John Kessler

All Blues Host

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KPLU since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KPLU “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.

His most memorable and satisfying KPLU radio moment was getting an email from Jimmy Lane, a bluesman and the son of blues legend Jimmy Rogers, who said something like “You’re playing the good stuff, keep it up!”

Ways To Connect

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Pianist/singer Marcia Ball is one of the best-known  players of Louisiana blues, swamp blues and boogie-woogie. While in town for a show at Jazz Alley, we were lucky enough to have Marcia stop by for a solo performance and interview hosted by All Blues' John Kessler. 

Jimmy Reed is one of the most influential bluesmen in history and his songs will always be part of the blues repertoire. "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," "Bright Lights, Big City," “ You Don't Have to Go”, are just some of the songs Reed made popular.

His style was easy-going and non-threatening, which made it accessible to white audiences of the 50’s and 60’s. Perhaps because of that, Reed sold more records than other blues stars like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Sleepy John Estes was a Tennessee-based blues singer of the 1920’s and 30’s. Though not a flashy guitarist, his voice was packed with power, and the songs he wrote have lasted through the years to be sung by Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan.

This deceptively simple blues song is a masterpiece of restraint and execution. Recorded first in 1964, it features the voice of Muddy Waters and the piano of Otis Spann in call-and-response. Buoyed by composer Willie Dixon’s bass, Waters slide guitar speaks only twice in the entire song, with bone-chilling results.

Big Joe Williams was part of the first generation of blues players, and lived to help spark the blues revival of the 1960’s. An active performing and recording musician, he traveled the country starting in the 1920’s, and by the 1970’s, had become very popular on the folk circuit as well. He is best known for the songs “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Crawling King Snake” which he recorded in 1941.

“Summertime” is considered one of George Gershwin’s finest songs. Collaborating with his brother Ira and lyricist DuBose Heyward, Gershwin composed the piece for his 1935 “folk-opera” Porgy and Bess.

A new CD is being released Tuesday by hometown kid Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. The CD features his songwriting and collaborations with Joe Walsh, Chrissie Hynde, and Heart.

Elmore James is a giant of the blues. His work as a songwriter, singer and guitarist put him near the top of the short list of greats. The songs he wrote and revived—  “Dust My Broom”, “Cry For Me Baby” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” —are revered as blues standards.

In the span of Howlin’ Wolf’s life and career he saw virtually the entire progression of blues from a rural, acoustic music through the birth of modern rock music. As a young man, he learned guitar from Delta master Charley Patton, and as an elder statesman performed with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. In between he sang some of the most compelling and memorable songs in all of American music, including “Back Door Man”, “Killing Floor” and “Spoonful”.

It’s one of the most widely played songs in the blues, but not much is known about Robert Petway, the man who recorded the definitive early version of “Catfish Blues”. The scant information that exists tells a familiar story of a Delta musician who headed to Chicago to make records. But after recording a mere 16 songs in 1941 and 1942, Petway seems to have disappeared from view.

Skip James was one of the first influential blues players. Although he came from the same Mississippi culture that produced Delta blues, James had a unique sound, built around unusual guitar tunings and his eerie falsetto. Robert Johnson based his song “32-20 Blues” around James’ lesser known “22-20 Blues”, and Cream famously covered his song “I’m So Glad” on their 1966 debut Fresh Cream. (a future BTM episode)

Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the defining guitarists of Texas Blues of the 1920’s. Influenced by the country and gospel music of Texas, he also heard Mexican music played by farm workers. His unique guitar style and high, eerie voice were memorable; he recorded over 100 songs and was one of the best known bluesmen of his day. Some of his other well-known songs are “Black Snake Moan” and “Matchbox Blues”. He recorded “Broke and Hungry “ in 1926.

Chances are you know the song “My Babe”, made popular by Little Walter in 1955. Except for the lyrics, “My Babe” is nearly identical to the gospel song “This Train is Bound For Glory”, a song that reaches back to the 1920’s.

Tampa Red was a slide guitar pioneer who helped create the template for modern blues. His distinctive use of single-string slide melodies in the 1920’s would go on to influence virtually every slide player who followed him, including Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters.

In the days before amplification, he played a steel-bodied resonator guitar, the loudest and showiest guitar available. And he was one of the early adopters of the electric guitar, making the switch in the 1940’s.

Otis Rush brought such passion and emotion to his singing and guitar playing that his music has been called “frighteningly intense”. Rush never achieved the commercial success that he might have, but along with Buddy Guy and Magic Sam, he is acknowledged to be one of the architects of the Chicago blues sound of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

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