1. “I Got to Go” Little Walter, 1955
It’s a fast, weird tempo – a train rhythm, because it’s an on-the-move song. Little Walter was a big influence – the Charlie parker of harmonica.
2. “First Time I Met the Blues” Buddy Guy, 1960
He was a virtuoso. B.B. King and Otis Rush were influential on a lot of British guitar players, but Buddy had more virtuosity and different licks to nick. He had a vocal style that was harsher than everyone else.
3. “40 Days and 40 Nights” Muddy Waters, 1956
It’s got these religious overtones that give it a poignancy. You could have picked so many tracks by him, but this one gives you a shiver when you put it on.
4. “Stones in My Passway” Robert Johnson, 1937
One of the essences of Robert Johnson is the eeriness, and this one illustrates that – the lyrics, the way he delivers it. The thing about blues lyrics is you never know who wrote them. They’re a patchwork of composition people take a line, embellish it with their own verses. But I never heard anything like this. This seems quite original.
5. “Lonely Avenue” Ray Charles, 1956
It’s a great tempo, a lovely shuffle. I’ve sung this with the Stones, with other people. Doc Pomus was a good writer, very underrated, although I always rated him highly.
6. “Cold Shot” Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1984
He’s a player who absorbed all of these influences – country, Hendrix licks, but urban too. He has these lazy tempos, like this one. He sits back in the track, in that groove.
7. “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” Z.Z. Hill, 1982
I never saw him live, but I love this song. There’s a whole genre of blues songs the jealousy thing, not letting anyone in your house. But in this song, everyone is let in. The wife lets everyone in the house.
8. “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” Blind willie Johnson, 1927
He was an itinerant church singer, only did religious themes. He’s got some odd voices. He’s got this growly gospel voice, then this almost effeminate sound, like a woman’s voice. He switches from one to the other. It’s very haunted.
9. “Forty Four” Howlin’ Wolf, 1954
This is a piano blues with a funny time signature. It’s very powerful. It was almost impossible for anyone else to do that voice. He was so far off on some other plane. He had this strange voice — strange everything.
10. “Going Down” Freddie King, 1971
He came to play shows in England a lot, and I used to see him in Los Angeles all the time. This song is great, and different. It’s not just a 12-bar blues – somebody thought about how it’s going to work, with that bass line, It ups the ante from the usual.
“I tried to cover different styles and eras, although it is weighted toward the Fifties. Pop music in Britain used to be filtered through a big machine. With these records, you got the feeling it was coming to you directly, with an earthiness that spoke of another existence. John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy – they were also on television. It was considered folk art in Britain. It was slightly patronizing, but the essence of it was out there.”
The Playlist Issue
Rolling Stone, December 9, 2010