Monthly Archives: February 2011

Blues Album-Magic Sam- “West Side Soul”

In the 1950’s a new generation of Blues guitarists and singers appeared on the Chicago Blues scene.  Like their predecessors, such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, they were transplanted southerners. However, unlike Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, who played the South Side of Chicago clubs, these younger men based themselves mainly in the clubs on Chicago’s West Side.

The three main members of the West Side Chicago Blues style were Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and the subject of this article, Magic Sam.  Magic Sam (  February 14, 1937-December 1, 1969) was born Samuel Gene Maghett  in Grenada, Mississippi. Like Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, Magic Sam came from the South and all came to Chicago to seek their fortune in music. In addition, like Guy and Rush, Magic Sam was influenced by older Blues players like Muddy Waters, but were also influenced by the popular Rhythm and Blues hits played on local Chicago radio.

Magic Sam’s album “West Side Soul” was released by the Delmark label in 1967. ”West Side Soul is considered by many Blues fans to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, albums demonstrating the West Side of Chicago Blues style.

His arrangement of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” has become a Blues standard. Magic Sam was a master of the minor key Blues form and this is best demonstrated by the song “All Your Love” which is a centerpiece of the album. The true sadness of Magic Sam’s story is his early death at the age of 32 as he was just starting to break into the more lucrative rock music market. This is an essential album for the collection of any true Blues fan.

Top three favorite songs from this album:   1. Sweet Home Chicago 2. All Your Love 3. I Don’t Want No Woman      youtube link reviews:

1.  Sweet home Chicago, is driven by Magic Sam’s high heartfelt voice and his driving guitar. Many of the lyrics were changed from the Robert Johnson version and this seminal version of this tune is a pean to joys of running the streets of Chicago in search of fun and love. The opening guitar figure in this tune recalls some of the “Dust My Broom” licks made famous by Chicago slide guitarist Elmore James.  The version referenced here is from the “West Side Soul” album.      2. All Your Love, is one of the most passionate minor key songs in the Blues and it qualifies as also one of the greatest love songs written in the history of the Blues. Magic Sam played guitar with all of the fingers of his right hand in style very similar to fellow guitar legend, Hubert Sumlin. The use of his fingers when picking his guitar set Magic Sam apart from his contemporaries Buddy guy and Otis Rush who play with guitar picks. The footage referenced here is from a European tour that Magic Sam played on shortly before his death.
3. I Don’t Want No Woman, was originally recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland  on his classic album “Two Steps from the Blues.” Here we have the version that was originally released on “West Side Soul.”

Blues Album-Howlin Wolf-Moaning in the Moonlight

Howlin’ Wolf, was born Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi. He possessed one of the most appropriate stage monikers in the history of American music. His voice had the growl that bought to mind a wolf howling at the moon. But he would also alternate that growl with a falsetto moan that is nothing short of erie. Howlin’ Wolf was a physically massive man who played great harmonica and slide guitar, was a severe taskmaster as a band leader, and a great showman who ran one of the better organized bands in the great period of Post World War II Chicago Blues. His recordings for Sun Records and, more predominately, Chess Records are a testament to strength and durability of the human spirit.

From 1952 till 1958 Howlin Wolf’s first recordings were mainly 78 and, later, 45 RPM singles. In 1959, Chess records released his first full length album called “Moaning in the Moonlight.” The album was comprised of songs from his first singles recorded with Sam Phillips of Sun records (Like 1951’s “How Many More Years”) to the haunting “Smokestack Lightnin.” With the exception of the song “Evil”(Written by Willie Dixon) all of the songs on this album were written by Howlin’ Wolf.

For the guitar player this album is a treasure chest of great guitar tones with great playing by early Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Willie Johnson and the totally his own man approach of Hubert Sumlin. The more I know about Howlin’ Wolf the more impressed I am with him. He was not only a distinctive vocalist, musician, and showman, but he was also a dedicated family man and was such an organized bandleader that he actually paid for his musician’s unemployment insurance. His death on January 10, 1976 has left a void in the world of the Blues that has yet to be filled.

