Willie Dixon (William James Dixon) MAIN INSTRUMENTS: BORN: DIED:
Bass, vocals, guitar
Vicksburg, Mississippi; July 1, 1915
Burbank, California; January 29, 1992
RECOMMENDED CUTS: Willie Dixon was the most influential person in shaping the post-WWII sound of the Chicago blues. Working with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, he was an important link between the blues and rock and roll. He was the most important composer of what is now considered the Great American Songbook of the Blues. The songs he wrote, covered by more recording artists than any other blues composer, are the virtual foundation of the British blues movement. The initial classic performances of his songs were by the artists he produced in Chicago: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Lowell Fulson, Koko Taylor, Sonny Boy Williamson, Eddie Boyd, Willie Mabon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Otis Rush and Little Milton. Chess’ Willie Dixon box set is a comprehensive introduction to this important blues artist’s work.
“Back Door Man” (The Doors), “I Ain’t Superstitious” (The Jeff Beck Group), “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (Led Zeppelin), “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (Foghat), “I’m Ready” (Humble Pie), “Little Red Rooster” (The Rolling Stones), “Pretty Thing” (The Pretty Things), “Seventh Son” (Johnny Rivers), “Spoonful” (Cream, Paul Butterfield Blues Band), “Wang Dang Doodle” (Love Sculpture), “You Need Love” (Small Faces; also by Led Zeppelin as “Whole Lotta Love”), “You Shook Me” (The Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin), “Tollin’ Bells” (Paul Butterfield Blues Band), “My Babe” (Spencer Davis Group), “I Love the Life I Live” (Mose Allison, Georgie Fame), “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” (The Rolling Stones), “Bring It On Home” (Led Zeppelin) INTERESTING COVERS:
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (Jalacy Hawkins) MAIN INSTRUMENTS: BORN: DIED:
Cleveland, Ohio; July 18, 1929
Paris, France; February 12, 2000
RECOMMENDED CUTS: “I Put A Spell On You,” “Constipation Blues,” “Orange Colored Sky,” “Feast of the Mau Mau,” “(She Put the) Wamee (On Me),” “Little Demon,” “Hong Kong” INTERESTING COVERS: “I Put A Spell On You” (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Nina Simone, Manfred Mann, Alan Price, Them, Pete Townshend, The Animals, Bryan Ferry and Jay’s favorite cover version by Credence Clearwater Revival)
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Hawkins studied classical piano as a child. He learned to play guitar in his twenties. His original desire was to become a Paul Robeson-style opera singer. When those ambitions failed, he re-invented himself as a blues singer and pianist. Jay served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II, primarily as an entertainer. He later claimed to have been a POW. Hawkins was also a powerful boxer. In 1949, he was the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska. In 1951, Hawkins caught his first musical break as pianist/valet to veteran jazz guitarist Tiny Grimes. He debuted as a solo performer for Gotham the following year with “Why Did You Waste My Time,” backed by Grimes and his Rockin’ Highlanders (they wore kilts and tam o’ shanters on stage). Jay often performed in a flamboyant wardrobe featuring leopard skins, red leather and wild hats. Singles for Timely and Wing preceded Hawkins’ immortal 1956 hit “I Put a Spell on You” for Columbia’s Okeh subsidiary. Soon after its release, radio host Alan Freed offered Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage. Hawkins accepted and soon created an outlandish tonguein-cheek stage persona. After emerging from a coffin, his performances
Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan) MAIN INSTRUMENT: BORN: DIED:
Baltimore, Maryland; April 7, 1915
New York, New York; July 17, 1959
RECOMMENDED CUTS: “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” “Don’t Explain,” “Long Gone Blues,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Lover Man,” “Them There Eyes,” “Billie’s Blues,” “Good Morning Heartache,” “’Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” INTERESTING COVERS: “Strange Fruit” (Nina Simone), “God Bless The Child” (Steve Miller, Blood, Sweat & Tears)
Teen jazz guitarist Clarence Holiday left Billie as a baby, never marrying Billie’s mother, Sadie Fagan. Billie’s truancy and rape at age ten got her two years in reform school. She and her mom moved to New York City in 1928. Billie sang in Harlem nightclubs for tips, did domestic work and moonlit as a prostitute. She was recruited by a brothel, then imprisoned for solicitation. After prison, Billie sang in many NY clubs. Columbia producer John Hammond wrote her up in Melody Maker, then brought Benny Goodman to see her in 1933. After her Columbia sessions, she teamed with Goodman and pianist Teddy Wilson, establishing her as a major vocalist. In 1935, she made her Apollo Theater debut, then recorded a series of forgettable songs (during this era, publishers kept their best songs strictly placed with popular white singers). Wilson’s great backing and Holiday’s confident vocals energized the songs, making them sellers for Columbia, Brunswick and Vocalion. In 1937, she recorded and toured with members of the Count Basie Orchestra. Her Artie Shaw tour placed her among the first black women to work with a white orchestra. She pioneered a method of improvising on the melody and beat to fit the emotion, transforming ordinary pop songs into intimate jazz classics. Sponsors and promoters objected to her singing style, as well as her race. The abuse grew until she quit Shaw’s
