order of birth date)
(1873-1958) - Blues Musician
the "Father of the Blues," W.C. Handy first heard the
Blues being played by a lone Bluesman at the railroad depot in
Tutwiler, Mississippi, in 1903. Handy obviously did not create
the Blues, but he is the first person to publish a composition
with the term "Blues" in the title and utilizing "blue notes"
(flatted thirds and sevenths). This song - "Memphis Blues,"
published in 1912, along with his famous "St. Louis Blues" two
years later, first brought the genre to the mass public. This is
the man after whom the Handy Awards (the Blues "Grammys") are
(1883-1946) - Blues Musician
the woman that started it all, as far as Blues on record. Her
"Crazy Blues" is considered the first Blues recording ever. The
record sold an incredible million copies in the first six months!
This success opened the floodgates, as record labels and talent
scouts began to scour the country for more Blues singers to
(1885-1979) - Blues Musician
the gap between early Blues and the Folk and minstrel styles that
preceded it. He was the man, along with his band Gus Cannon's
Jug Stompers, featuring legendary harpist Noah Lewis,
that helped start and define the early Jug band style, prevalent
in Memphis in the '20s and '30s.
(1886-1939) - Blues Musician
the "Mother of the Blues," Ma Rainey was instrumental in
bringing Blues music into the vaudeville tradition. She was a
mentor to many of the classic women Blues singers that followed.
She had been performing the Blues for twenty years before her
first recording in 1923. She would go on to record with such
Blues legends as Blind Blake and Tampa Red, along with
Jazz greats Kid Ory and Louis Armstrong.
(1888-1949) - Blues Musician
known as Leadbelly, was the first Blues artist to achieve
fame with white audiences. Many of his compositions from his
extensive songbook have become classics of Folk, Blues, and
Popular music. After Leadbelly's release from prison in 1934,
Alan Lomax recorded a multitude of his performances for
the Library of Congress. One of the first Bluesmen to travel to
Europe, his songs "Goodnight Irene," Midnight Special," and "Rock
Island Line," among others, were a profound influence on the
Skiffle craze in England and the subsequent Blues scene
Big Bill Broonzy
(1893-1958) - Blues Musician
the years, was a most versatile performer, being equally adept at
solo acoustic Folk-style, Ragtime, and early urban small combo
Chicago Blues. He was one of the first artists to spread the
Blues overseas, in addition to being a major force and mentor to
many fellow Blues Musicians stateside. Broonzy was an exceptional
guitarist, fine singer, and exceptional songwriter.
Hurt (1893-1966) - Blues Musician
gentle man was an anomaly of sorts in that he was from the Delta
region, but his guitar playing had much more in common with the
more sophisticated finger-picking of Piedmont style Blues. He
recorded a few sides in 1928, but was out of the music business
until his rediscovery in 1963. He became one of the most beloved
of Bluesmen in the '60s Folk-Blues resurgence, influencing a
horde of aspiring guitarists in the college and coffeehouse
(1894-1937) - Blues Musician
who best defines the term of "classic" Blues singer. She earned
the title of "Empress of the Blues" with her sassy, bold songs
that earned the respect of both Blues and Jazz artists. The
finest musicians performed behind her, helping to create an
exceptional body of work before her tragic death. Her swagger,
style and strong, passionate voice epitomized what the early
vaudeville style Blues was all about. Most women Blues singers
point to Bessie Smith as the one who set the
(1896-1956) - Blues Musician
with Charley Patton and Son House, Tommy Johnson
was one of the pioneering Delta Blues Musicians. His characteristic
vocal growl that would rise to an eerie falsetto howl was a big
influence on both Jimmie Rodgers (the "Father of Country
Music") and fellow Bluesman Howlin' Wolf. His songs'
structures, including "Cool Water Blues," "I Asked For Water (She
Brought Me Gasoline), "Maggie Campbell" and "Canned Heat Blues,"
found their way into many other artists' repertoires.
Davis (1896-1972) - Blues Musician
late '20s, Reverend Gary Davis was one of the main
practitioners of the Piedmont Ragtime-style guitar picking, being
a great influence on Blind Boy Fuller and many others. His
career received a huge boost during the '60s Folk-Blues boom, due
to his exceptional guitar technique and thoughtful songwriting.
He was a huge inspiration to Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal,
Jorma Kaukonen, and Ry Cooder.
Rice (Sonny Boy
Williamson II) Miller (1899-1965) - Blues Musician
Ford "Rice" Miller was older than the original Sonny Boy
Williamson, but decided to take on the same nickname, due to the
original's great success, when Miller was holding forth on the
famous "King Biscuit" radio show in Helena, Arkansas. Rice
Miller's career eventually eclipsed the original Sonny Boy's.
Miller influenced such Blues legends as Howlin' Wolf, Little
Walter and James Cotton, who all learned directly from
him. Outside of Little Walter, probably the most imitated Blues
harp player ever.
(1902-1988) - Blues Musician
"Son" House was simply the most intense sounding Blues artist of
all-time. A contemporary of Charley Patton and Willie
Brown, his pioneering Delta Blues sound directly influenced
such musicians as Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, and most
importantly, Muddy Waters, who cited House as his biggest
inspiration. Son's pounding rhythmic guitar and anguished vocals
epitomized what the Mississippi Delta Blues was all about and was
a window into his tortured soul.
(1904-1981) - Blues Musician
known as Tampa Red, was a prolific recording artist and talented
guitarist. His smooth slide guitar style and sly lyrics made him
one of the most popular Bluesmen of the early Chicago Blues
scene. Earning the nickname of "The Guitar Wizard," Tampa Red
penned many songs that have become classics, including "It Hurts
Me Too" and "Black Angel Blues" (which B.B. King later reworked
as "Sweet Little Angel"). He also helped create what became known
as "hokum" with its humorous, double-entendre lyrics.
(1904-1967) - Blues Musician
with Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, Pete
Johnson was one of the kings of Boogie-Woogie piano. A
mainstay of the vibrant Kansas City Blues scene, he often
recorded with Blues shouter Big Joe Turner. In fact, the
pairing of the two on John Hammond's Spirituals To
Swing Carnegie Hall concert in 1938 ignited a renewed
Boogie-Woogie craze, which swept the nation.
(1904-1929) - Blues Musician
"Pinetop" Smithwas one of
the most influential Blues figures of the late '20s. His song
"Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" was the very first song with the term
in the title and its lyrics and stop-time arrangement became the
template for many subsequent piano Boogie-Woogie workouts. The
beloved Pinetop Perkins not only borrowed the style, but
also the nickname, keeping the flame burning today.
there are the first 25 of T-Bone's 50 most influential Blues
artists of all-time. See next week's BluesWax
for the other 25 artists. After checking out the whole list,
feel welcome to respond with any thoughts, comments or your own
suggestions. During the last month of the official "Year of the
Blues," this is a great way to reflect on the people who have
made the largest contributions to the music.
"T-Bone" Erickson is the founding editor ofBluesWax.
T-Bone may be contacted at email@example.com.
This article appeared in BLUESWAX. Used by permission.