Skip to main content

Delta Blues Part 1


Delta Blues Musicians (Part 1)

Where to start on this topic is difficult, but it seems to me the geography is perhaps best. What we now know as the Delta Blues came from (not surprisingly) the Mississippi Delta. This is a region of the United States that stretches from north to south between Memphis, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, and from east to west between the Yazoo River and the Mississippi River. The river being the blood that feeds the land which at one time was not only the heart of slave country but the farms, plantations and agriculture that brought them there to begin with.
The Delta Blues Trail
Born of hardship, the life of a slave, subject to discrimination, indentured servitude, sharecropping, and mostly just being very poor the Delta Blues has travelled a long long way.
That travel came typically in the form of the Great Migration, identified as beginning around 1916 and lasting through to nearly 1970. Blacks from the south (not just the Delta) travelled north by the millions for higher paying jobs in the industrialized northern United States. In this group of weary travellers were musicians from the Delta region and they had guitars on their backs, harmonicas in their pockets and a unique story to tell. Landing in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and New York City in particular they took up jobs in foundries, factories and slaughterhouses.
As hard as the work was and as long as the hours were, many still found time for music and thankfully some of this music got to be recorded so we can still enjoy it today. I am sharing the influence that captivated the early days of rock and roll and it's legendary figures who gave new life to this great music. It is also preserved by Blues Artists today and heard in the evolution of Blues music and in its many variations and sub-genres. Here are some of the names, many of which have been sprinkled throughout my blog posts and will continue to be, some you may know, others you won’t but you’ve likely heard their music. Today I will focus on Chicago where many of the greats ended up, at least for a time, writing, singing, playing and recording their music.

One that I’ve mentioned in a previous blog is Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup (August 24, 1905, Forest, Mississippi – March 28, 1974). A guitarist, singer and songwriter who began as a Delta blues musician and later moved to Chicago, where he played what was to be uniquely identified as 'Chicago Blues'  He started on acoustic and later played some electric guitar as well and was exceedingly talented. He suffered many hardships and was never fairly compensated, a true tragedy but his memory and legacy lives on. Originator of Elvis’s “My Baby Left Me” and “That’s All Right Mama” and also “So Glad You’re Mine”. A playlist of these and additional Crudup songs.
Mean Old 'Frisco Blues written and performed by Arthur Crudup in 1942. Covered at least 48 times.

“Mean Old 'Frisco Blues” Eric Clapton from ‘Slowhand’ (1977)

Howlin’ Wolf 
Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi– January 10, 1976), know as Howlin' Wolf . A farmer turned Memphis area blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player he recorded for a time at the legendary Sun Records Studios, most well know for “Smoke Stack Lightning”.

He was a relative late comer to the Chicago scene in 1952 having had a successful career before he arrived. He is quoted as saying to the effect- he was the only black person to actually ‘drive his own car’ to Chicago. While a big influence at Chess Records and in the Clubs his record sales did not do as well after his arrival in part due to poor promotion by the Record Company, but he cut many great sides and made a good living touring nevertheless.

Killing Floor written and performed by Howlin' Wolf (1965). This song really shows off how immensely talented he was.

“Killing Floor” by the late and great Jeff Healey. ‘The Jeff Healey Band’ from 'Live at Grossmans ' 1994, released in 2011.

Elmore James (January 27, 1918, Richland, Mississippi – May 24, 1963). An influential slide guitarist, playing both acoustic and electric guitars he was another Delta blues legend and big part of the Chicago blues scene. I mentioned his cover of Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom from 1951 in my first post but at least 41 of his original songs have been covered.
The Sky Is Crying by 'Elmo' James and His Broomdusters, written by Elmore James, Morris Levy, Clarence Lewis and Bobby Robinson. (1960)

The Sky Is Cryingby Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (1991) I read Stevie initially thought he was covering Albert King who recorded this song in 1969 and was a big influence on his career.


