The first time I really got turned on to the blues and some of the great blues artists, was when I lived in Roselle Illinois, during my high school years.
I had heard blues music before this undoubtedly; I just didn’t define it as blues.
I can remember Foghat doing “I Just Want To Make Love To You” but I had no idea that this was a blues song. It was written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Muddy Waters. I loved that song, in fact I recently bought “Foghat – Live”. I love their version. I think I had heard the Muddy Waters song “Mannish Boy” before as well, but I thought of it as a novelty and not a whole genre. I thought of it more as an influence. I knew bluesy Clapton songs and bluesy Hendrix songs and others, but I never really heard it from the source.
That all changed one night when I was up late.
I was up writing a paper for school, up way too late on a Friday or Saturday night after midnight. I was listening to a radio station out of Chicago. They were playing standard fare and I had really tuned it out, writing the majority of a term paper that I had to turn over to be typed on Sunday for a due date on Monday.
At some point while I was scrawling notecards and filling out the bibliography I thought I heard “Mannish Boy” playing quietly. I stopped for a moment and listened. Yep, it was “Mannish Boy” alright. Probably the one and only song I knew was blues.
I had come across the Muddy Waters album “King Bee” before in the record store.
I recall the picture of him sitting on the giant chair that looked like a throne, but when I looked at the song list I didn’t know any of them. I don’t know if I would even have known “Mannish Boy” was the song I knew if it WAS on this album. The closest I came to having a blues album was “Johnny Winter – Second Winter”. Little did I know that Johnny Winter was in Muddy’s band. Ah, how the world got smaller the more I got more knowledgeable about the blues. Zeppelin’s first album has Willie Dixon covers. Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself.
When I stopped to listen to “Mannish Boy” I settled back and listened hard. I liked this song.
After Muddy they played Howlin’ Wolf. I was like, WHAT?! Who is this growler?! I don’t recall the song, but man, I loved it. All production on the term paper stopped and I gave 100% attention to the radio. Once Holwin’ Wolf was done I heard some Buddy Guy and then some Little Walter and some Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Wow. After a handful of songs I rushed over and popped in a tape. I recorded a 90 minute tape of this radio show. The whole show seemed to come from a different time. The DJ sounded 100 years old and there were commercials for fried chicken restaurants and upcoming blues fests both in Chicago and down south and it all struck me so hard. This was the best blues I had heard in my life, and I recognized that this was blues, not just bluesy. It was so different than the prog rock and pop music I was listening to. Stripped down and full of emotion and I finally understood. It changed my life.
I played the tape the next day for my mom. I played it on the stereo up in my room (loud) and we sat in the living room downstairs playing double solitaire. Each time a song started I would say, “Oh! This is a good one!” I remember her commenting that it was good but she couldn’t listen to it all the time.
That is exactly what I did though. I listened to it all the time.
One of my greatest disappointments when I started doing this blog and I searched all the tapes I had in the basement, was that I could not find this original tape that started it all for me. It is gone somewhere, maybe taped over or lost or it broke, who knows… but I miss it.
Despite the eye opening experience 90 minutes of pure blues brought me, I didn’t go out and buy any blues until years later. I was living in Sun Prairie and there was a record store a few stores down from the Sentry grocery store I worked at. I am pretty sure the place was called Looking Glass Records. It was right where the sloped sidewalk ended in the strip mall. They had CD’s and albums and a few used tapes for sale. It was a small place and I went in a lot, milled around and usually bought nothing.
They did have some Hendrix I had never seen before, but when I bought one, it turned out to be his Isley Brothers studio work. No Voodoo Child stuff to say the least. Lesson learned there.
One day though I looked at the tapes. Buying a used tape is a gamble. They are so easy to mess up and you wonder if they are listened to before sale to ensure that the tape is intact and not crinkled during the best song. As I looked at the tapes though I saw this one. (Pictures are of CD, sorry)
“Muddy & The Wolf”. I knew Muddy Waters and now I knew Howlin’ Wolf too thanks to my late night blues tape, which had probably already disappeared at that point. One side of this tape was Muddy and the other side was Howlin’ Wolf. I mean if you are going to start down the blues road, I still would recommend this one.
The track list:
All classics. I listened to this tape over and over absorbing the nuances. It was SO influential. “I’m Ready” and “Long Distance Call” gave me shivers. None of this music was complicated or complex, it was just simple steady rhythms. I was actually blown away that the guitar was not a blinding scale run and blistering harmonics experiment. It was just solid notes with bends and slides and simplicity of sound allowed the emotion to come out. The Howlin’ Wolf stuff on this tape is awesome. That voice. The guy is so raw. I do believe the next tape I bought was “Howlin’ Wolf – The Real Folk Blues”.
After the “Muddy & The Wolf” tape it seemed a whole new world was opened up for me. I found the blues show on WORT out of Madison and started learning about even more blues artists. I rediscovered Johnny Winter, came to learn about Son House, Hound Dog Taylor, Willie Dixon, Pinetop Perkins, Albert and Freddie King, John Lee Hooker. I also learned about some of the ladies of blues; Koko Taylor and Katie Webster and Big Mama Thorton. I started going to the Madison Public Library downtown to plumb the blues vinyl and CD’s that they had down there. I filled my briefcase full of blues in no time.
Eventually I went on to see Buddy Guy a few times live. I saw Paul Black and The Flip Kings a few times and Mel Ford and The Fairlanes. These were some of the first live shows that I saw in the Madison area.
And it all started that night in Roselle.
Man. I wish I still had that tape.