Robert Johnson (Robert Leroy Johnson; originally Robert Leroy Dodd) MAIN INSTRUMENTS: BORN: DIED:
Hazlehurst, Mississippi; May 8, 1911
Greenwood, Mississippi; August 16, 1938
RECOMMENDED CUTS: “Crossroads Blues,” “Love In Vain,” “Have You Ever Been Lonely,” “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues,” “From Four Until Late,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” “Come On In My Kitchen” INTERESTING COVERS: “Crossroads” (Cream, Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse), “Love In Vain” (The Rolling Stones), “Hellhound on My Trail” (Fleetwood Mac), “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” (The Rolling Stones), “From Four Until Late” (Cream), “Traveling Riverside Blues” (Led Zeppelin), “Come On In My Kitchen” (Delaney & Bonnie & Friends) Eric Clapton and the Peter Green Splinter Group have recorded two CDs each that ultimately cover all of Robert Johnson songs (of the two Clapton tributes, pick up the vastly superior Sessions for Robert J which also includes an interesting DVD). John Hammond has also recorded a CD tribute to Johnson.
Robert Johnson was born to Julia Dodds and Noah Johnson. Following a dispute with white landowners, a lynch mob forced Julia’s husband Charles Dodds to leave town. Julia left home with baby Robert but after two years sent him to live with Dodds (renamed Charles Spencer) in Memphis. In 1919 Robert rejoined his mother and new husband Dusty Willis in Mississippi. Robert was called “Little Robert Dusty.” He was already a skilled harmonica and jaw harp player. After leaving school, Robert adopted his natural father’s surname. He married sixteen-yearold Virginia Travis in 1929. She died shortly after in childbirth. According to legend, young Robert Johnson possessed a burning desire to be a great blues musician. He was told to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight. He was met by the
Lonnie Johnson (Alonzo Johnson) MAIN INSTRUMENTS: BORN: DIED:
New Orleans; February 8, 1899
Toronto, Ontario; June 16, 1970
RECOMMENDED CUTS: “Tomorrow Night,” “He’s a Jelly Roll Baker,” “In Love Again,” “Pleasing You (As Long As I Live),” “Confused,” “So Tired” INTERESTING COVERS:
“Tomorrow Night” (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis)
Johnson was raised in a family of musicians. He studied violin, piano and guitar, playing guitar and violin in his father’s family band, alongside brother James “Steady Roll” Johnson. In 1917, Johnson joined a revue that toured England. Returning home in 1919 he found that his entire family (except for James) had perished from the Spanish flu. He and James settled in St. Louis, performing as a duo. Lonnie also worked the riverboats. In 1925 he married blues singer Mary Smith. That same year he won an Okeh Records recording contract in a Booker T. Washington Theatre blues contest. Between 1925-1932, he made about 130 recordings for Okeh. For a long time he found it difficult to transcend his being pigeonholed as a blues artist. Lonnie and Mary divorced in 1932. Johnson recorded in Chicago with Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in 1927 and with Duke Ellington in 1928. He pioneered the guitar solo in 1927 on “6/88 Glide.” His early 12-string solos influenced jazz guitarists Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Lonnie excelled in instrumental pieces, some of which he recorded with Eddie Lang (1928-1929). With Lang disguised as Blind Willie Dunn, their recordings were among the first to feature black and white musicians together. In New York he recorded with Victoria Spivey and Texas Alexander, then toured with Bessie Smith. After his Bessie Smith tour, Johnson moved to Chicago and recorded for Okeh with pianist James P. Johnson. During the Depression Lonnie worked in a Peoria steel mill. He then moved to Chicago, recording 34 tracks for Bluebird in a five-year
B. B. King (Riley B. King) MAIN INSTRUMENTS: BORN:
Itta Bena, Mississippi; September 16, 1925
RECOMMENDED CUTS: B. B. King Live at The Regal CD, “You Know I Love You,” “Please Love Me,” “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer,” “Sneakin’ Around,” “Ten Long Years,” “Bad Luck,” “On My Word of Honor,” “Please Accept My Love,” “Sweet Sixteen,” “Got a Right to Love My Baby,” “Partin’ Time,” “Don’t Answer the Door,” “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss,” “Why I Sing the Blues” INTERESTING COVERS: “Sweet Little Angel” (Jeff Beck Group), “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer” (Fleetwood Mac) INTERESTING COLLABORATION:
“When Love Comes to Town” (with U2)