McKinley Morganfield know as Muddy Waters (April 4, 1913, Rolling Fork, Mississippi – April 30, 1983). Another slide guitarist and singer who began his career in the Delta but is best known as a Chicago blues musician and one of the most recognizable names in blues. His Grandmother gave him the nickname "Muddy" and at school they added the "Waters" which he later adopted as his stage name. I may blog him on his own but for now here is one of his over 70 original songs that have been covered hundreds of times.

Got My Mojo Working by Muddy Waters, written by Preston Foster (March 1957). Here is a live recording from the CBC in 1966, bonus points if you know who is introducing the song!

“Got My Mojo Working” by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965). Paul is a Chicago native and a pupil of Muddy Waters.

James Cotton (born July 1, 1935, Tunica, Mississippi- March 16, 2017). The Blues Harp (10 hole harmonica) virtuoso that played with Howlin Wolf for many years in Memphis and was recruited by Muddy Waters to be his band leader, which brought him to Chicago around 1955. Originally a drummer but also a decent singer in his own right, however on many records his harmonica was what made the greats sound that much better. That's him in the above video in one of his last live gigs with Muddy before he left to form his own quartet.
Straighten Up Babywritten and performed by James Cotton (1953)

“Straighten Up Baby” by the Electric Kings (1997)


"Big Bill" Broonzy (born Lee Conley Bradley, June 26, 1903 – August 14, 1958). We aren’t really sure if he was born in Scott, Mississippi as he claimed, as historians place him from Jefferson County, Arkansas which means he was from the Arkansas Delta. Having read a book about him I can tell you he was a striking 6’ 6” tall man and was one colourful character, full of great stories both real and imagined or at least ‘reconstructed’. He was the forerunner of the Chicago blues scene and he helped and influenced Muddy Waters and a legion of others around the globe. A sharecropper, a fiddler and WW1 veteran he arrived in Chicago sometime in 1920. There he switched to guitar and had the good fortune to run across Papa Charlie Jackson, a traveling minstrel who busked at the Maxwell Street Market. Papa got a recording contract with Paramount in 1924 and it was he who introduced them to Big Bill. The second most prolific blues songwriter of his time at 224 recordings and nearly 300 compositions. He was in great demand and toured throughout Europe in the early 1950’s where he influenced Eric Clapton and Keith Richards and other British 'Invasionists'. Among the first inductees into the Blues Music Hall of Fame, here is his first recording.
Big Bill Blues written and performed by Big Bill Broonzy (1927)

Too Many Drivers  released as by 'Big Bill' (1939) written and performed by Big Bill Broonzy. A great cover by Dana Gillespie (1982)

Bill wrote a protest song in the 1930’s and had a lot of trouble getting it recorded in the US. Listen and you might see why, it was eventually released by a European label in 1951. The song has been used globally in education about racism.

Well, we’ve given early Delta come Chicago Blues a good look. The Delta Blues are still alive in the region and not all the artists left such as the great B.B. King. So there is more to come as each place it landed helped spread the richness of the Delta sound.

Music Trivia. If Ma Rainey as I have previously blogged was the “Mother of the Blues”, who was the Father?
W.C. Handy. William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958) did not invent the blues but as an educated man he listened carefully to his fellow African Americans and was the first to formally compose and popularize this type of music. A qualified teacher, musician and man of many skills Handy would become a band leader and the most prolific blues musician and songwriter of the first half of the Century. He became known for spreading the Blues throughout the United States.

Click here for a playlist of all the videos.

If you like my blog, please consider filling in the follow by email link at the top right hand of the page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Confidentiality is assured unless you are a close friend or family member then all bets are off. While I can compile data from my blog it's not tracking in terms of anyone's identity. For past blog posts click on the menu at the top right corner. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well or post it to your timeline on FB or other social media. And many thanks as always for reading my blog!





