I got to know MaRaineyBlues thanks to the power of Twitter and Cerys Matthews Sunday morning show on 6music. My Sunday morning routine used to involve cooking a roast for lunch whilst listening to Cerys and trying to get myself name checked on air. Ma is one of a number of regular listeners who I got on with really well and who helped the show feel really interactive (Cerys is still making ace radio by the way but we now have the roast in the evening so I listen live less often). Anyway, it was pretty obvious Ma had a huge love of music and an amazing depth of knowledge to back it up. I'd been hoping I could convince her to do a top five for ages and persistence finally paid off.
This is the first top five I've published without an order as Ma decided she liked all five so much she couldn't place them. I think she's right so make sure you check out those video links 'cos they're all amazing.
Led Zeppelin. Cream. The Black Keys. The Rolling Stones. Jimi Hendrix. The Alabama Shakes. Janis Joplin. Jack White. Valerie June. Just a few of the new kids on the block and some of the legendary old guard who make or made music which comes directly from the blues or is influenced by it.
The importance of blues in music history cannot be underestimated. Academics say it is the very backbone of rock and roll. But I'm no academic, merely a fan. Here are 5 of my favourite blues artists from the era when blues was first being heard outside of the Deep South plantations, the illegal juke joints and the travelling shows, when performers were making tentative, ground-breaking steps into making records.
These five all made their first recordings pre-1935.
Skip James - Labourer, sharecropper, Baptist Minister and one of the first Delta blues singers to cut a record. Highly influential on people such as Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton and re-discovered in the 1960s, where he was feted for his mournful voice and virtuoso finger-picking style.
Skip James "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues"
Lead Belly - Schooled in part by Blind Lemon Jefferson, multi-instrumentalist blues & folk singer Lead Belly was discovered by musicologist Alan Lomax whilst singing prison hollers as an inmate at Angola State Prison. Lead Belly's first recording was made inside the prison walls. Following his release,the Lomax family took him to New York, where, styled as 'King of the 12 string', he began a long association with left-wing causes.
Leadbelly "The Gallows Pole"
Son House - One of 17 children, it wasn't until he was in his 20s that Mississippi's Son House picked up a guitar. After reportedly killing a man in self defence in the juke joint where he was playing, Son House was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Although he made records in 1930, he faded into obscurity, to be rediscovered by younger generations in the 1960s blues revival. It was here that Son House first spoke of the legend that Robert Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil in return for his talent, a legend that continues to be talked of today!
Son House "Death Letter Blues"
Lonnie Johnson - Believed to be the first person to record a single string, guitar solo. Johnson won a blues talent competition in 1925, the prize included a recording deal with Okeh Records. Despite working with some high profile names, Johnson's career floundered & he was forced to take a job in a steel mill, only returning to blues singing & guitar playing in the late 1930s.
Lonnie Johnson "Life Saver Blues"
MA RAINEY - The 'mother of the blues' who i took my Twitter name from! With a deep, raw, country blues style, she fronted jug and washboard bands and, so it is said, was singing the blues in a touring minstrels band more than a decade before genre became well known. In the early 1920s she made her first recordings. A great influence on Bessie Smith who she knew, Ma Rainey paved the way for all female blues singers who followed.
Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"