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Chicago Blues Albums

The Blues was born in the Delta and grew up on its journey from the country to the city, but the place it came of age was Chicago. Chicago had a Blues tradition from the 20′s onwards, when the post-WWI ‘black diaspora’ brought the Blues northwards, as workers left the countryside for the cities.

Listed below is our selection of the finest Blues Albums to have come out of that great city.

FREDDIE KING – ULTIMATE COLLECTION

Freddie was the ‘enfant terrible’ of the West-side clubs in the early 60s. This collection gives examples of Freddie’s work from the early Federal days right up to his last recordings for RSO. The production varies over time, but the playing is superb throughout.

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ELMORE JAMES – THE SKY IS CRYING

Elmore recorded for a lot of different labels, and this collection gathers tracks from most of them, including the original version of ‘Dust my Broom’ from Trumpet. All the favourites are there, and the title track is worth the price on its own.

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SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON I – BLUEBIRD BLUES

When this collection came out on vinyl in the 60s, it was a ‘must have’ item for lovers of Blues harp. This version has 24 tracks including ‘Sugar Mama’, ‘Good Mornin’ Schoolgirl’, ‘Decoration Blues’ and ‘Bluebird Blues’.

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TAMPA RED – BOTTLENECK GUITAR 1928-1937

This collection has Tampa Red giving up some of his finest ‘hokum Blues’, and backing singers like Ma Rainey, Lil Johnson and Frankie ‘Half-Pint’ Jaxon.

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TAMPA RED

EARL HOOKER – TWO BUGS AND A ROACH

Arhoolie have augmented the original album with four tracks from Earl’s Memphis recordings, dated around 1953.

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Earl Hooker

‘GEORGIA TOM’ DORSEY – VOL 2 (1930-1934)

Over 25 of Georgia Tom’s records, some with the Hokum Boys, give a brilliant insight into his songwriting talents. The final 7 tracks are religious songs, with a Blues heritage.


Georgia Tom

WILLIE DIXON – THE CHESS BOX

This double CD has Willie performing a handful of his own compositions, but the real value is the original versions by the artists who made Willie’s work famous; Wolf, Muddy, Bo, Walter, Koko, Lowell and the rest. Thirty six fantastic tracks.

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WILLIE DIXON

LONNIE JOHNSON – A LIFE IN MUSIC

This fantastic 4-disc collection gives 100 tracks charting the progression of one of the greatest Blues guitar stylists from his first recordings to his 50s hits.

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lonniejohnson

BIG JOHN WRENCHER – BIG JOHN’S BOOGIE

This is the only Big John album available (unless you want to pay several hundred dollars) and it has some fine examples of his highly amplified juke-joint style.

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Big John Wrencher

MAGIC SAM – WEST SIDE SOUL

With the eleven original tracks and one alternate take, backed by a hot Chicago studio band, this version has the original liner notes and rare new photographs. The music speaks for itself. Critically acclaimed but never a big seller, Sam packs explosive excitement into every line.

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Magic Sam

JIMMY JANCEY – COMPLETE JIMMY YANCEY VOL. 3

These 19 original recordings are preferred to some later cuts when he was suffering with his illness. ‘Mama’ Yancey joins him on two tracks, and by his brother Alonzo on a few more.

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Jimmy Yancey

BIG DADDY KINSEY – CAN’T LET GO

This is the album that made people say Big Daddy was Gary, Indiana’s amswer to Muddy Waters!

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Bid Daddy Kinsey

JAZZ GILLUM COMPLETE VOL.2 1936-49

This 25 track collection contains most

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Jazz Gillum

BIG MACEO MERRIWEATHER – KING OF THE CHICAGO BLUES PLAYERS

All Big Maceos output (except three tracks) are on this album, from ‘Worried Life’ to the rollicking ‘Chicago Breakdown’.

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Big Maceo

LOVIE LEE – GOOD CANDY

Lovie imbues his piano playing with a range of emotions in a variety of styles in these recordings, which took place over a period of eight years. Excellent work from Carey and Lurrie Bell and Jimmy Reed’s side-man Eddie Taylor.

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Lovie Lee

J B HUTTO – HAWK SQUAT

Twelve tracks of straight-down-the-line Chicago Blues, recorded like it was in a smoky club back in the 60s. Powerful stuff!

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J B Hutto

BIG WALTER ‘Shakey’ HORTON – FINE CUTS

These eleven tracks, recorded late in his career, show Walter was an astonishing talent. His instrumentals and the fills in his songs proves that the harp can swing and wail in the hands of a maestro.

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Walter Horton

JOHN BRIM – ICE CREAM MAN

The Ice Cream man CD has 13 tracks which include all John’s best work, backed by some great side-men.

