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Classics of Blues Literature
Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers, by Sheldon Harris
Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers, by Sheldon Harris. New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1979. 1981-1992 editions published by Da Capo Press, New York. Blues Who's Who, a monumental compilation of blues data painstakingly assembled by New York advertising executive and jazz and blues journalist Sheldon Harris over an 18-year-period, remains an essential blues reference volume in spite of the fact that no entries have been added or substantially updated since the book was first published in 1979. Harris revised some of the 571 biographical entries by adding artists' death dates up until his own death in 2005. Each objectively presented entry contains basic biographical and family information, a chronological list of performances and notable career events, and quotes attesting to the artist's significance. Indexes of songs, names, places, and radio, television and film appearances take up the final 164 pages. This is a book direly in need of a revised edition, even though with all the facts on blues singers that have been documented in the intervening decades, a new Blues Who's Who would literally require thousands of pages. --Jim O'Neal www.stackhouse-bluesoterica.blogspot.com

Classics of Blues Recordings--Albums
King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. II -- Robert Johnson (Columbia, 1970)
Columbia's first King of the Delta Blues Singers compilation was a vehicle for the discovery of Robert Johnson by a new audience in 1961. By the time the second volume was released in 1970, Johnson admirers were legion, eager to hear every note he ever sang and recorded, and Columbia more than fulfilled their wishes by issuing all 13 Johnson songs that had not appeared on the first set, plus some alternate takes. Volume II includes Johnson recordings that became cornerstones of the electric blues and rock such as I Believe I'll Dust My Broom and Sweet Home Chicago. All the tracks come from Johnson's sessions in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas in 1937. Tracks: 1. Kind Hearted Woman Blues 2. I Believe I'll Dust My Broom 3. Sweet Home Chicago 4. Ramblin' On My Mind 5. Phonograph Blues 6. They're Red Hot 7. Dead Shrimp Blues 8. Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) 9. I'm A Steady Rollin' Man 10. From Four Until Late 11. Little Queen Of Spades 12. Malted Milk 13. Drunken Hearted Man 14. Stop Breakin' Down Blues 15. Honeymoon Blues 16. Love In Vain Columbia LP C30034, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Volume II, released in 1970. Digitally remastered reissue CD (Columbia Legacy 92579), released in 2004, includes a bonus track: 17. Ramblin' On My Mind (Take 2) -- Jim O'Neal
Founder of the Delta Blues -- Charley Patton (Yazoo, 1970)
Founder of the Delta Blues -- Charley Patton (Yazoo, 1970) "Charlie [sic] Patton was the most powerful blues recording of artist of all time, as well as the most subtle," wrote Stephen Calt in the opening sentence of Yazoo's Founder of the Delta Blues double album. Patton's power is undeniable and indeed, close listening reveals many intricacies and tasteful surprises, even amidst the aural challenges presented by his gruff voice and the scratchy sound of his rare Paramount 78s. The mastering by Yazoo owner Nick Perls offered Patton's rough-sounding-yet-sophisticated blues in the best audio quality ever achieved for Patton reissues at the time this album was released, although studio engineers have made advances in the years since. The 1929-30 Paramount here include the masterpieces "Pony Blues," "Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues," "High Water Everywhere," and "Moon Going Down," and the final five tracks are from his 1934 Vocalion session. On all but a few sides here, Patton performs solo, although he sometimes creates spontaneous dialogues to simulate a cast of characters. Although his music was essentially "uncopyable," as Calt wrote, Patton left a huge imprint in the Delta, where his followers and associates included Howlin' Wolf, Son House, Willie Brown, Pops Staples and Robert Johnson.
