The Blues Legacy in Rock & Roll
by Scott Higgin

The inspiration for this article came to me a couple of years ago as I was removing foot from mouth. Fighting insomnia while
channel surfing, I found blues and soul artist Irma Thomas as the musical guest on the Conan O'Brien show. Knowing this
woman had a tremendous voice I eagerly anticipated her performance. My wait through all the talk show banter was justified
when she took to the stage and launched into an absolutely killer version of "Time Is On My Side."

 

What’s Your Real Blues Name?

Follow the instructions below for the genuine thrill that comes with discovering your blues name:

From the first list, take the name using the initial of your first name.
From the second list, do the same with your middle initial.
From the third, your surname.

First List Second List Third List
A= Fat A= Bones A=Jackson
B= Muddy B= Money B= McGee
C= Crippled  C= Harp C= Hopkins
D= Old D= Legs D= Dupree
E= Texas E= Eyes E= Green
F= Hollerin’ F= Lemon F= Brown
G=  Ugly G= Killer G= Jones
H=  Brown H= Hips H= Rivers
I=  Happy I= Lips I= Malone
J= Boney J= Fingers J= Washington
K= Curly K= Boy K= Smith
L= Pretty L= Liver L= Parker
M= Jailhouse M= Gumbo M= Lee
N=  Peg Leg N= Foot N= Thompkins
O=  Red O= Mama O= King
P=  Sleepy P= Back P= Bradley
Q=  Bald Q= Duke Q= Hawkins
R=  Skinny R= Dog R= Jefferson
S= Blind S= Bad Boy S= Davis
T= Big T= Baby T= Franklin
U=  Yella U= Chicken U= White
V=  Toothless  V= Pickles V= Jenkins
W= Screamin’ W= Sugar W= Bailey
X= Fat Boy X= Cracker X= Johnson
Y= Washboard Y= Tooth Y= Blue
Z= Steele-Eye Z= Smoke Z= Allison

Now you know your real blues name.







What a performance! She was mopping the floor with the Stones! I wonder if Mick and the boys
have seen this? Ha! Ha! Still enthused, the following day I went out Sports Cards & Blues
Headquarters to see if Irma had recorded it on a CD. Don, I saw Irma Thomas cover that Rolling
Stones tune "Time Is On My Side" last night, she was great!" A moment of dead silence and a
chagrined look told me I had just fully stepped in it. "That is Irma's song, and she was little sore
about all the glory the Stones got from it." I should have known better. The original is usually better
than the copy. Blues artists don't normally cover rock or pop songs, just the opposite is true. Blues
comes as a complete surprise to a large number of people. Sadly the blues greats who were
penniless. The reasons for this aren't always clear, although racism and the stereotype of blues
being downhearted music for bummed out people (nothing could be further from the truth) are
definitely factors. Even though you may already be aware of blues songs that are covered by rock
bands the numbers may be an eye opener. Here they are in no particular order.


"You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog"-- You thought it was Elvis. Nope, one of the
great women of the blues, Big Mama Thornton, performed and recorded that song
first. Simply known then as "Hound Dog" Elvis reworked it somewhat.
"Ball 'n' Chain"--Janis Joplin? Noooo. Janis made this song into her own anthem.
It was written, performed and recorded, once again, by Big Mama Thornton.
"Boom, Boom Out go the Lights"-- Canadian rocker Pat Travers? Wrong-o. Blues
harmonica master Little Walter did this way ahead of Pat. "Love In Vain"-- You
thought it was the Rolling Stones? Negatory. Blues legend Robert Johnson penned
this one, inspired by fellow bluesman Leroy Carr's "When the Sun Goes Down."
The Rolling Stones, their name taken from a Muddy Waters tune, are upfront about
where they got some of their material and have promoted blues music and musicians. Also I'd like to note
that the song "Time Is On My Side" which prompted this article became the Rolling Stones first Top 10 hit.
"Goin' up the Country" -- Was one of my favorites as a teenager. Until I got into blues I thought
performed at Woodstock as well as other rock festivals. A rarity for a blues band, Canned Heat
actually got commercial airplay. Because of these associations many people think of them as a
rock band. Originally done in 1928 by bluesman Henry Thomas and called "Bulldoze Blues"
the opening notes done on a Quill (basically a pan flute) would be instantly recognizable to
any rock fan who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies. Along with "On The Road
Again" and "Let's Work Together" also based on earlier blues songs, they became Top 40
pop hits. "Madison Blues"-- Slide guitar legend Elmore James not only wrote this one but also
his guitar work inspired many other players such as Duane Allman. This song was covered by
Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Fleetwood Mac, and George Thorogood.




