Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi’

Born Riley B. King, he was nicknamed “Blues Boy” during his time on the Memphis radio station WDIA in the late 1940s, later abbreviated to B.B. But to the many millions who heard him in the years that followed, he was the Blues Man. Sure, others played faster and with greater fury; others may have sung better (and he was happy to share the stage with one, Bobby “Blue” Bland, on a number of tours together). But few if any blues artists (or rockers for that matter) did it all with the regal mix of majesty, gentility and heart implied by his surname. B.B. King earned his crown and wore it well. And though now no longer with us, his music will live on eternally.

From his beginnings on a cotton plantation in Mississippi in 1925 to duetting at the White House with President Obama in 2012, BB King certainly witnessed some changes in his lifetime. But one thing that remained largely unaltered during the course of his 70-plus years as a performer – a career that saw him release 59 albums, 138 singles and pick up countless awards (among them 18 Grammys) – was the essence of his music. If the ultimate goal of anyone who picks up a guitar is self-expression, then BB King is among a very select group of elite musicians who, through countless hours of work, not only perfected the art, but dug ever deeper without feeling the need for reinvention. Eric Clapton said of him: “The character of any great musician is usually identifiable by the individuality of their vibrato. Most players are recognisable by that particular facet of their playing… I can tell BB from one note – most of us can, I think.” Carlos Santana echoed the sentiment: “I can hear BB King with the sound off on the TV, just by looking at his face.” Buddy Guy also summed it up: “The way BB did it is the way we all do it now.” 

B.B King gave his all to blues music, and as a result became its preeminent ambassador the world round. A kind, warm and dignified man, it seems he never forgot his rural Mississippi sharecropping roots and how music raised a boy who was on his own from age 14 out of abject poverty, exploitation and racism. But rather than let the pain of his past fester into anger and resentment, he channelled it into his music. Sadness and anguish suffused his voice, and it could be heard in the sting, sad howls and tearful quivering tremelo within his clean, economical and eloquent guitar lines. His music always bore his own immediately recognizable stamp, yet it blended not only both rural and urban blues but R&B, jazz, big band, classic pop and much more to fuel his wide appeal. Dynamics, phrasing, timing, improvisation, targetting chord notes, vibrato… BB King’s unique playing has influenced countless players and in its finer details, still holds innumerable lessons for guitarists. But the most important one is sadly the least-often heeded: “Notes are expensive,” King once said. “Spend them wisely.” You could spend many words summarizing all his awards, honours and accomplishments and listing the scores of classic rock guitarists who King influenced and inspired – all that is easily available elsewhere. But the best way to honour him is simply to listen to his music. We look at a mere 20 of BB King’s greatest guitar moments only scratches the surface of an exhaustive catalogue of playing; each entry aims to show a different facet of why the playing of the King Of The Blues will always have the power to excite and delight guitarists, regardless of genre and musical style.

20. Lucille

The title track from this 1968 album shows BB King finally putting on musical record what his beloved guitar – or actually a succession of ES-family guitars, all with the same nickname – means to him. Every BB King song foregrounds an aspect of his musicality, and over this laid-back spoken-word blues, it’s how intertwined his voice and guitar playing are. Mixed with King’s crystal-clear tone way out front, rather than the forced showcase of fancy licks that 99 per cent of other players would have indulged in – although there are a few choice jazzy nods here and there and a masterclass in BB’s approach to bends – Lucille’s contribution here is that of the ever-faithful sidekick, purring like a kitten throughout. The original Lucille can be heard on vinyl on the raw, energetic concert LPs Live at the Regal (1965)  – recorded before a lively crowd at a longstanding black Chicago nightspot, and the perfect match between performer and audience, fire and enthusiasm – and Live at Cook County Jail (1971) , both classics of the genre.

The song’s off-the-cuff feel was captured when producer Bob Thiele ran tape as BB was telling him the story of his guitar: “He was idling through some runs and started to tell me the story of Lucille. I grabbed the switch, signalled the engineer, and flipped him on live”

19. The Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Woman Crying For Her Man (Live In Japan)

Two musical titans for the price of one on this 1990 guest appearance in Japan, which features Ray Charles, BB King and a ‘Super Band’ laying down a finale to an evening of perfectly crafted big-band schmaltz. Spectacular enough is Charles dusting off his keyboard’s pitch-bend wheel to skilfully imitate the character of King’s guitar, but when Gene Harris’ big band is eventually unleashed, King takes the spotlight, rolling off the tone control and letting rip over When I Get The Blues I Sit In My Rockin’ Chair with a series of cascading jazz-tinged improvisations that not only show his ability to morph his style to the occasion, but also offer an extended glimpse of the sophistication in his note choices that he would allude to throughout his career.