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time

The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time There are three categories in today’s blog: 1. The most covered songs written by a single artist, 2. The most cover versions combined and 3. The most covered Pop songs.  These numbers are for artists that write and record their own songs. For more on songwriters, read my series I Write the Songs . The statistics come courtesy of Secondhandsongs.com and are verified via strict protocols. This website posts 'covers' submitted from around the globe and in many different languages, edited by very knowledgeable experts in music recording. There are other resources as cited but other than the odd personal anecdote or opinion, I'm using information and knowledge, not to mention YouTube posts that already exist. In addition, the numbers change daily, and I had originally written this blog in December 2019 so it’s been interesting to see the changes in less than a year. On the whole, the artists in each list stayed the same but

One Hit Wonders (not!)

One Hit Wonders (not!) Yesterday (Sept. 26) was the 50th Anniversary of Abbey Road, the Beatles last recording session together and the second last album before Let it Be was issued May 8, 1970. And also Happy belated One Hit Wonder Day! (Sept. 25th) so I thought it would make a good blog topic. The simplest definition I found is from music journalist Wayne Jancik "an act that has won a position on a national, pop, Top 40 record chart just once." This from the 'The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders' (1998). So we aren't talking one #1 hit. It's not a term I like as it implies (and some truth to that) these artists have had just a brief moment in the spotlight, perhaps undeservedly so and then fallen off the music map. I know other and deeper definitions are a bit more broad and go beyond the absolute single hit idea. They also consider many artists that have still maintained a quality career and just not reproduced another 'top 40 hit' song an

Women in Music

Women in Music Anne Murray Recently, while doing some research I was reminded that the history of ranking and rating recording artists really does give women the short shrift. My next post will be on May 6, it's the third anniversary of writing my blog and a bit too close to Mother's Day for this topic. So I'm getting ahead of that to celebrate Women (and many of them mothers) in music.  A  clue on Jeopardy also piqued my interest to dedicate a post. It was from April 7, 2021, "Last name of Fanny, seen here, (picture shown) some of her compositions were originally published under her brother Felix's name" and a contestant got it right, I however had no answer. I will get to that a bit later. I have pointed to this issue before, in several of my posts I discuss the lists of the greatest of this or that and in one post I was pointing out the systematic low ratio of airplay given to female Country singers. Last year women had 23% of the #1 songs, this is the high

Third Blogiversary

My Third Blogiversary Me and my #1 fan đź’• After 144 posts it's a good time for some reflection, for me at least, on where this journey of writing about cover songs started and all the places in between. It all began over conversations with my dear friend Darren who after being regaled/bored with my stories about music suggested I write a blog. This chatty habit has tormented my lifelong pals and family for many years. During these three years, I have had a bit of growth, I'd like to think anyway. The quality of the writing has improved, and of course, the editing, since my oldest daughter began helping out. Although I make changes and more mistakes after she does her final edit!  While I have waffled a bit from time to time on stopping, I was inspired to continue through support from family and friends as well as some steady readership, averaging over 500 page views per week. It appears most people prefer not to subscribe, and my interpretation of the stats indicates many a ret

Greatest Folk Rock Songs

My "Greatest" Folk Rock Songs The Byrds To begin the 'greatest of' topic in my " Not all 'Greatest of' lists are created equal " post I talked about the creation of lists and then got a start on a list of my own. One does not have to be genius to come up with such a list but I do take some time to do my research. So to use a popular term these days I have 'curated' the songs, many of which you will find on other lists but I have my own take so perhaps you will learn something new. The Folk Rock subgenre is pretty self explanatory, Folk plus Rock. But what kind of 'folk' are we talking?  On the international music scene or traditional 'Folk' music from any country for that matter, we find within their borders they have regional, indigenous, instrumental, vocal, cultural and language/dialect based 'Folk' music. However for this definition we look to the evolution of American Folk music post WWII, so late 40

