Essential Blues Albums Picked by Essential Blues Artists - and me
Essential blues picks by Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa, Rich Robinson, Luther Dickinson, Lonnie Brooks, Tinsley Ellis and more.
Hey, it’s been quite a while since I made a new post. I have been furiously working on finishing my fourth book and it’s going to be great if I can push it across the finish line. Stay tuned and thanks for your patience. I’ve also been incredibly busy with Friends of the Brothers, and having a blast playing the music of the Allman Brothers Band with this great group. Last week we played the Peach Music Festival and the great Maplewoodstock, the two festivals that mean the most to me. Here’s what’s coming up, with a lot more to be announced soon. Ticket links to all shows at: http://friendsofthebrothersband.com/upcoming-gigs/
ESSENTIAL BLUES ALBUMS BY ESSENTIAL ARTISTS (AND ME)
Over the years, I’ve collected Top Blues albums lists from different guitar greats for various Guitar World stories. I thought it would be to pull together a bunch of these and add my own list. Yes, I know some of the formatting is different. What do you want, a refund?
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B.B. King, Live at the Regal [MCA, 1965]
“It’s like one big long song, a giant medley. You look at the vinyl version and there’s no bands on it, because he never stopped. He just slammed it. The second big record for me was James Brown, Live At the Apollo [Polygram, 1963] and that was the same thing. Those records are what got me into doing it so meticulously. I’m real meticulous about the way things are arranged and the order of the songs, and not having too much time between songs. The little things are important because you want to come out and get the audience in the palm of your hand right away: “1-2-3-4, bang! I gotcha!” That’s what you gotta do. You can’t be namby-pamby; you can’t be milquetoast with the audience because there’s a lot of good music out there and those people could be listening to any of it.”
Albert King, Live Wire/Blues Power (Stax, 1968) “One of the nastiest tones ever recorded. Demonstrates, in my opinion, how Albert was the most influential ‘blues’ player in ‘rock’ music.”
Elmore James, The Sky is Crying: The History of Elmore James (Rhino, 1993) “All of Elmore’s recordings on 2 CD’s. he was equally intense as a slide player and a vocalist.”
Willie Dixon, The Chess Box (Chess/MCA, 1988) “A collection of Willie Dixon songs recorded predominantly by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf (my two favorite blues artists) but also features versions by Otis Rush, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Milton and more. Including it also made it easier to narrow it down to five!”
B.B. King, Live At The Regal/Live At Cook County Jail (MCA, 1988) “These two albums now available on one CD capture two different era of B.B.’s career. Both are stellar performances.”
Junior Wells (with Buddy Guy), Hoodoo Man Blues (Delmark, 1965) “In addition to showing Buddy’s influence on Hendrix, the version of ‘You Don’t Love Me’ influenced the Allman Brothers’ version, and the version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ influenced Ten Years After’s rock version.”
Joe Perry (Aerosmith)
1. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, A Hard Road (Deram, 1967)
2. Muddy Waters, The Chess Box (Chess/MCA, 1989)
3. Willie Dixon, The Chess Box (Chess/MCA, 1988)
4. Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia, 1961)
1. Freddie King Sings (1961, Modern Blues, 1989)
2. B.B. King, Greatest Hits (Modern)
3. Albert Collins, Don’t Lose Your Cool (Alligator, 1983)
4. Folk Festival of the Blues--repackaged and rereleased as American Folk Festival of the Blues (Evidence, 1997), featuring Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, with a house band that included Buddy Guy and Otis Spann.
5. Junior Wells (with Buddy Guy), It’s My Life, Baby! (Vanguard, 1969)
6. Albert King, Traveling to California. (Polydor, 1967)
-Junior Wells Blues Band with Buddy Guy, Hoodoo Man Blues
-Freddy King, Freddy King Sings
-Otis Rush, Moaning In The Morning
-Little Walter, Best Of Little Walter
-Son Seals, Midnight Son
-B.B. King, Live At Cook County Jail
-Albert King, Live Wire/Blues Power
-Muddy Waters, Hard Again
-Howlin' Wolf, Real Folk Blues
-Elmore James, King Of The Slide Guitar
“I can’t name albums and I can’t stop at 10 because I love literally everything ever recorded by: 1. Lightnin’ Hopkins 2. John Lee Hooker 3. Howlin’ Wolf 4. Muddy Waters 5. Jimmy Reed 6. Albert King 7. B.B. King 8. Bobby “Blue” Bland 9. Otis Rush 10. Elmore James 11. Hound Dog Taylor 12. Junior Wells.”
