*Photo of “master bluesmen practicing their craft” taken from the internet and likely copyrighted
As a young fan of rock and roll, I’m not even sure I knew what “the blues” were. I had always associated the term “blues” with depression, i.e. “he was in a blue mood” or “I’ve got the Monday blues.” I associated the music with old guys singing songs about heartbreak and despair with some great guitar work thrown in for good measure. At the age of 15 I would have insisted that I wasn’t into the blues and didn’t know anything about them but at the same time I was listening to the Stones, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Aerosmith and AC/DC. I was a blues fan and didn’t even know it. When the aforementioned bands played blues tunes like “Down In The Hole” (Stones) or “A Fool For Your Stockings” (ZZ Top) I just thought those were kind of slower, more intense, “change of pace” kind of songs… almost ballads. But make no mistake, I loved those bluesy numbers. I was so young and naive I hadn’t learned (yet) about the immense influence the blues had on all that great 60s and 70s rock and roll I was devouring.
Believe it or not it was the Blues Brothers who first really brought blues music into focus for me. The Blues Brothers, Joliet Jake and Elwood, were actually John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They debuted the band on Saturday Night Live. During the filming of Animal House Belushi had been turned onto a bunch of old blues records and decided he wanted to play some music. Since they debuted this music on SNL I thought it was a spoof. But I really dug the first single “Hey Bartender.” I couldn’t bring myself to buy the album because you couldn’t be caught dead with music that was “uncool.” And I’ll admit “Rubber Biscuit” left me cold. But they had some great musicians in that band: Matt “Guitar” Murphy, bassist Duck Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper and future uber-producer Steve Jordan on drums. I was intrigued but didn’t make a move in terms of a purchase…
I came to the blues the way I came into many things in my life… through a woman and an unrequited crush…which sounds like a perfect setup to a blues tune. One Friday night I went over to one of the half dozen or so friends of mine whose name was Steve’s house. Steve had a big sister who was a senior, two years or three years older than us. She was buxom and we all thought she was attractive but we were 15, everybody was attractive. She was indeed one of the “popular” kids in the neighborhood in that high school way, so her opinion meant something to us. The girl drove a Trans Am, for heaven’s sake, she was cool. She was getting ready for a Friday night party and she was blasting… Briefcase Full Of Blues, the debut LP from the Blues Brothers. If Stacy (named changed to protect the guilty) who was cool was listening to these guys, then they were by extension of high school logic “cool.” I hate to admit to being subject to that kind of peer pressure but I was just a teenager, all hair and testosterone with no brains. I bought the album on my next trip to the record store and the light bulb finally went off… I finally realized virtually every band I listened to was influenced or inspired by the blues. That’s when I realized the Stones had basically started off as a blues cover band.
The blues had sprung from the fertile soil of the Mississippi river, invented by the freed slaves after the Civil War. Originally just vocals and acoustic guitar (or diddly bow) the music was influenced by spirituals and work songs. There was a lot of call and response. When juke joints – bars where Black people could gather and socialize – began to proliferate so did the blues. Legends like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson roamed the earth playing songs that bands still cover today. The blues made its way up the Mississippi River and to its spiritual home, Memphis. A young man named Elvis probably heard a lot of that music growing up there… The blues wasn’t all sad music, there was a lot of innuendo in that music. It didn’t take long until Preachers, unnerved at the effect this music was having on women, began to denounce it as “the Devil music.” That had to just draw more people in… it always does. Sabbath’s career was completely founded on that Devil stuff.
Eventually, during the Great Migration, the blues headed north to Detroit and more importantly Chicago. I didn’t actually see a live blues performer until I was out of college. I flew to Chicago to see my best buddy Doug and we went directly to the legendary blues bar, the Kingston Mines…where I saw Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Life changing! But I digress… The blues went through that Golden Era with Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter and Willie Dixon and so many others. Alas this music didn’t hit it big in the U.S. Thankfully a bunch of post-war British teenagers were listening and they loved the stuff. Alexis Korner and John Mayall were spreading the word on blues music. Pretty soon you had the Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers all playing blues covers like “King Bee” and “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” Eventually during the British Invasion the English bands brought the blues back home, like a disciple returning to the temple. Pretty quickly American bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors and later Aerosmith popped up in the wake of those British acts.
