'Walkin' Blues' still has legs

Mar 24, 2013

It’s one of the defining songs of the Blues, written by one of its formative figures, Son House. The opening lyric “Woke up this morning…” would be considered trite today, but its 1930 recording date makes it more iconic than anything.

With its simple but insistent guitar rhythm and mournful lyrics, “Walkin’ Blues” is a virtual blueprint for Delta Blues, and a powerful influence on the development of modern blues.

Son House’s influence was felt profoundly by Robert Johnson, whose handful of recordings did more to propel Blues into it’s modern form than anyone. Robert Johnson’s compositions and recordings were copied and incorporated into the music of everyone from Muddy Waters to Led Zeppelin. Robert Johnson recorded his version of “Walkin’ Blues” in 1936.

Eric Clapton has always been a champion of Robert Johnson, from Cream's 1968 landmark recording of Johnson’s “Crossroads”, to his 2004 tribute Me and Mr. Johnson. Here Clapton performs “Walkin’ Blues” in the style of Robert Johnson.

 

Paul Butterfield was one of the main movers of the Blues revival in the 1960’s, and one the most impassioned white singers and harp players of his day. He first recorded “Walkin’ Blues” in 1966, but released a second version in 1973 called the “New Walkin’ Blues”.

 

Joe Bonamassa is one of the “young guns” of the blues. While he mostly plays original blues-rock, he always includes some blues standards on his albums. He did a relatively stripped-down version of “Walkin’ Blues” on his 2003 cd Blues Deluxe.

The latest incarnation of “Walkin’ Blues” appeared in 2011 on the soundtrack to the film Footloose, featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar and rapper and soul singer Cee Lo Green on vocals.    80 years after Son House, “Walkin’ Blues” still has legs.

Here are the complete versions of “Walkin’ Blues”

Robert Johnson  “Walkin’ Blues” 1936

Paul Butterfield  “New Walkin’ Blues” 1973

Joe Bonamassa  “Walkin’ Blues” 2003

Cee Lo Green w/Kenny Wayne Shepherd “Walkin’ Blues” 2011