Charles and King often shared a stage during their careers; to hear them together in the studio, listen to the emotive jamming on Sinner’s Prayer on Charles’ final studio album before his death in 2004, Genius Loves Company

18. Instrumental (Live In Stockholm Konserthus)

With a minute of charming but starchy retrospective interview before the action, this clip from Swedish concert in 1974 is an absolute must for an appreciation of what made BB King’s playing so timeless. Over an extended three-minute solo, he creates mood by varying the dynamics of his solo from tender to strident, perfectly controlling the band’s accompaniment through the nuances of his playing and through subtle gestures: at one point, he unexpectedly silences them, embarks on a stunning jazzy exploration, then smoothly changes key, seemingly at random, before they come back in without missing a trick. Dynamic playing and musical telepathy with his fellow musicians are two qualities BB understood better than perhaps any other blues player before or since – and it’s all here.

At 7:00 in this Guitar Clinic, King explains how horn playing defined his approach to sustain in his phrasing

17. Japanese Boogie

A tireless tourer, King found time in his hectic schedule to record three albums in 1971 while also capitalising on the peak in his popularity – the unimpeachable Live At Cook County Jail, B.B. King In London, unfortunately lacklustre despite its stellar cast of musicians, and Live In Japan, recorded in Tokyo’s Sankei Hall – where this fiery up-tempo boogie is from. It’s a sprawling nine-minute instrumental that begins with a single-string take on the Chuck Berry lick before spending the majority of the rest of the song in the so-called BB box: having an area of the guitar neck named after you proves how much time BB spent in this territory, and this stomping instrumental, with its interlacing horns and piano, shows the endless variation King could summon out of the position on the fretboard he’d claimed as his own.

It’s not all down to B.B King – there’s even a rasping distorted bass solo, courtesy of King’s erstwhile low-end merchant Wilbert Freeman

16. Goin’ South (Calypso Blues)

1991 instrumental compilation Spotlight On Lucille is oft-lauded for illuminating King’s material from the Kent label vaults, from 1958-62, particularly the outstanding version of Louis Jordan’s Ain’t That Just Like A Woman which is an early tour-de-force of his jazz-inflected, horn-influenced and fluid lead style, and Jumpin’ With B.B., where he rides roughshod across an alternate time signature from the rhythm section in his phrasing. Yet its this shapeshifting Calypso instrumental that shows an undercelebrated side of King’s wide-ranging musical sensibilities. Listen out for the diminished runs and the outro, where he really loses himself in the tune, adding rare rhythmic double-stop stabs and controlling the song’s dynamics with a twist of his volume control.

B.B King was an ever-present in the studio in his early days; a boxset of the complete RPM-Kent recordings features over 400 tracks, including alternate takes

15. Days Of Old

2000’s Riding With The King saw 75-year-old B.B king rolling back the years on a collaboration with Eric Clapton that had finally come to fruition after years of mutual appreciation. The record featured five vintage B.B King songs, and on the uptempo Days Of Old from 1958, an elite band with Andy Fairweather-Low, Joe Sample et al offer a perfect substitute for the horn stabs of the original. Clapton pulls out all the stops throughout the record, mimics the intro line and staccato Q&A licks that leapt out of the original, and when it’s Lucille’s turn in the spotlight, King soars above the mix with a push-and-pull solo soaked in expressiveness that draws on all of his years of experience with the song – a highlight from a record brimming with mutual admiration from two guitar greats.

Fans of Texas blues should give Riding With The King a spin for the guest spots from Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II; the latter’s songs Marry You and I Wanna Be are covered

14. Guess Who

The cover image from King’s 1972 album Guess Who shows him laid out on the beach hovering in a state somewhere between relaxation and exhaustion, Lucille by his side – it was his 21st album, after all. But the title track shows there was still plenty more to come, and King transforms the smouldering sentimentality of this piano-blues into a consummate lesson in how his vocal and guitar were two sides of the same coin when it came to dynamics and phrasing. BB uses his full vocabulary of first-finger bends, string slides, passing notes, his magical vibrato and more to subtly transform the song’s basic melody into something only he could play.

King’s oft-imitated rapid vibrato technique relies on lateral movement of the wrist; unusually, the tip of his finger is the only part of his hand touching the fretboard, which contributes to its uniquely vocal quality

13. Don’t Answer The Door

This 1966 single, a cover of a Jimmy Johnson composition, was King’s highest-charting song for six years on release, but its success was modest compared to the smash that his signature song, Thrill Has Gone, became three years later. Undoubtedly, though, guitarists around the world were listening – just as important to the song’s success as the brooding electric organ and King’s impassioned vocal are the bursts of ghostly lead guitar, drenched in pools of sumptuous amp reverb, an effect also put to spine-chilling use by King’s favourite UK bluesman, Peter Green.

Listen also to the brooding live version on the outstanding half-live, half-studio Live & Well album from 1969, part of a set which King proclaimed was the best he’d ever played

12. Chains And Things

“I know the critics always name Live & Well or Live At The Regal as my best albums,” King once reflected, “but I think Indianola Mississippi Seeds was the best album I have ever made artistically.” The record came on the heels of his breakthrough hit Thrill Is Gone, from the Completely Well record, and young Bill Szymcyzk (who produced that album and would later go on to produce Hotel California) gently nudged King away from his well-trodden formula into fresh territory, with exceptional results. Chains And Things, also featuring Carole King on Fender Rhodes, is a case in point: simmering with world-weary minor-key indignation, BB delivers a haunting vocal and his guitar solo, embellished with interwoven string lines, seems to emanate from deep inside him.

