Son House – Dry Spell Blues Part 1 (1930) – YouTube

I don’t know why this video features an image of Charlie Patton, but there you go. The person who uploaded this video says he was first introduced to Son House’s music through a Charlie Patton compilation, but it’s still a funny choice of image.

The guitar playing on this tune is incredibly complex and polyrhythmic while maintaining a very simple aesthetic. On top of that is House’s incredibly powerful voice – it’s one of those voices like Howlin’ Wolf’s that probably overwhelmed audiences, demanding their attention. read more

Blues Maker (1969 Documentary About Mississippi Fred McDowell) – YouTube

This is a nice mini-documentary featuring Mississippi Fred McDowell’s music and some film footage of people in Mississippi. I can only assume that some of the footage was taken in Como, MS where McDowell lived. Como is part of the hill country section of the state whose blues is more modal than the better known Mississippi delta blues.

McDowell is one of my favorite guitar players – his playing is simultaneously simple and complex, if that makes any sense. Each song has just a few musical elements to it, but the syncopation and intonation are deeply felt and tremendously complex in their own right. His playing is immediately recognizable and unique; I’m not aware of any other guitar players that sound remotely like him unless they are consciously trying to copy him. Brilliant stuff, for sure. read more

Blind Willie Johnson – Dark was the night… – YouTube

This performance is just about as deep as they come, mixing the blues with gospel music in a very unique and thoroughly expressive style – every time I hear it I get the chills. In fact, this song was chosen by Carl Sagan to be included among the 27 songs and other sound recordings sent on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 (on an LP made out of gold, apparently).

One tiny frustration with this video is that the featured photo that appears at c.1:30 (see above) is a well known photo of Blind Willie McTell, not Johnson. read more

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