Ten important blues albums

01:59, Jun 18 2014

I do this thing - every year or so - pick a genre and list out ten important albums; close enough to a Top 10 but the onus is on the gateway-drug idea; I couldn't ever tell you that Gary Moore was a great blues guitar player but his Still Got The Blues album along with almost everything by Eric Clapton (the groups, the solo albums) was, for example, part of my early education when it comes to blues music. I have no real interest in hearing any of Clapton's solo albums now and if I never hear Still Got The Blues again it might be too soon but it was through those sorts of albums that I found my way back to Freddie King and Albert King and it was from The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and Clapton that I got to Robert Johnson and so on...so I'm going to focus on the ten blues albums most important to me. Then it's your turn. You list the ten blues albums you consider most important to you - the ten most important in your life.

Previously I've written lists for the wider genres of hip-hop, metal, electronica, countryreggae and punk and every time at least one person has been appalled at the list due to an album I've forgotten, rather than just listing their own favourites. So I'm certainly not expecting that to change today, but anyway, let's go...in no particular order, no ranking, just as they come to me, here are ten important blues albums.

1. Robert Johnson, The King Of The Delta Blues Singers

The Robert Johnson thing is all tied up for me with discovery of the movie Crossroads which happened around the time I was getting hooked on music by Clapton, the Stones, Ry Cooder and many more of that ilk. Hearing this original material was a huge awakening for me.

2. B.B. King, Live In Cook County Jail

I've already told you all about how this was the best music gift I've been given (in a literal sense) but this album was my breakthrough with B.B. King, I'd heard his voice and playing on compilations my mum had and I knew his hit with that Irish band but this was when I first heard how vital he was, how huge that voice is, the emotion in that playing.

3. Stevie Ray Vaughan, In Step

Far more important than Gary Moore or Eric Clapton was the discovery of Stevie Ray Vaughan - via this album. Any of the other modern players I was listening to in the early 1990s could always and obviously be traced back to rock music but this was the spirit of great blues guitar - and this was the first album I heard by SRV, I collected up everything and read up about all his influences. It was crushing when he died, my first encounter with genuinely feeling sad about the death of a musical hero - but I told you all about that already.

4. Albert King, Born Under A Bad Sign

I first heard Albert King on a VHS tape, a concert my parents recorded for me called B.B. King & Friends. That whole show was amazing, but the find was Albert King. A bear of a man, that gravel in his voice but the thing that stuck was how he attacked his guitar, blunt fingered and he looked in pain when he bent those strings. His guitar looked in pain too as a result. This album features the very fine Booker T & The M.G.'s as backing band; so it would be worth having just for that.

5. Fleetwood Mac, The Best of The Original Fleetwood Mac

I love Fleetwood Mac - I love the stadium-filling pop band, I love the soap-opera years, I love the underrated/forgotten Bob Welch years and I really love the Peter Green era; the blues band, the original Fleetwood Mac. At first all I knew about that was the song Albatross and I found that hard to reconcile with the Tusk album and Rumours and all of the pop hits I grew up with in the 1980s. It couldn't really be the same band right? And it wasn't. It was a very different band. And this compilation remains a favourite but back when I was about 12 or 13 this was frighteningly good, the sting in the guitars, of all the white-guy British Blues Boom players Green seemed the most real to me.

6. V/A, The Blues Brothers [OST]

One of those major gateway things, the soundtrack, the movie, the fact that I went on to play in a Blues Brother tribute band at high school, then going back to watch the original SNL skits and buying up the other albums by the band. It might be pantomime blues to some but Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi could really sing and Aykroyd particularly had a huge love and knowledge of the blues, this parody came from the right place. They really meant it. Learned a lot of great songs here - and the movie provided images of names like John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles, all part of the development.

7. John Mayall with Eric Clapton, Blues Breakers

Had to pick something featuring Eric Clapton - because his music was hugely important to the teenage me. I loved this album when I first heard it and it seems, now, to be the one I go to more than almost anything else by Clapton. I also like John Mayall too; what he was about - it was a pleasure to interview him a couple of years back, he's a real hero in terms of the talent he fostered.

8. Muddy Waters, Hard Again

I have some of the earlier Muddy Waters albums - I love them - but this was formative for me in terms of it being among the start of me forming my own record collection, making choices outside of the records my folks played. Also great to hear Johnny Winter rip on this.

9. Paul Ubana Jones, Paul Ubana Jones

Paul Ubana Jones might not be a pure blues artist - but the impact his music has had on me has been huge. And this album features some great blues covers as well as Paul's originals. He's also the local artist I've seen the most - I wrote a bit more about this album (and my relationship with Paul and his music) here.

10. The Robert Cray Band, Bad Influence

Actually, just this year, recently, Cray has released a super-good new album. He's never lost the ability, but for the longest time his albums just meandered along, buried in horns. Bad Influence was my introduction to Cray and remains my favourite. It was bought on a whim by my mum and I still have her copy of the album; a record the whole family got pretty hooked on. Cray's playing is always tasteful but he's got real bite to his guitar parts. I love that he knows how to play and chooses, so wisely, when to cut short, sit back, stay out. He never bores with long solos and his voice is great. This album seemed to arrive at a time when the blues was at its uncoolest - but you'd never guess that from the playing, the conviction. This album's never far from my turntable.

So there's ten important blues albums in my life. What do you think of the list? And what does your list look like?

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