1. Magic Sam, West Side Soul (Delmark, 1968)
2. B.B. King, Live at The Regal (MCA, 1965)
3. Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia, 1961
4. Muddy Waters, The Chess Box (Chess/MCA, 1989)
5. Albert King, The Ultimate Collection (Rhino, 1992)
Joe Bonamassa - (I think on this and a few others I may have requested top “blues rock” albums. It’s been a long time and my memory is fuzzy.)
Jeff Beck Truth “This album is the road atlas that mapped out the future for English blues and rock. It also set the standard for blues rock tone and style, and without it a lot of bands probably would have sounded very different. Kudos to engineer Ken Scott and late drummer Mickey Waller for being the unsung secret weapons behind this pivotal album.”
ZZ Top Tres Hombres “It opens with ‘Waiting for the Bus’ and ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago,’ and it’s the best one-two punch I’ve ever heard. Those two songs alone are so worth the price of admission that you almost forget there’s a brilliant album after them. It’s the sound of Texas personified.”
Muddy Waters Electric Mud “Anything the blues purists pan immediately generally suits me just fine. This album is no exception. This record was Marshall Chess’ labor of love. American critics panned it, but the British loved it. [Guitarist] Pete Cosey’s playing is innovative and experimental.”
Jethro Tull Stand Up “This was Tull’s first record after Mick Abrahams departed. He was a fantastic guitarist—check out Blodwyn Pig’s ‘See My Way’ from [1970’s] Getting to This. Martin Barre took over from him, and he was amazing. It showed the world that blues is a blank canvas that you can paint however you wish. Stand Up is titanic in its delivery and its ingenuity.”
Free Tons of Sobs “This is the record that changed my life. If it weren’t for Free’s Paul Kossoff, I would be probably playing like Donovan or Trini Lopez. This solidified my commitment to English blues. Clapton planted the seed, and Kossoff nurtured my growth.”
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin “ ‘How Many More Times,’ ‘You Shook Me,’ ‘I Can’t Quit You.’ Enough said. This album is superb in every way. I defy you to make a better-sounding album right now with all the computer gadgets, or even on real analog equipment. You won’t, and you can’t.”
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland “Jimi plays the blues on ‘Voodoo Chile’ with such a passion that it sends shivers down my spine. This is an album to listen to when you’re feeling good about your playing. It will take you down a peg.”
Rory Gallagher Irish Tour “A blue-collar guy from Cork, Ireland, plugs a beat-up Stratocaster into anything that will make a thud and just nails it. This record is absolutely a stunner—the definition of passion on a blues rock stage.”
The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East “It captures the group’s original lineup at its absolute best. Iconic Allmans tracks and blues rock masterpieces abound, and the boys from Macon, Georgia, show you how it’s done. They’re like a train—you get onboard or you get out of the way. There’s no in-between.”
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton “It takes a lot of heavy lifting and homework to inspire a few jaded guitarists such as myself. It takes a record like this one to inspire an entire generation of blues guitarists. It’s a classic.”
Rich Robinson, The Black Crowes
Delaney & Bonnie and Friends D&B Together “These guys had such attention to detail and a complete understanding of blues and R&B in all of its subtleties. They ran it through their filtration system, and the by-product was this authentic, heartfelt, honest music. Then to have Clapton come in [Clapton was one the extended group’s many members]… What else do you want?”
