One of my favorite things to do during a workday is to take a short break and check out the lively music discussions that are percolating in our Roon Community. The reason I find them so engaging is in their resemblance to conversations I had decades ago when I worked in music shops. Whenever a favorite music sage walked in the door, the day instantly transformed, and I knew that some hidden corner of sonic knowledge was about to be illuminated for my benefit. Many of those customers were exceptionally generous in sharing their wisdom, and I soaked it up gratefully. There’s nothing like having your feet placed on the path by one who has traveled the same road.
There are several examples of similar mentorship in Community; one is a majestically prolific survey of Blues-Rock and the Blues titans that inspired its genesis. I would have given anything for a primer of this quality back when I first approached the genre. It’s a masterpiece of stories and sound curated by forum member @7NoteScale and enriched with selections from dozens of his fellow blues-hounds.
It provides an outstanding introduction to one of America’s most influential and enduring musical forms. Jazz, Rock-n-Roll, Rock, R&B, Country, Soul, Rap, and myriad other genres took root in The Blues’ fertile soil. Its primary instrument is unrivaled in conveying emotion and the vagaries of our existence; the human voice, lifted in song and accompanied by the preferred tools of itinerant musicians - the harmonica and guitar.
We’ve taken some of our personal Blues favs and paired them with suggestions from the Blues or Blues-based Rock thread to create two consummate playlists. These playlists, combined with Roon’s unparalleled understanding of the relationships that unite these forms, provide a perfect springboard for discovery. If you’ve synced a TIDAL or Qobuz subscription with Roon, you have everything you need to follow the deep river of song straight into the heart of The Blues. The first playlist is dedicated to the founders of Blues-Rock; it’s chock-full of tunes from the early 1960s to 1972 that define the genre. The second celebrates the Blues masters and songs that their acolytes emulated.
If you’re relatively new to this music, it may come as a surprise to learn that Blues-Rock first coalesced in England. The Blues was positively exotic to young Brits who first heard snippets of it on BBC Radio and then scoured music shops searching for the sounds they had heard. Blues fanatics were adept at recognizing the characteristics of like-minded listeners, and small gangs of aficionados formed in admiration of their muse.
The Blues became so popular in the UK that Melody Maker magazine teamed up with promoters to host a Blues package tour in 1962, consisting of Chess Records legends Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Many of them had never played outside of The United States. They couldn’t believe the welcome they received from young white audiences who sat in rapt attention, hungry for the music and hanging on every word and blue note.
Attending the concerts were young disciples who would leave their mark on music, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Jimmy Page, Eric Burdon, Eric Clapton, and Steve Winwood.
The Rolling Stones, who took their name from the Muddy Waters song, were devout students who sought no greater purpose than to spread the word. Their founder, Brian Jones, worked tirelessly to unlock the secrets of Elmore James’ slide playing before leaving home to form a band and play revved-up versions of blues standards. The Animals, The Yardbirds, and The Pretty Things all followed their lead. Blues elders like John Mayall helped groom guitar heroes; Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor served consecutive stints with The Bluesbreakers.
Young American listeners, swept up in The British Invasion, didn’t realize that the ‘new sound’ had essentially been created in their backyard and was being carried back to its birthplace.
In The States, a similar phenomenon emerged as music fans Paul Butterfield, Nick Gravenites, Michael Bloomfield, and Elvin Bishop haunted the Blues clubs of Chicago’s Southside, enthralled by what they heard. They slowly summoned the courage to approach their musical heroes, which eventually led to invitations to jam with the very players they idolized.
Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, and Otis Rush provided advice and encouragement, and The Butterfield Blues Band was born. They were a powerhouse outfit that left an indelible mark on listeners. Bob Dylan asked them to back him up when he went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Their lead guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, was an incendiary player and as influential in The U.S. as Clapton was in England. Fellow blues upstarts like John Hammond, Canned Heat, and Charlie Musselwhite soon appeared. The erudite Folk Music Boom of the late '50s and early '60s was giving way to a tougher, more visceral, sound that shunned Pop’s triviality.
Blues-Rock hit its high water mark when heavies like Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Jeff Beck Group, Fleetwood Mac, and Led Zeppelin fused the blues with thunderous amplification and improvisational intensity that staggered the imagination. Meanwhile, in The American South, Johnny Winter, The Allman Brothers Band, and ZZ Top crafted a unique Blues-Rock variant that was equally potent.
Even bands like The Doors and The Grateful Dead, who are much more closely associated with Psychedelic Rock, had a strong affinity for raw blues. The Dead’s singer Rod “Pigpen” McKernan was the son of a Rhythm & Blues radio DJ and was conversant in The Blues. The Doors’ live cover of Little Red Rooster features stinging lead guitar from Albert King. All the bands mentioned, plus many more, are waiting for you in our Blues-Rock Founders playlist on your Roon home page.
When diving into a devoted study of The Blues one begins to wonder if the name is a description of the emotional impact it carries or a plural term that hopes to contain its many forms. There’s no single inclusive characteristic that sums up the music. Some point to its prominent 12-bar structure, but there were plenty of legendary bluesmen who rarely utilized it.
Our Blues Origins playlist follows the same track sequencing as its Blues-Rock Founders off-shoot and allows the listener to trace the cover version back to its source. Just as Blues-Rock Founders provides an in-road into that form, Blue Origins takes you to ground zero and facilitates an opportunity to follow the thread from one blues legend to another with Roon’s similar artists and recommended album features. No crossroads deal required; we’ve done the work for you.
The playlist is a who’s-who of The Blues. Giants like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Albert King weigh in with several selections, highlighting their influence. Lesser-known figures like Sam Collins, Willie Cobbs, Robert Wilkins, Floyd Jones, and Wilbert Harrison demonstrate that the hidden corners of the music proved to be just as fertile as the dominant strains.
There’s so much more that I could say about the musicians in this list and the music they created. But, I’m not confident that any of it would be as effective as the feeling one gets from listening to it. The quote below speaks to the sensation of first hearing it with near biblical reverence.
Could a more compelling summation than that be articulated? I don’t think so, but we welcome you to spin up our Blues Origins playlist and take a crack at it!