10 Best Blues Albums to Own on Vinyl
Everyone needs a dose of the blues now and then.
Every record collection should have a healthy dose of the blues. And because so many great blues records are analog in nature, with a raw, stripped-down production ethos, they’re best enjoyed on vinyl.
From Muddy Waters to John Lee Hooker to Janis Joplin to Eric Clapton, there are so many great choices, but here are 10 must-haves:
1. The Complete Collection – Robert Johnson
There are other compilations of blues originator Robert Johnson’s music, but this one far and away sounds the best. For years only available as a two-CD collection, this vinyl import is your gateway to the genre on so many levels. Johnson’s heartfelt playing is simple, gritty and as raw as it gets. And he’s the guy that everyone has borrowed from since.
2. Howlin’ Wolf – Howlin’ Wolf
Wolf is a cornerstone of the blues. The way he rips through these classic tracks makes you feel like you’re sitting on his porch in Mississippi, taking it all in. Some aficionados say that he provides all the blues you’ll ever need. That may or may not be true, but the amazing set presented on this album might convince a lot of folks.
3. Jail – Big Mama Thornton
Unsurprisingly, jail and the blues seem to go together. Even though Elvis gets all the credit for “Hound Dog,” this is the lady that was there first, and her version has much more grit, chock full of horns that would do James Brown proud. Remember Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain”? Big Mama wrote that one too (though she gave up her publishing rights). Amazing songs … and wow, what a voice!
4. Live in Cook County Jail – B.B. King
Speaking of jail, this 1971 release recorded in Cook County Jail in Chicago is an off-the-beaten-path treasure. The versions of “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “Sweet Sixteen” included here are incredible, and this album also arguably delivers King’s best rendition of his signature tune, “The Thrill is Gone.”
5. I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll – Mississippi Fred McDowell
Hunting down the origin of the Rolling Stones’ tune “You Gotta Move” (later covered by Aerosmith) sent me to the source: Mississippi Fred. On this record, he breaks it down old-school with slide guitar so drippy wet, you’ll practically be reaching for an umbrella!
6. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac
It’s easy to forget that Fleetwood Mac started as a mega blues band in the ’60s. This collection of blues tunes is full throttle from start to finish, and so heavily laden with wailing guitars (courtesy of guitar hero Peter Green and six-string dueling partner Jeremy Spencer), you almost can’t hear Mick Fleetwood’s powerful drumming … which is saying a lot.
7. Second Winter – Johnny Winter
Everything is bigger in Texas, they say, and here’s your proof. The albino bluesmaster kicks some serious you-know-what on this record, which offers a great mix of Winter originals and classic tunes. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this two-record vinyl set only has three sides of music on it, with a blank fourth side. As Johnny says in the liner notes: “It was important for this album to be as loud as technically possible. We didn’t want to give you more and we didn’t want to give you less.” Mission accomplished.
8. Couldn’t Stand The Weather – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughn is the artist that brought the blues back to the forefront for another generation. His debut album Texas Flood hit the airwaves in 1983, when a lot of people were still pogoing to Devo and the B-52s. When it became an instant hit, it took everyone by surprise, thrusting Stevie Ray to the forefront of the world’s top players … and this follow-up album did even better. In addition to being imbued with incredibly tasty guitar licks, all of SRVs vinyl releases are executed to audiophile standards.
9. Still Got The Blues – Gary Moore
Though many remember Moore for his work with the rock group Thin Lizzy, he was a bluesman to the core. This platinum LP combines masterful playing, grit and sorrow — all the necessary requirements for a great blues album. Moore’s choice of material is fantastic, and includes two great covers of “Walking By Myself” and “Too Tired,” where he’s joined by Albert Collins. A stealthy gem.
10. Blue & Lonesome – The Rolling Stones
Arguably, no one did more to push the blues to the forefront of our consciousness than the Rolling Stones. This 2016 release, a collection of classic tunes presented in a stripped-down manner that’s true to the genre, should be on your list, if for no other reason than it provides such a great tribute to these songs.
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