The solo’s opening note was a mistake, according to BB: “I played the wrong note and followed it as best I could… then we got the arranger to make the strings follow it”

11. Gambler’s Blues

When you summon BB King’s playing to mind, chances are you’ll hear it floating serenely above a bed of horns of the kind that characterised Live At The Regal. But on the 1966 live album Blues Is King, BB took to the stage in Chicago with a stripped-down band featuring only organ, alto sax and a trumpet in their place, and the results were grittier and far more visceral as a result. There are many six-string highlights, including the stark, spiky lines of opener Waiting On You and the spills of feedback threatening the reverb-coated licks on Night Life (there’s also an unfortunate string break on Blind Love). But Gambler’s Blues is the guitar highpoint – a prowling beast of a performance, so real it feels as though he’s in the room with you.

BB King was in debt at this time due to a bus crash incident that left him personally liable and claims for back taxes from the IRS, hence the stripped-down line-up

10. How Blue Can You Get (aka Downhearted)

A crowd pleasing staple in King’s live sets on account of its clever wordplay, BB recorded the 1949 Jane and Leonard Feather composition twice; once in 1963 as Downhearted, and then in a revamped version the following year, which made the Billboard 100. This version – from a 1979 tour of Russia, filmed in what looks like an aircraft hangar, in Tblisi of all places – is a great watch, firstly for the extreme-close-up camerawork offering us an almost uncomfortably intimate view of his guitar technique, secondly for the noodling in the intro, and finally, for an appreciation of BB King as an out-and-out showman, acting out the lyrics as he goes.

There are many to choose from: definitive live versions are a toss-up between those on Live At The Regal, Sing Sing, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! and Live At Cook County Jail

9. Blues At Midnight

A towering track included on King’s ABC-Paramount debut album Mr Blues, from 1963 – a record that combines the output of three separate sessions with a variety of groups into a stylistically varied but not entirely satisfying whole – Blues At Midnight enjoys the distinction of having an uncommonly great guitar tone that’s different from much of the rest of his output. Articulate, nasal and sounding almost-out-of-phase, how exactly he came across it remains a mystery. King had a famous preference for Gibson’s Lab series L-5 amps and used Fender models, but beyond that, was seemingly far from a gearhound.

It’s speculated that the tone on this record may be the product of one of the settings on King’s custom-ordered stereo ES-335 with Varitone switch, pictured on the cover

8. Hummingbird

The BB King/Bill Szymcyzk partnership bore further fruit with Indianola Mississippi Seeds’ closing epic, a most uncharacteristic, shapeshifting musical exploration written by singer-pianist Leon Russell, who contributes gutsy piano to the record. Beginning with a loping Albert King-esque  strut and morphing into an ambitious rock-ballad arrangement, Hummingbird would’ve been a standout in King’s discography even without its closing section, where, over a chorus of angelic backing vocals from Sherlie Matthews, Merry Clayton, Clydie King and Venetta Fields, King offers his own unique take on the epic Layla-esque 70s rock outro, wringing almost Stones-y licks from Lucille’s neck for a satisfyingly bitter and earthy contrast to the song’s emotive crescendo.

The surreal cover image, featuring a watermelon guitar complete with pickups, neck and bridge, won a Grammy for photographer, Ivan Nagy and cover designer, Robert Lockart

7. Rock Me Baby

This early BB King song, recorded sometime between 1958 and 1962, was his first to hit the Top 40 in the US, and both it and Muddy Waters’ Rock Me share a common ancestor in Lil’ Son Jackson’s Rockin’ And Rollin’. King’s take is a prowling monster of a recording, bleeding into the red, that pairs a deep, barrelling piano bassline with a manky stray cat of a main lick; but what elevates it is the perfectly formed guitar solo, with its sophisticated manipulation of space, its visceral string rakes, mix of major and minor and its microtonal bends. It’s a rare glimpse of BB King in unadulterated macho-swagger mode and it’s since entered the blues canon.

Hendrix revamped the song somewhat for his mind blowing 1967 Monterey Pop Festival performance and BB King re-recorded the song in 2000 with Clapton for Riding With The King

6. Every Day I Have The Blues

A 1935 song by the Sparks brothers, updated by Memphis Slim, Count Basie And His Orchestra and others, King’s version of Every Day I Have The Blues recorded 20 years later became his “theme” on account of its novel DI’d guitar sound (resulting in extra cuthrough and twang) and “crisp and relaxed” horn arrangements from Maxwell Davis. It was a regular concert opener, opening both Live At The Regal and Live At Cook County Jail, and for all the charm of the original, it’s in performance that it comes to life. Here’s a great hyperactive version from circa 1969-70 where BB slickly sorts out his guitar issues before peeling out a stinging solo that dances around the horn lines and takes advantage of the sustain from his cranked amp.