The Best of Muddy Waters -- Muddy Waters (Chess, 1958)
The Best of Muddy Waters was the first compilation of Muddy's classic singles for the LP market, listed among the new releases in an April 1958 issue of Billboard. It was only the third LP ever issued by Chess, and the first that was strictly blues. There may be more tracks on subsequent reissues and repackagings of Muddy's Chess work, but even today these 12 tracks still represent the best of Muddy Waters to many listeners. All were recorded from 1948 to 1954 for Aristocrat or Chess, including early tracks that echo Muddy's Delta blues roots (I Can't Be Satisfied, Rollin' Stone, Still a Fool, She Moves Me) as well as the later Willie Dixon songs that explode with big city swagger like Hoochie Coochie (as it's titled here ' better known as I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man), I'm Ready, and I Just Want to Make Love to You. Not only is the king of Chicago blues in his prime as a potent singer and guitarist, he's also backed by the cream of the crop, including Little Walter on most tracks. Liner notes are by noted Chicago author Studs Terkel. Tracks: I Just Want to Make Love to You, Long Distance Call, Louisiana Blues, Honey Bee, Rollin' Stone, I'm Ready, Hoochie Coochie, She Moves Me, I Want You to Love Me, Standing Around Crying, Still a Fool, I Can't Be Satisfied. Released as Chess LP 1427 in 1958; reissued as Chess LP CH-9255, cassette CHC-9255, and on CD as MCA/Chess CHD-31268. For session details of each track, see The Blues Discography 1943-1970 by Les Fancourt & Bob McGrath. -- Jim O'Neal
McKinley Morganfield A.K.A. Muddy Waters -- Muddy Waters (Chess, 1971)
Muddy Waters' historic recordings for Chess and Aristocrat Records are so iconic within the framework of the blues that several 'Greatest Hits'-type Muddy albums from the Chess vaults have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The 1958 compilation, The Best of Muddy Waters, and this double album retrospective from 1971 were both selected in 1983. This set includes most of the tracks from The Best of Muddy Waters but omits a few and adds various tracks from 1948 through 1964, concluding with two live tracks from Muddy's groundbreaking 1960 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. These are works that defined both the musical genre and the band format of Chicago blues. Tracks: (2-LP set) Disc 1: Louisiana Blues/I'm Ready/Honey Bee/I Just Want To Make Love To You/Kind-Hearted Woman/She Moves Me/(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man/Long Distance Call/She's All Right/Rollin' Stone/Standing Around Crying/Too Young To Know; Disc 2: Walking Thru The Park/Still A Fool/You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had/I Can't Be Satisfied/I Want You To Love Me/Rolling And Tumbling//Just To Be With You/You're Gonna Need My Help/Same Thing/My Life Is Ruined/Baby Please Don't Go/Got My Mojo Working, Part 1 Released as a 2-LP set, Chess 2CH-60006, McKinley Morganfield A.K.A. Muddy Waters, in June, 1971. Same tracks issued as another 2-LP set in the Chess Blues Masters Series with different cover art and liner notes on Chess 2ACMB-202, titled simply Muddy Waters, in 1976. For session details of each track, see The Blues Discography 1943-1970 by Les Fancourt & Bob McGrath. -- Jim O'Neal www.stackhouse-bluesoterica.com
Live at the Regal -- B.B. King (ABC-Paramount, 1965)
The quintessential album of the urban blues experience may well be "Live at the Regal." Recorded November 21, 1964, at Chicago's leading African American showcase, the album not only captures B.B. King in all his musical glory but also provides a rare document of the fervent interaction of a black audience--particularly the female segment--with a blues hero. B.B. was already King of the Blues by this time, but he had yet to cross over to the white market, and as the women at the Regal attest, his appeal was based on much more than just as music. Highlights include "How Blue Can You Get," "Sweet Sixteen," "My Own Fault," and others which were staples of King's repertoire, played with a fine sense of dynamics by King's first-rate band, directed