Otis Rush Sings “I Can’t Quit You Baby”

otis_rushHere’s a clip of soulful blues belter Otis Rush with a version of his 1956 single on the Cobra label ” I Can’t Quit You Baby”, a landmark single in his career that established him as a first-tier Chicago blues artist along with kindred spirits Buddy Guy and Albert King.

With his powerful voice, and stinging left-handed  guitar work, Otis Rush began his career as a hitmaker on the Cobra label, recording with Ike Turner, and scoring several R&B hits, including this one, from 1956-59.  Today, Rush’s talent drastically outweighs his fame. Yet his early singles on the Cobra label established his voice in electric blues scenes in Chicago and beyond.

And “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is a song that would become a part of the blues canon because of its unprecedented intensity. Led Zeppelin’s version of ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby” on their first album in 1968 brought the song to a mainstream rock audience. This band who borrowed so heavily from other blues musicians and their songs sticks pretty close to the Otis Rush’s here, perhaps because they had yet to make their name, or maybe that they saw no way to improve it.

After all, listen to Rush’s performance on the clip.  Get a load of that opening note that immediately rivets the audience to their seats, pulling their eyes and ears stageward.  This is as powerful as any rock performance, and Rush seems to be able to pull this out of himself with very little effort, making his presentation something to behold.

Otis Rush embodies something here which was true to his generation as an electric blues elder statesman.  I find much of the electric blues genre in modern times to be slavish, and very often plain erstatz. Yet, Rush is the real thing, exuding confidence, showing mastery while never showboating, and putting across a performance based around his material, as opposed to one based around a set of aesthetics that have become associated with blues performance .

Rush’s powerful and confident guitar chops influenced the playing of both Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield.  And let’s not forget fellow lefty guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who would later go on to influence even more guitarists of both blues and rock persuasions alike.

Otis Rush continued to record and perform until a 2004 stroke took him off of the road.


Hound Dog Taylor Sings ‘Give Me Back My Wig’

hound_dog_taylor_and_the_houserockers_coverListen to this song by late-blooming bluesman and slide guitar-slinger Hound Dog Taylor.  It’s the oddly titled ‘Give Me Back My Wig’ as taken from Hound Dog’s 1970 debut Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers on the label that was created in order to put it out; the now-legendary Chigago-based Alligator Records.

Hound Dog Taylor (neé Theodore Roosevelt Taylor, no less) was born in 1915 Mississippi, with a presidential moniker and six fingers on his left hand. His first record was put out in 1970, making him something of an undiscovered treasure when it comes to electric blues. He clearly draws from Elmore James, both in his vocal delivery and in his scrappy slide playing.  Yet, his onstage energy and personality quickly gained him a following of his own.


Hound Dog moved to Chicago in 1942, where he made a name for himself as a club act.  His command of the blues allowed him to make a few singles in the 50s and 60s, plus a few radio appearances.  But, by 1970, Hound Dog was able to connect with the electric blues festival circuits and revival package tours that had helped folk-blues artists a few years before. In some ways, the timing was just right for him.

This tune in particular was one of his best-known numbers, and is something of a meat-and-potatoes 12-bar blues which is more than the sum of its parts because of Taylor’s personality which shines through.  This is not to mention the tough-as-nails backing courtesy of the Houserockers, notable for supporting Hound Dog’s slide by means of only a second guitar and a drum kit. Jon Spencer, eat your heart out.

Hound Dog was also known for his use of cheap guitars, and an almost punk rock approach to the blues, with minimalist arranging and limited soloing.  To me, it’s kind of ironic that his debut album was the flagship record for the birth of Alligator records, which to my ears have taken to building a catalogue of slickly produced contemporary blues and one dimensional blues-rock that is a little light on personality.

At the time of his death from lung cancer in 1975, Hound Dog was actively touring, yet having only released his third LP, the live document Beware of the Dog in 1973.  A fourth was released in the early 80s, by which time he’d become the inspiration to many a young blues fan including one George Thorogood of “Bad to the Bone” fame.


Magic Sam Performs ’21 Days in Jail’

Listen to this song by R&B kingpin Magic Sam.  It’s ’21 Days in Jail’, a rollicking little number about being down and out and scared out of your wits while doing time.  You can find this genre-defying gem on the compilation album With a Feeling 57-66: The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings.

If you thought that the barrier between  R&B and country music in the 1950s and 60s was only being scaled by white people, this ought to set you straight.  Where Sam had cut a number of straight-ahead West side Chicago-style blues, this one is pure Memphis rockabilly even if it wasn’t recorded there.  Chess Records’ linchpin Willie Dixon co-wrote and played bass on this,  but I could swear it was Elvis bassist Bill Black instead.

Magic Sam was both an innovator and a developing artist at the same time, it seems to me.  On the one hand, he stuck to a specific template when it came to his early recordings.  His debut single “All of your love”, was in many ways reproduced with only subtle variation on ensuing singles like “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”.  But, then he’d come out with something like this, which seems to work in an opposite direction from where you might expect. During his brief career, Sam would also incorporate pop music, soul, and other textures into his brand of blues, which helped to expand the possibilities of the genre.

Sam would only enjoy the beginnings of a world-dominating career, dying young at the age of 32 of a heart attack.  Yet his sides for the Cobra label, and the impact he had on contemporary bluesmen like Buddy Guy, and a new generation of blues guitarists who also incorporate country music influences into their playing like Stevie Ray Vaughn would immortalize him.