Though King’s first version was recorded in 1955, it had to wait until 2004 for a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and until 2019 to be inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame as a Classic Of Blues Recording,

5. Why I Sing The Blues

The closing song on BB’s classic 1969 album Completely Well catalogues the historical and contemporary racial injustices of US society head on, and with simmering dignity. Though the original is a cool slab of funk, driven by a propulsive bassline from Gerald ‘Jerry’ Jemmott, it’s best heard in the sweltering heat of the Zaire 74 concert: 80,000 people watch on as his band up the tempo and the bandleader closes his eyes and coaxes Lucille to sing. When describing his guitar phrasing, BB would often explain his approach in terms of a conversation, constructing complete sentences by repeating themes while varying the dynamics, bends and sustain in his licks; and this is a prime example of how he did it, with a bonus funky outro thrown in just for the hell of it.

King’s right-hand technique is an essential aspect of his sound: he played with a heavy pick and used mostly downstrokes to strike the notes, sacrificing the speed of alternate picking for more control and consistency of emphasis. He also exclusively damped the strings with his right hand

4. Three O’Clock Blues

BB had his first chart appearance in 1951 with a brooding take on Lowell Fulson’s Three O’Clock Blues, restlessly alternating soulful crooning with restless, barbed guitar licks over a bed of soporific horns. The influence of T-Bone Walker on King’s early style shines through here, in the emphatic use of bends and the abrupt, unexpected pauses for thought interrupting the flow of his lead lines to convey emotion through the power of silence. King’s raw and authoritative playing when he revisited the song for 2000’s Riding With The King makes for an interesting comparison: half a century of blues playing is a lot of water under the bridge, but his expressive power is completely undiminished

Beginning life as a Gibson L-30, Lucille took many forms before King settled on his iconic choice of centre block-equipped ES-355 and its less bling sister models, the 335 and 345. At this point in his career, Lucille was an ES-125; a hollow body model with a single P-90 pickup

3. Worry Worry Worry (Live In Cook County Jail)

Johnny Cash’s prison concerts (1968’s At Folsom Prison and 1969’s At San Quentin) set the precedent for BB King to accept an invitation to perform at Cook County Jail in Chicago in 1971, and the experience had a lasting effect on him: B.B King would go on to co-found the Foundation for the Advancement of Inmate Recreation and Rehabilitation (FAIRR) in 1972. The Cook County performance has many fine moments, but Worry Worry Worry, its 10-minute centrepiece, finds him using everything in his power – from spoken-word soliloquys and hummingbird falsetto to band dynamics and verse after verse of spectacularly emotive blues lead – to make a connection with the lost souls staring back at him.

BB King was a passionate advocate for prison reform, and played around 70 prison gigs over the course of his career, including the subject of the 1972 documentary At Sing Sing Prison</strong

2. Sweet Little Angel

Live At The Regal is forever praised as one of the greatest live albums of all time and even though its timelessness ultimately lies in the connection with the crowd and the ensemble performance, it’s also littered with exceptional, enormously varied guitar playing. An undoubted high point for many is King’s playing onSweet Little Angel, a reworking of Lucille Bogan’s1930 song Black Angel Blues. While B.B King had refined his guitar style on singles towards a more minimalist approach out of necessity, onstage, it could be a different story, and so it proves here: from its authoritative, melodic opening phrase onwards, his brief off-the-cuff solo covers so much ground, it’s virtually a song in itself.

At one point in his 60s career, Eric Clapton listened to this album every night before going onstage

1. The Thrill Is Gone

King’s signature song was a hit forRoy Hawkins, its co-writer, in 1951, but B.B King’s ground-up reworking of it reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and took his popularity to a new audience, and a new level. Its dramatic arrangment – immersing King’s angst-ridden vocals and laconic, reverb-shrouded stabs of guitar in a sea of heartbreak made up of pensive strings and atmospheric Wurlitzer, provided the established bluesman with an entirely fresh sonic setting. The song was masterminded by Bill Szymczyk, an up-and-coming staff producer at ABC Records who had lobbied hard to allow executives to pair him up with King in the studio. The result of their first collaboration was 1969’s Live & Wellalbum: a half-live, half-studio test exercise. For its follow-up, Completely Well, Szymczyk recruited session players Herbie Lovell on drums, bassist Gerry Jemmott, keys player Paul Harris and guitarist Hugh McCracken and set up in New York’s Hit Factory studio in September 1969. The producer asked string arranger Bert de Coteaux to come up with the song’s distinctive arrangement. Szymczyk told us “The thing I remember most vividly about that session was how BB smiled during it. This had never happened to him before – strings on a blues record. I’m not sure it had ever happened to anyone before.” The atmospheric backdrop stirred up an emotional response from King, whose terse, pent-up lines bristle with dynamic energy, swooping gracefully above and below the other elements in the mix before embarking on an outro that Szymcyk recalls went on a full eight minutes.

