I recently compiled a two-hour CD of my favorite British blues tracks. Then, I drew a cover for this collection (see above) and burned a CD for my own listening pleasure.
Here’s the track list (plus commentary; think of these as liner notes):
1-2) Water and Junior’s Wailing are the opening tracks to Reflections, the first LP by Steamhammer. Martin Pugh, their lead guitarist, is featured on Rod Stewart’s first solo LP. He later joined the Yardbirds’ lead singer, Keith Relf, in the blues-rock/progressive band Armageddon.
3) Lost Woman is the Yardbirds’ blistering interpretation of Snooky Pryor’s blues number Someone to Love Me. Note the incredible interplay and weaving of sound between Jeff Beck’s guitar and Keith Relf’s harmonica.
4) Watch ‘n’ Chain by the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation is a delightfully percussive variation on the old blues song Can I Do It for You by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. Dunbar has maintained a spectacular career, drumming for Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Jefferson Starship, Journey and many, many more. That’s Victor Brox on those gruff, low vocals.
5) Ex-Yardbirds lead guitar player Jeff Beck has always had at least one foot in the blues. This is just one of his versions of Rollin’ and Tumblin’, first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern. The hot vocals on this version are by Imogen Heap.
6) Eric Burdon and The Animals have always loved the blues. Except for their pop hits (and even a few those, too), nearly everything the original band recorded were blues numbers, including this Ray Charles classic, I Believe to My Soul.
7) After their first LP, Mick Abrahams split from Jethro Tull to form the blues-rock band Blodwyn Pig. Long Bomb Blues features a solo Mick on guitar and vocals.
8) Unassuming blues guitarist and vocalist Rory Gallagher is lionized around the world — but especially in his native Ireland. His first band, Taste, recorded Railway and Gun on their second album.
9) The first two LPs by the Rolling Stones were practically all blues covers. The band has maintained a love for the blues all throughout their career. Ventilator Blues is from their classic two-LP set Exile on Main Street.
10) Originally called the Climax Chicago Blues Band, the Climax Blues Band rock out here with the sizzling, Bo Diddley-ish Shake Your Love.
11) Before Eric Clapton recorded Robert Johnson’s Crossroads with Cream, he and The Powerhouse (Steve Winwood and Pete York from the Spencer Davis Group on vocals and drums, respectively; Paul Jones and Jack Bruce from Manfred Mann on harmonica and bass, respectively; Ben Palmer from Clapton’s first band, The Roosters, on piano) cut that song and two other blues numbers for the Elektra sampler What’s Shakin’.
12) 54146 is a fine acoustic blues by Tony (TS) McPhee of The Groundhogs. It was The Groundhogs who backed American bluesman John Lee Hooker on his first UK tour.
13) The Supernatural, a haunting instrumental by John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, features the evocative playing and elegantly sustained feedback of the UK’s finest blues guitarist, Peter Green, later the founder of Fleetwood Mac.
14) Hear Me Calling by Ten Years After is sung and played by its composer, guitarist Alvin Lee. A powerful cover of this song is on the glam band Slade’s first live LP.
15) The Muddy Waters/Willie Dixon Chess Records classic I Just Want to Make Love to You receives an exciting revamp from Foghat, a group born from three members who left the Savoy Brown Blues Band.
16) Now for something naughty: Penicillin Blues by the Scottish band Stone The Crows, a reworking of I Think You Need a Shot by Walter Davis. Those deliciously raspy vocals are by the one and only Maggie Bell.
17) Baby Please Don’t Go was the first hit by Irish blues-rockers Them, a group headed by singer/sax player Van Morrison. This version of the Big Joe Williams song features Jimmy Page on lead guitar.
18) Perhaps the most unusual blues on this collection, We’re Going Wrong by Cream features ethereal falsetto vocals by their bassist (and the composer of the song) Jack Bruce.
19) Procol Harum is known for its classical music influences (as displayed in their first hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale) — but Robin Trower, their lead guitarist and composer of the lively Whisky Train, has never shied from his blues roots.
20) When it comes to bare simplicity, few bands outdo the blues-rock band Free. Songs of Yesterday is from their second LP. Their vocalist, Paul Rodgers, eventually went on to sing lead for Bad Company, The Firm (with Jimmy Page), Queen and many others.
21) Scottish rockers Nazareth kick butt here with their breakthrough blues hit Bad Bad Boy. That’s Dan McCafferty on those raw, raspy vocals — a big influence on Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Axl Rose.
22) Streetwalkers were born from the split-up of the band Family. Their unique lead singer Roger Chapman usually included a blues or two on each Streetwalkers LP and continues to do so with his solo career. That’s the Jeff Beck Group’s Bobby Tench on back-up vocals here on Otis Blackwell’s Daddy Rolling Stone, a song also recorded by The Who.
23) My favorite British blues recording is Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning as interpreted by Manfred Mann. The mood is thick and the playing and dynamics are great.