The Allman Brothers Band The Allman Brothers Band “Growing up in Atlanta, the Allmans were present in your life whether you were into them or not. It didn’t strike me how heavy and amazing they were until I started writing my own songs. That’s when I started to realize how they took blues somewhere different, with jazz influences, by having two drummers and by how Duane Allman and Dickey Betts played together. I underestimated all of those things at the time, but now I find it’s just beautiful, profound and moving.”
Terry Reid River “He was asked to be Zeppelin’s singer and turned them down. He could sing his ass off and had such an interesting approach to music. The first few songs on this record are really cool rock songs, and then he gets into a jazz thing. I appreciate that, because bridging those styles well is very hard to pull off.”
Little Feat Little Feat “They were just a phenomenal band that covered so much ground. I could have picked any of their first several albums for this list. They wrote great songs, and Lowell George was such an expressive singer and guitarist. They were like a more southern version of the Band.”
The Grease Band The Grease Band “They evolved out of Joe Cocker’s backup band in the Sixties. The interaction between the guitars and between the bass and drums is just great. Everything about them—the singer’s voice, the tones, the looseness—just works for me.”
Taj Mahal Happy Just to be Like I Am “I fell in love with Taj’s voice and sound the first time I heard him. Then I got this record and found it to be a really cool bridge between blues and rock. Taj was like a stepping-stone in that way: he had traditional blues roots and a rock and roll band approach, and with them he created something really amazing.”
Ry Cooder Boomer’s Story “This is one of my favorite albums in any genre, and Ry is one of my all-time favorite guitar players. If you hear one note of him in any setting, it’s unmistakable that it’s him. He’s just like Jimmy Page in that respect. You can’t fake it or replicate it. It’s in the tone and the way he holds the notes. The frequencies really speak to me. And Luther [Dickinson, Black Crowes guitarist]’s dad produced it.”
Patto Patto “It’s sort of nutty. The songcraft and vocals are okay, but it’s all about the guitar. There’s something about the sound and the approach that are just so different that it really grabbed me the first time I heard it. They twisted the genre into something different, and I really admire that.”
The Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet “It’s phenomenal to me that they could have such a broad spectrum and explore so many styles of blues on just this one record. And the sound is just incredible. A lot of English bands tended to refine and refine, but the Stones always kept their raw sound.”
Johnny Winter The Progressive Blues Experiment “I never really listened to Johnny Winter because Chris [Robinson, Black Crowes singer] and I came from more of a punk rock, ‘paisley underground’ approach. Then, in about 1991, we bought all these cool bootlegs of TV performances. In one of them, Johnny Winter came on playing ‘Mean Town Blues,’ and I was stunned. So I went out and bought this record, which is just filled with incredible guitar playing that really moves me.”
The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East “As far as blues rock, this about sums it up. Duane was friends with my parents, and I grew up hearing stories about ‘crazy ol’ Duane.’ It’s also amazing how much modal jazz influence from Miles Davis and John Coltrane you hear here.”
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin “Page was not a huge influence on my own playing, but he is a genius, and his songwriting and production, on top of his guitar playing, elevate him to his own special place. The vocals and the lyrics and the way he reworked old blues lyrics was brilliant, and that is the traditional blues oral history.”
ZZ Top Tres Hombres “They’re blues rock masters. The music was just a part of them, and they created their own rock and roll based on the blues traditions. The riffs are disgustingly good. Billy Gibbons is the king of sleazy riffs.”
Canned Heat Future Blues “I think Alan Wilson was the best at translating the acoustic blues to a psychedelic rock band via his fingerpicking and beautiful singing. He’s great, but he never showed off. He’s another guy who was too close to the truth, and it was just dangerous out there for guys like him.”
Jimi Hendrix Live at Berkeley “I grew up on the film of this concert. You really can’t compare Hendrix to anything. He stands alone. His mastery of the chaos he evoked with his rig—the feedback, the whammy bar—is astounding. He is just timeless and from another planet.”
Ry Cooder Into the Purple Valley “This is classic American folkrock blues, an electrified power trio with acoustic guitars and mandolins. Ry is just a genius—an amazing musician participating in the tradition of modernizing folk tradition in his own way. My father produced this, and it’s music I grew up with. It’s ingrained in me.”
