Now I’m feeling bluesy. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the original release in 1966 of the three volumes of Chicago: The Blues Today! helped save electric Chicago blues.
Most of the white, folky audience that had come to be fans of the blues were stuck in a rather gentle, acoustic past, and most of the black audience had drifted toward soul and R&B. When Muddy Waters played the Newport Folk Festival in the early ’60s, even the founder of modern electric blues had to play acoustic guitar!
Sam Charters, a blues scholar and fan knew there was an exceptional and lively
electric blues scene in Chicago – a scene influenced by soul and rock ‘n’ roll – and he was determined to document it. These three discs, recorded in a South Side recording studio in the winter of ’65, found a huge new audience for contemporary blues among both white and black audiences, and led to recording contracts for many of the performers, gigs outside of Chicago, and helped create a blues festival circuit where these performers played in front of tens-of-thousands (as opposed to tenths-of-thousands in the local clubs) of people at a time.
Among the amazing – and at the time largely unknown outside of Chicago – performers found here are harmonica wizard Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band, with Buddy Guy on guitar. Wells, who replaced Little Walter in Muddy
Waters’ band in 1952 and rocked Chicago with his tough harp for over 40 years,
contributes five classics, including “Vietcong Blues,” and his biggest hit, the rockin’ and rollin’ “Messin” With the Kid,” with a great guitar line from Guy (covered on the first Blues Brothers record).
Other harmonica greats on the collection are Jimmy Cotton and Big Walter Horton. Outstanding singer-guitarists include J.B. Hutto, Otis Rush (his “I
Can’t Quit You Baby” was borrowed virtually note-for-note by Led Zeppelin a few years later), Homesick James, and Johnny Shines; as well as the brilliant singer-mandolinist (!) Johnny Young, and Muddy’s former piano man Otis Spann.
Many of these musicians backed each other up throughout the sessions, so there is a continuity of sound not often found on collections. The performances are electric and the sound is superb. This is a must-own if you have any interest in the blues.