by drummer Sonny Freeman. While the liner notes state that King was at the Regal for a week-long stand, further research reveals that the throughout the week (Nov. 20-27) he was the headliner of a package numbering "38 stars," according to local ads. Other than blues-singing rival Junior Parker, those stars were mostly R&B and soul singers and groups (Mary Wells, the Dells, the Five Du-Tones, et al), so the fact that King connected so strongly with an audience that may have been at the Regal more for the rhythm than the blues is even more impressive (listen to the youthful screams in reponse to both his singing and guitar on side one). -- Jim O'Neal www.stackhouse-bluesoterica.blogspot.com

Classics of Blues Recordings--Singles and Album Tracks
Hell Hound On My Trail -- Robert Johnson (ARC/Vocalion, 1937)
"Hell Hound on My Trail" was among the deepest and darkest of Robert Johnson's legendary blues masterworks. Together with "Me and the Devil Blues" and "Cross Road Blues," it provided future generations with a disturbing vision of a blues poet haunted by spirits, doomed to die before he would ever see the fruits of an alleged deal with the devil. Johnson's lyrics are subject to more worldly interpretation, too, but whether he was singing of escaping from a creature from hell or from the "hell hounds" used by Parchman Penitentiary guards to track escaped prisoners, there is no doubting the harrowed and forsaken depth of Johnson's performance. As unique as his treatment was, the melody, the lyrics, and the hellish connection all bore elements of other records Johnson must have heard. In Chasin' That Devil Music, co-author Ed Komara cites these songs as "melodic precedents" to "Hell Hound on My Trail": "Evil Devil Blues" -- Johnnie Temple (1935) "Evil Devil Woman Blues" -- The Mississippi Mudder (Joe McCoy) (1934) "Devil Got My Woman" -- Skip James (1931) "Yola My Blues Away" -- Skip James (1931) In addition, the lyrics "If today was Christmas eve and tomorrow was Christmas day" are adapted from a 1932 record, "Police Station Blues," by one of Johnson's main influences, Peetie Wheatstraw, who billed himself as "The Devil's Son-in-Law" or "The High Sheriff From Hell." Robert Johnson, vocal and guitar. Recorded June 20, 1937, Dallas, Texas. Released on A.R.C.labels (Banner, Melotone, Oriole, Perfect, and Romeo) 7-09-56 in September 1937; also on Vocalion 03623 (all 78 rpm). First reissued on LP: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Columbia CL 1654, in 1961, with spelling changed to "Hellhound on My Trail". Discographical details from Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943. -- Jim O'Neal www.stackhouse-bluesoterica.blogspot.com
Sweet Home Chicago -- Robert Johnson (Vocalion, 1936)
"Sweet Home Chicago" has become an all too familiar bar band anthem over the past few decades, but even in Robert Johnson's time the theme was circulating from one artist to another. Johnson may have been the first to coin the "Sweet Home Chicago" phrasing in 1936, but the same basic "Baby don't you want to go" motif had already been recorded by Kokomo Arnold (as "Old Original Kokomo Blues" in 1934), Charlie McCoy (as "Baltimore Blues," 1934), Freddie Spruell ("Mr. Freddie's Kokomo Blues," 1935), and Scrapper Blackwell ("Kokomo Blues," 1928). Arnold's record was the best seller of the bunch in the prewar era, but Johnson's is the one that served as the reference point for the many versions to come, perhaps because of its many reissues on a major label, or the signature Johnson boogie bass line that some argue formed the backbone of rock 'n' roll -- or maybe it was just that Chicago was a more relevant destination point than Kokomo or Baltimore. What Johnson meant when he sang "back to the land of California, sweet home Chicago," however, is still a subject of debate. Robert Johnson, vocal and guitar. Recorded November 23, 1936, San Antonio, Texas. Released in 1937 on Vocalion 03601 (78 rpm). First reissued c. 1967 on a bootleg LP, Kokomo K-1000, Mississippi Delta Blues Singer. Rereleased by Columbia on LP C30034, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Volume II in 1970.