After his father left, Riley B. King grew up in his mother’s and grandmother’s homes. He worked as a sharecropper and sang gospel, then moved to Indianola, Mississippi, in 1943. Country and gospel were his first influences, followed by the music of T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. In 1946, he studied guitar for ten months in Memphis under his cousin, Bukka White. After months of hardship, he returned to Indianola. King came back to Memphis in 1948, working at radio station WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, gaining the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy,” (hence, “B. B.”). Upon first hearing T-Bone Walker, he promptly purchased an electric guitar. King cut tracks for Bullet, then began recording for RPM with producer Sam Phillips. King’s first R&B #1 was Lowell Fulson’s “Three O’Clock Blues” (1951). In the mid-1950s, while B. B. was performing at an Arkansas dance, a kerosene stove got knocked over during a fight, setting the place ablaze. B. B. raced outdoors with the crowd. Realizing he had left his beloved $30 acoustic guitar inside, he rushed back to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. After finding out the brawl had been over a woman named Lucille,
Ma Rainey (Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett Rainey) MAIN INSTRUMENTS: BORN: DIED:
Columbus, Georgia; April 26, 1886
Columbus, Georgia; December 22, 1939
RECOMMENDED CUTS: “See See Ryder,” “Jelly Bean Blues,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Prove It On Me Blues,” “Bo Weavil Blues”
“See See Ryder” (as “See See Rider” by The Animals; also incorporated into “Jenny Takes a Ride!” by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels) INTERESTING COVERS:
Ma Rainey, “The Mother of the Blues,” was one of the earliest known American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record, though she had been singing for more than 20 years before she made her recording debut for Paramount in 1923. She was an early but important developer and popularizer of the blues. She first appeared on stage in Columbus, Ohio in A Bunch of Blackberries at age fourteen. She joined a traveling vaudeville troupe, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and also sang in medicine shows. In 1902, after hearing a sad a cappella song by a small town Missouri girl, Rainey started performing in this style. She claims to have coined the term for this new kind of music, calling it “The Blues.” In 1904 she married fellow vaudeville singer William “Pa” Rainey and changed her name to “Ma.” She had an unknown number of children, one being Clyde Rainey, who served in the USA Navy. “Ma and Pa” toured throughout the South, singing a mix of blues and popular songs with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels as “Rainey & Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues.” They also performed with circuses and tent shows. In 1912, she took the young Bessie Smith into the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, trained her as a vocalist and worked with her until Smith’s departure in 1915. By the early 1920s, Ma Rainey had become a featured performer on the Theater Owners’ Booking Association circuit.
Big Joe Turner (Joseph Vernon Turner, Jr.) MAIN INSTRUMENTS: BORN: DIED:
Kansas City, Missouri; May 18, 1911
Inglewood, California; November 24, 1985
RECOMMENDED CUTS: “Roll ‘Em, Pete,” “Chains Of Love,” “Honey Hush,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Flip Flop And Fly,” “Cherry Red,” “Corrine, Corrina,” “Wee Baby Blues,” “Love Roller Coaster,” “Midnight Special,” “Sweet Sixteen” INTERESTING COVERS: “Honey Hush” (Johnny Burnette Trio, Fleetwood Mac), “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis Presley), “Corrine, Corrina” (Taj Mahal), “Midnight Special” (Spencer Davis Group, Credence Clearwater Revival), “Lipstick, Powder & Paint” (Shakin’ Stevens)
As the premier postwar blues shouter, Big (due to his 300+ lbs., 6’2” stature) Joe Turner led the transition from big bands to jump blues to rhythm and blues and, finally, to rock and roll, all with great success. “The Boss of the Blues,” his love of music came from the church. His father was killed in a train accident when Joe was four. He began singing on the streets, leaving school at fourteen to work in Kansas City’s club scene as a cook. Then, as “The Singing Barman,” he worked at The Kingfish Club and The Sunset, where he and his piano partner, boogie master Pete Johnson, became resident performers. Joe’s roar could rattle the timbers of any gin joint. And that’s without a microphone. After failing in New York in 1936, they returned to Kansas City. In 1938 John Hammond invited them to appear in one of his From Spirituals to Swing Carnegie Hall concerts. They launched a boogiewoogie craze and got a Café Society residency beginning in 1939, where they appeared with Billie Holiday. Their hit “Roll ‘Em Pete” contained one of the earliest recorded examples of a backbeat. “Cherry Red” also hit. In 1940, Joe moved to Decca with Johnson.
A stunning collection of 100 portraits of blues music legends by one of the most respected American fantasy artists of our time.
Published on May 7, 2013
A stunning collection of 100 portraits of blues music legends by one of the most respected American fantasy artists of our time.