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Classics of Blues Literature
Blues Records 1943-1966 by Mike Leadbitter & Neil Slaven
Blues Records 1943-1966, by Mike Leadbitter and Neil Slaven, London England: Hanover Books Ltd., 1968. British discographers Mike Leadbitter and Neil Slaven, both key figures in promoting and documenting the blues in the 1960s, illuminated the blues world's esoteric corner of the post-World War II recording industry with the invaluable publication Blues Records 1943-1966 in 1968. Gathering whatever data they could from collectors, musicians, producers, trade publications, liner notes, and record company files, Leadbitter and Slaven compiled 381 pages worth of session data on all the blues artists they could discover who made records in the 1943-66 era. The prewar years had been covered by Robert M.W. Dixon and John Godrich in Blues and Gospel Records 1902-1942, and despite the fact that Leadbitter and Slaven were dealing with more recent recordings, many of them still on the market at the time, they faced a far more difficult task. The great majority of prewar blues was recorded by major labels and could be fairly well documented through industry sources and official company logs and ledgers; but blues recording changed drastically after the war with the rise of independent labels, many of them one-man operations or small family businesses, each operating with its own system (or lack thereof) of recordkeeping. But with the best information available at the time, Leadbitter, Slaven, and the many collectors and amateur discographers who contributed, did a monumental job in documenting the works of both the famous (Muddy Waters, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, et al.) and the obscure ( no-hit wonders like Cab McMillan & His Fadeaways, Monister Parker and Emma Dell Lee). Performers whose music was deemed more in the rhythm & blues vein, such as Bobby Bland and Little Milton, were withheld for a future volume. Each session lists artist credits, song titles, matrix numbers, record labels, release numbers, names of sidemen and instruments played, and recording dates and locations, or at least as much of this as could be determined. Revisions and additions continued to be gathered after the book appeared, although Leadbitter did not live to see any of the greatly expanded subsequent editions. Blues Records 1943-1970, Volume One, by Leadbitter and Slaven, was published in 1987 and Volume Two came out in 1994, credited to Leadbitter, Leslie Fancourt and Paul Pelletier. Fancourt and Bob McGrath collaborated to produce the latest (2006) and most complete version: The Blues Discography 1943-1970. --Jim O'Neal

Classics of Blues Recordings--Album
Born Under a Bad Sign -- Albert King (Stax, 1967)
Few bodies of blues recordings have been as influential as Albert King's 1966-67 output at Stax Records, on singles and on the Born Under a Bad sign album. The LP collected songs from his first Stax four 45s and five songs from a June 1967 session to complete the album. Three of the singles, "Laundromat Blues," "Born Under A Bad Sign," and "Crosscut Saw," had hit the Billboard R&B charts and King was also beginning to cross over into the rock market as a guitar guru whose licks reappeared in the work of Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and other six-string heroes as well countless axmen anchoring black blues clubs across the country. Booker T. & the MGs and the Memphis Horns provided exemplary backing on songs and arrangements that became standards in the repertoire of electric blues, and King did more than blaze a trail on guitar, showing that he was also one of the most expressive of blues vocalists, even on ballad material like "The Very Thought of You." Tracks: Born Under A Bad Sign/Crosscut Saw/Kansas City/Oh Pretty Woman/Down Don't Bother Me/The Hunter/I Almost Lost My Mind/Personal Manager/Laundromat Blues/As The Years Go Passing By Released as Stax S-723 (LP) in 1967.
