Best of Blues Guitar includes CD by Dave Rubin (Hal Leonard Corporation) With over eighty glorious years of recorded history at this point, the "best of the blues" could yield a treasure trove that would fill many volumes. While this in itself is some-thing to look forward to, what you now hold in your hands is the key to the postwar blues highway: twelve undeniable classics that contain the width and breadth of the "best" electric guitar blues from the father, T-Bone Walker, to his fortunate sons, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. As can be seen from the table of contents, the accent is squarely on the greatest virtuoso blues guitar heroes.
Though he was not the first to play electric blues guitar, Aaron Thibeault "T Bone" Walker (1910-1975) arrived on the scene in 1942 with a fully-formed style that has been the template for virtually every blues guitarist since. "I Got A Break, Baby" b/w "Mean Old World" were revolutionary urban blues in that they contained sophisticated, swinging, single-note lines phrased as if by a saxophonist, along with jazzy chording. On top of that, Walker's tone was assertive and robust (given the primitive amplification at the time) and announced for all to hear that the electric guitar was a force to reckon with from that day onward. "Stormy Monday" (1947) became his signature tune and the classic slow blues.
John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) turned the blues world on its collective ear with raw, primal country blues at the same time that T-Bone Walker was taking his jazzy blues "uptown." "Boogie Chillen" from 1948 was the birth of a new subgenre of the blues and sold an unprecedented one million copies. Hooker's earliest recordings feature him playing distorted solo electric guitar on thumping boogie tunes or haunting slow blues. Over time he was placed with rhythm sections and recorded voluminously under a variety of pseudonyms—both on electric and acoustic guitars. In the early 1960s he enjoyed a resurgence that started in Great Britain with "Boom Boom" (1961) and contributed significantly to the rise of the British blues movement.
Elmore James (1918-1963) is the electric slide counterpart to T-Bone Walker. He was not the first to play amplified, but his version of Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom" (1951) is where the art of the slide traditionally begins for literally everyone who has followed in his seven-league boot steps. His version of Tampa Red's 1940 original "lt Hurts Me Too," recorded in the last year of his brief life, is another of his landmarks of postwar electric slide guitar blues.
B.B. King (1925- ) is arguably the most influential electric guitarist of all time. Running with the baton passed from T-Bone and Lonnie Johnson before him (not to mention Blind Lemon Jefferson, Django Reinhardt, and Johnny Moore), from his first releases in 1949 he single-handedly elevated string bending and finger vibrato to the exalted position they hold for aspiring blues guitarists. In 1970 he was the first major blues star to "cross over" with his breakout hit, "The Thrill Is Gone."
The second "King" of the blues is Albert King (1923-1992), a big man with a sound to match, who began his career in St. Louis in the early 1950s. When he signed with Stax Records in Memphis during 1966 his playing quickly evolved from rather typical jump and slow blues to a funkier, more soulful variety. His "Born Under a Bad Sign" (1967) is a blues curriculum requirement and became a huge influence on all contemporary blues guitarists—particularly those listening intently in England.
Another huge influence on British and American guitarists in the 1960s was Chicago's Otis Rush (1934- ), originally from Mississippi. Regularly linked with Magic Sam and Buddy Guy as the founders of the West Side sound, he was part of the black migration from the South to Chicago after WWII that bestowed so many legendary musicians on the Windy City. In 1956 he commenced to record a spectacular string of recordings for the small, independent Cobra label. "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)," notable for its combination of minor and major keys and Latin and swing rhythms, was one of the many spectacular classics to emerge from the sessions.
George "Buddy" Guy (1936- ) burst through in the 1990s to the superstardom always predicted for him since he also cut his teeth on the West Side of Chicago in the late 1950s. In the early 1960s he was a session cat at Chess Records and then went on to form a dynamic duo with harp man Junior Wells for many years while trying to get his solo career in gear. A huge influence on Clapton and Vaughan, to name just two, he is justly admired for his wildly uninhibited soloing. "I Smell a Rat" (1979) is a jaw-dropping example of his aggressive string mashing.
Tough Texan Albert Collins (1932-1993) was known variously as the "Ice Man" for his instrumentals "Frosty" and "De-Frost," or the "Master of the Telecaster" for his vaunted command of the twangy Fender. Like Freddie King, he moved easily from instrumental to vocal numbers. He had an interest in the sound of the Hammond organ groups that flourished in the 1950s and '60s and combined blues and jazz in an intoxicating combination, with "Collins' Mix" (1969) being a funky example.
Eric Clapton (1945- ) has been synonymous with guitar and the blues since his debut with the Yardbirds in 1963. Through the intervening years he has left the mark of his "slowhand" on John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, Derek and the Dominos, and his continuing solo career. Not only have his fluid phrasing and vibrato been a huge influence, but his choice of instruments as well. When he plugged a sunburst Les Paul into a Marshall combo amp in the mid-1960s, the resulting saturated and sustained sound created a virtual sonic revolution in rock. When he switched to a Strat around 1970, his legions of followers took note of the change. The "Three Kings" (B.B., Albert, and Freddie) have had the most significant influence on Clapton's style, but he has also always had a special affinity for the deeply emotional Delta blues of Robert Johnson. Until his tribute album, Me and Mr. Johnson, he had only recorded a select number of covers. "Crossroads" has been one of his personal favorites for decades, and the live Cream version (1968) is arguably the greatest blues rock performance of all time. Freddie King's "I'm Tore Down" was featured on his collection of blues covers, From the Cradle, in 1994.
Arguably the greatest electric guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix only laid down a handful of blues during his brief lifetime (1942-1970). Their impact has been so pervasive on other guitarists, however, that they lend serious credibility to his being considered in the same company as the legends of postwar electric blues. Using extreme volume and distortion when blasting through his rock classics, Hendrix also knew how to be expressive with the blues through dynamics and a more traditional sound. "Catfish Blues" (1967), on which he based his "Voodoo Chile" and "Hear My Train a Comin"' was a concert favorite.
Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-1990) made it safe to solo with impunity again when he exploded on the scene in 1983. Along with Robert Cray, he almost single-handedly brought the blues back from the forgotten niche to which it had been relegated by the pop music of the 1980s. He was a proud Texan who knew his blues roots as well as R&B, jazz, and 1950s rock 'n' roll, and he combined it all into a churning, virtuoso style that was devastating in its overwhelming power. "Pride and Joy" (1983) was one of his signature corn-positions that also showed his unexcelled rhythm chops driving a stomping shuffle groove. When he died in a tragic helicopter accident, he left a void yet to be filled.
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