"Back Door Man"- no, it wasn't the Doors, once again Willie Dixon. "I Ain't Superstitious"-- Jeff Beck?
Hubert Sumlin and Howlin' Wolf performed and recorded this one and again it was written by Willie
Dixon. Jeff gave them credit in his liner notes. "I Put A Spell On You" wasn't Creedence Clearwater
Revival; it was written and performed by Voo Doo R&B and roots rocker Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
Rock guitar god Jimi Hendrix had deep roots in blues and R&B. His early foundation was work with
such artists as Ike & Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, and the Isley Brothers. Jimi recorded
many blues songs, although I believe most if not all were released on various albums after his
untimely death. Some of them were "Killing Floor" by Howlin' Wolf, "Catfish Blues" by Muddy Waters
"Hoochie Koochie Man" by Willie Dixon. As was his nature Hendrix hit 'em right out of the park! Jimi Hendrix was not only play his
renowned for his guitar work but his stage pyrotechnics also. Guess what? T-Bone Walker, the father of electric blues, used to and
"Hoochie Koochie Man" by Willie Dixon. As was his nature Hendrix hit 'em right out of the park! Jimi Hendrix was not only play his on
the stage presentation of rock artists. Blues also influenced the names chosen for some bands. The Rolling Stones, named guitar
in unusual positions, behind his head, picking strings with his teeth, etcetera, way back in the forties and fifties. Blues and from a
"Hoochie Koochie Man" by Willie Dixon. As was his nature Hendrix hit 'em right out of the park! Jimi Hendrix was not only play his
Muddy Waters tune. The Lovin' Spoonful of '60s and '70s fame, took their name from a Mississippi John Hurt song called Fame,
renowned for his guitar work but his stage pyrotechnics also. Guess what? T-Bone Walker, the father of electric blues, used to and
R&B artists not only had an impact on the song list of rock. I've mentioned the influence blues artists such as T-Bone Walker had
"Hoochie Koochie Man" by Willie Dixon. As was his nature Hendrix hit 'em right out of the park! Jimi Hendrix was not only play his on
the stage presentation of rock artists. Blues also influenced the names chosen for some bands. The Rolling Stones, named guitar
in unusual positions, behind his head, picking strings with his teeth, etcetera, way back in the forties and fifties. Blues and from a
Muddy Waters tune. The Lovin' Spoonful of '60s and '70s fame, took their name from a Mississippi John Hurt song called Fame,
R&B artist Bo Diddley's signature beat had a great impact on the '60s British rock explosion and U.S. based bands as well. Some
of the bands in this country who tapped Bo's song book were the Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Quicksilver Rolling
Stones, Eric Burdon, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and U2. Some of the blues artists who influenced Bo Diddley were
Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. "Got My Mojo Working." It seems like every self respecting rock band of the
sixties did this one. "The Blues Had A Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll." McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters) was one of
the fathers.


