Son House – “My Black Mama (Part 1)”

son-house200pxThe lyrics and music that Son House put down in the 1920’s and early 30’s left an indelible mark on blues, country, rock, RnB, and just about every genre of American music. His classic “My Black Mama (Part 1)” has been covered and reinterpreted by a who’s-who of blues legends including Robert Johnson, who recorded it as “Walkin’ Blues.” John Lee Hooker called his post-war version “Burnin’ Hell,” based on the lines “Ain’t no heaven, ain’t no burnin’ hell, where I’m goin’ when I die, can’t nobody tell.” This amazing solo vocal and guitar performance has lost none of its power over nearly a century since it was released on 78 RPM discs.

Bertha Lee with Charley Patton – “Mind Reader Blues”

charley-patton_early-roots-blues-historyRecorded shortly before Charley Patton’s death, “Mind Reader Blues” is a song he performed with his common-law wife, Bertha Lee. In her magnificent voice, Lee scolds Patton for his womanizing even as he lovingly accompanies her on guitar. The lyrics are auto-biographical: “I remember a day when I were livin’ at Lula town, I remember a day when I were livin’ at Lula town, my man did so many wrong things ’til I had to leave the town.” Bertha Lee hailed from Lula, Mississippi, and Patton lived there with her for a time. What exactly he did so they had to leave, one can only wonder! This is a clean transfer from 78RPM platter from 1934.

Kansas Joe McCoy – “Pile Driver Blues”

Kansas Joe McCoy and his wife Memphis Minnie were stars in the Memphis and Chicago blues music scenes. Together they recorded the hit “Bumble Bee” in 1929 for Columbia Records, and a stack of other great vinyl 78 sides. “Pile Driver Blues” features Kansas Joe singing over their trademark lead and rhythm guitar interplay. Jimi Page and others in the English blues and rock scene would draw heavily on their influence a few decades later.

Frank Stokes – “I’m Going Away Blues”

Frank StokesOften hailed as the “Father of the Memphis blues” guitar style, Frank Stokes recorded dozens of 78 RPM sides for Paramount and Victor Records in the 1920’s. Under his own name and as part of the Beale Street Sheiks, Stokes introduced a touch of show biz professionalism to what had been a mainly folk music tradition. Playing the southern minstrel and vaudeville circuit, he influenced not only blues artists, but also country singers like Jimmie Rodgers. “I’m Going Away Blues” features a country fiddle with Stokes’ acoustic blues strumming and sublime vocal performance.

Walter “Buddy Boy” Hawkins – “Snatch It Back Blues”

Walter “Buddy Boy” Hawkins is one of those great pre-war blues artists for whom it is hard to find biographical info. What is known is that he recorded several sides for Paramount in the late 1920’s, capturing his sublime vocal and guitar style for posterity. “Snatch It Back Blues” tells of a life of train-hopping and vagabonding in the American south, and is a folk blues classic.