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News & Music Contributors
Jazz & Blues
Blues Turns Electric with "Crawling King Snake"
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.
His unique sound came in part from his custom 9-string guitar, which could sound like a mandolin or banjo at times. He had a tremendous sense of rhythm and would also use the guitar percussively. This film clip shows his original approach to blues guitar:
John Lee Hooker also had an original sound, very different that the blues coming out of Chicago. Landing in Detroit, Hooker virtually invented his own genre of blues. Built on a traditional North Mississippi style that emphasized a droning, modal blues sound, he refined the fine art of the “endless boogie”. His “Crawling King Snake” was recorded in 1949.
One of a few blues players to cross into pop territory, Hooker recorded over 100 albums and collaborated with Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison and Carlos Santana. This is a wonderful live film of John Lee Hooker with Ry Cooder performing “Crawling King Snake” in 1992:
A combination of timing, talent and ambition put Muddy Waters at the leading edge of the transition of blues from a country music into more sophisticated urban fare. He learned his blues in the Delta but was one of the first to have big success as an electric player in the 1950’s. Muddy Waters 1971 live recording of “Crawling King Snake” was also filmed. His all-star band includes Pinetop Perkins and George “Harmonica” Smith:
While The Doors had a bluesy sound, they only recorded two blues standards in their career--“Back Door Man” on their 1967 debut, and “Crawling King Snake” on 1971’s L.A. Woman, which was the last album they made before Jim Morrison died. They introduced blues to millions of new listeners who had likely never heard of Big Joe Williams, John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters.
Here are the complete versions of “Crawling King Snake” tracked through time:
Big Joe Williams “Crawling King Snake” 1941
John Lee Hooker “Crawling King Snake” 1949
Muddy Waters “Crawling King Snake” 1971
The Doors “Crawling King Snake” 1971