Albert King King of the Blues Guitar “The great blues guitarist is backed here by Booker T and the MGs, who lay it down hard. It includes ‘Born Under a Bad Sign,’ which contains what may be the ultimate blues rock riff.”
Fleetwood Mac Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac “Peter Green is the whole package: singing, songwriting, amazing guitar playing. I think he was so hooked up to the mainline that it just couldn’t last. Jimmy Page told the Crowes that Green was the guy every guitar player in London wanted to sound like.”
Alvin Youngblood Hart Motivational Speaker “I think Alvin is the best living acoustic blues player on the planet, but at heart he is a rock and roll guy. This album combines it all and is sadly underrated. Great stuff throughout.”
Free Free “Paul Rodgers’ vocals are so soulful, and the other guys [guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Simon Kirke] were one of the best trios there’s ever been. The bass player is unreal, and they leave this remarkable spaciousness in their arrangements. Paul Kossoff was an amazing guitarist, and his vibrato was crazy. No one else sounds like that.”
This is not my list of the 10 greatest or most influential blues albums. They are the ones that have meant the most to me. Also note that I really stuck with blues in a purist sense, which didn’t include the Allman Brothers Band or even ZZ Top. Overall albums of import to me: Eat A Peach #1.
Albert King, Live Wire/Blues Power Still my alpha and omega. In my DNA.
BB King, Live at the Regal I may actually like Live at Cook County Jail more, but this one got me deeply hooked on the blues. I was 14 or 15 when I read somewhere that this was the greatest live album ever, probably in relation to At Fillmore East and I studied it like the Bible.
Muddy Waters, His Best 1955-64 The album doesn’t really matter Everything he recorded is essential. I’d probably love an album of him talking, eating or just breathing,
Son Seals, Bad Axe Not sure it’s his best album but it’s the one that I bought after seeing Son for the first of many times at Rick’s American Cafe in Ann Arbor. Powerful performer. No nonsense. Always a had a great band. He’s deep in my soul. Plus, Bad Axe is the most bad ass title ever.
Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin in the Moonlight Like Muddy, any good collection will do. It’s all perfect, and Hubert Sumlin’s licks are like the mother’s milk of so much that followed.
Junior Wells (with Buddy Guy), Hoodoo Man Blues Groove all day long. Junior and Buddy together were magical.
Johnny Copeland, Jungle Swing You won’t see Johnny on many top 10 lists, but he was a really important person to me, a deep, kind-hearted, wise man and it comes through in every note he sang or played. And he was a great songwriter. He changed the course of my life and recorded this album while struggling with the cardiac issues that would kill him a year later. It only deepened his music. Give him a chance.
Albert Collins, Ice Pickin’ Albert was the king of club blues when I was getting deeply into it in the 80s. Any of his Alligator albums would fit here, but Ice Pickin’ has one of the coolest album covers ever.
Jimmie Vaughan, Strange Pleasure A master class in cool, swing, elegant, sparse guitar playing - and how to overcome grief with joyous music. I loved this album the first time I heard it and love it more today.
Stevie Ray Vaughan, In Step Unbelievably and idiotically, I almost missed out on Stevie, even though his peak years coincided perfectly with my growing passion for blues. I thought I was tapped into the real stuff, which I sort of was, but it blinded me to Stevie’s depth. I understand it very well now and am thankful I got my shit together to see him before it was too late. Truthfully, I don’t think he ever recorded the masterpiece that was in him, but the clarity and focus that a sober SRV shows here are fantastic and “Tightrope” and “Riviera Paradise” are perfect songs. If they had included “Life By The Drop,” recorded for these sessions, the abum would be closer to perfect.
Alan Paul’s last two books – Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan and One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band – debuted in the New York Times Non Fiction Hardcover Bestsellers List. His first book was Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, about his experiences raising a family in Beijing and touring China with a popular original blues band. It was optioned for a movie by Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Productions. He is also a guitarist and singer who fronts two bands, Big in China and Friends of the Brothers, the premier celebration of the Allman Brothers Band.