Chester Burnett A.K.A Howlin' Wolf -- Howlin' Wolf (Chess, 1972)
Chester Burnett A.K.A. Howlin' Wolf was one of the three double albums issued by Chess in 1972 (under the new ownership of G.R.T. in New York) that have been elected to the Blues Hall of Fame. Who could go wrong with those essential collections of Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Little Walter? They were so good that when Chess was sold again, to All Platinum, the new owners launched their own series by releasing the same albums again, only with new titles, artwork and liner notes. The Wolf set ranges from his first Chess single, "Moanin' At Midnight," cut in 1951 for Sam Phillips in Memphis, through his early Chicago sides like "Smokestack Lightnin'" and on into the Willie Dixon era of tight, hard-hitting, and finely crafted blues where Wolf's Mississippi moan largely gave way to snappy, urban blues of the '60s. All of Wolf's signature tunes are here, most penned either by Wolf or Dixon, and all graced by the heavy hitters of Chicago's superb corps of sidemen. Hubert Sumlin's guitar leads the way on many of the later sides, but Jody Williams, Willie Johnson, and others make memorable contributions as well. Tracks: Disc 1: Smokestack Lightnin'/Down In The Bottom/No Place To Go/Moanin' At Midnight/Forty-Four/My Country Sugar Mama//Spoonful/The Red Rooster/Moanin' For My Baby/I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)/How Many More Years/Louise; Disc 2: Killing Floor/Evil (Is Goin' On)/Back Door Man/Sitting On Top Of The World/Tail Dragger/Tell Me//Wang-Dang Doodle/Who's Been Talkin'/Built For Comfort/Ooh Baby Hold Me/Baby How Long/Three Hundred Pounds of Joy Released as a 2-LP set, Chess 2CH-60016, Chester Burnett A.K.A. Howlin' Wolf, in 1972. Same tracks issued as another 2-LP set in the Chess Blues Masters Series with different cover art and liner notes on Chess 2ACMB-201, titled simply Howlin' Wolf, in 1976. For session details of each track, see The Blues Discography 1943-1970 by Les Fancourt & Bob McGrath. -- Jim O'Neal
Howlin' Wolf ("rocking chair" album) -- Howlin' Wolf (Chess, 1962)
This eponymously titled album is known to Howlin' Wolf aficionados as 'the rocking chair album', after the cover photo of an acoustic guitar resting against a rocking chair. But listeners expecting a comfy, quiet set of acoustic songs were in for a shock when the needle hit the grooves to Wolf's palpitating "Shake for Me." The album tracks represent both sides of six Wolf singles released on Chess from 1960 to 1962, catching the Wolf at one his peaks. The looser down-home feel of his earlier recordings is replaced here with the punchy production and songwriting of Willie Dixon and sterling accompaniment led by Hubert Sumlin on guitar on most tracks. Also present on various sessions are Willie Johnson, Freddie Robinson, Dixon, Little Johnnie Jones, Henry Gray, S.P. Leary, Sam Lay, Fred Below, and the two Smothers brothers of Chicago blues, Abe ('Little Smokey') and Otis ('Big Smokey'). The only two songs written by Wolf, "Tell Me" and "Who's Been Talkin'," were recorded in 1957 but not released until they came out on 45 in 1960, Chess must have needed to pull material from the vaults, because that was a year Wolf apparently only did one three-song session for Chess (a pre-Koko Taylor version of "Wang-Dang-Doodle" and the classics "Back Door Man" and "Spoonful"). Dixon wrote all the other songs on the LP except for St. Louis Jimmy Oden's "Going Down Slow," which features a spoken intro by Dixon. Considering how many of the songs here have become standards in the repertoires of countless blues and rock bands, it's hard to fathom that none of these Wolf 45s sold well enough to make the Billboard charts. Tracks: Shake For Me/The Red Rooster/You'll Be Mine/Who's Been Talkin'/Wang-Dang-Doodle/Little Baby//Spoonful/Going Down Slow/Down In The Bottom/Back Door Man/Howlin' For My Baby/Tell Me. Released as Chess LP-1469 in 1962. For session details of each track, see The Blues Discography 1943-1970 by Les Fancourt & Bob McGrath. -- Jim O'Neal

Classics of Blues Recordings--Singles or Album Tracks
Smoke Stack Lightning (Smokestack Lightnin') -- Howlin' Wolf (Chess, 1956)
The Wolf's quintessential howling cry rode a hypnotic pounding beat all the way the Top Ten of Billboard's rhythm & blues charts on the 1956 single "Smoke Stack Lightning," often spelled "Smokestack Lightnin'" on subsequent releases. While the band stayed on the same chord throughout the song, the tension never relented on this arresting performance from Wolf, Willie Johnson and company. The sound proved still captivating in 1964 when a British rerelease of "Smokestack Lightning" actually put Wolf on the pop charts at No. 42 in the U.K., where eager young bands were ready to take up his music. Chess A&R man Willie Dixon, who played bass on the session, recalled being mystified by the meaning of "Smokestack lightnin', shinin' just like gold"; it seemed to be Wolf's own twist on the lyrics "the smokestack is black and the bell, it shines like gold" sung by his mentor Charley Patton on "Moon Going Down," first recorded with similar wording by the Mississippi Sheiks in their "Stop and Listen Blues" (1930). HOWLIN' WOLF Howlin' Wolf, vocal and harmonica, with Hosea Lee Kennard, piano; Willie Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, guitars; Willie Dixon, bass; Earl Phillips, drums. Recorded January 1956, Chicago. Released as Chess 1618 (45 and 78 rpm single). Discographical details from The Blues Discography 1943-1970.