BB King recorded the song live with no guitar or vocal overdubs, using a Gibson ES-355 with Varitone through a Fender Twin Reverb, In 1980 Gibson began manufacturing the B.B. King signature “Lucille” model, a variation on the company’s combination hollow- and solid-body ES-355. But it was long before that the original “Lucille” got her name. After rescuing his $30 Gibson L-30 from a burning Arkansas dance hall in 1949, B.B. King learned that the fire was started by two men fighting over a woman named Lucille. He has used the name for each of his guitars since, and while they were all Gibsons, not all of his Lucilles were the ES-355 model with which B.B. is most often identified. The Gibson website points out that “As King’s career flourished, he got a fancier guitar. Launched in 1949, the ES-5 was then one of Gibson’sflashiest and sonically most versatile models – it had three P-90 pickups and came in blonde and sunburst, but B.B.’s was a blonde, with a trio of volume pots and a black pickguard. The ES-5 was discontinued in 1960.” Then came other Lucilles, including the ES-125, the ES-175 even a Gibson Byrdland was Lucille-ized. King has played ES-335s and ES-345s too, but the ES-355 was the one. By the time he became an international superstar, Gibson and King collaborated to create his own, exclusive Lucille model. And this one had to be fit for a King. As well as personalized pearl inlays, B.B. requested that  Gibson remove the F-holes, to reduce feedback. In earlier years, King would often stuff his regular ES-355’s F-holes with cloth to inhibit feedback, so this was a much-needed modification for the bluesman.

See the source image

Known as the “King of the Boogie,” Mississippi-born bluesman John Lee Hooker rose to prominence performing an electric guitar-style adaptation of Delta blues. The hypnotic drone of a guitar tuned to open G, a relentless stomp and an evocative, quavering baritone made up the formula of his signature sound. With these primitive, but powerful ingredients, Hooker inspired generations of rock guitarists, altered the DNA of the blues and became an internationally renowned legend.

Recorded in a single session with drums, bass, second guitar, piano, tenor sax and baritone sax, 1962’s “Burnin’ marked a departure from previous Hooker albums, where he often played with just a guitar and a piece of plywood to pound his foot on. His backing band for this Vee-Jay release includes members of the Funk Brothers, best known for being the Motown Records house band. They do an admirable job of following Hooker, one of the form’s most idiosyncratic players, wherever he leads. The album opens with the single “Boom Boom,” which has become a blues standard over the years. Music critic Charles Shaar Murray called it “the greatest pop song [Hooker] ever wrote.” About the tightest musical structure of any Hooker composition, its verses diligently adhere to the twelve-bar format over which he more often rides roughshod. And the quality doesn’t drop off after the strong opener. Instead, the album provides a cohesive and engaging listening experience that will hold you captive from beginning to end. Pure, 100-proof electric blues.

Thelma”  – This slightly menacing love song rides along on a propulsive horn riff and emotive playing by Motown’s leading pianist, Joe HunterHooker’s assurances that he forgives his cheating lover grow more frenzied and forceful as the song builds, until he’s howling with anguish, keys pounding beneath his voice. It’s heartbreaking and deliciously groovy at the same time. 

“Let’s Make It” – The directness of this uptempo number is intensified through the complete lack of chord changes—one chord, one simple concept—what more do you need? Pianist Joe Hunter once again provides pitch-perfect embellishments that let Hooker’s incantatory song structure shine, and Andrew “Mike” Terry’s baritone sax contributes to the raucous mood. 

Blues Before Sunrise” – John Lee Hooker’s dark voice and moody, haunting ambiance are a perfect fit for this mournful take on the Leroy Carr track. Tormented by a cheating woman, he sways in raw despair. This is a track where you’ll especially appreciate the backing band: plaintive sax, driving drums and especially the boogie-woogie-style piano elevate the proceedings. An absolutely awe-inspiring version.

  • Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker, was the pioneer of the electric blues and jump blues sound, gave John Lee Hooker his first electric guitar, an Epiphone.
  • Hooker credited the Beatles, Van Morrison and other U.K. rock bands for helping to popularize the blues, although–of course–they were taking their inspiration from him and his contemporaries like B.B. King and Muddy Waters.
  •  In a 1984 interview with author Bruce Pollock, John confided that he was actually happy when writing blues music: “[People] think you gotta be down and out to write the blues – hungry, broke. It’s not true. I write when I’ve got a good feeling, when I’m happy. When things are going well for you, you write. You have to be in the groove to write. . . . Sometimes you feel something deep down and write it to get it out, get it off your chest. But I cannot write a song when I’m feeling blue. I can’t think when my mind is on my troubles.”
  • Like some other postwar blues singers who became embroiled in legal disputes with their record companies, Hooker recorded for other labels under an array of pseudonyms, including Birmingham Sam and His Magic Guitar, Johnny Lee, Texas Slim and John Lee Cooker, among others.
  • John Lee Hooker often felt his music so deeply, it would bring him to tears. In fact, this is the reason why Wayfarer sunglasses became a signature part of his onstage look.