Call it Stormy Monday (But Tuesday is Just as Bad) -- T-Bone Walker (Black & White, 1947)
T-Bone Walker's 1947 recording of "Call It Stormy Monday" was one of the most influential records not only in blues history, but in guitar history. As if the classic lyrics sung so smoothly by Walker weren't enough ("They call it Stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad/Wednesday's worse, and Thursday's also sad/Yes, the eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play, Sunday I go to church, then I kneel down on my knees and pray"), his sophisticated, jazzy electric guitar work introduced a whole new element into blues guitar playing, both in his single string soloing and his memorable chording. It became a song that virtually every blues band had to know; in fact, it was also required learning for countless jazz, soul, pop, and rock performers who may have had no other blues songs in their entire repertoires. Although it is usually performed and recorded under the shortened titles of "Stormy Monday" or "Stormy Monday Blues," those titles have also been used for other songs by other writers, and only the full title insures credit to its originator, who lost untold royalties because of the confusion. Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, vocal and guitar; John "Teddy" Buckner, trumpet; Hubert "Bumps" Myers, tenor sax; Lloyd Glenn, piano; Arthur Edwards, bass; Oscar Lee Bradley, drums. Recorded September 13, 1947, Los Angeles, California. Originally released on Black & White 122 (78 rpm), reissued on Capitol 57-70014. Discographical details from Blues Records 1943-1970. -- Jim O'Neal
Worried Life Blues -- Big Maceo (Bluebird ,1941)
"Worried Life Blues" was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in the first year of balloting in the Classics of Blues Recordings category. It was also the first song ever recorded by singer-pianist Major "Big Maceo" Merriweather, in 1941, proving he had made the right move by relocating from Detroit to Chicago not long before with the intention of furthering his musical career. While Detroit was a growing blues center, at the time it lacked the recording industry that was making Chicago a destination point for blues musicians. In Chicago, Maceo met Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, the leading lights of producer Lester Melrose's stable of artists, and Melrose recorded Maceo from 1941 to 1947. Tampa Red and Maceo backed each other in the studio and teamed up for nightclub jobs as well. "Worried Life Blues" eclipsed the song that inspired it, Sleepy John Estes' "Someday Baby Blues," as Maceo emotively immortalized the refrain "Some day, baby, I ain't gonna worry my life no more." Big Maceo Merriweather, vocal and piano; Tampa Red, guitar. Recorded June 24, 1941, Chicago. Released on Bluebird B8827 (78 rpm) and rereleased on RCA Victor 20-2133 (78 rpm) and Groove G5001 (78rpm and 45rpm). Discographical details from Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943. -- Jim O'Neal
Dust My Broom -- Elmore (Elmo) James (Trumpet , 1951)
Elmore (Elmo) James ushered in a new era of electric slide guitar with his historic recording of "Dust My Broom" for Trumpet Records of Jackson, Mississippi, in 1951. It was the only release on the Trumpet label to ever reach Billboard's national R&B charts (in April 1952) and it was the only record James ever recorded for Trumpet; in fact, he only recorded this one song and so Trumpet had to use another artist (Bobo Thomas) posing as 'Elmo James' on the flip side ("Catfish Blues"). The song "Dust My Broom" can be traced back to Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" from 1936, and to even earlier sources. James recorded many versions or variations of the song in the years to follow, and it became a required repertoire number for any slide guitarist playing the blues. In the first year of Hall of Fame balloting for Singles, more votes were cast for "Dust My Broom" than for any other record. The meaning of the phrase "dust my broom" has been debated, with some interpreting it as a sexual metaphor, but general consensus is that it simply symbolizes moving on and making a new start. Elmore James, vocal and guitar; Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), harmonica; Leonard Ware, bass; Frock Odell, drums. Recorded August 5, 1951, Jackson, Mississippi. Released as by Elmo James, Trumpet 146. -- Jim O'Neal

Performer
Louis Jordan
