Skip to main content

Delta Blues Part 2



Delta Blues (Part 2)


As I mentioned in my blog (part 1) the Delta Blues has travelled near, far and throughout the world. Here are some additional notable artists from the Delta region, many of whom roamed from place to place often never staying for very long. Despite my blog views being somewhat dismally low for topics such as these, it is a subject critical to the understanding of today’s music, in particular modern blues and much of classic rock. While I feel the need to set a baseline by mentioning these artists, later I think I’ll reverse engineer from names such as Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat and today's biggest guitar hero Joe Bonamassa. There is much to say about these legendary characters, originally just referred to as “songsters” or “wandering songsters” and “minstrels” many of whom have several stories written about them and I should do a blog or two on their own.

John Smith Hurt know as Mississippi John Hurt (March 8, 1892 or 1893, Teoc, Mississippi – November 2, 1966, Grenada, Mississippi). Known for his syncopated fingerpicking style and among the first Delta musicians to be recorded. His first sessions in 1928-9 were not commercially successful and he went back to the life of a sharecropper. Perhaps never to be heard from again but thanks to a musicologist named Dick Spottswood and Tom Hoskins a noted blues enthusiast he was recorded by the Library of Congress in 1964 and later Vanguard Records 1964-66.
Here is one of his early recordings and his most covered at 18 versions.
Candy Man Blueswritten and performed by Mississippi John Hurt (1928)

Candy Man Bluesby Donovan. This is the first known cover version of this song (1965) but it's more of an ‘inspired by’ cover as the lyrics are changed significantly and are not the same sexually suggestive words but the tune stays pretty true.


Robert Johnson (May 8, 1911, Hazlehurst, Mississippi – August 16, 1938). Singer-songwriter, guitarist and the quintessential ‘itinerant musician’ he travelled mainly in the Memphis, Tennessee and Helena, Arkansas areas. Often identified incorrectly as the first “Bluesman” however there is little doubt as to his mastery of the guitar and his influence is as legendary as his own brief life story.  Referenced a couple times and likely again as his recordings have become something of a pivotal point in music. You may know of the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil for mastery over the guitar, that myth is about Robert Johnson. He died at the age of 27 in extreme pain, some say poisoned by strychnine laced whisky provided by a jealous husband. 
His two recording sessions occurred in San Antonio and Dallas. The account of music engineer Don Law and particularly the first session at the Gunter Hotel, November 23 to the 27th in 1936 has been played out in songs, books, movies and tv shows. Here is one of the songs which tells the story of a man at critical time in his life and helped to feed the mythology of selling his soul to the devil (which is never actually referenced in the song).
Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson (Nov. 27th 1936). Covered about 90 times to date.

Eric Clapton and The Powerhouse, from a compilation album What's Shakin' (June 1966). This features Steve Winwood on vocals. The group only recorded four songs, this is one of three to be released. The feature group on the album was the Lovin’ Spoonful but also included; The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Al Kooper and Tom Rush.

Charley Patton (born perhaps between April of 1887 and 1891 – April 28, 1934). Guitarist and a forerunner of the slide guitar style he was a great singer and a songwriter. He’s considered by many to be the "Father of the Delta Blues". So before there was Robert Johnson, there were bluesmen like Patton who traveled the Delta region and inspired and taught many others in the style. Of mixed heritage including some say Asian, White, Black, Mexican and Cherokee he learned his trade from perhaps the original bluesman Henry Sloan. Best know for “Pony Blues” from 1929, his recordings were quite rare until 1996 (thanks to John Fahey) and that’s perhaps the reason he was less influential on the early rock and blues stars of the 1960’s.
These song lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, he’s either referring to sex or drugs (not unusual content for Delta Blues lyrics), I think both as "a spoonful" at the time had an equivalent meaning. The fact the protagonist was willing to kill a man and go to jail over it does not clear things up either as men have done it over both. “A Spoonful Blues” Most likely written by Charlie Patton himself.


