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Top 10 Blues Albums Since 1967

 

When I was growing up the only music I was interested in was the Beatles. As a junior at Lane Tech High School in 1974-75 I branched out to Led Zeppelin, Credence, Neil Young, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. At the Loyola University radio station in 1976 I had access to a wider variety of music and started listening to jazz, blues, reggae and gospel. At that time it was legal to drink beer at 19 so I could enter blues bars. My first time out a friend and I went to the Kingston Mines (then on Lincoln Avenue) and saw Homesick James. A couple of my best memories were Lefty Dizz with Queen Sylvia Embry one night and Koko Taylor, Otis Rush and Jimmy Johnson on another. I think it was Jimmy's gig but other artists just kept showing up.

1. Magic Sam, West Side Soul (Delmark DD-615) $ 11.99
What a blessing for me to end up working at the label that recorded my favorite blues record! I first heard it in `85 when I was working at the Jazz Record Mart. Vocally Sam reminded me of Sam Cooke when he sang with great intensity, more so Cooke's gospel recordings than his pop. The guitar playing is so fluid it seems effortless. My favorite moments include the hollering toward the end of "That's All I Need" and "I Need You So Bad". The minor key "My Love For You Will Never Die" is one of those songs that'll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. And what a message.

2. Robert Ward, Fear No Evil (Black Top BT 1063) $ 14.99
A friend hipped me to this record shortly after its release in '91. Robert played his first Chicago area show at Fitzgerald's after his re-emergence on the scene. It was a dynamite show and I was able to meet him and his wife Roberta afterwards.. I saw every one of his Chicago appearances thereafter (though a couple got cut short by Robert's health) and we got to know each other. When Black Top became inactive Robert accepted Delmark's offer to record and if you already have Fear No Evil try New Role Soul (Delmark 741, $15.99), which it was my genuine honor and privilege to co-produce.

3. Junior Wells, Southside Blues Jam (Delmark DD-628) $ 11.99
This was the very first blues album I ever bought. Around 1977 I got it at the Jazz Record Mart, 4243 N. Lincoln. Koester was running a storefront and living in the same building which housed Delmark (the ownership's changed but the sign's still there). When Bob bought a house I eventually moved in there myself. It was a used copy for something like $3.99. Southside Blues Jam appeals to me because of its down-home feel. Junior is accompanied by Buddy Guy & Otis Spann. Though Hoodoo Man Blues (Delmark 612) is considered Junior's best album I always like this one more.

4. Hound Dog Taylor, Beware Of The Dog (Alligator 4707) $ 14.99
Although I did see Junior perform many times I never did see Hound Dog before he passed. This live album is raw and wonderful and similar to Magic Sam, Live (Delmark DE-645) it captures a special moment when the audience and the artist have something special going on. Even the stage patter is priceless. Hound Dog says he has to go because he says he has to "see a man about a dog". The music is not polished and that is part of the appeal.

5. Muddy Waters, Hard Again / King Bee (Blue Sky ZK 34449) $ 24.99
I've been told that the single CD Hard Again is no longer available. Instead you have to buy the 3-CD set which is still a good deal. To me these recordings have all the urgency and authenticity as Muddy's classic Chess sides. I believe the sidemen include Johnny Winter, Jerry Portnoy, Pinetop Perkins, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and others.

6. Robert Cray, Bad Influence (Hightone 8001) $ 11.99
This was Cray's first album and I still like it. It shows his obvious influence from Magic Sam.

7. Big Joe Turner, Meets The Trumpet Kings (OJC 497) $ 11.99
Originally recorded in the late '70s for Norman Granz's Pablo label this great album features Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Harry "Sweets" Edison and Clark Terry. There's only four cuts on the album so there's lots of solos. Pee Wee Crayton is on guitar but the general vibe is an acoustic jazz feel. Big Joe made a bunch of good records for Pablo around this time a couple of the other good titles include Have No Fear, Joe Turner Is Here (OJC 905) and Life Ain't Easy (OJC 809).

8. Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson Doin' The Sugar Too (Bullseye 9563) $15.99
Another Magic Sam influenced singer / guitarist.

9. Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Old Kidney Stew Is Fine (Delmark DD-631) $ 11.99
With T-Bone Walker and Jay McShann. Great songs like "Juice Head Baby", "Somebody Sure Has Got To Go", "Just A Dream" and many others. Like the Joe Turner CD this one also has a jazz feel.

10. B.B. King There Must Be A Better World Somewhere (MCA 27034) $9.99
Nice set, again with a jazz feel, with the aid of David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. "Born Again Human" stands out.

- Steve Wagner


All reviewed items are available from the Jazz Record Mart, 1-800-684-3480.