Blues Time Machine

Jazz & Blues
12:00 pm
Fri February 1, 2013

'That's All Right' and the father of rock and roll

The Father of Rock and Roll

The Blues Time Machine

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup has been called the “father of rock and roll” for writing the song that launched Elvis Presley’s career. His own career had a rough start-- after migrating from Mississippi around 1940, he was living on the Chicago streets, playing for tips.

His unique, though unpolished sound was distinctive enough to land him a record deal, and he had several songs on the mid-40’s r & b charts. Despite the success of his songs, he was never paid fairly for the music he composed and worked as a laborer to support his family.

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Blues Time Machine
12:00 pm
Fri January 11, 2013

Blind Willie Johnson cared about 'The Soul of a Man,' others dug the music

Blind Willie Johnson

The Blues Time Machine

Blind Willie Johnson was a bluesman and a preacher. His lyrics were spiritual, and his music was blues.

Though he only made 30 recordings, his work is a lasting part of the blues legacy. Early players like Son House and Fred McDowell played his tunes, and his influence reached people like Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. In 1930 he recorded “The Soul of a Man” accompanied by his wife, Willie B. Harris.

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Blues Time Machine
12:00 pm
Fri January 4, 2013

'Dust My Broom' sets the standard for blues guitar

Elmore James

The Blues Time Machine

"I believe I’ll dust my broom" is an old saying meaning to make a new start.

With that catchy phrase, and a distinctive guitar riff Robert Johnson created an important piece of blues history when he recorded “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” in 1936.

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Blues Time Machine
12:00 pm
Fri December 28, 2012

"Going Up The Country" and the roots of the Blues

Roots of the Blues

The Blues Time Machine

Henry Thomas is literally a link to an earlier time.

Born in 1874, his music is a patchwork of blues, rags and folk songs. His use of quills, or pan-pipes, is a relic of a nearly vanished African American tradition. Listening to Henry Thomas gives a glimpse of what music might have sounded like before “the blues."

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Blues Time Machine
12:00 pm
Fri December 21, 2012

'Help Me' goes from blues to alt-rock

Sonny Boy Williamson

The Blues Time Machine

Sonny Boy Williamson’s career had a wide range. He played with Robert Johnson in the 1930’s and with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page in the 1960’s. His ability to span eras is a testament to the timelessness of his voice and harmonica.

Sonny Boy Williamson recorded “Help Me” in 1963, and it bears a striking similarity to the instrumental “Green Onions," from Booker T and the MGs one year earlier. It is unusual because it uses minor chords, and has a sort of dark and foreboding sound.

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Blues Time Machine
12:00 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

'Mercy, Mercy' and young Hendrix showcase the rhythm in R&B

Don Covay

The Blues Time Machine

This song emphasizes the “rhythm” in “rhythm & blues."

“Mercy, Mercy” or “Have Mercy” was recorded by Don Covay in 1964. It features 22-year-old Jimi Hendrix on guitar. He’s still a few years away from his own solo career, but his guitar playing is recognizable.

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Jazz & Blues
12:00 pm
Fri December 7, 2012

Just a 'Spoonful' of blues ... and the rest is history

Howlin' Wolf

The Blues Time Machine

It’s a modern blues standard with roots in the 1920’s, one of Willie Dixon’s many great compositions, and it can trace its origin in part to a Charlie Patton song from 1929: “A Spoonful Blues."

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Jazz & Blues
11:30 am
Fri September 7, 2012

Heavy Metal from the Delta - "When The Levee Breaks"

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was a disaster that reshaped the South. With flooding in 10 states, the river below Memphis reached 60 miles across in some places. Not only was farmland swallowed up, but many poor blacks were forced to work rebuilding levees. With no crop that year, many headed north in what was part of a large migration to urban centers.

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Blues Time Machine
5:00 am
Sat August 4, 2012

Tracking the 'Big Road Blues' and a soul sold at the crossroads

The only known image of Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson’s songs may not be very well known, but he was a hugely influential blues player and also may be the source of one of the most enduring legends of the blues – the Devil and the Crossroads.

While this legend is sometimes associated with Robert Johnson (no relation), it was Tommy Johnson who first cultivated a story about himself that he met the devil at a crossroads, and sold his soul in exchange for his musical ability.

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Jazz & Blues
12:45 pm
Fri May 4, 2012

Son House's masterpiece 'Death Letter' tracked through time

His life reads like a blues song … 1920’s, a young preacher playing the blues, despite his church’s opposition. Kills a man in self-defense, 2 years in prison, and comes out to team up with the best-known blues man of the day, Charley Patton.

After limited commercial success of his own, he fades from view, working on farms and railroads. Thirtyfive years later, some dedicated blues fans track him down and he begins performing around the world, finally getting recognition as a blues master.

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Blues Time Machine
1:00 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

'Rock Island Line' evolved from the rhythm of hard labor

library of congess

Blues evolved from many different sources including spirituals, work songs, and chants. “Rock Island Line” began as a work song, first recorded in 1934 by prisoners at Cummins Farm in Arkansas. The rhythm of physical labor is integral to songs like these.

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Jazz & Blues
8:47 am
Fri January 20, 2012

Etta James, 'Matriarch of the Blues,' has died

Etta James rehearses a song before recording at Fame Studios circa 1967 in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
House Of Fame LLC Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:03 am

The "Matriarch of the Blues" has died. Music legend Etta James died Friday morning at Riverside Community Hospital in California of complications from leukemia. She was 73.

She was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. Her first manager and promoter cut up Jamesetta's name and reversed it: Etta James.

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Blues Time Machine
8:00 am
Fri October 28, 2011

"I Ain't Superstitious" but the song is spooky

Howlin' Wolf

For Halloween, a spooky blues that influenced a generation of rock musicians.

“I Ain’t Superstitious” is a bridge between the acoustic blues of the South and the electric blues of Chicago.

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Blues Time Machine
8:00 am
Fri September 30, 2011

'Drop Down Mama' – Country blues or hard rock?

“Crying the blues” perfectly describes the style of Sleepy John Estes. His music is not very complex, and he was a solid, but not a great guitarist.

Instead, Estes is known more for his ability to write about universal themes and to sing with deep emotion. He was a big influence on early bluesmen like Big Bill Broonzy and Arthur Crudup. He also was a big inspiration for later players like Michael Bloomfield, with whom he worked in the 1960s.

“Drop Down Mama” is a song of his that has re-surfaced several times. Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon recorded it in 1935.

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Blues Time Machine
5:00 am
Fri August 19, 2011

'Blues in the Night' brought change, still solid after 60 years

“Blues in the Night” first was heard in the 1941 movie “Hot Nocturne."

Written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, it’s considered to be a landmark in American popular music because it was one of the first times that rural black dialect and an explicitly bluesy melody was used in a popular song.

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