"Crawling Kingsnake." You heard the Doors do this one on the L.A. Woman album, once again it
was the legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker. "Merry Christmas Baby"- Covered by many bands,
Bruce Springsteen made the biggest splash with this tune. Written by blues pianist Charles Brown.
Brown's style and song writing were a big influence on another heavy weight piano player and
songwriter by the name of Ray Charles.
"Trying To Live My Life Without You"- Was it the J. Giles Band or perhaps Bob Seger? Neither one,
folks. It was R&B and soul artist Otis Clay. Otis Clay delivered an outstanding performance at the
Ritzville Blues Festival in '97 by the way!
"When the Levee Breaks" - Led Zeppelin in the cookie jar. Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie originally did this song.
"That's All Right" - Elvis? Try Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup.
"It's a Man Down There" - The Allman Brothers instantly come to mind on this one but it was really G.L. Crockett.
"Pack Fair And Square" - If you thought it was the J. Giles Band you'd be incorrect. Texas piano man Big Walter Price of Big
Walter & The Thunderbirds originally did this tune.
Songs written by blues artists turn up in the strangest places. Here's one that will probably surprise at least two generations.
"They're Red Hot"- The Red Hot Chili Peppers close their CD "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" with a roughed up version of this little rag
tune. Written by one of the most interesting and storied bluesmen of all time, Robert Johnson.

More another time.


Alan Lomax states that the blues tradition was considered to be a masculine
discipline (although some of the first blues songs heard by whites were sung by
'lady' blues singers like Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith) and not many black
women were to be found singing the blues in the juke joints. The Southern
prisons also contributed considerably to the blues tradition through work songs
and the songs of death row and murder, prostitutes, the warden, the hot sun,
and a hundred other privations. The prison road crews and work gangs were
where many bluesmen found their songs, and where many other blacks simply
became familiar with those same songs.
Following the Civil War, the blues arose as "a distillate of the African music
brought over by slaves. Field hollers, ballads, church music and rhythmic dance
tunes called jump-ups evolved into a music for a singer who would engage in
call-and-response with his guitar. He would sing a line, and the guitar would
answer it." (Note: It's been said that the guitar did not enjoy widespread
popularity with blues musicians until about the turn of the century. Until then, the banjo was the primary blues instrument.) By
the 1890s the blues were sung in many of the rural areas of the South. And by 1910, the word 'blues' as applied to the musical
tradition was in fairly common use. Some 'bluesologists' claim (rather dubiously), that the first blues song that was ever written
down was 'Dallas Blues,' published in 1912 by Hart Wand, a white violinist from Oklahoma City. The blues form was first
popularized about 1911-14 by the black composer W.C. Handy (1873-1958). However, the poetic and musical form of the blues
first crystallized around 1910 and gained popularity through the publication of Handy's "Memphis Blues" (1912) and "St. Louis
Blues" (1914). Instrumental blues had been recorded as early as 1913. Mamie Smith recorded the first vocal blues song, 'Crazy
Blues' in 1920. While the widespread popularity of the blues had a vital influence on subsequent jazz, it was the "initial
popularity of jazz which had made possible the recording of blues in the first place, and thus made possible the absorption of
blues into both jazz as well as the mainstream of pop music."
American troops brought the blues home with them following the First World War. They did not, of course, learn them from
Europeans, but from Southern whites who had been exposed to the blues. At this time, the U.S. Army was still segregated.
During the twenties, the blues became a national craze. Records by leading blues singers like Bessie Smith and later, in the
thirties, Billie Holiday, sold in the millions.



"Statesboro Blues"-- All right, this tune and the one listed just before it won't sneak up on anyone
with the word blues in the title. Covered by many bands this song became became a hit for the
Allman Brothers and was written and performed by 12 string guitar master Blind Willie McTell
many decades ago.
"Lost Woman"-- Could it be the Yardbirds? Nada. It was really Snooky Pryor's "Someone To
Love Me." The Birds merely rewrote the lyrics.
I'm going to tee off a little on this one. You thought it was Led Zeppelin's "I Can't Quit You Baby."
Covered note for note from Otis Rush right down to his guitar solo. "Bring It On Home" recorded
by harmonica master Sonny Boy Williamson in 1963. "You Need Love" alias the "Lemon Song"
originally performed by Muddy Waters. All three of these tunes were written by the great blues
song writer, producer, and musician, Willie Dixon. The latter two songs were on the Led Zeppelin II album. If you saw the original
singles you would notice that the credits don't match up with the way they read on the second Led Zeppelin album. Mr. Dixon didn't
have to fight for his money on this one, his lawyer did. In exchange for their "liberal adaptations" his wallet was fattened in an out of
court settlement with Led Zeppelin in 1986.