Louis Jordan was the most popular African American entertainer of his day, when his comic blues, jump and novelty routines not only put his records atop the charts but also entertained movie audiences in a series of short films called “soundies.” His 18 No. 1 hits on the race and R&B charts spent a total of 113 weeks in the top slot, almost twice as many weeks as any other artist in the history of rhythm & blues, according to Joel Whitburn's Billboard books. Jordan was born in Brinkley, Arkansas, on July 8, 1908, and after learning clarinet and saxophone from his father he played sax in some traveling bands around Arkansas before heading to New York, where he began his recording career with the Decca label. From 1942 to 1951 he had 57 hits on the national charts, including many that influenced the likes of B.B. King, James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles, including “Caldonia,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” and “Blue Light Boogie.” Known as “King of the Juke Boxes,” he has since been variously saluted as the father of jump blues, rhythm & blues, and rock 'n' roll as well a forefather of rap for the rapid-fire rhyming patterns he executed. After his string of hits ran out, Jordan continued to perform and record but never again enjoyed the stature he did in the 1940s when his every exploit was newsworthy in the African American press. Jordan died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on Feb. 4, 1975. -- Jim O'Neal www.stackhouse-bluesoterica.blogspot.com
Ma Rainey
Gertrude "Ma" Rainey not only deserved the title she earned as "Mother of the Blues", she also claimed to have named the music the blues. She recalled first hearing it sung by a young girl in Missouri while Ma was performing at a tent show in 1902. Biographies usually cite her birthplace as Columbus, Georgia (April 26, 1886), but a 1900 census entry from Uchee, Alabama, located by researcher Bob Eagle gives her birthplace as Alabama and the date as September 1882, leading to speculation that her upbringing was much more rural than previously thought. Her recordings presented her as a tougher, more gutsy singer than most of the city-bred blues queens who ruled the blues world in the early days, closer in some ways to the country blues artists. But she performed for years before she truly evolved into the blues singer who teamed with husband Will "Pa" Rainey to form TThe Assassinators of the Blues."  Articles from the African-American press in the pre-blues era advertised her, in fact, as a "coon shouter" - a typical term of the time. But she was indeed "assassinating" the blues with a passion by the time she launched her recording career with Paramount Records in 1923. Recordings such as the original See See Rider, Bo-Weavil Blues, Moonshine Blues, and Stack O'Lee Blues. "Ma"  was renowned both for her flamboyant stage show and for her uninhibited lifestyle: she was a woman who sang both Lawd Send Me a Man Blues and Prove It On Me Blues (with its classic line "Went out last night with a crowd of my friends/They must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men" ) She made her final recordings in 1928, and her career faded in the 1930s along with those of the other blues "comediennes" of the vaudeville theater era. She finally bade farewell to the road and began operating theaters of her own in Columbus, where she died on Dec. 22, 1939. Her former home in Columbus, the Ma Rainey House, opened as a museum in 2007. -- Jim O'Neal www.stackhouse-bluesoterica.blogspot.com
Robert Nighthawk
Slide guitar master Robert Nighthawk was one of the first bluesmen to achieve regional stardom in the Delta through radio broadcasting. Following on the heels of Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time radio show, Nighthawk went on the air during World War II on the same station, KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Helena was where Nighthawk born and died, but in between he ranged far and wide, living in Mississippi, Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, Florida, the southern Illinois town of Cairo, and other stopping points. He seemed to have as many wives and girlfriends (many of whom sang or played drums in his band) as he had addresses, and he had several different names as well. His real name was Robert Lee McCollum, born in November 30, 1909 -- in Helena, he always said, although recent census research has placed the McCollum family in the nearby town of Searcy in both 1900 and 1910. His first records in 1937 appeared under the name Robert Lee McCoy