The Thrill is Gone -- B.B. King (ABC Bluesway, 1969)
Although this often considered the record that crossed B.B. King over into the pop market, Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 reveals that it actually marked the 19th B.B. entry on pop charts dating back to 1957. But no B.B. record before or since has reached the pop chart peak of "The Thrill is Gone," and its success boosted King to another level of the entertainment industry, as he soon became a familiar face on television and in concert halls around the world. Produced and co-engineered with a contemporary edge by Bill Szymczyk (who later helped shape the sound of the Eagles), the session placed B.B. with a sympathetic crew of young New York studio musicians. The addition of tasteful strings enhanced rather than sugar-coated the song's mood of sadness and loss. Although this will forever be regarded as a B.B. King song, its roots date back to 1951 when California bluesman Roy Hawkins recorded the original version of "The Thrill is Gone." Writers' credits on the first B.B. releases went to Arthur H. Benson and Dale Pettite, but are now filed under Hawkins and Rick Darnell. ABC BluesWay edited the 5-1/2-minute version on King's Completely Well LP down to a 45 that clocked in at 3:55. Both the LP and the 45 entered the Billboard charts on Dec. 27, 1969. The single reached No. 3 on the R&B charts and No. 15 on the Hot 100 in 1970. B.B. KING B.B. King, vocal and guitar, with Paul Harris, electric piano; Hugh McCracken, guitar; Gerry Jemmott, bass; Herbie Lovelle, drums; strings arranged by Bert DeCoteaux. Recorded Oct. 8, 1969, New York. Released as ABC BluesWay 61032 (45 rpm single) and as an album track on ABC BluesWay BLS 6037, Completely Well, in December 1969. Discographical details from The Blues Discography 1943-1970 and credits on the Completely Well album.
Boogie Chillen -- John Lee Hooker (Modern, 1948)
Boogie Chillen set the nation rocking and put John Lee Hooker's name on the map with his very first release in 1949. Although recorded up north in Detroit, it was a guitar boogie of the same kind that his father used to play down south, according to Hooker. It was also the first down-home electric blues record to achieve No. 1 chart status and its success, together with that of the Hooker hits that followed, inspired record companies to search out the new electric generation of country bluesmen. The resulting musical legacy was magnificent, but none of Hooker's down-home blues contemporaries ever achieved the same level of record sales as the Boogie Man did. Boogie Chillen Modern 20-627 John Lee Hooker, vocal and guitar. Detroit, c. September 1948. Discographical details from The Blues Discography 1943-1970. -- Jim O'Neal

Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry's greatest fame came as a rock 'n' pioneer, but his blues roots go deep. Born October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Berry combined blues, country, and boogie woogie with a lyrical flair keenly attuned to the heartbeat and habits of teenage America in the 1950s. Berry acknowledged T-Bone Walker as a major influence on his guitar style, as well as Louis Jordan's guitarist Carl Hogan, whose 1946 riff on Jordan's Ain't That Just Like a Woman was made famous by Berry in the intro to Johnny B. Goode. Berry was sent to a reformatory in Jefferson City, Missouri, after getting arrested during a joy ride to Kansas City in 1944, and while doing his time he also picked up some pointers from a Kansas City guitarist, Sam Alexander (referred to in Berry's biography only as Po' Sam). Berry played in the blues clubs of East St. Louis in the early '50s, trying out not only the blues of Muddy Waters on his black audiences, but also some country. On a trip to Chicago in 1955, he looked up Muddy, who suggested he approach Chess Records about recording, and the result was Maybellene (a rocked-up version of an on old country song, Ida Red). The flip side, which made some noise on the R&B charts, was a straight blues, Wee Wee Hours - one of many Berry would record over the years, including Confessin' the Blues, Merry Christmas Baby, Worried Life Blues, Dust My Broom, Don't You Lie to Me, Driftin' Blues, The Things I Used to Do, and St. Louis Blues. Sidemen on the Chess sessions included such blues notables as Willie Dixon, Lafayette Leake, Fred Below, Hubert Sumlin, Odie Payne, and Matt Murphy - and even Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield on one session - in addition to the St. Louis pianist who helped shape the Berry sound, Johnnie Johnson. -- Jim O'Neal