My three favorite tracks on this album:

1. How Many More Years
2. Smokestack Lightnin’
3. Evil

Youtube Video Reviews:

1. “How Many More Years,” was originally recorded at Sun Records in Memphis Tennessee in May of 1951. It features the wonderfully overdriven tone of guitarist Willie Johnson, the barrelhouse piano of Ike Turner ( Of Ike and Tina Turner fame) and the great pounding drums of Willie Steele. For our version we are going to use the May 20, 1965 version that was broadcast on television from the show “Shindig.” Also appearing on this show were The Rolling Stones. Legend has it that The Rolling Stones refused to do the show unless they could bring Howlin’ Wolf on as their guest. Also of note, for this version ,is back-up guitar work of genius guitarist James Burton and pianist Billy Preston.

2. “Smokestack Lightnin,” is partially a literal ode to the coal smoke fire that appeared  to be “Shining like gold” and to the dark feelings of jealousy that leave this mighty wolf howling. This is from the original “Moaning in the Moonlight” album.

3. “Evil,” is the only non-original song on this album. This great Willie Dixon song warns the singer that they need to watch their happy home for romantic rivals appear at every turn. This is a rare  live version that is in color.

Blues Album-Buddy Guy-”A Man and the Blues”

Bluesman Buddy Guy( Born July 30, 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana), has had a long and varied career. He originally got his start towards international recognition as a side man for Chess records and he then became a recording artist with that label. But Buddy Guy’s career didn’t really started to take off until he moved from Chess records to Vanguard records and he recorded what is considered his masterpiece, “A Man and the Blues” in 1968.

“A Man and the Blues” is a fully realized artistic statement by mature artist. Backed by a crackerjack backup band, that included Bobby Bland guitarist Wayne Bennett, master pianist Otis Spann, and Chicago Blues mainstay, Fred Below on drums, “A Man and the Blues.” delivers a one two punch of the Blues from start to finish.

The title track shows the strong influence of B.B. King on Buddy Guy’s guitar playing. Buddy asks on this song “What can a poor man do when the Blues keeps following him around?” In Buddy Guy’s case, the best remedy to the Blues is to play them as beautifully as he does here. There is not a note wasted and the tone of Buddy Guy’s Fender Stratocaster sets the standard for perfect Blues playing.

The sympathetic relationship between Buddy’s voice and guitar with pianist Otis Spann is breathtaking. The masterpiece on this album is Buddy’s version of the Mercy Dee Walton classic “One Room Country Shack.” Also of note is Buddy’s Blues version of the children’s song “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  “Mary Had a Little Lamb” has been covered to great effect by Texas Blues guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan.  If you own only one Buddy Guy album this should be your selection.

My favorite three songs on this album:

1. One Room Country Shack
2. A Man and the Blues
3. Mary Had a Little Lamb

Review of the youtube videos:

1. “One Room Country Shack,” is a statement of profound loneliness and desolation. Otis Spann’s piano playing stays mainly in the bottom end of the register and compliments Buddy’s stellar guitar playing on this track. Of note to guitar players is Buddy Guy’s use of the technique known as “double stops” where Buddy switches from playing with a guitar pick to playing with his thumb and index finger in order to play two strings at once. All songs referenced in these youtube video links come directly from the “A Man and the Blues” album.

2. “ A Man and the Blues,” as stated in the review in this album, mines the fields of guitar playing established by B.B. King. However, whereas B.B. plays with a lot of tone and few notes, where Buddy Guy’s playing is far more busy and the tone of his guitar is somewhat thinner. This is also due to Buddy’s use of the Fender Stratocaster and B.B. King’s use of a Gibson hollow body guitar. Buddy Guy has given B.B. King credit for encouraging him to switch from playing with his fingers alone to using a guitar pick.

3. “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” is a true delight and shows off Buddy Guys ability to bend his guitar strings with a greater range than the average guitar player.

Blues Album-Howlin’ Wolf-”Moaning in the Moonligh

Howlin’ Wolf, was born Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi. He possessed one of the most appropriate stage monikers in the history of American music. His voice had the growl that bought to mind a wolf howling at the moon. But he would also alternate that growl with a falsetto moan that is nothing short of erie. Howlin’ Wolf was a physically massive man who played great harmonica and slide guitar, was a severe taskmaster as a band leader, and a great showman who ran one of the better organized bands in the great period of Post World War II Chicago Blues. His recordings for Sun Records and, more predominately, Chess Records are a testament to strength and durability of the human spirit.

From 1952 till 1958 Howlin Wolf’s first recordings were mainly 78 and, later, 45 RPM singles. In 1959, Chess records released his first full length album called “Moaning in the Moonlight.” The album was comprised of songs from his first singles recorded with Sam Phillips of Sun records (Like 1951’s “How Many More Years”) to the haunting “Smokestack Lightnin.” With the exception of the song “Evil”(Written by Willie Dixon) all of the songs on this album were written by Howlin’ Wolf.