"I'm So Glad"- Was it 60's rock super group Cream? Not even. Try bluesman Skip
James. " I Just Want To Make Love To You"- Could it be Foghat? Zip. Prolific songwriter
Willie Dixon penned this one. " One Bourbon, Once Scotch, One Beer"- I like the way
George Thorogood did this tune. Mr. Endless Boogie himself, the recently passed
legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker gave us this gem.                    
Are You Touched By "The Blues"?
A compilation by Len Volpe - Replay Music, 1927 W. Northwest Blvd., Spokane, WA

The word 'blue' has been associated with the idea of melancholia or depression since the Elizabethan era. The American writer
Washington Irving is credited with coining the term 'The Blues,' as it is now defined, in 1807. The earlier (almost entirely Negro)
history of the blues musical tradition is traced through oral tradition as far back as the 1860s.
When African and European music first began to merge to create what eventually became the blues, slaves sang songs filled
with words telling of their extreme suffering and privation. One of the many responses to their oppressive environment resulted
in the field holler. The field holler, a technique that slaves practiced as a means of disassociating themselves from the physically
and mentally draining work required of them, gave rise to The Blues. Through the field holler, the black slaves of the south gave
voice to the mood of alienation and anomie that prevailed in their world. It was in the Mississippi Delta that blacks were often
forcibly enrolled into service to work on the levee and land-clearing crews, where they were often abused and then tossed aside
or worked literally to death.
Willa Mae "Big Mama" Thornton with T-Bone Walker  

During the decades of the thirties and forties, the blues northward with the migration
of many blacks from the South entered into the repertoire of big-band jazz. The blues
also became "electrified" with the introduction of the amplified guitar. In some Northern
cities like Chicago and Detroit, during the later forties and early fifties, Muddy Waters,
Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, and Elmore James among others, played
what was basically Mississippi Delta blues, backed by bass, drums, piano and
occasionally harmonica, and began scoring national hits with blues songs. At about
the same time, T-Bone Walker in Houston and B.B. King in Memphis were pioneering
a style of guitar playing combined jazz technique with the blues tonality and repertoire.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

In the early nineteen-sixties, the urban bluesmen
were "discovered" by young white American and
European musicians. Many of these blues-based
bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, John
Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Canned Heat
brought the blues to young white audiences. Since
the sixties, some rock guitarists, such as Eric
Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van
Halen have used the blues as a foundation for
offshoot styles. While the originators like John Lee
Hooker, Albert Collins and B.B. King--and their
heirs Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and later Eric Clapton and the late Roy Buchanan, among many others, continued to make fantastic
music in the blues tradition. The latest generation of blues players like Robert Cray and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, among
others, as well as gracing the blues tradition with their incredible technicality, have drawn a new generation of listeners to the
blues.
"The Blues", although a relatively new expression of music has captivated many who seem to share the same sense of a
sometimes unexplainable melancholia mood. This music we call "The Blues" seems to soothe the soul and soften the heart. It has
been said that we owe "The Blues" to those who bore the pain of enslavement behind the frightful shadows of our collective soul.
Could it be that "the frightful shadows of our collective soul" may be just the thing that we are all touched by when we listen to
"The Blues"?

This nightclub - not your typical juke joint - has a mission: to keep an American art form alive for generations to come.
Irma Thomas                            
2/18/1941
 
photo by David Gahr
Wille Mae "Big Mama" Thornton
12/11/1926 - 7/25/1984
photo credit: The Tony Russell Collection
Blind Willie McTell
5/5/1901 - 1959
photo credit: The Tony Russell Collection
Willie Dixon
7/1/1915 - 1992
photo credit: The Pete Welding Collection
Skip James
photo credit: The Tony Russell Collection
John Lee Hooker
The Showbox, January 2001
photo by: Phil Chesnut
Bessie Smith
1924
photo credit: The Tony Russell Collection
Where Everyone Sings The Blues
By Tom Callahan
From the January 13, 2002 issue of Parade Magazine

