Corey Harris – Special Rider Blues – YouTube

My favorite teacher of the blues, generously dishing it out one week at a time at Sonic Junction as one of their first teachers. He even teaches this version of “Special Rider Blues” in an odd tuning of his own invention, inspired by the time he spent with Ali Farka Toure. Mr. Harris is a very generous teacher with a real head-full of music and clear passion for what he does. This is one dude I would love to spend some time talking to.

But check out this guitar playing. He’s got a syncopated bass going on in 12/8 time with a nice modal melody on top. Most people who approach a song like this get dazzled by Skip James’s original playing on this tune, so it’s nice to see someone who has found a way to complement James rather than copy. James was such a virtuoso that it takes much time to master his playing. Harris took the tune to Mali and found a new way to express James’s music. read more

John Hiatt Alone In The Dark – YouTube

Ry Cooder’s roaring and stinging slide playing is the real heart of this excellent song. Don’t get me wrong, John Hiatt is brilliant, but he seems to have let Cooder loose on this tune. I love his fumbling, behind the beat chord playing, but I especially love the way his guitar is a melodic foil for Hiatt’s voice. Cooder’s amp is sizzling with a great overdriven sound. His slide playing is muted when it needs to be, and roaring when it can. This is my all time favorite electric slide tune. read more

Down to Mississippi – YouTube

This is deep, coming from Wim Wenders’s contribution to Martin Scorsese’s The Blues from a few years ago. It starts off with Blood Ulmer, Eagle Eye Cherry, and Vernon Reid playing a tune and morphs to the original J.B. Lenoir version, accompanying video of the Klan in Mississippi. Ulmer’s hands are so big I don’t know how he is able to play the guitar, let alone play it well. But even with electronic percussion (Cherry) this tune has some depth and slow swing to it; it’s all in how you phrase against the beat. read more

The Country Blues

Country Blues Painting

A guide to contemporary acoustic and traditional blues

Source: The Country Blues

This is a pretty deep site that pays attention to contemporary players of the old time country blues. Unfortunately I don’t see any discographic information in the posts, and no links to audio files, thought there are some YouTube links. Blues nerds like to track down albums, so just a few discographic references per post would do well. But this site is definitely a big work of love – I can tell how much the sitemaster really digs his subject. In the end, this is the kind of site I could waste a bunch of my time flipping through. read more

“Rollin’ and Tumblin'”: The Story of a Song | Jas Obrecht Music Archive

How the mesmerizing “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” one of the earliest known blues songs, journeyed from 1920s Southern bluesmen into mainstream rock and roll.

Source: “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”: The Story of a Song | Jas Obrecht Music Archive

I can tell that Jas Obrecht’s site is going to be a favorite for a while. I love how he drills down on something like a specific song. “Rolling and Tumbling” is one of the all time great delta blues dance tunes. I’m most familiar with Hambone Willie Newbern’s and Muddy Waters’s versions of the tune, but Obrecht traces the first version he is aware of to a 1928 recording by Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Newbern’s recording was in 1929, and of course Muddy’s version is a number of years older. This is definitely a must-have tune for a blues musician’s repertoire. read more

Blues Origins: Spanish Fandango and Sebastopol | Jas Obrecht Music Archive

The little-known story of how European-based parlor guitar music from the 1860s influenced the creation of the blues.

Source: Blues Origins: Spanish Fandango and Sebastopol | Jas Obrecht Music Archive

These tunes, “Spanish Fandango” and “Sebastopol,” are two of the more important non-blues tunes in the blues guitar repertoire since they are the source of both “Spanish” (open-G) and “Vestopol” (open-D) tunings. These tunings translated from the parlor guitar tradition, most likely as sheet music sold along with mail-order parlor guitars, though it was the tunings that stayed, easier to slide with. John Dilleshaw’s version of “Spanish Fandango” sounds just like the version I learned from John Renbourn’s Guitar Player magazine columns in the 1990s. read more

Fife and Drum in Como, MS – Cultural Equity Research Center

Source: Cultural EquityResearch Center

This is some of the funkiest music I’ve heard in a long time, I like that the fife is playing in a major scale while the voice repeats a phrase and the drums lock it down (“Oree”); “Jim and John” is more about the lyrics, but the accent is very heavy, difficult for me to understand; “On That Rock” is church music with a great drum groove; then there is the guitar and fiddle music like “Joe Turner,” sounding like fiddle band pre-blues, the rhythm sounding a lot like the Rolling Stones’s “Country Honk”; then the polyrhythmic bottleneck playing of Fred McDowell, “Write Me a Few of Your Lines,” and “Shake ‘Em On Down,” and the magnificent “Sun Rose This Morning,” with the cheesy kazoo playing not quite distracting from the brilliance of the guitar playing; all of this from Lomax’s 1959 Southern recording trip. read more

R.L. Burnside – Mississippi Hill Country Blues – Full Album – YouTube

I love the Mississippi hill country blues, especially R.L. Burnside and Fred McDowell. Some of the coolest grooves in blues – lots of texture and rhythm for a more individual, vocal-style playing on the guitar. Burnside has some more modal-type grooves and longer-form melodic ideas, where McDowell has these brilliantly contrapuntal lines that mimic the voice of the singer and the voice of a church response. I much prefer McDowell’s version of “Shake em all down,” but grooves like “Poor Black Mattie” are the stuff of music. And his version of “Deep Blue Sea Blues”/”Rolling Stone”/etc. is very deep and modal; “Rolling and Tumbling” is killer good, I love that he is able to pitch his voice in the bottom and mid registers of the key of the moment, and then in the next tune hit the mid and low-upper registers; “I believe, I believe my time ain’t long,” McDowell also did a version of this tune; “Poor boy, a long way from home,” again, both Burnside and McDowell do versions of this tune, but with this tune their versions are very different; “Jumper Hanging on the Line,” he’s got something on his mind… read more

Houndog Taylor – Give me Back My Wig – YouTube

Ferocious slide playing when it’s his time to shine, subtle when playing behind the tune, I swear the amp has already blown, when the solo kicks in the whole thing, guitar and amp, just scream with pain and joy… that was a presumptuous observation…let me say that the part really roars and sings, in my opinion, a little out of tune, but nasty out of tune. I love it.

Give me back my wig, goddamit, can’t you see I’m bald without?

Cultural Equity Research Center

Alan Lomax

Source: Cultural Equity Research Center

This is the source for what I assume is most of Alan Lomax’s field recordings. I would need to go through the catalog numbers, but really I don’t want to; whether or not the complete recordings are available, this is a great resource for teaching or just for listening. I love the prison recordings and the Southern country blues in particular, but I’m also partial to the calypso and the other Caribbean recordings. I’m definitely assigning this for class listening projects, asking students to identify and describe or defend individual compositions or groups of compositions. read more