Friday, March 15, 2013

My Favorite Things - Blues Guitar Blasters

A few weeks ago, I mentioned picking up a couple of discs from Amazon with a gift card.  We've already talked about the first one, an import collection of Robert Nighthawk's classic Chess sides that was quite the bargain.  The second disc I picked up was also a bargain, and one that I had been trying to find for years.....I mean years, like since the late 80's, not long after I started listening to the blues.

Blues Guitar Blasters was an import, too, from the great U.K. label, Ace Records.  For a new blues fan, Ace Records was an indispensable source.  The label's catalog included numerous B. B. King collections, plus compilations of Bobby "Blue" Bland, Elmore James, and also some fantastic anthology sets that covered recordings from the 50's and 60's.  They usually mixed tracks by familiar artists to lure you in, then blew you away with tracks by artists you'd never heard of.  I have never understood why the import labels have the best blues anthology collections, but it seems like they always do. They pack a single CD with TONS of great sides, just as much as they can fit, something rarely seen with domestic collections.

Jimmy Nolan
Back in the day, I collected cassettes, so by the late 80's/early 90's, it was getting harder to find what I wanted to listen to in that format because cassettes were being slowly phased out, especially with the overseas labels.  Therefore, I missed out on Blues Guitar Blasters the first time around.  By the time, I finally switched to CD format, it was out of print in the CD format, too, so I figured I was out of luck for good.  Then, while looking for CD bargains right after Christmas, I happened to find a pre-owned disc from one of Amazon's sellers and fitting neatly in my price range, so I snatched it up.

B. B. King
For a newcomer to the blues who wants to check out some of the original sources that influenced lots of current blues guitarists, Blues Guitar Blasters is a wonderful place to get started.  There are tracks by artists familiar to even newer fans (two tracks by B. B. King, two by Albert King, three from Elmore James, a track apiece from John Lee Hooker and T-Bone Walker).  While the artists are familiar, the songs may not be, including a cover of "Killing Floor" from Albert King, a really cool instrumental ("Talkin' The Blues") from B. B. King, the raucous "Elmo's Shuffle," from James, and the swinging "Hey Hey Baby" from Walker, circa 1964.  These songs, while fairly obscure to most blues fans, are very representative of the artists' styles during the 50's and 60's, and are worth a listen.

Guitar Slim
Some of the artists, like Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Guitar Slim, and Lowell Fulson may be familiar to blues fans, and their selected tracks are equally effective.  Watson's two tracks include his standard, "Three Hours Past Midnight," and "Oh Babe," while Slim's two tracks includes the catchy "Certainly All," and "The Things That I Used To Do," recognizable to most knowledgeable music lovers, having been covered countless times by blues and rock artists.

Lowell Fulson
Lowell Fulson's contributions to the blues have long been underrated...sounds like a future FBF post in the making...and he enjoyed success in every decade from the 40's to the 90's and really didn't ever lose a step at all.  "Talkin' Woman" is one of his two standout tracks offered here.  The great West Coast guitarist Pee Wee Crayton had several instrumental hits in the late 40's, including "Blues After Hours," and he has two tracks from the 60's on this disc, both showing the influence of T-Bone Walker.

Ike Turner
There are also tracks by Ike Turner and Jimmy Nolan, who would later serve as James Brown's guitarist for many years.  Though he's remember now mostly as Mr. Tina Turner, Ike Turner was one of the driving forces, mostly behind the scenes, of the blues scene in the 50's.  He served as A&R man for several labels, leading record labels to future stars like Bobby Bland and Howlin' Wolf, and played piano or guitar on many classic tunes of the era as well by artists like B. B. King, Otis Rush, and Little Milton.  He was also responsible for "Rocket 88," considered by many to be the first ever rock & roll song.  Turner's track, the previously unreleased "Twistin' the Strings," shows his creativity.

Lafayette Thomas
The wild cards on Blues Guitar Blasters are Nolan, whose smooth and jazzy "After Hours" opens the disc, and another West Coast guitarist, Lafayette Thomas.  Thomas spent many years playing guitar in Jimmy McCracklin's band, rarely recording as a front man.  "Jumpin' In The Heart of Town," features McCracklin's band in support and Thomas' solo is a textbook example of West Coast blues guitar.

The amazing thing about this disc is that we've barely scratched the surface.  There are so many good songs on Blues Guitar Blasters that you almost have to hear it to really appreciate it.  It's currently out of print, but can be found at a number of used CD sites, like Amazon.

If I were charged with showing a new blues fan the ropes, this disc would be one of the first ones that I would plug in for them.  It will provide hours of essential listening for any blues fan.

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