Son House was Eddie James House, Jr. (March 21, 1902, Lyon, Mississippi – October 19, 1988). Another early bluesman and forerunner to Robert Johnson. A former preacher and church Pastor he was good enough to be invited by Charlie Patton to play with him and Willie Brown, another key early blues singer.
My Black Mamawritten by Son’s tutor, James McCoy and performed by Son House (1930)

“My Black Mama” was covered as Walkin’ Blues” by Robert Johnson during those famous recording sessions. Since covered over 100 times. Rory Block recorded a tribute album to Son House, here’s her version of My Black Mama


David Honeyboy Edwards (June 28, 1915, Shaw, Mississippi – August 29, 2011). Along with Pinetop Perkins, Henry Townsend and Robert Lockwood he won a Grammy Award for the Album ‘Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas’; at the time of his death he was most likely the last living original Delta blues player of the twentieth century. Not particularly well known for original compositions but he was a purveyor of the Delta Blues and an accomplished singer and guitar player. One of the musicians to come from the famed Dockery Plantation in Mississippi where several of the great Delta bluesmen worked.


Joseph Lee "Big Joe" Williams (October 16, 1903 – December 17, 1982). Know for his own unique creation the ‘nine string guitar’ (you can see he added the tuning pegs to the head of the guitar) and his homemade set up of coiled wires around his guitar then attached to his beat-up old amplifier, he had a sound like no other. He became a favorite on the Folk and Blues Concert circuits where he influenced Bob Dylan among others. He discovered a 14-year-old David Edwards (above) and the two of them would travel together and play with Robert Johnson and other Blues greats. 
Baby Please Don’t Gowritten and performed by Big Joe Williams (1935). Covered over 160 times and one of my favorite Delta tunes by any artist. Here is a great live performance from the 1960’s.

Baby Please Don’t Goperformed by ‘Them’ in 1964 with a young Van Morrison as their lead singer.

Baby Please Don’t Go by Bob Dylan recorded during the ‘Freewheelin' Bob Dylan’ sessions in 1961 and 62, this song was an outtake not released until 1991.


Music Trivia. What makes ‘The Blues’ so unique? As I've read, among other things it’s the adaptation of the African 5 note or Pentatonic scale to the Western/Americanized 7 note scale. The blues began largely on guitar and the musicians would actually bend the strings to produce the lower and hence ‘flat’ (vs. sharp) notes that are an identifiably 'melancholier' (for lack of a better term) sound.

If you like my blog, please consider clicking the ‘Subscribe’ button at the top of the home page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well! And many thanks as always for reading my blog! As I wined at the top of this issue about lower blog views for some topics I am however thankful to all my readers but the regular ones most especially. Since starting in May, I've reached 38 countries and about 3,500 page views.

Click here for a playlist of all the songs


Popular posts from this blog

The 2021 Update of the Most Covered Pop Songs and Artists of All Time

The 2021 Update of the Most Covered Songs and Artists of All Time I have 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, I had originally written this blog in December 2019 so it’s been interesting to see the changes over two years. On the whole, the artists in each list mostly stayed th

Women of Rock

Women of Rock History Melissa Etheridge You can always count on me for a walk back in time in my blog and this topic will be no different. In order to trace the history of female Rock singers I will go back to some of the pioneers.  Let’s first start with some background on the Rock & Roll genre. What was once referred to as Rock & Roll was shortened to just Rock by the late 1960s and has continued to evolve. Some may want to separate it into two genres, but semantics can't change the history of this diverse genre. The Rock & Roll period also includes Blues, R&B, Country and Rockabilly styles, among others. So whether these artists find themselves in the subgenre of Hard Rock, Acid Rock, Pop Rock, Folk Rock or one of the many dozens of other sub-classifications, a little reminder of the history is what I'm starting with today. These early influencers are where some of our more recent great artists received inspiration, motivation and in some cases the educatio

