Zak Starkey Has the Blues
Zak Starkey of the Who put together some of his favorite blues tracks below. Starkey, along with partner Sshh Liguz, is also the co-founder of new reggae label Trojan Jamaica, whose debut album of reggae legends performing blues and R&B classics, Red Gold Green and Blue, is out now.
Robert Johnson, “Preaching the Blues”
King of the Delta blues Robert Johnson’s ‘Preaching the Blues’ is a great stomper that must have ripped it up on Saturday nights in Mississippi. This tune is driven hard by Robert’s incredible bottleneck guitar rhythm, a talent he allegedly sold his soul for at the crossroads. If that’s true, the devil must be one hell of a guitar player!
Freddie King, “Going Down”
Texas blues has a hard-driving style. I love it. ‘Going Down’ is a relentless deep groove that don’t give up. ZZ Top are from Texas; they groove like this. too. It’s still going on the fadeout! And Freddie’s voice is killin’ it.
Freddie is one of my fave singers; he has soul and roars like a lion. He’s the only guy here that I got to see play and sing live. It was in London in ‘76 and Freddie blew me away. The night I discovered his brilliant Getting Ready record in my parents’ record collection — done deal!
Lightnin’ Hopkins, “Mojo Hand”
Mo Texas Blues. Hard-driving groove. Great song. Lightnin’ is named after his fast guitar (and maybe also ‘life’) style. There’s a great movie short Lightnin’ Hopkins and the People of Texas that is a great insight to the man, his woman, and his next door neighbor and best friend Mance Lipscomb (another seminal legendary bluesman). Great film that shows Lightnin’ playing so great and doin’ all the moves that Jimi Hendrix was doin’ a few years later?!!!!
Howlin’ Wolf, “Who’s Been Talkin’”
Along with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf was a father of Chicago Blues. A huge man with a huge voice and a badass band, Wolf wrote this tune with an infectious groove and great lyrics. My fave Wolf tune.
Slim Harpo, “I’m a King Bee”
Dapper and super cool with a mod style. Slim Harpo has a swampy vibe that influenced so many of the British bands of the early ‘60s. Mainly the Who. ‘I’m the Face’ by the Who (or High Numbers as they were then known) is remarkably similar to ‘Got Love If You Want It’ by Slim Harpo. Great grooves on all his tunes.
Jimmy Rush, “Hush, Hush”
More swampy groove and great tune by Jimmy Reed. All his tunes are great. It was a hard choice. But this is cool as.
Muddy Waters, “I’m Can’t Be Satisfied”
Arguably (Howlin’ Wolf would probably disagree) the father of Chicago Blues.
This cut is from 1943 and shows Muddy’s wicked bottleneck rhythm and a song that is quite similar in name and meaning to ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’!
Tony Hollins, “Crawlin’ King Snake”
Virtually unknown, Tony Hollins taught this song to John Lee Hooker who later had a hit with it. This is the definitive 1941 version and it rocks just as hard.
Skip James, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”
Another delta guy, Skip James has an instantly recognizable voice and guitar style. This song was first recorded in 1931. Skip influenced artists from Robert Johnson to Cream who covered Skip’s song ‘I’m So Glad’ in 1969. That’s how I discovered Skip, and ‘I’m So Glad’ I did.
Big Mama Thornton, “I’m Feeling Alright”
Probably most well known for being the first artist to record Leiber and Stoller’s song ‘Hound Dog’ before Elvis ripped it up. Willie May Thornton also wrote ‘Ball and Chain’ made famous by Janis Joplin in the ‘60s. What a voice and what a bassline from Luther Johnson. ‘I Feel Alright’ whenever I hear it.
Little Walter, “Blue and Lonesome”
The Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica. Little Walter is my main man of the blues. He has a swaggering punk attitude, tender moments, beautiful, scary virtuosity and he rocks harder than anyone else.
Little Walter, “Come Back Baby”
It doesn’t rock any harder than this. Trojan Jamaica has recorded a CRAZY version of this tune with Toots and the Maytals for Red, Gold, Green & Blue.
Bo Diddley, “Bring it to Jerome”
This is a great tune with a hypnotic beat and great call and answer vocals from Bo and his brother Jerome on bass and vocals. SSHH, my band, plays this tune live. It’s musical hypnotism! Bo Diddley is where it’s at!
Magic Sam, “All Your Love”
Magic Sam is a badass self-taught guitar player and had a great wailing blues voice. Tragically, he died in his late twenties from a heart defect. He’s my favorite guitar player and I wish I could include ‘Magic Sam’s Boogie’ here and also ‘Feels Good (I’m Gonna Boogie),’ which is totally wicked, too.
Ma Rainey, “Dream Blues”
This lady really does have the blues.
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