For the guitar player this album is a treasure chest of great guitar tones with great playing by early Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Willie Johnson and the totally his own man approach of Hubert Sumlin. The more I know about Howlin’ Wolf the more impressed I am with him. He was not only a distinctive vocalist, musician, and showman, but he was also a dedicated family man and was such an organized bandleader that he actually paid for his musician’s unemployment insurance. His death on January 10, 1976 has left a void in the world of the Blues that has yet to be filled.

My three favorite tracks on this album:

1. How Many More Years
2. Smokestack Lightnin’
3. Evil

Youtube Video Reviews:

1. “How Many More Years,” was originally recorded at Sun Records in Memphis Tennessee in May of 1951. It features the wonderfully overdriven tone of guitarist Willie Johnson, the barrelhouse piano of Ike Turner ( Of Ike and Tina Turner fame) and the great pounding drums of Willie Steele. For our version we are going to use the May 20, 1965 version that was broadcast on television from the show “Shindig.” Also appearing on this show were The Rolling Stones. Legend has it that The Rolling Stones refused to do the show unless they could bring Howlin’ Wolf on as their guest. Also of note, for this version ,is back-up guitar work of genius guitarist James Burton and pianist Billy Preston.

2. “Smokestack Lightnin,” is partially a literal ode to the coal smoke fire that appeared  to be “Shining like gold” and to the dark feelings of jealousy that leave this mighty wolf howling. This is from the original “Moaning in the Moonlight” album.

3. “Evil,” is the only non-original song on this album. This great Willie Dixon song warns the singer that they need to watch their happy home for romantic rivals appear at every turn. This is a rare  live version that is in color.

Albert King-”Born Under a Bad Sign”

Albert King, ( April 23, 1923-December 21, 1992) was the creator of one of the most distinctive guitar styles in the history of the Blues. Playing left handed, on a Gibson Flying V guitar, Albert would actually pull and bend the strings down towards, as he would put it, towards “his big feet.” His use of open tunings( normally reserved for slide guitarists), his powerful guitar tone, and approach of making every note count influenced guitar players ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Son Seals to Stevie Ray Vaughan and countless other Blues and Rock guitar players. He also possessed a very powerful singing voice.

He first recorded for the Parrot record company in 1953 and had some small, regional hits. However, he truly found a home when he signed with the Memphis based record Stax records in 1966. In 1967, backed by Booker T. and the MG’s and the Stax horn section, he recorded the commercially successful, landmark album “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

“Born Under a Bad Sign,” can qualify as a perfect Blues album. The stellar production, by MG’s drummer Al Jackson, the exceptional selection of songs that showcase Albert King’s unique guitar work and voice, and the sympathetic backing by a team of A-list musicians, make this a must have album in any Blues fan’s collection. The title track penned by Al Jackson and Soul singer William Bell describe a man who states “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” King’s rhumba version of the Sam Chatmon classic “Crosscut Saw” shows off Albert’s muscular guitar tone. The guitar solo in “Crosscut Saw” directly influenced Eric Clapton’s solo in the Cream song “Strange Brew.” If you are new to the music of Albert King this album is a great introduction to one of the legends of the Blues.

Three Favorite Songs of the album:

1. Born Under a Bad Sign
2. Crosscut Saw
3. Oh, Pretty Woman

Reviews of youtube videos:

1. “Born Under a Bad Sign,” is almost like a soundtrack for the struggle of the human condition. However, Albert King maintains his dignity throughout the story he tells. The Blues is a music of acceptance and the desire for a better day. That lesson of acceptance is put to good use here. The album “Born Under a Bad Sign” was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1985 and the title song was also inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1988. The version here was originally on the “Born Under a Bad Sign” album.

2. “Crosscut Saw,” shows off a latin influence in the rhythmic backing for the track and delights the listener in the muscular guitar tone. This song was written by the Mississippi Sheiks’ guitarist Sam Chatmon. Chatmon was not apparently pleased with the lack of credit he received for this song. The version referenced here was also originally on the “Born Under a Bad Sign” album.

3. “Oh, Pretty Woman,” describes the frustration of being unable to articulate your desire for the object of your desire.  In this case, a very pretty woman. This song echoes the lyrics of the Son House song “My Black Mama” where cheap paint and powder ain’t gonna help you none.”