For more music, check out this article about Magic Sam from Gibson.


Muddy Waters Performs ‘Mannish Boy’

Listen to this track of Chicago blues elder statesman and natchel born lover’s man McKinely Morganfield, better known as the immortal Muddy Waters, good people.   This is ‘Mannish Boy’, this version taken from Muddy’s 1977 comeback album Hard Again.

The blues has had its ups and downs in the popularity stakes over the years.  And for those not versed in the blues, it’s easy perhaps to dismiss it as simplistic, which may be one of the reasons why so many bluesmen faltered as rock music grew in stature in the 60s and 70s.  In contrast, the blues seemed too basic for many.  Ultimately, this comes down to how one feels about the basics, I suppose.  And on Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy”, that’s what we’re confronted with – the bare bones basics that has fed blues, soul, rock, and to a large extent hip hop too.  One person’s ‘basic’ is another person’s elemental.

This tune is pure bravado, not unlike Bo Diddley’s very similar “I’m A Man”, which covers the same territory.  Muddy had recorded this tune before, but this version under the watchful eye of producer and blues disciple Johnny Winter, has become the definitive version of the song.  Winter had spent his whole life idolizing Waters, much like many blues rock musicians.  Yet, when Muddy left Chess Records, Winter was the one who was instrumental in getting him a new contract on Blue Sky records, a sub-label of Columbia.  Additionally, a band partially comprised of some of Waters’ 50s cohorts – most notably James Cotton and Pinetop Perkins – was assembled for the Hard Again sessions.

Of course, the effort paid off.  This is a seminal blues album, both as towering in its delivery as any rock album as well as being true to its roots which are arguably centuries old.  Achieving this balance was always Muddy Waters’ strength.   Here in particular, as Muddy and his band are in a one-chord-one-riff-call-and-response mode, we can hear what is typical of African music and early plantation labourer work songs.   But this being Muddy Waters, everything is electrified in every sense, with Winter’s and Waters’ sideman Bob Margolin‘s enthusiastic hollers through out.

Despite the rawness of this track, there’s something about it that’s epic too and as such can be looked upon as representative of the blues form itself.  This is the sound of Moses coming down from the mountain, good people!  It’s no wonder it’s been used in countless films, most notably by Martin Scorsese, who’s used it multiple times  in Goodfellas, The Color of Money, and of course The Last Waltz when Muddy performed it live.

Muddy’s comeback would be short-lived.  By the end of the 70s, his health was in decline and in 1983 he was gone.  But, he didn’t make his exit before one last burst of undeniable greatness.  And this is it!


Paul Butterfield Blues Band Perform “Driftin’ Blues”

Here’s a clip of integrated Chicago blues collective the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with their take on “Driftin’ Blues” as performed at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival.

Although by no means the first racially integrated blues group, the Butterfield band was one of the earliest integrated American blues bands to sign to a major label; Elektra records under Jac Holtzman and with encouragement and leadership from A&R man Paul Rothschild. The band featured Butterfield on lead vocals and harmonica, and Michael Bloomfield on lead guitar, Bloomfield also being well known as the guitarist on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited album.

In the attached clip, that’s Elvin Bishop on lead guitar.  Bishop had originally been the rhythm player in the group before lead guitarist Bloomfield left to form The Electric Flag, a band that also played the Monterrey Festival.  Bishop would go on to have a pop hit in “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” a decade later.  The band also featured drummer Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold on bass, both of whom had appeared with Howlin’ Wolf on local club dates in the Chicago area.  Mark Naftalin rounded out the band on organ, a role he would fill for people like John Lee Hooker as well after the group disbanded.

The group’s 1965 self-titled debut album is noted for being one of the first major American blues releases to feature a white lead singer, making it something of a precursor to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton record released the following year, and was in line with the British blues-rock movement in general, where white blues singers were the order of the day. Yet unlike their British equivalents, Butterfield and Bloomfield had grown up in the Chicago area, and frequenting blues clubs where Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and many others practiced their trades.  The guys in the Butterfield group had a solid pedigree, having literally learned at the feet of the masters as opposed to having to get what they needed strictly from the records.  Yet, credibility-wise, they had something of an uphill battle among blues and folk purists.

Established folk archivist Alan Lomax’s introduction of the band before an urban blues workshop at the infamous 1965 Newport folk festival was something of an indication of how they were perceived: “These guys are imitators, will you (the audience) put up with them anyway? Let’s see if these white kids can really play”, causing something of a stir when the band’s manager Albert Grossman took exception to Lomax’s condescending tone.  Yet, the band proved their worth that day, although they would prove to be a part of the infamy of the day too when they backed up a plugged-in Dylan that evening to a shocked folk-purist audience. The times were, as they say, a’ changin’ in the folk community by 1965.

The Butterfield band burned twice as bright for half as long, and by the end of the 60s, they dissolved entirely.  Butterfield had a number of other projects starting in the early 70s, including his work with a new band Better Days, and his contributions to the solo work of Rick Danko,  and later to Levon Helm, both of the Band.  Butterfield made an appearance in the film The Last Waltz in 1976.  His chops as a blues harp player made him a respected figure in the blues, putting him in good company with the other artists who also appeared in the film.  He was a frequent collaborator with Band bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm, appearing on record and in concert, as well as continuing as a solo artist and session player.

Butterfield’s health was in steady decline by the 80s, a result of years of drug use.  He died in 1987.

For more information and music, check out the Paul Butterfield Blues Band MySpace page.