Listen to Burnin’ in its entirety on your preferred streaming platform or shop our John Lee Hooker vinyl collection below.


Muddy Waters was arguably the greatest and most famous bluesmen who migrated from Mississippi north to Chicago bent on a making a name for himself. It was a long, hard road out of the Mississippi Delta and almost unimaginable for Waters to go from picking cotton on Stovall’s Plantation in Mississippi to the Library of Congress recordings made by Alan Lomax of Waters on the farm in 1941. But from there he went on to the pinnacle of success in Chicago as the premier post-War blues master. Muddy Waters transcended all obstacles in reaching his goal, becoming the reigning Chess king in Chicago for nearly 25 years.

After moving to Chicago in 1943 and making a few sides for Columbia Records, Waters first recorded for the Chess brothers’ Aristocrat label in 1947, and by 1953 had hit his stride with one of the great Blues songwriters, Willie Dixon, providing the hits, and his seminal band with Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elgin Evans on drums and Otis Spann on piano providing the groove. In 1960, Waters recorded the Blues classic “Muddy Waters at Newport,” “Folk Singer,” in 1964, the dreaded “Electric Mud,” in 1968, and the all-star “Fathers and Sons,” set in 1969. Waters reigned until Chess closed shop in the 1970s but got a second life with Johnny Winter later in the decade with four Blue Sky albums produced by the Beaumont Blaster. Grammy Award winners were “Hard Again,” (1977), and “I’m Ready,” (1978) and “King Bee,” (1981), all studio albums, and the acclaimed live set “Muddy “Mississippi” Waters.” which was released in 1979. The Rolling Stones came under his sway, recording many of his songs, and Rolling Stone magazine paid homage to both the Stones and Waters in the title of its publication. Waters was the template, setting the table for other Windy City Bluesmen that came in his wake such as Buddy Guy. He was the Hoochie Coochie Man – one of the greatest of the post-war Blues masters.

The Complete Plantation Recordings

Muddy Waters was bandleader, songwriter, guitarist, singer, song interpreter and the prime mover of the Chicago electric Blues scene, Muddy from the Mississippi Delta, like almost all the great electric bluesman of the post-war era. He was also a good man, who helped many younger or struggling musicians as they later bore witness. But whatever else he was, he will forever be the once and future King of the Chicago Blues. “No I ain’t no millionaire, but I had a lot of managers that became millionaires.”  Muddy Waters got his nickname from his grandmother, because he was always playing in a nearby creek as a child. It is a name that resonates way beyond the confines of the Blues. As the man who claimed that “The Blues had a baby and they named it rock ‘n’ roll,” he certainly had a point and his reputation among young white boy wannabe blues musicians was second to none. It was from a track on his 1958 album, from which a young British band took their name in 1962… and they went on to become, “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World”.
Muddy Waters At Newport
Muddy Waters Folk Singer shows the depth of Muddy’s talent, his understanding of the Blues and his brilliance in playing them in whatever form he wanted. It is fair to say that without the album Muddy Waters Live at Newport 1960, no self-respecting white Blues band would dare not play at least half the numbers Muddy performed. The success of rock bands helped many a Bluesman’s career, both in the USA and as international acts; Muddy was no exception and in fact his recording career benefitted more than most. Albums including The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album and Unk in Funk offer a real insight into the thirty year recording career of the real legends of the Blues.
Unk In Funk

When he was about three years old McKinley Morganfield’s Mother died so he was sent to the Stovall farm to stay with his grandmother. After he grew up he began working on the plantation, while at the same time teaching himself the harmonica and later the guitar. He began playing in juke joints, at parties and dances in and around the Clarksdale area from about 1935 onwards.

When in the mid summer 1941 Alan Lomax recorded Muddy at Stovall’s for the Library of Congress; Muddy sang “Country Blues” and “Burr Clover Country Blues”. According to Howard Stovall whose family still own the farm. “He was the burr clover man, which was a cover crop to put nitrogen back in the soil. It’s drudge work, you hand rake it up and put it in bags and then spread the burrs around to improve next year’s crop. I had the honour of that job one summer, apparently Muddy felt about it the same way I did, only he was able to express it more eloquently.”

In 1943 Muddy moved north and like many before him, took the train to Chicago’s Illinois Central Station; initially finding work in a paper factory. Muddy began playing for tips on Maxwell Street soon after arriving in the city; Big Bill Broonzy helped the country boy break into the urban scene. He started working in clubs, playing with Eddie Boyd, as well as backing Sonny Boy Williamson No.1 at the Plantation Club. A switch from acoustic to electric guitar in 1944 galvanised Muddy’s career. He continued to play traditional Delta bottleneck, but the electric guitar transformed his sound and helped to “invent” post-war Chicago Blues. His 1946 recordings for Columbia with the doyen of Chicago Blues, Lester Melrose, went unreleased. It was not until the following year that Muddy would be heard playing on record, in the role of backing guitarist to Sunnyland Slim.