J.B. Hutto
Joseph Benjamin Hutto's potent slide guitar and blustering roar made him a favorite with national and international boogie-blues audiences after he broke out of Chicago's South Side ghetto. Hutto started as a gospel singer in Augusta, Georgia, which he claimed as his birthplace in early interviews. But when he applied for a passport to tour overseas, a different birth site was determined - Elko, South Carolina (Aug. 29, 1926). Hutto's blues career began in Chicago, where he cut his first records for the Chance label in 1954 and later became a fixture at Turner's Lounge. His appearance on the historic “Chicago/The Blues/Today!” series on Vanguard and albums for Testament and Delmark brought his music to new listeners, and the East Coast in particular was so receptive that Hutto moved to Boston for a while. When Hound Dog Taylor died, Hutto was the natural heir to the houserocking phenomenon and even toured with Taylor's HouseRockers, Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey. Hutto's music was in turn carried on in uncanny fashion by his nephew, Lil' Ed Williams. Hutto died in Harvey, Illinois, on June 12, 1983. Jim O'Neal
Slim Harpo
Of the many legendary “swamp blues” artists to emerge from the bayou country of south Louisiana, none was more distinctive than Slim Harpo, who was also by far the most popular and influential outside the area. Born James Moore on Jan. 11, 1924, in Lobdell, Louisiana, he was known as Harmonica Slim before he made his first recording, the classic “I'm a King Bee,” for Excello Records in 1957. The swamp pop ballad “Rainin' in My Heart” was his first national R&B hit, and the funky harmonica workout “Scratch My Back,” was even bigger (No. 1 in 1966), and became a number all blues harp players needed to know. Slim ran a trucking business in Baton Rouge but started to tour beyond the South, and had appeared in New York and Los Angeles prior to making arrangements for a European tour with fellow Excello bluesman Lightnin' Slim. Slim Harpo's music was already well known in England, having been covered by the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Kinks; Mick Jagger once said, “What's the point of listening to us do 'I'm a King Bee' when you can hear Slim Harpo do it?” But transatlantic audiences never had a chance to see him. He died of a heart attack in Baton Rouge on Jan. 31, 1970. -- Jim O'Neal
Buddy Guy
George 'Buddy' Guy was a guitar hero and an inspiration to blues and rock guitarists alike long before he finally achieved success in the pop market with his 1991 album 'Damn Right I've Got the Blues.' Known for his supercharged and unpredictable live performances, Guy had seen only one of his previous records hit the charts, and that was a 45 ('Stone Crazy') for the R&B market in 1962. Guy, born in Lettsworth, Louisiana, on July 30, 1936, cut his teeth on the Baton Rouge area blues scene and came up under the influence of B.B. King and the flamboyant Guitar Slim. He created a sensation soon after he arrived in Chicago in 1957. Guy recorded under the direction of Willie Dixon for Artistic and Chess and began to cross over to blues-rock audiences in the late 1960s, often teaming with longtime cohort Junior Wells. His reputation as both a singer and guitarist was assured among aficionados and musicians, but it seemed as though he might never break through to a more lucrative level. Guy's stature in rock circles, enhanced by his ability to parlay his relationships with rock guitar icons to his benefit, set the stage for his major-label breakthrough. Perhaps not so coincidentally, it came on the heels of the death of one of his big admirers, Stevie Ray Vaughan. A new wave of blues-rock guitar fans turned to Guy, who further cemented the link by touring and recording with Vaughan's band, Double Trouble. In Chicago, Guy maintained a strong presence on the club scene, first with his association with the Checkerboard Lounge and then with his own venue, Buddy Guy's Legends, now rated as one of the country's top blues clubs. -- Jim O'Neal