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

The Mojo Triangle

The Mojo Triangle Source: USA Today Writer James L. Dickerson coined the brilliant term Mojo Triangle in 2005, before I learned of it I had referred to the area as the reverse Bermuda Triangle of music. This (among other things I'll admit) is why I write a blog and he is the award winning author of Mojo Triangle: Birthplace of Country, Blues, Jazz and Rock 'n' Roll . I confess I haven't gotten round to reading it yet but I've been itching to write about the area for some time and I have researched the names and places for several years now. The 'triangle' refers to the geographic region with Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans as the three corners. The states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are at the core. We know it as part of the "Deep South" and it's been referred to by other music related terms that pre date the 'Mojo' handle such as "America's Musical Triangle" and the "Americana Musical Triang

Groundbreakers Part 2

  Groundbreakers Part 2 Rock & Roll I have talked about R&R in numerous posts, and I have many reasons for doing so, aside from the many great songs. R&R revolutionized Popular music and by extension almost every facet of the music industry. The music itself, even today, has not definitively been described to my or many others satisfaction. But here are some things that we do know, it's genesis came from Rhythm and Blues and we can give that a full stop. We also know there were many other influences that brought about this phenomenon that kicked off a music frenzy in the mid 1950's. For example it's also an amalgam of many forms of music including Country, Folk and the wild child of Hillbilly music known as Rockabilly. In the early days we have artists such as the New Orleans sound from Lloyd Price and Fats Domino under the same umbrella as Etta James, Wanda Jackson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and the Comets and I could go on. Sometimes just bas

When did Rock drop the Roll?

  When did Rock drop the Roll? They Called it Rock Since Rock and Roll was such a groundbreaking development in Music, I set myself to reading more about the genre itself, more specifically its definition and the subsequent application of related subgenre.  I have been reluctant to give in to the idea that Rock and Roll (the genre that came first), it is now widely considered a subgenre of Rock Music. To me this sounds like a rearranging the order of things. Maybe you're like me, I thought it was always genre first then your various subgenre and sub subs and so on. This is not a chicken and the egg thing, Rock and Roll came first. I think it is generally accepted that a genre refers to a particular style and is most often applied to Literature and Music. The word has the same root as genus, which is applied to the natural world to classify plants and animals. Music that is 'Rock' related certainly had its DNA come from Rock 'n' Roll.  However the prevailing consensu

Happy Holidays 2021

  Happy Holidays!   Whether you view the upcoming holidays as a secular event, religious or a bit of both there's one thing that's synonymous with this time of year- Christmas songs! You don't have to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday to enjoy a good song. Maybe you celebrate "Festivus" on December 23 which is a fictional/parody holiday created by Daniel O'Keefe of Readers Digest fame, it was of course made popular by Seinfeld as an alternative to Christmas. The topic of many songs is based on love, family and fellowship. So what's wrong with that? Nothing I say! I have issued a post each year at this time and because of that I'm getting lazy this year and including much of that material with updated stats and links in today's post.  Many find it hard to relate to religious carols like " Silent Night " or even the more secular songs such as " White Christmas " and even the happy go lucky " Holly Jolly Christmas &qu

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

Groundbreakers

  Groundbreakers in Music (Part 1) *Note to subscribers at the end So, what is a "Ground breaker" anyway. And is it two words or one? For my purposes, the Dictionary.com definition as a noun works for me; “a person who is an originator, innovator, or pioneer in a particular activity”. In the world of music there are many names that can fall into this category, and the contributions that qualify them are not only varied, but in many cases somewhat unrecognized.  The importance of history is often overlooked by those of us in the present, and I find it no different in music. What is also not dissimilar is the tendency to revise history and make attributions or proclamations where they are not warranted. For example, if we are talking about pop music in general, I've touched on the attention paid to the first/best of this or that, such as the very first Rock & Roll song. As for that, I think I debunked one of the prevailing songs given that moniker, "Rocket 88"