on the Bluebird label, and on subsequent releases he was billed as Rambling Bob, Peetie's Boy (a reference Peetie Wheatstraw), the Nighthawks, and, finally, by the early '50s, Robert Nighthawk. The record that most musicians remember him by was the 1949 single by the Nighthawks on Aristocrat Records that paired Annie Lee Blues and Black Angel Blues (Sweet Black Angel). Both were electrified versions of songs Nighthawk heard from one of his major influences, Tampa Red, and Nighthawk's recordings, in turn, influenced up-and-coming musicians such as Elmore James, B.B. King, and Earl Hooker. Muddy Waters was a close friend and admirer as well - Nighthawk had played at Muddy's first wedding in Mississippi in 1932. Nighthawk's intermittent stays in Chicago resulted in more excellent sides on Aristocrat, Chess, and United, and a classic album, Live on Maxwell Street 1964. Nighthawk made his way back to Helena and Dundee, Mississippi, where his son, drummer Sam Carr, had been carrying on his legacy with the Nighthawks band (Frank Frost and Big Jack Johnson, later renamed the Jelly Roll Kings). Nighthawk took over King Biscuit Time for a while and though he was struggling with what he believed to be the effects of poisoned whiskey, he managed to do a final recording session with his mentor, guitarist Houston Stackhouse. He died on November 5, 1967. -- Jim O'Neal www.bluesoterica.com
Big Joe Turner
Big Joe Turner, the quintessential shouter of the blues, crossed many boundaries with his spirited, free-swinging vocal excursions. He was a king of the jump blues genre, a boogie woogie belter, progenitor of rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll, and a respected performer in jazz circles. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 18, 1911, Joseph Vernon Turner got his start as a singing bartender, teaming with his longtime piano-pounding partner, Pete Johnson. The pair bounded to prominence during the nation's boogie woogie craze with "Roll 'Em Pete" and other uptempo stomps and burning blues. Turner's prolific recording career began in 1938 and peaked during the 1950s with a string of hits on Atlantic including "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Honey Hush," and "Flip, Flop and Fly," as well as a historic album collaboration with some of the top names in jazz, Boss of the Blues. Known for his ability to improvise phrase after phrase, Turner continued to engage blues, jazz, and oldies audiences with his infectious performances. Many music historians agree with Turner's assertion that the rock 'n' roll he and others sang during the '50s was basically the same music that he and Pete Johnson were doing back in K.C. decades earlier. The "Boss of the Blues" died in Ingleside, California, on Nov. 24, 1985. -- Jim O'Neal www.stackhouse-bluesoterica.blogspot.com
Albert King
Albert King, often billed as “King of the Blues Guitar,” was arguably at one time the world's most widely imitated blues guitarist, although his self-taught left-handed method of playing with his axe turned upside down was a technique only a few of his followers (notably Otis Rush) would use. King's licks reverberated through the work of contemporary blues bands across the country as well as in the music of British and American rock guitar idols including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. King, also a much-admired blues vocalist, was an icon among white blues-rock audiences - a phenomenon well-documented on his classic Live Wire-Blues Power album from the Fillmore West -- yet maintained a following among black blues and soul listeners as well. Documentation of his earliest years is vague, and King-whose surname at birth may have been Nelson, Blevins, or Gilmore-only added to the confusion in the 1960s by claiming B.B. King as his brother (a relationship denied by B.B.), naming his guitar “Lucy” after B.B.'s “Lucille,” and further citing B.B.'s hometown of Indianola as his own. However, on his Social Security application in 1942, his birthplace was entered as “Aboden, Miss.,” likely based on his pronunciation of Aberdeen. King, who gave his birth date as April 25, 1923, was raised primarily in Arkansas, where he began performing, and later resided in Gary, Indiana, and Lovejoy, Illinois, a town near East St. Louis that provided the title of one of his popular albums for Stax Records in the 1970s. King, also a key figure in Memphis, where he often performed and record, died there on Dec. 21, 1992. -- Jim O'Neal www.bluesoterica.com