Blues | KNKX

Blues

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. locks arms with his aides as he leads a march of several thousands to the court house in Montgomery, Ala., March 17, 1965. From left: Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Foreman, King, Jesse Douglas, Sr., and John Lewis (partially out
The Associated Press

Music was an essential part of the civil rights movement. This weekend, KNKX’s John Kessler will host a special hourlong program highlighting the most important songs of the era, as well as the milestones they marked.

All Blues host John Kessler recently released his annual top 10 list of blues albums. He sat down with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick to discuss the music — a mix of old and new sounds. Listen to their chat and some of the tunes now.

Saxophonist Sonny Rollins in undated performance
Veryl Oakland

Details of the seemingly charmed life of an international jazz star. Memories of the rough-and-tumble heyday of Chicago blues, and the tiny independent record labels that nurtured it. A collection of exquisite moments in the lives and performances of some of the jazz greats, captured in real light. 

There's a new book for every jazz and blues enthusiast this year.

Our holiday tradition continues. All Blues host John Kessler shares his top 10 blues albums the year. See which artists made the cut below, and listen to All Blues every Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Cary Morin is simply one of the best acoustic guitarists you are likely to hear, and a master storyteller as well. His 2017 album Cradle to the Gravewas on my Top 10 List for the year in Blues, and also received rave reviews from the Bluegrass and Folk communities. 

Every year, blues connoisseur John Kessler compiles a list of his favorite blues records. Enjoy!


Doug Macleod outside the KNKX studios in Seattle, Wash.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Doug Macleod is a modern renaissance blues man. An award-winning musician and songwriter, he is also a columnist, radio host and teacher. As a sideman in the 1960s and 1970s he played with legends Big Mama Thornton, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Lowell Fulson among many others.

Every year, blues connoisseur John Kessler compiles a list of his favorite blues records. This year, he features a wide swath of talent new and old. Enjoy! 

Buddy Guy — 2014 Born to Play Guitar RCA  

You don’t have to read a book to learn the story of Buddy Guy’s life; it’s all here on this album. Back in 2008, Buddy Guy started collaborating with Nashville songwriter and producer Tom Hambridge, and four albums later that partnership is still flourishing, with a unique combination of Nashville songwriting sensibility and Buddy’s hard-core electric blues. At age 79, Buddy hasn’t exactly mellowed with age—he’s still a wild genius guitarist; his voice remains inviting and he tells his stories with utmost believability. He’s certainly on the short list of all-time greatest blues players, and this is my favorite blues release of the year.

Jim Levitt

Violinist Regina Carter demonstrated her varied training and experience during her concert at this Summer's Jazz Port Townsend, presented by Centrum.  The concert ,which will air exclusively on 88.5 KPLU and kplu.org on Sunday September 13 at 2 PM Pacific, includes standards and blues, African music and an original by her drummer Alvester Garnett.  Also joining Regina Carter in this concert are pianist Benny Green and bassist John Clayton.

Blues guitarist and vocalist Elvin Bishop recently stopped by the KPLU performance studios and, as is usual with an Elvin Bishop show, a good time was had by all.  

In the mid-1960s Elvin was a founding member of the highly influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Since then Elvin's made a number of recording as a group leader.  

His latest is called "Can't Even Do Wrong Right." In this performance/interview hosted by Mary McCann, Bishop performs that title track as well as another original composition, "Old School." The band also gave us their beautiful rendition of the Percy Mayfield classic, "River's Invitation."

Justin Steyer

    

The group Omaha Diner is made up of four of the most gifted and adventurous musicians in jazz: drummer Bobby Previte, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, guitarist Charlie Hunter and saxophonist, Skerik.  

Along with the almost scary level of talent, the other thing that makes Omaha Diner unique is their musical repertoire.  They won’t even think about playing a song unless it has reached #1 on the Billboard Pop Music chart.

That’s right, Omaha Diner is a jazz band that plays only pop music. But boy, do they turn that pop music inside out.  

Ever since the 1960s, when she worked as a solo blues singer and member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Maria Muldaur has been dedicated to traditional American music, primarily blues and gospel. In 1973, she had her biggest hit record, Midnight At The Oasis.  Maria and her band stopped by the KPLU Performance Studio during a tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of the recording of that song.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

One of Seattle's most sought-after bands, Industrial Revelation, performed live in the KPLU studios hosted by Abe Beeson.

Track List:

  • End Of Courtesy
  • Old Man Soul
  • Ingathering

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Jon Cleary has the rare ability to transcend his geographical background. As you will learn in his interview with All Blues host, John Kessler, Cleary grew up in England and was exposed to the New Orleans sound by his uncle at a young age. 

Cleary saved up enough money to visit New Orleans, planning to stay a few weeks, but 33 years later he is still there and has become one of the city's best known musicians. 

Justin Kauflin: A Pianist And His Mentor

Jun 26, 2014
Aaron Hushagen / KPLU

Justin Kauflin is a 23-year-old jazz pianist who is also one of the subjects of a new documentary film called Keep On Keepin’ On.