Historic titles from my Library

Here are some songs based on originals that are quite old, I’ve traced some songs back to the late 1800’s that I have in my library and other’s the recordings are from the early 1900’s. Ever since Leon Scott de Martinville invented a device for recording sound in Paris 1857, developments by Charles Cross, Edison and Alexander Graham Bell pushed forward the ability to record sound and eventually of course-music. The Gramophone was invented by Emile Berliner in 1887, and by 1902 cylinder molding developments made mass production of recorded music possible. By 1929 Flat discs became popular and the old cylinders became obsolete. " Sloop John B ." as I knew it through the Beach Boys was a favorite of mine, seems its been around for quite some time. It was a Bahamian Sailing song from what I can gather, the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. First documented in 1923 by American poet-Carl Sandburg​, in what was cal

Couples that Sing Together

Couples (that sing together don't always stay together) There have been many 'couples' that sing together and I have mentioned several already in previous posts such as;  Johnny Cash and June Carter , Tammy Wynette and George Jones , Tim McGraw and Faith Hill  and  Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood  all from Country Music. While anecdotally we can say that Country Music has the most couples that sing together, and from what I've seen this is indeed the case, what about other genres? In looking at these couples it seems singing together is not a formula for staying together-at least in most cases. Ok I will get this one out of the way real quick, Jay-Z and BeyoncĂ© ! And despite their initial assertions they were brother and sister, Jack and Meg White ( White Stripes ) were married from 1996 to 2000, but performed together until 2011 (not as an unusual situation as you might think). Carly Simon and James Taylor were married from 1972-1983. Then there's the who

Folk Rock II

  Folk Rock II In the first instalment on Folk Rock , I talked about the origins and the founders of the genre such as Bob Dylan and The Byrds. I stand by my observation that for the most part, the genre hosts songs rather than artists. The February 2020 post has become my most viewed since then and actually doubles the next in line, Bohemian Rhapsody .  Perhaps this genre has become more popular with the current state of the world and it's coming up on Google searches, so I thought it might deserve a second part. This means a bit more exploring and then moving beyond the formative years of the 60s and early 70s. What defines a Folk-Rock song? On the surface it is simply a blend; you take a folk song and add elements of Rock and there you have it. The perfect example is the first song that got labelled "Folk Rock" which was the cover of Dylan's " Mr. Tambourine Man " by The Byrds. It was recorded January 20, 1965 and released on April 12. But that one is eas

Canadian Songwriters

Canadian songwriters and artists being covered Leading up to Canada’s 151 st  Birthday this July 1, I will be talking about Canadian music and of course artists who have had their songs covered. I already posted some from the most covered Canadian, that being  Neil Young at 132  times.  Other’s on the most covered list for the most  individual  songs covered (I admit I may have made some omissions and focused on english language ‘pop music'). Also, these are  not  necessarily written by the artist. 2. Joni Mitchell covered 97 times 3. Gordon Lightfoot covered 94 times 4. Leonard Cohen – 73 5. Paul Anka - 52 6. Howard Shore -46 (an original member of the Canadian band ‘Lighthouse’, I mention him here not for his work with them but the outstanding career, Academy, Golden Globe and Grammy wins he has had scoring films, in particular my favorite LOTR!!!!) 7. Celine Dion - 45 8. The Band - 42 (written in whole or in part by a Canadian) and add so

The 1960's

  The 1960's Fully discussing a decade of music in one post is nearly impossible, but if you look back, I have done blogs titled: 1960, 1969 and The Greatest Pop Rock Ballads of the '60s. I’ve also featured a number of artists and songs that were prominent during those 10 years. However, there are a number of significant gaps where I have missed singers, groups and songs that were popular in the 60s and many have an enduring quality as well. Certainly, the TV and Movie Industry has done a great job using songs from this era, whether the subject matter was from this time period or not. Apart from many of the songs being a lot of fun, others, including myself, have described the 1960s pop music scene as being divided by pre- and post-Beatles/"British Invasion". At the same time, while the Fab Four and similar bands had a significant impact, and were followed by the inevitable look and soundalike bands, enter ' The Monkees ', but not everyone was trying to emulat