Waters and bass player Big Crawford recorded two other songs on the day he worked with Slim, but Leonard Chess was unimpressed and so they went unreleased. However, the following year Muddy and Crawford were back and cut ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ and ‘Feel Like Going Home’, which Leonard Chess released on the Checker label. The former was a reworking of  ‘I Be’s Troubled’, a song Muddy recorded for Lomax in 1941 and often played live. ‘Feel Like Going Home’ was a reworking of Son House’s ‘Walking Blues’. Muddy had huge respect for House and this is another song Muddy must have sang many times before this recording. The record sold out in less than a day, going on to make No.11 on the R&B charts in September 1948; years later Muddy recalled that he even had trouble buying a copy. Chess was anxious not to upset a winning formula and despite the fact that Muddy had his own band he continued to record Muddy as a duo or with Leroy Foster on guitar.

By the late 1940s his band included Leroy Foster on guitar or drums, Big Crawford on bass, Jimmy Rogers on guitar and harmonica and not long afterwards Little Walter Jacobs was added as the featured harmonica player. Muddy was only in his early 30s but he became the patriarch of the Chicago blues scene. With the pick of the city’s musicians in the 1950s, it was more a question of who didn’t play in Muddy Waters Band than who did. The Muddy Waters Blues Band was recording as an entity by 1951, the epitome of the hard-edged, driving electric Blues band of Chicago, a cornerstone of what we call rock music today.

In 1951 ‘Louisiana Blues’ became the second in his run of sixteen chart hits, which included classics like, ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’, ‘Just Make Love to Me’, ‘Mannish Boy’ and ‘Forty Days and Nights’. The man born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi also cut ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin”, ‘Rollin’ Stone’ and ‘They Call Me Muddy Waters’, in which he sings “I’m the most bluest man in this whole Chicago town”… few would disagree. Any and every one of these recordings captures the very essence of 1950s Chicago Blues.

The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album

In 1959 Muddy released Muddy Sings Big Bill, a tribute album to his former mentor who had died a year earlier. Muddy considered Big Bill to be “the Daddy of the Country Blues singers”, so when he first moved to the city it must have been amazing for the younger man to find such a star taking an interest in him. It also shows the similarity in style between the two singers. On the album Muddy is accompanied by his band of the moment, James Cotton on harp, Pat Hare on guitar and the brilliant Otis Spann on piano they perform ‘Just a Dream’, a perfect testimony to both men, while Muddy makes the song his own, Big Bill comes shining through.

‘I Feel So Good’ from the album exemplifies Muddy’s approach, brilliant interpretation and vocal delivery that is underpinned by tight ensemble playing. Otis Spann on piano, James Cotton’s harmonica and Pat Hare’s guitar are nothing but perfect. The following year at the Newport Festival Muddy performed the song, predominantly to a white audience, and it was captured for his album Muddy Waters at Newport; one of the great live albums and a favourite of many blues’ fans. As the band powers through the song the crowd can be heard responding to their brilliance with spontaneous shouts. Not that this one song was any different from many that Muddy performed, he affected everything he did with style and class.

The Folk SInger

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s Muddy’s band was the city’s premier recording outfit, a veritable academy of the Blues. Among those who played with Muddy were guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Luther Tucker, and Earl Hooker; harmonica players Junior Wells, Big Walter Horton and James Cotton, Willie Dixon on bass; pianists Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, and Pinetop Perkins along with drummer Fred Below. Another was Buddy Guy who played on Muddy’s essential 1964  album, Muddy Waters “Folk Singer”. He was another musician who had a lot to thank Muddy for…

My mother had a stroke and I left Baton Rouge, Louisiana September 25th 1957 and I went to Chicago. I actually was looking for just a regular job to help my mum, but I ran into a bad situation. I couldn’t get work, nobody would hire me. I played on the street first, one day this man grabbed me by the hand and walked me in this club. It was Otis playing, the guy told Otis to call me up and I played ‘Things I Used to Do’, and someone called Muddy on the phone. I was pretty hungry ‘cos it was the third day without food. Muddy came in and just smacked me and said wait a minute, I heard about you, they done call me and got me out the bed. He said you hungry, I said you Muddy Waters, I’m not hungry, I’m full, I met you.”

Muddy like many of his contemporaries toured Britain in the 1960s as part of the American Folk Blues Festivals; his reception was better than when he had previously visited Britain at the invitation of Chris Barber in 1958, the jazz trombonist. Many people in the jazz fraternity, who were the keepers of the blues flame in 50s Britain decided it was a travesty for Muddy to play with amplification. Somehow these blues zealots decided that the only pure blues was acoustic thank goodness ideas changed. In May 1964 Otis Spann cut a single at Decca studios in London with producer Mike Vernon. On ‘Pretty Girls Everywhere’ and ‘Stirs Me Up’ Otis was accompanied by Muddy Waters on rhythm guitar and Eric Clapton on lead. Some years later Eric recalled “they were both very friendly, and they had beautiful shiny silk suits, with big trousers!”

