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Nothin' but the Blues
America's truly original music form

Get answers to questions about the Blues

Learn interesting stuff about Blues performers

Discover some great Blues CDs you can buy (not from me)

Check out "The Bluez Projekt" (my own blues recordings)

Learn about Open-G tuning, Open-E tuning and Slide guitar

See what happy readers say about these blues pages

Find links to other Blues-related resources

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Interesting stuff about Blues performers

Robert Johnson - Delta blues
  • Robert Johnson lived a short, haunted life, but his twenty-nine songs left a huge impact on blues. He was born sometime around May 8, 1911 and died in 1938 at 27.
  • Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones are only a few of the many artists who were influenced by Johnson, and have covered many of his songs.
  • Johnson's turbulent life was typified by emotional demons and risky womanizing habits. There was a myth about him selling his soul to the devil in order to learn how to play guitar.
  • Johnson recorded all his songs during a short period from 1936 to 1937. Due to his untimely death a few months later, these recordings are the only record of his work.
  • Johnson was served poisoned whiskey by a jealous husband in 1938. He died shortly afterwards and, according to legend, was buried in an unmarked grave.
  • Record producer John Hammond was seeking out Johnson to perform at a concert which might have launched him to startdom, only to learn of his death months afterwards.

Jimmy Reed - Delta blues
  • Mathis James Reed was born September 6, 1925, on a plantation near Dunleith, Mississippi, near Highway 61. His large family moved from plantation to plantation seeking work.
  • Reed's alcoholism, along with undiagnosed epilepsy, led to behavior that hurt his reputation. His collapses, likely epileptic seizures, were taken as drunkeness.
  • Reed's would often forget lyrics while recording or performing. His wife, known as "Mama Reed", can be heard helping him along on some recordings.
  • Reed became disliked by many in the music business, who didn't want to work with him. He was once accused of urinating on a woman's dress just as she had to go on stage.
  • Though he was never given the same stature as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James, Jimmy Reed outsold all of them with his very simple style.
  • In the 1970s, Reed finally got medical help for his epilepsy and alcoholism. He was rebuilding his lagging career when he died in his sleep in 1976 in Oakland, California.

Dinah Washington - Piano blues/jazz
  • Dinah Washington was born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, August 29, 1924. Moving to Chicago in 1928, Ruth and her mother sang and played piano in St. Luke's Baptist Church.
  • In 1942, while she was singing in clubs, she was invited to join Lionel Hampton's band; she then took up the name of Dinah Washington.
  • Dinah's popularity eclipsed that of Lionel Hampton's band and she finally went solo. Though she sang jazz, blues, pop, and R&B, she was primarily known as "Queen of the Blues".
  • Dinah lived large, with her seven marriages, her penchant for clothes, cars, furs, and diets and her famously feisty personality, testy one moment and generous the next.
  • Dinah Washington died in Detroit at age 39, on December 14, 1963, from an accidental overdose of diet pills combined with alcohol.
  • For many years after her death, it was nearly impossible to obtain earlier Dinah Washington recordings; record dealers would only carry her later work from 1959 to 1963.

Louis Jordan - Jump blues
  • Louis Jordan was born in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1908. His father, a professional musician, taught him to play the saxophone as a child.
  • Barely a teenager, Jordan joined his father's band playing clarinet, and soon he was performing with travelling minstrel shows.
  • Jordan pioneered the dance-oriented "jump blues", which evolved from the "Big Band" sound but used blues patterns. Many of his songs were comical and employed his witty humor.
  • Jordan credited several of his own songs to his wife, Fleecie Moore, to avoid taxes. Two years later, she stabbed him in bed, they divorced, and he never recovered any song royalties.
  • Though he made a huge impact on modern Rhythm and Blues, Jordan's declining health prevented him from capitalizing on the birth of rock and roll.
  • Louis Jordan died in 1975 after a second heart attack. Soon thereafter, his work began to be rediscovered and reissued.