You could argue about the Brits and “cultural appropriation” but this is a music blog not a political one. The early bands who started covering the blues had a reverence for the blues and the Blues Masters who played it, and frankly I share that awe and worship. This was more of an imitation is flattery thing. It does say something that this wonderful American art form, nay, African American art form had to go to Britain and then come back to make it to the mainstream in America…kind of like Jimi Hendrix. There are some who would argue that in the 80s rock and roll severed its close ties to the blues and that’s when rock music went into decline. I’m a lover not a fighter so I’m going to veer away from all of that. All I can say about it, and as I’ll probably repeat in this post, I just love the blues and the rock and roll it inspired. I love phrases like, “my tears they fall like rain” and “my baby she shakes like a willow tree” and the Rock Chick can testify I sprinkle those throughout my conversation even now. I still have people tell me they don’t dig the blues but love Cream… Um, then you dig the blues, you just don’t know it.
Since the inventor of the cassette tape passed away a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about all those old mixtapes I used to make for my car. I used to have this great tape of different bands playing blues songs. They were mostly slower tunes so the tape held together for a great listen. Using that as a base I decided to expand the list and share some of our favorite bands playing some of our favorite songs in our favorite genre, the blues. I wanted to highlight different artists than just the Stones/Zeppelin/Clapton continuum to demonstrate just how far and wide the influence of the blues is and was. Artists as diverse as James Taylor and Harry Nilsson to Sam Cooke and Aretha have done blues tracks. I just love the blues and the raw emotion and the strength of the singing on many of these tracks moves me to this day. It’s my hope that they’ll move you too. I love that so many different artists took the blues, adapted and changed it and yet it remained the blues. With Easter and Passover coming up this weekend and all the family that entails, let’s face it we’re all gonna need some rockin’ blues to get through this thing. These are just our B&V favorites… and just the tip of the iceberg… Always remember though, if you get into the blues, as John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison sang, you’ll “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive.” You’ll be a fan for life.
Here is our list of some of our favorite blues tunes by rock artists. I tried to limit this to at most 2 or 3 songs by one artist but believe me that called for some hard choices. I could have made this just all Stones tunes but I limited myself to some of their latter day stuff. I tried to weave in covers of songs by Blues Masters with some of these great band’s original songs. I just started with what I could remember from that old mixtape and blew it up large. As always this playlist can be found on Spotify (“BourbonAndVinyl.net Epic Big Bad Rockin’ Blues”) and can be shuffled or played as is. If you have a blues rock tune that isn’t here, please mention it in the comments section and I’ll add it to the Spotify list… it’s a bluesy dialogue people.
- Eric Clapton, “The Sky Is Crying” – Many have done this Elmore James’ tune but few as well as Clapton. Stevie Ray Vaughn did a nice version. This whole list could be Clapton tunes…
- ZZ Top, “A Fool For Your Stockings” – From the first ZZ Top LP I ever purchased… and yes, I’m still a fool…
- The Rolling Stones, “Back of My Hand” – Great latter day Stones’ blues tune. It was just Mick, Keith and Charlie in the studio when they were recording this song. Keith went to take a nap and thought he was dreaming about Muddy Waters. Actually he was just hearing Mick work out this song… he told Mick they weren’t overdubbing anything, “Leave it like it is, it’s done.” As usual, Keith was right.
- Led Zeppelin, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – This may be the greatest blues rock song of all time. Titanic blues.
- Derek & the Dominos, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” – Clapton under the cover name Derek slips back onto the list with a great Jimmy Cox tune.
- The Doors, “Back Door Man” – People tend to think of the Doors’ music as psychedelic, acid jazz. They forget what a great blues band these guys were.
- Warren Zevon, “Rub Me Raw” – An artist you don’t associate with the blues delivering a spectacular blues track on his final LP, The Wind. That’s Wichita’s own Joe Walsh playing the lead guitar which may just melt your face off at certain high volumes.
- Billy F. Gibbons, “Standing Around Crying” – A great blues cover from Billy’s last solo LP, Big Bad Blues.
- Peter Wolf, “Too Close Together” – A great duet with Keith Richards. Wolf has some really great solo LPs everyone should check out.