Electric Mud

As the Blues languished somewhat in the late 60s, then so did Muddy’s career. In the 1970s he toured constantly and by 1977 he had signed with CBS Records. Collaborating with Johnny Winter, Muddy’s career took an upturn with the release of the album Hard Again in 1977, winning him a Grammy. A second album, I’m Ready, was followed by a tour of the U.S. including a performance at the White House for Pres­ident Jimmy Carter.

Muddy worked live with Johnny Winter in the early 80s before succumbing to a heart attack in his sleep aged sixty-eight in 1983. Muddy’s influence as well as the respect that he commanded among the Rock community was acknowledged when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Hoochie Coochie Man: Complete Chess Masters, Volume 2 - 1952-1958


“In Our Element,” fittingly, finds Kate Teague inhabiting her twang-tinged indie-rock sweet spot, her rhythm guitar subdued and built upon by slow-burning, oft-bent lead notes. “It’s in my head, I’ll push it away / I’m glad to have you here anyway,” she sings. Teague explains that she “wrote this song in response to completely misinterpreting someone’s body language at a series of parties. I began falling in love with the idea that someone was falling in love with me, but I ultimately realized it was all in my head.” “In Our Element” is the latest in Teague’s aforementioned string of killer singles, following “Gilly,” “Good to You” and “Low Life,” all three of which were released in 2018. As for her debut album, all we know for now is that it’s coming sometime in early 2019.

Kate Teague’s songs are dreamy and narrative, threading interpersonal connections throughout the cosmos. The Oxford, Mississippi musician has a classic folky voice, but that voice is surprisingly malleable. On her debut EP, she adapts to a disco shimmer on “Good To You” and bristles up on “Sweetheart,” where Teague insists, “I can frown if I want to/ Don’t call me a sweetheart.” She’s most in her element when she’s languishing in rootsy malaise, when her voice is able to spread out and take hold through dusty, mournful coos. melodic electric guitar soft rock, with a slight county pop twang, to be expected from a Mississippi gal recording in Memphis. For lovers of Christine McVie & Stevie Nicks in Fleetwood Mac, Pernice Brothers, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, even The Sundays. And that’s damn good company.


“In Our Element” is out now on Muscle Beach Records.

John murry 1400 x1400

This one has been on repeat for over a week now and it’s stunning, frankly. John Murry is currently based in Ireland and originally from Mississippi.

John Murry’s life story in itself is the stuff of legends. From an unhappy, over-medicated childhood to drug addiction, musical success, and another fall into addiction and even prison, his life story reads like a book. He also was adopted into William Faulkner’s family at birth (a cousin of his mother). John certainly need not look far for inspiration.

A Short History of Decay is an album that resulted from a chance meeting with Cowboy Junkies guitarist Michael Timmins. Recorded over a five day period with an emphasis on off-the-cuff creativity, the album is a strong statement by an iconoclastic artist, backed by a tight group of excellent musicians. This is a sonically adventurous release, frantic and understated at the same time, with cavernous piano, telephone vocals, sudden volleys of fuzzed-out guitar, and the backup vocals of Cait O’Riordan ( the Pogues,Elvis Costello) .

Silver or Lead starts off with a sombre piano, joined by minimal drums and bass. The song walks a tightrope between sombre dirge and a more hopeful sing-along chorus while remaining solidly entrenched in Murry’s trademark melancholy.

Under a Darker Moon is a grinding and sputtering along happily on a solid bed of bone-dry drums and psychotic guitars. Wrong Man reminds me of Nebraska era Bruce Springsteen and is one of the strongest cuts on the album. Murry’s vocals on this song give me a mental picture of the world’s loneliest monk, preaching to the buzzards and rattlesnakes in the Mohave Desert, right before the fiery ball in the sky claims his sanity.

Another mid-tempo rocker is Defacing Sunday Bulletins, with Murry’s spine-tingling telephone vocals steering the sonic mayhem with steady if slightly trembling, hand. Miss Magdalene is an achingly beautiful acoustic song reminiscent of Leonard Cohen at his most morose.

Originally an Afghan Wigs tune, What Jail is Like is a guitar-driven ballad with sad piano, tribal drums, and some of that good old-fashioned backwards guitar. The lyrics take on extra poignancy in light of Murry’s life story.

Some artists become legends. They become household names. Most people will know at least one or two of their songs. For whatever reason their mainstream success transcends commercialism.  A Short History of Decay is a gripping album, sonically adventurous, by an artist who’s paid his dues, came out a stronger man and an iconoclastic artist who made a career out of transforming tragedy and hardship into stark beauty.


From the upcoming solo debut album, ‘Constant Stranger’, due out September 30th on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records

Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster is mostly known as the lead singer of the Oxford, Mississippi trio, Water Liars. In contrast to that band’s raw energy and often heavy themes, Kinkel-Schuster’s solo project is much gentler, with softer tones and a bit less chaos, though no lack of musicality or catchiness. Justin stopped by Serious Business Music in DUMBO to share a very stripped down — just himself and a guitar — taste of some of his music.

Constant Stranger, the debut solo album by Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, will be released September 30th, 2016, via Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records