It's early on a Saturday evening, and inside the dimly lit, red brick music hall on Chicago's Near North side, the joint is already
jumping. Jumping to the blues.
But this is not your typical juke joint. No alcohol is served here. And there is no stage - only a carpeted area where the musicians
perform to an otherwise nodding and bopping crowd seated in simple folding chairs.
But what really sets this nightclub apart from all others is its audience: Most of the patrons are still in school - grade school.
That's because the Blue Chicago Store Down in the Basement - commonly known as "The Basement" - is a nightclub designed
for kids. Children, some as young as 3, are brought here by parents and grandparents to learn about the blues, that most
American of art forms, which grew out of the African-American experience in the rural South at the beginning of the 20th century.

"To really experience the music, you can't go to a museum," says The Basement's founder. "Blues has to be heard live."


A NIGHTCLUB WITH A MISSION

The Basement is the brainchild of Gino and Bernadette Battaglia, the husband-and-wife owners of two other blues clubs in
Chicago. Gino says he "fell in love with the depth of emotion in the blues" shortly after he and his family moved here from Italy in
1955. He was just 9. "As soon as I was tall enough," Gino confesses, "I was sneaking into Chicago nightclubs to listen to artists
like Howlin' Wolf and Junior Wells." In 1985, Gino opened the first Blue Chicago: six years later, he opened a second.
Anyone who knows music knows that Chicago is to the blues what New Orleans is to jazz. On any weekend, live blues can be
heard in more than 40 bars and clubs in the Windy City. Generally speaking, however, blues artists rarely are broadcast over
commercial radio or featured on MTV, so young people have few opportunities to hear the music. Gino recognized the negative
impact this could have on the music he loved. So did his wife. "I feared that today's kids would have no firsthand experience of
the blues," says Bernadette. "I also worried where the next generation of blues musicians would come from."
Taking their cue from Preservation Hall in New Orleans, where people of all ages listen to jazz in an alcohol-free setting, the
Battaglias open The Basement in May 1998.

Why a blues nightclub for kids? Because two avid fans worried where the next generation of blues musicians was going to come
from.


AN AMERICAN ART FORM

The blues was born some 100 years ago in the "work shouts" of African-Americans in the Mississippi Delta. Over time, itinerant
guitarists and harmonica players traveled from one community to another, singing about freedom, love and sorrow. As
African-Americans migrated to Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago and other big cities, the music spread, contributing significantly
to the development of jazz, rock 'n' roll and country and western music.
"The blues is a major part of American culture," says Gino Battaglia. "But to really experience the music, you can't go to a
museum. Blues has to be heard live. This is a club where the entire family can come to hear authentic blues played by real blues
artists."
Like its nickname implies, The Basement is located below street level in a century-old building next door to the second Blue
Chicago. It's open only on Saturdays, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Kids under 12 get in free; everyone else pays $5. The Gloria
Shannon Blues Band - a basic four-piece Chicago blues combo of guitar, bass, drums and the singer, Gloria Shannon - is the
featured act. The band performs four sets a night. Before each, Shannon tells a brief history of the blues. Then she performs
blues songs recorded by artists ranging from Bessie Smith to Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Otis Redding.
"It's music born out of hardship and struggle. People - especially children - should know this, no matter what color they are."
After the second set, she invites aspiring musicians to jam with the band. If the youngsters haven't brought along their own
instruments, band members lend theirs.
"The highlight of my week is to play for kids," says Shannon, 65. "First, they are curious. Then we get them to clap their hands.
Before you know it, they are having a ball."
Gino Battaglia's efforts at educating young people about the blues are clearly making an impact: He now receives requests from
schools - some as far away as Wisconsin - that want to bring their students to The Basement.
"The blues is part of our collective heritage," says Koko Taylor, a Grammy Award-winning singer, who calls herself Queen of the
Blues. "It's music born out of hardship and struggle. People - especially children - should know this, no matter where they come
from or what color they are."