subject matter is rarely overtly inappropriate for kids (skip Pasties and a G-String, and you should be fine) and he very rarely uses words you wouldn't want your kid repeating. However, the stories he tells can get pretty metaphysically dark. Your kid is unlikely to understand it, but if he manages to memorize all the lyrics, his preschool teacher may figure out that he's singing about a guy that just got shot, or a conversation with the devil, or a paranoid neighbor, or a girl who got kidnapped, or a husband who burned down his house because he'd grown bored with his loveless marriage. On the other hand, there's a lot of straight-up playful nonsense, which should appeal to a kid, and a lot of charming bittersweet human observations.

Dr. John might fit the bill. Like Waits, a full-length album is going to be hit and miss stylistically.

Putumayo offers a number of blues collections. If there are no samples on Putumayo's website, you can find samples on Amazon. Putumayo doesn't include anything that isn't relatively kid-friendly in their compilations.
posted by tllaya at 1:52 AM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: Have you tried Fred McDowell? "John Henry," "Shake 'Em On Down," "When I lay my burden down."
posted by colfax at 3:01 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would recommend two albums which my 7-year-old really enjoys (although if you're in any way a blues purist, you should completely disregard): Kid Koala - 12 Bit Blues, and Alan Lomax's Southern Journey Remixed by Tangle Eye.
Both involve re-workings of older blues stuff, done with great respect for the source material.
posted by subajestad at 3:48 PM on July 12, 2013

How did I miss this question?

My blues nut father had a lot of this music when I was growing up, and one of my favorite albums was Taj Mahal's double album Giant Step and De Old Folks At Home. The "old folks" part of the album was my particular favorite (I have a VERY clear memory of Dad making my Snoopy doll dance to one of the cuts on that album).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:44 PM on April 14, 2014

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