The other subject of the film is Justin’s musical and spiritual mentor, jazz trumpet legend, Clark Terry. Kauflin has been a musician since childhood. He’s also been blind since age 11. The film deals with Justin’s apprenticeship and friendship with the 93-year-old Terry.

Stevesworldofphotos / Flickr

What was the first recorded rock and roll song?

Before we can answer that question, we have to go back and figure out the ingredients of rock and roll. We can identify three most important ingredients: gospel, jump and blues. 

Muddy Waters was born in rural Mississippi, and learned his blues at the feet of Son House and Robert Johnson.

By the 1940’s he took that delta blues to Chicago and led the gradual transition to electrified urban blues. He then recorded “Honey Bee” in 1951 with just bass and guitar accompaniment. The sound was closer to the delta, but you can hear the beginnings of the more aggressive modern sound starting to happen.

Earl King is one of the great songwriters and performers to come out of New Orleans, and his legacy continues to live on. Many of his compositions, including “Big Chief," “Trick Bag” and “These Lonely, Lonely Nights” have become an important part of the New Orleans “songbook."

His 1960 recording of “Come On Pts. 1 & 2” is punctuated with many starts and stops, featuring his expressive voice and aggressive and precise guitar work. If you look through Jimi Hendrix’s early releases, there are only a handful of songs among the dozens that he did not write. Earl King’s “Come On” is one of those.

The urban blues of places like Detroit and Chicago came from country blues. Little Son Joe and his better known partner Memphis Minnie were among the players who brought the blues to the cities, paving the way for Muddy Waters and others who would follow.

Memphis Minnie is known as one of the best guitarists and singers in the blues, and had a prolific career lasting 40 years. She married Little Son Joe (Ernest Lawlars) in the late 1930’s and they recorded “Black Rat Swing” in 1941 with Joe on vocals.

10 Artists You Should Have Known In 2013

Dec 26, 2013
Courtesy of the artist

It's usually easy to keep up with your favorite artists. You can follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook and check them out when they come to your town.

Falling in love with unfamiliar bands? That's not quite as simple. There are so many aspiring musicians out there, you can't possibly listen to all of them.

But a few lucky people get to listen to random new artists for a living, including public radio hosts. So we asked NPR stations around the country to highlight their favorite musical discoveries of the year. The results ranged from a Pulitzer Prize winner to stars of the Kansas City BBQ circuit.

Read on for more about the 10 artists you should have known in 2013.

Joe Goblin / Associated Press

Boz Scaggs: Memphis (429 Records)

A tribute to the Memphis soul-blues tradition, made with some of the city’s best players. His unique rasp has only improved with age, and perfectly complements the laid-back groove that permeates the release. Not all the material is “soul” music, some of the best tracks are the bluesy “Cadillac Walk” and “Dry Spell”. Boz is a master of the simmering blues vibe, slightly restrained, but overflowing with mojo.

James Cotton: Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator Records)

Here’s a perfect example of a song that changed with the times, and was at the cutting edge of those changes.

Drummer and singer Rabon Tarrant recorded “Blues With a Feeling” in 1947, a time when big band swing music was in transition to rock and roll. This version straddles both genres with the beat of rock and roll, but the more jazzy instrumentation of piano, sax and trumpet.

Hooks Brothers

If I had to pick one person to represent Delta blues at the peak of its expression, it would be Robert Johnson.

Saying that he was a superlative guitar player, impassioned singer and masterful lyricist seems barely adequate to convey the importance of the work he accomplished in his 27 years. Many of his songs became not only blues standards but would be a huge influence on rock music.

It’s hard to trace the exact source of “Crow Jane”, but it’s a song that has outlasted many others from the early days of the blues. Its roots lay in the Piedmont region of Virginia and North and South Carolina. Rev. Gary Davis was known to perform it during the 1920’s, and the first recording was made in 1927 by guitarist Julius Daniels. Daniels is important partly because he was one of the first Black guitarists to record in the Southeast, inspiring others to follow.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Pianist/singer Marcia Ball is one of the best-known  players of Louisiana blues, swamp blues and boogie-woogie. While in town for a show at Jazz Alley, we were lucky enough to have Marcia stop by for a solo performance and interview hosted by All Blues' John Kessler. 

Sleepy John Estes was a Tennessee-based blues singer of the 1920’s and 30’s. Though not a flashy guitarist, his voice was packed with power, and the songs he wrote have lasted through the years to be sung by Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

On his first trip to Seattle, Grammy-nominated vocalist Gregory Porter stopped by the KPLU Seattle studios for a live studio session that you do not want to miss.  This also happened to be the day that Blue Note Records announced the release of Porter's new album, Liquid Spirit. 

Ken Thomas

The Legend of John Henry is an iconic myth of American railroad history, a battle between man and steam drill. One of the intriguing things about the legend is that no one knows for sure if John Henry existed. At least part of the myth is based  on historical events from the mid-1800’s; some say the source lies in Alabama, others point to West Virginia, both places where significant railroad tunnels were dug.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Want a good recipe for soul music?

Here’s what you do: Start with vocalist, Joan Osborne, who has had pop music hits, performed on The Grand Old Opry, toured with members of The Grateful Dead and yet never strayed from her roots in rhythm ‘n blues music.

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