- The Rolling Stones, “Down In The Hole” – A blues tune I loved before I knew what the blues were…
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “U.S. 41” – Petty got into the blues late in his career. Nowhere is that more evident than on the great Mojo.
- Big Brother & the Holding Company, “Turtle Blues” – Janis Joplin’s first and best band. This is just a piano and Janis’ voice, the way God intended you to hear the blues.
- Harry Nilsson, “Early In the Morning” – Like the previous tune, just a fabulous voice and a keyboard. I saw Randy Newman interviewed about Harry and he said he was never confident in his singing which blows my mind. This song is proof of his vocal talents.
- The Black Crowes, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” – From their masterpiece second LP, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
- U2 & B.B. King, “When Love Comes To Town” – I’ve devoted this list to rock bands but it was an absolute pleasure to sneak blues royalty B.B. King onto the list.
- Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Feelin’ Blue” – A nice little shuffle.
- The Jeff Beck Group, “You Shook Me” – The Zeppelin version of this song is more well known but Jeff, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood did it first so its the version I included here.
- Cream, “Born Under A Bad Sign” – Probably my favorite Cream tune. A sweet Albert King cover.
- Neil Young and the Bluenotes, “One Thing” – I may be the only one who loves this album. It signaled the beginning of a creative resurgence for Young. I even bought the live LP from this tour, released years later, Bluenote Cafe.
- John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” – How many great guitar players did John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers have? I chose this track, vs the Zeppelin version, to highlight a pre-Stones Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
- The Black Crowes, “Seeing Things” – As long time readers know, I’m currently still obsessed with the Crowes’ first LP.
- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Walkin’ Blues” – One of the finest bands to ever come out of Chicago originally done by Robert Johnson.
- Free, “Goin’ Down Slow” – From Free’s debut LP, their most bluesy effort, Tons Of Sobs.
- Fleetwood Mac, “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” – I felt it imperative that I include a blues tune featuring Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac, who passed last year.
- James Taylor, “Steamroller Blues” – Laugh, but this is a great tune and underscores my premise that so many rock acts play the blues… and yes, I know I’m stretching when I call Taylor “rock.”
- The Allman Brothers Band, “Jelly Jelly” – I’ve always described the Allmans as a blues band who played with a jazz band ethos. This is a fine, fine straight-up blues tune.
- Sam Cooke, “Little Red Rooster” – I could have included so many other versions of this track from the Stones to Tom Petty but Sam was one of the world’s greatest singers and its nice to hear him sing a blues track.
- Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Leave My Girl Alone” – From one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Gone too soon.
- The White Stripes, “Little Bird” – Epic punky blues. I was lucky enough to see them play this track live.
- Lucinda Williams, “Still I Long For Your Kiss” – Lucinda really feels the blues on this song. When she wails, “I goooo down tooooown” you almost physically feel her pain. It’s my absolute favorite vocal performance by her.
- Paul Rodgers and Buddy Guy, “Muddy Water Blues” – An acoustic blues tribute to Muddy with Buddy Guy on guitar.
- George Harrison, “Cloud 9” – A nice little bluesy number with George’s friend Eric Clapton noodling on guitar along with him.
- The Beatles, “For You Blue” – Another Harrison track… The Beatles didn’t play the blues often, but man is it fun when they did.
- Steve Miller Band, “Mercury Blues” – When people think about the Steve Miller Band they tend to think of his more ethereal 70s hits which is a shame. He actually started as a blues guy and does a phenomenal job on this one, just to remind us of that.
- Bruce Springsteen, “The Fever” – I don’t know if this is technically the blues or not but it has a languid, rolling bluesy feel. Clarence Clemons’ sax is remarkable. One of my all time favs.
- Rod Stewart, “I’d Rather Go Blind” – Rod’s best blues tune… a cover of Big Mama Thornton if I’m not mistaken.
- Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Texas Flood” – I don’t remember whether I included this on my Rain playlist or not. I hope I did.
- Pete Townshend, “Secondhand Love” – A nice little blues scorcher from Pete… and a song that I only recently discovered the Rock Chick loves. Marriage is a journey of discovery.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Red House” – Jimi never moved too far away from the blues.
