Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Great Acoustic Blues Songs, Part One

In these days of electrification, amplification and digitization, it seems that music - acoustic music - has become marginalized to the point that some recording genres don't even require musical instruments. Just throw on a drum machine, steal some sequences from preexisting music, mumble some doggerel ditty of backstreet bravado and bitches, and presto: post-modern, prepackaged muzak for the masses! If it thumps the trunk of your car until it rattles like marbles in a tin can, so much the better.

But let's talk about real music, shall we? The blues was primarily an acoustic medium for many decades after the musical form first coalesced in the late 19th century from spirituals, work songs and field chants rising from antebellum slavery in the Deep South. If you scraped together enough money for a guitar or a blues harp, you had music! And on the front porches of sharecropper's shacks in the Mississippi Delta, on the coast of the Carolinas, in the streets of New Orleans, way down in Texas or up in Memphis, black musicians vented their rage, frustration, hopes and fears in what should rightly be described as America's own original music.

And since 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the first copyrighted blues song, Hart Wand's "Dallas Blues" (March 1912), then let's hearken back to a simpler time and listen to blues as it was originally intended, raw and wriggling like a catfish on a hook!

There's nothing scientific about the music list I've prepared (except it's alphabetized), I just went through my albums and CDs looking for great acoustic blues songs and found the corresponding videos on YouTube. So here is the first 30 songs I've compiled for your aural appreciation. Don't worry, there will be many more to come!

- Slowhand is just as reliably consistent on acoustic as he is on electric. "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" is a blues standard written by Jimmy Cox in 1923, and "Before You Accuse Me" is a Bo Diddley tune.
Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
Before You Accuse Me

- "Shanty" is one of my favorite blues numbers, just as fun to play as it is to listen to.

- I don't think Mr. Gallagher ever got the props he deserved as an extraordinary guitarist. Here is one Gallagher original "Grape and Barley Rag", and a slide piece "As The Crow Flies" by Tony Joe White.
Grape and Barley Rag
As the Crow Flies

- I adore this clip of Hendrix. Such a shy and self-effacing musician. It's also one of the few recordings available with Jimi on acoustic guitar.
Hear My Train A Comin'

- The story goes that Lightnin' Hopkins first caught blues fever when he met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic. Lightnin' was all of eight years old.
Black Cat Blues
Lightnin's Blues
Baby Please Don't Go

Another lost but influential Delta blues picker, brought out of retirement in 1964, completely unaware of his massive influence on a new generation of blues musicians.
Got a Letter This Morning

- Incredibly, one of the great finger-picking guitarists of his generation had to be found after dropping out of the music scene after the 1920s. But found he was, farming a plot near Avalon, Mississippi, by a musicologist in 1963 who helped him revive his career. Mr. Hurt was one the great blues storytellers.
C.C. Rider
The Ballad of Stagger Lee

- Perhaps a lesser known guitarist than Hopkins, Hurt or House, Skip James was still very influential, and he produced an eerie, dark tone with his drop-D tuning.
Catfish Blues
Crow Jane

- What a voice! Johnson's music danced a fine line between blues and spirituals, and he spent most of his life preaching and singing in Beaumont, Texas. It is said that he became blind when his stepmother threw a handful of lye in his face during a fight with his father.
Nobody's Fault But Mine

- One of the most legendary characters in all of blues music, and perhaps the most influential. Robert Johnson died at age 27, but his dark myth spans many generations. Was there a "hellhound on his trail"? The story is as intriguing as his music.
Cross Road Blues
Walking Blues

- "Some Day The Sun Won't Shine For You" features Tull's original guitarist Mick Abraham on acoustic and Ian Anderson on harmonica, whereas the later "Fat Man" presents the blues in a progressive context with Indian influences.
Some Day the Sun Won't Shine for You
Fat Man

- Keb' Mo' (the slang rendition of his real name, Kevin Moore) is a thoughtful musician with a heavy jones for Robert Johnson (even appearing as Johnson in a documentary). "Come On In My Kitchen" is a Johnson composition.
Come On In My Kitchen
Perpetual Blues Machine

- Her gravestone reads: "The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie's songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own." That sums her up nicely.
Crazy Cryin' Blues
When the Levee Breaks

- Hey, it's Led Zeppelin, okay? 'Nuff said. The first song is off Volume III, and the next is from Physical Graffiti.
Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp
Black Country Woman

- Bonnie is one helluva slide-guitarist. Here are some covers from early in her career, the first originally by Mississippi John Hurt, and the second by Robert Johnson (his original recording can be found above).
Richland Woman Blues
Walking Blues

- The Stones, like Zeppelin, need no introduction. Here's one from the album Exile on Main Street, and another from Beggars Banquet (penned by bluesman Robert Watkins).
Sweet Virginia
Prodigal Son

- Like Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan has very few recordings with an acoustic guitar strapped on. Pity. I could listen to this sort of thing all day long.
Rude Mood