The Mississippi Sheiks were a popular string band of the 1920’s and 30’s, with a sound that was a crossover between country music and blues. Though Mississippi-based, their music differed from delta blues in some important ways.
For one, country blues chord changes have more in common with folk music than with blues, and secondly, the prominence of fiddler Lonnie Chatmon gave them a sound more akin to folk and country than to blues. They had major success with their 1930 recording of “Sitting On Top Of The World”, which became a national standard, and toured throughout the South until their popularity waned in the late 1930’s.
Howlin’ Wolf is well known for the songs he made into blues standards, (“Killing Floor”, “Smokestack Lightning”, “Spoonful”) but his repertoire also included “Sitting On Top Of The World”, which he recorded in 1958. With his wailing harmonica and legendary growl, the track leans more towards blues than country.
The Grateful Dead are probably the definitive band of the psychedelic era, known for incorporating virtually every style of music into their recordings, with an emphasis on country, folk and blues. With guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia’s background as a bluegrass musician, songs like “Sitting On Top Of The World” were a natural for the group and they recorded it on their debut release in 1967.
One reason Jeff Healey sounds different than other guitarists is because he played the guitar sitting down with the instrument resting in his lap. This unique posture allowed him to achieve sounds and riffs that were his own. Healey demonstrated his versatility with a career that included rock hits like “Angel Eyes”, as well as several traditional jazz releases. “Sitting On Top Of The World” was released in 2008, just weeks after his premature death at age 42 from cancer. The camera work may be a little shaky, but this is a great live performance by Jeff Healey from 2007:
Here are the complete versions of “Sitting On Top Of The World” tracked through time:
The Mississippi Sheiks “Sitting On Top Of The World” 1930
Howlin’ Wolf “Sitting On Top Of The World” 1958
The Grateful Dead “Sitting On Top Of The World” 1967
Jeff Healey “Sitting On Top Of The World” 2008