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John Brim

WILLIE MABON – CHICAGO BLUES SESSION

With help from Hubert Sumlin and Eddie Taylor, Willie is still in fine voice

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Willie Mabon

OTIS SPANN – OTIS SPANN IS THE BLUES

Otis, Robrt Jr. Lockwood and Lightnin’ Hopkins on Otis’s debut album.There are only ten tracks listed but the disc has 16. Walkin’ the Blues also has 7 unlisted tracks. It’s All Good!

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Otis Spann

J B LENOIR – VIETNAM BLUES

With just Fred Below on drums and a few growls from Willie, JB explores an entirely new take on the Blues. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Listen to a sample and you’ll be hooked.

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JB Lenoir

JOHNNY LITTLEJOHN – SLIDIN’ HOME

Great Chicago band perform some original songs and classic covers, with horn section and scorching slide-guitar.

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Johnny Littlejohn

HOMESICK JAMES – BLUES ON THE SOUTH-SIDE

Elmore James’s cousin played a slide-guitar too and was a respected side-man on the Chicago scene, still playing in his nineties!

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Homesick-James

BUMBLE BEE SLIM 1934-1937

There is no definitive Slim collection, but this one gives a good cross-section of his work. Alternatively, check out the Document series or cherry-pick your favourites to download.

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Bumble Bee Slim

A C REED – I’M IN THE WRONG BUSINESS

A version of ‘This Little Voice’, AC’s first single, is included on this largely self-written album, which shows a good deal of humour while dealing with some serious subjects.

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A C Reed

KANSAS JOE McCOY – ONE IN A HUNDRED

This collection shows the breadth of Kansas Joe’s repertoire, with examples from his work with Minnie up to a track with his Washboard Band. First up is his powerful version of ‘When the Levee Breaks’.

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Kansas Joe McCoy

JUNIOR PARKER – RIDE WITH ME, BABY. THE SINGLES 1952-1961

All Junior’s most memorable singles, plus the odd alternative take, duet with Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and renditions of Chicago classics make this 55 track double CD amazing value.

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Junior parker

MEADE ‘Lux’ LEWIS – THE PIANO ARTISTRY OF MEADE LUX LEWIS

With slow Blues tunes, up-tempo boogie-woogies and three fascinating tracks recorded on the celeste, this album opens a window on the finest piano Blues.

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Meade Lux Lewis

JAMES COTTON – HIGH COMPRESSION

Fantastic energy from an All-Star Chicago band sets a fine platform for James to strut his stuff. The range of material, from slow-burners where James pours his soul into every line, to the blistering harp on the title track shows a Blues master at the peak of his powers.

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James Cotton

JOHNNY LAWS – BLUES BURNIN’ IN MY SOUL

If you like easy-rollin’ Blues, Johnny is your man. This album has some material as laid-back as any swamp Blues, but with the big-city sound of organ, sax and Johnny’s hard edged guitar.

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Johnny Laws

WASHBOARD SAM – THE VERY BEST OF…

Here are 21 tracks of pre-WWII Chicago Blues, performed by a masterful singer and some great side-men.

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Washboard Sam

ROOSEVELT SYKES – BLUES BY ROOSEVELT SYKES

Roosevelt gives us 14 tracks covering a wide range of material, from piano instrumentals to slow Blues and even vaudeville songs. Produced by Roosevelt’s ‘student’, Memphis Slim.

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ROOSEVELT SYKES

BUDDY GUY – I WAS WALKIN’ THROUGH THE WOODS

Recorded between 1960-64, when Buddy was a young gun from the West-side, this Chess production was not issued until 1970, and passed almost un-noticed.

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Buddy Guy

LUTHER ALLISON – SOUL FIXIN’ MAN

Luther wrote 8 of the 12 tracks on his Alligator debut recording, and takes in some Gospel and Soul on top of his BB/Freddie King guitar lines.

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Luther Allison

JAMES WHEELER – I CAN’T TAKE IT

Fourteen tracks of mostly self-written material show James in contrasting moods, from hard-edged urban Blues to boogies and ballads.

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James Wheeler

JIMMY REED – ANTHOLOGY

This new collection is fantastic value, with over 50 tracks on a double CD, covering Jimmy’s whole career.

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Jimmy Reed

LUTHER ‘SNAKE BOY’ JOHNSON – LONESOME IN MY BEDROOM

Willie Mabon contributes some great piano to this excellent group, which gives Luther a platform to put his personal stamp on some Chicago favourites and some songs of his own.

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LUTHER 'SNAKE BOY' JOHNSON

SNOOKY PRYOR

The word ‘Boogie’ crops up on half these titles, but this is some real Chicago Blues from the Golden Age. Backed by some Ace sidemen, Snooky’s ‘Stockyard Blues’ and ‘Telephone Blues’ are classics.

