Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPLU All Blues host John Kessler has expanded "The Blues Time Machine," which has been a popular segment on his weekend blues shows. The weekly series tracks one great blues song through history - from its earliest recording to its latest and sometimes, with some surprising interpretations. "The Blues Time Machine" airs on KPLU on Fridays at 12:10 p.m. during the "Blue Plate Special," and on All Blues Saturdays and Sundays at 8 and 11 p.m.

Slide guitar wizardry surfaced in 'Stranger Blues'


Tampa Red was a slide guitar pioneer who helped create the template for modern blues. His distinctive use of single-string slide melodies in the 1920’s would go on to influence virtually every slide player who followed him, including Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters.

In the days before amplification, he played a steel-bodied resonator guitar, the loudest and showiest guitar available. And he was one of the early adopters of the electric guitar, making the switch in the 1940’s.

In addition to his own career, he was an active collaborator, and can be found playing on records with Memphis Minnie, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson and Big Maceo. As a songwriter, too, he left his mark with compositions that became standards, such as “It Hurts Me Too” and “Love With a Feeling”. Tampa Red was playing electric slide guitar when he recorded “Poor Stranger Blues” in 1946.

While Tampa Red was the slide guitar star of early blues, Elmore James was surely his successor, almost universally hailed as the most influential slide guitarist of his day. His searing, distorted guitar and impassioned vocals conveyed an unparalleled sense of urgency and emotion. He composed many standards of the blues (“The Sky is Crying”, “Cry For Me Baby”) and gave life to many earlier blues songs such as “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “One Way Out”.

Elmore James was a follower of Tampa Red—he recorded several of Tampa's songs, and even inherited two musicians who played with Tampa Red, pianist Little Johnny Jones and drummer Odie Payne. He recorded “Stranger Blues” in 1962.

Matt Schofield is a young British guitarist who has accomplished a lot in his 35 years. As a player, he is compared favorably to Robben Ford, for his fluid style that hints at tonalities beyond blues. As a producer, he has made 3 acclaimed albums with singer Ian Siegal, Meat and Potatoes, Swagger and Broadside. Schofield recorded “Stranger Blues” on his 2009 album Heads, Tails and Aces.

He performs the song live in this video clip:

Here are the complete versions of “Stranger Blues” tracked through time:

Tampa Red “Poor Stranger Blues” 1946

Elmore James “Stranger Blues” 1962

Matt Schofield “Stranger Blues” 2009

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.