304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Oh no! I hear you cry…not another blues compilation album. Well, yes it is but this one does differ from the multitude of other compilations out there because the tracks were selected (or curated as the PR speak seems to prefer) by none other than The Rolling Stones. Another reason it differs is that the tracks, with some obvious exceptions, aren’t the usual ones: most of the tracks chosen are a little less well-known that the ‘standard fare’ these things usually contain. The BMG record label has also announced that 10% of their proceeds will be donated to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation which is dedicated to keeping the blues in the modern consciousness. The brilliantly conceived cover is significant too and shows in every stroke the heart and soul of the blues… Ronnie Wood painted it!
So some are familiar, some are not but all of them are important in the widespread canon that is the blues. To illustrate this, I will quote Keith Richards as I honestly believe he has brilliantly encapsulated the importance and impact that this wonderful genre has gifted to the world of music… “If you don’t know the blues… there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.”
The set delivers 42 tracks of music that inspired The Stones and a multitude of other musicians. Yes, you get the true pioneers including Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Big Bill Broonzy, Bo Diddley and Robert Johnson, but you also get some brilliant songs from the lesser known, but equally influential artists such as Little Johnny Taylor, Amos Milburn and Boy Blue. I will not be commenting on such staples as Little Red Rooster, Dust My Broom or Little Queenie instead I will select a few of my favourites and highlight some of the more obscure.
Starting with a couple of my all time favourites: Robert Johnson is one of the most significant artists and appears twice with Stop Breakin’ Down Blues and Love In Vain Blues…but what a contribution. They display his unique style of playing, singing and, if you listen to the guitar behind the voice, you quickly realise where so many guitar players found their direction. Mississippi Fred McDowell features with You Gotta Move, and if his superb slide guitar doesn’t move you then I think there may be something amiss. Dale Hawkins’ Susie Q must surely be the first cowbell song as well bringing electric to the blues in such a good way. One of Bo Diddley’s more remarkable contributions appears on You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover…you can have fun here by spotting the guitar patterns and phrasing adapted and adopted by many modern guitarists. Howlin’ Wolf is at his growly best on Commit A Crime. Lightin’ Slim shows how to utilise a full band sound behind a guitar-based blues song of such quality and represented here by Hoodoo Blues. The piano and guitar interplay is simply inspired and the guitar solo puts many to shame…pity it fades out so soon. Big Bill Broonzy was also a trailblazer and on Key To The Highway, he delivers a performance that can’t be bettered for his guitar and harp work.
Some of the lesser known ones now: Boy Blue covered a John Lee Hooker song in 1960 called Boogie Children (often ‘Chillun’ when covered by other artists). Here he gives it a slightly different attitude with the hard strumming guitar and hollerin’ as opposed to singing. It is still a welcome addition to this collection. Eddie Taylor, a Mississippi bluesman, noted for helping Jimmy Reed develop his sound. Here he is very much Eddie and, on Ride ‘Em On Down, he does a great take on the Chicago blues sound. Little Johnny Taylor’s appearance with Everyone Knows About My Good Thing is the epitome of the early 60s soul and blues scene and, with a big band sound behind him, this is a lesson in virtually every instrument that appears on it…the bass, in particular, is sheer brilliance. Amos Milburn illustrates the barrelling piano blues approach and his rapid-fire vocals are great…add in one of the earliest (1946) upright bass solos and it becomes even more special.
To summarise a collection like this is very difficult. If like me, you researched the blues backwards from your more recent heroes, then you will have many of these (without exception) great tracks. Please peruse the listing because, inevitably there will be a few you do not and, bearing in mind some of the money will go to Willie Dixon’s charity, it is more than worth the price. As always with this kind of collections, people tend to wonder why some classics were missed out and, yes I would have liked to see some Sister Rosetta, Huddy Leadbitter or Lil Johnson or lots of others…but this is a collection of songs chosen by members of The Stones and are the tracks that helped define their sound, so enjoy them as an insight into that bands formative years as well as a journey through time. Plus, if you haven’t yet discovered what made music great then you owe to yourself to begin your education… there are very few places better than this to start that journey.