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Snooky Pryor

BILLY BOY ARNOLD – BACK WHERE I BELONG

Recorded in LA with some pretty hot players, these 14 tracks find Billy Boy in great form, despite the low profile of the previous decades.

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Billy Boy Arnold

WILLIE KENT – AIN’T IT NICE

Guest vocal by Bonnie Lee and Lester Davenport’s superb harp playing support the heartfelt songs of a Chicago heavyweight.

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Willie Kent

DAVE MYERS – YOU CAN’T DO THAT

Sticking to the style that made him a first-call session man in the 50s and 60s, Dave has produced an album that might have launched a solo career if it had come out forty years before!

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Dave Myers

DELMARK – 55 YEARS OF BLUES

This Delmark 55th Anniversary Album is a testament to Bob Koester’s work in bringing modern Chicago Blues to the world.

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55 Years Of Blues

STUDEBAKER JOHN – OLD SCHOOL ROCKIN’

Like all Studebaker John albums, this shows off his great boogie guitar and his big wailing harp sound, with his trademark raw edge.

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Studebaker John

KOKOMO ARNOLD – BLUES CLASSICS 1

This album lets you know just how influential Kokomo was in mid-30s Chicago, as many of his songs became classics when covered by other artists..

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Kokomo Arnold

ROBERT LOCKWOOD Jr. -DELTA CROSSROADS

You would never guess that Robert was in is mid-80s when he cut this album, which gives 16 tracks of assured, penetrating blues.

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Robert Lockwood Jr

JERRY PORTNOY – DOWN IN THE MOOD ROOM

Jerry has such a commanding tone in his playing, he totally transcends the material here, and even sings on a couple of tracks.

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Jerry Portnoy

HUBERT SUMLIN – I KNOW YOU

Probably Hubert’s best vocal performances and his usual high-class guitar work is filled out by some great side-men and guests.

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Hubert Sumlin

BLIND JOHN DAVIS – 1938-52

Document’s 22 track collection takes many of John’s instrumentals, some with help from Lonnie Johnson, and a good sample of his melodious singing voice to give a great overview of his early career.

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Blind John Davis

HOUND DOG TAYLOR – HOUND DOG TAYLOR & THE HOUSE ROCKERS

A dozen tracks of the most raw-boned Blues you’ll hear outside a Delta juke-joint. Mostly self-written, Hound Dog’s first effort lays down some joyful boogie that is sure to make you want to dance!

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Hound Dog Taylor

EDDIE ‘Playboy’ TAYLOR – RIDE ‘EM ON DOWN

This has most of Eddie’s output, including ‘Big Town Playboy’ and ‘Ride ‘Em on Down’; another 10 of Eddie’s solo efforts and a dozen of Jimmy Reed’s finest.

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Eddie taylor

QUEEN SYLVIA EMBREY – TROUBLES

Delmark have re-issued and re-mastered Johnny and Sylvia’s ‘After Hours’, and added five bonus tracks of high quality material to give an authentic sounding slice of hard Chicago Blues.

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Sylvia Embry

FRANKIE Half-Pint JAXON – VOLUME 1. 1926-29

Fascinating stuff. Frankie’s work can also be found on Tampa Red albums, and a complete CD with the harlem Hamfats.

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Frankie Half Pint

FREDDIE ROULETTE – BACK IN CHICAGO, JAMMIN’…

With Willie Kent’s great band backing him, Freddie can cut loose to play some of the strangest Blues you’ll ever hear!

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Freddie Roulette

CARY BELL -BLUES HARP

Carey blows up a storm, and proves himself a great singer too, on 16 tracks fron the vaults at Delmark.

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Cary Bell

BEST OF BUSTER BENTON

Plenty to dance to (even if the disco-Blues tag was a misnomer) and a great Chicago club Blues too.

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Buster Benton

FLOYD JONES – MASTERS OF MODERN BLUES

Floyd sings eight of these great songs, with Eddie doing his ‘Playboy’ act on the other eight. Recorded in 1966, this ‘double album’ is great value.

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Floyd Jones

SMOKEY SMOTHERS – BACKPORCH BLUES

Carefully remastered from the original 1960/61 sessions into a speaker-busting mono mix, this is a superb example of lost Chicago Blues.

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Smokey Smothers

ELVIN BISHOP – ACE IN THE HOLE

Elvin heads up a great band playing his own songs. His guitar work is exceptional, and the album includes ‘Fooled Around and Fell in Love’.

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Elvin Bishop

JOHN PRIMER – THE REAL DEAL

Half self-written, but with some well-chosen classic covers of Willie Dixon, Walter Davis, Albert King and Lafayette Leake tunes, this is a minor masterpiece.

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John Primer