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
ELMORE JAMES – THE SKY IS CRYING
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’.
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.
EARL HOOKER – TWO BUGS AND A ROACH
Arhoolie have augmented the original album with four tracks from Earl’s Memphis recordings, dated around 1953.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
JAZZ GILLUM COMPLETE VOL.2 1936-49
This 25 track collection contains most
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’.
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.
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!
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.
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.
WILLIE MABON – CHICAGO BLUES SESSION
With help from Hubert Sumlin and Eddie Taylor, Willie is still in fine voice
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!
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.
JOHNNY LITTLEJOHN – SLIDIN’ HOME
Great Chicago band perform some original songs and classic covers, with horn section and scorching slide-guitar.
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!
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JIMMY REED – ANTHOLOGY
This new collection is fantastic value, with over 50 tracks on a double CD, covering Jimmy’s whole career.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
CARY BELL -BLUES HARP
Carey blows up a storm, and proves himself a great singer too, on 16 tracks fron the vaults at Delmark.
BEST OF BUSTER BENTON
Plenty to dance to (even if the disco-Blues tag was a misnomer) and a great Chicago club Blues too.
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.
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.
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’.
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.