- The Doors, “Cars Hiss By My Window” – On their last two LPs the Doors got back to being that great blues rock band they started as…
- Blind Faith, “Sleeping In The Ground” – This great blues tune didn’t even make the only LP they did. Winwood’s piano and vocals are exceptional.
- The Animals, “Dimples” – A John Lee Hooker cover from another great English band.
- J. Geils Band, “Serves You Right To Suffer” – Speaking of great John Lee Hooker covers.
- The Rolling Stones, “Keep Up Blues” – A great outtake from the Some Girls sessions.
- Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – This guy gives me hope for the future of the guitar. I hope this is on my Train playlist.
- Peter Frampton, “She Caught The Katy” – From his great LP, All Blues.
- Bob Dylan, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” – Dylan doesn’t get the credit for being a great blues guy.
- John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “A Hard Road” – Another great Peter Green tune from his work before forming Fleetwood Mac.
- Little Steven, “Blues Is My Business” – Springsteen’s right hand man out on his own covering an Etta James tune on his great LP Soulfire.
- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Mellow Down Easy” – Another great tune from Chicago’s finest. The Black Crowes also did a live version of this song with Jimmy Page that’s worth checking out.
- Aretha Franklin, “I’ve Never Loved A Man” – The Queen handing down the blues. Aerosmith actually had the temerity to cover this song.
- The Yardbirds, “I Ain’t Got You” – Speaking of songs Aersomith covered… The Yardbirds are famous for having at different times, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page on guitar.
- Aerosmith, “Reefer Head Woman” – Well, I kept mentioning them, you knew they had to have a bluesy track here.
- David Lee Roth, “Sensible Shoes” – Again, like the Springsteen song above, I’m not sure this is blues, but it sure feels like it. And it’s Diamond Dave, what’s not to love?
- Led Zeppelin, “I’m Gonna Crawl” – The last track from the last album and they went back to the blues…
- Cream, “Sitting On Top Of the World” – I love it when bands cover Howlin Wolf.
- Humble Pie, “Rollin’ Stone” – Such a great overlooked band… and on this tune Peter Frampton was still in the group and playing lead guitar.
- Gregg Allman, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – Gregg Allman, a man with a voice that sounds like eternity calling singing a song by a man whose voice sounded like…well, eternity calling, Muddy Waters.
- John Fogerty, “A Hundred And Ten In The Shade” – I feel hot and sticky just listening to this track.
- Mick Jagger, “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” – From a great blues album that Jagger did with L.A. blues band the Red Devils that remains on the shelf save for this great tune. I wish Mick would put out the whole thing.
- Van Morrison, “Roll With the Punches” – The title track from one of Van’s latest LPs.
- ZZ Top, “Blue Jean Blues” – It was going to be this or “Sure Got Cold When The Rain Came.”
- Bob Dylan, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” – From Dylan’s fabulous studio LP last year, his first in 8 years, Rough And Rowdy Ways.
- Faces, “Love In Vain (Live)” – The Faces doing a Robert Johnson tune via the Stones. Ronnie Wood on lead guitar, Rod feeling it.
- The Raconteurs, “Blue Veins” – Great blues track from Jack White’s first side project.
- The Jeff Beck Group, “Blues De Luxe” – Their most epic track. I don’t know why they dubbed in the audience. Rod’s vocals are sublime.
- Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Coming” – I chose the version on People, Hell and Angels but there are quite a few versions of this tune to choose from by Jimi.
- Van Halen, “Apolitical Blues” – I probably should have chosen the original Little Feat version but I couldn’t resist putting the late Eddie Van Halen on this playlist…
- Robert Cray, “I Wonder” – Simply a wonderful blues tune. Maybe a little outside the parameters of this playlist but Strong Persuader had such great crossover success I felt I could include it.
- Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – Yes, Nirvana doing the blues. Cobain was a big Huddie Leadbetter fan… It’s the perfect song to end on to underscore my point that all great rock bands play some blues.
I hope you guys have as much fun listening to this playlist as I did compiling it. My greatest hope is that over this Passover, Easter weekend this playlist will get you a little farther down the road in the direction you’re heading. Pour something strong, light something up if you’re in New York, turn this one up loud and enjoy!