Muddy Waters - Delta and Chicago blues
  • Born on April 4, 1915 in Mississippi, McKinley Morganfield (aka Muddy Waters) was raised by his grandmother from age 3 after his mother died.
  • He was nicknamed "Muddy Waters" by his grandmother because he constantly played around muddy creeks as a child. The nickname stuck with him all his life.
  • In 1943, Waters moved to Chicago, where he blended his own rural Delta-blues style with more urban Chicago blues.
  • In Chicago, Waters helped pioneer the use of the amplified electric guitar simply to be heard over the racket of noisy blues clubs.
  • With his guitar tuned to non-standard "Open-G tuning", Muddy Waters popularized the use of the "bottleneck slide". Playing slide guitar in "Open-G tuning" is now synonymous with the blues.
  • On April 30, 1983, Muddy Waters died quietly in his sleep in Westmont, Illinois.

John Lee Hooker - Detroit blues
  • John Lee Hooker is believed to have been born August 22, 1917 on a farm south of Clarksdale, Mississippi, but conflicting reports place his birth anywhere from 1912 to 1923.
  • His first instrument was strips of inner tube nailed to the side of a barn, soon afterwards, his sister's boyfriend gave him an old guitar just to keep him away.
  • In 1943, "The Hook" settled in Detroit and began his music career. After working with T-Bone Walker for two years, he released his first record in 1948, the smash hit "Boogie Chillin".
  • During the 1960s, Hooker worked with English rockers like John Mayall and the Yardbirds, making him a hit in England. In the 1970s, he worked with "Canned Heat", who had been devotees of his from the start.
  • Hooker never stopped gigging in his later years, and would often appear unannounced in blues clubs and treat the crowd to a surprise performance by one of the greatest names in blues.
  • John Lee Hooker died in his sleep in Los Altos, California on June 21, 2001. His son, John Lee Hooker, Jr. continues in his fathers footsteps, playing his own brand of jazz-blues.

Lightnin' Hopkins - Texas blues
  • Sam (Lightnin') Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas, on March 15, 1912. His father died in 1915.
  • Hopkins did prison time on a chain gang during the mid-1930s; later he avoided military service in World War II due to a stabbing wound he had gotten while gambling.
  • Hopkins often deviated from 12-bar blues patterns, surprising fellow musicians with chord changes at unexpected times. This made him hard to follow when performing.
  • The nickname "Lightnin'" was coined by his manager since he was working with pianist Wilson "Thunder" Smith. Together they cut Lightnin's first record, "Katie Mae Blues", in 1946.
  • Hopkins was the subject of a documentary, "The Blues According to Lightnin' Hopkins", which won a prize at the Chicago Film Festival for outstanding documentary in 1970.
  • Hopkins died of cancer in 1982, no doubt the result of a lifetime of cigar smoking.

Memphis Slim - Memphis blues
  • Born September 3, 1915, in Memphis, Tennessee, John Peter Chatman, better known as "Memphis Slim", became one of the greatest blues pianists of all time.
  • Big Bill Broonzy advised Slim to develop a style of his own, instead of imitating his idol, Roosevelt Sykes. Soon enough, other pianists were copying Slim's style.
  • In the late 1930s, Slim moved to Chicago. There he joined forces with Big Bill Broonzy, the dominant force on the local blues scene. Slim emerged as his own man in 1944.
  • After touring Europe with Willie Dixon, Slim moved to Paris in 1962 and spent the rest of his life there, enjoying greater popularity and respect than in the United States.
  • Memphis Slim was considered a worldwide ambassador of the blues; in the 1980s the U.S. Senate officially gave him the title of Ambassador-at-Large of Good Will.
  • Memphis Slim died in Paris in 1988.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Modern Texas blues-rock
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan was born in October 1954, Dallas, Texas. This remarkable blues guitarist was influenced by his older brother Jimmie (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds).
  • Quitting school at 17, Stevie Ray and his brother began haunting all-night blues clubs in Austin, where his gritty voice and potent playing grew popular.
  • A video of Vaughan performing, sent to Mick Jagger, led to him being invited to a New York nightclub appearance at Jagger's personal request.
  • Vaughan's live performances were known for the intense passion with which he would play his guitar. Every note was said to "drip with emotion".
  • Alcohol and drug addiction nearly killed Vaughan when he collapsed on stage at a 1987 concert in Germany. He sought drug rehabilitation and was inactive for about a year.
  • In 1989, Vaughan recorded "In Step", his most successful album, to chronicle his recovery from his addictions. His sobriety is widely credited for the achievement.
  • In 1990, moments after a stellar concert with blues greats Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Robert Cray, a tragic helicopter crash killed Stevie Ray Vaughan at age 35.

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