I’m back to finish my love letter to Texas by recognizing the Lone Star State’s contribution to the blues. I love the blues and you know that if you read my post on slide guitar. Some of the blues legends to emerge from deep in the heart of Texas: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly, Lightin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thorton, Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny and Edgar Winter, ZZ Top, Janis Joplin, Doyle Bramhall II, and Los Lonely Boys, among others. Let’s take a look at some of these folks.
As I read about the lives and deaths of some of the early blues musicians, it really pained me to hear about the intense suffering many endured. Blues music was born as a way to express and communicate the everyday life of poor African-Americans living in the South at the end of the 19th century. A folk tradition born from the creative soul of a people who suffered the unimaginable, the blues gave voice to the voiceless. While most good blues really touches that part of our soul that knows deeply what it means to hurt, there is a sound in those early songs that is truly haunting in its ability to convey the human condition at its most vulnerable.
One of the earliest blues musicians recorded, Blind Lemon Jefferson, lived between the late 1800’s and died around the late 1920’s. Born one of eight children of Texas sharecroppers and blind from birth, he eventually made it to Chicago (where many other Southern blues musicians ended up). Stories of his death are so varied – anything from being poisoned by a jealous lover, freezing in snow storm, to being robbed and killed. Here is “Black Snake Moan”:
Blind Willie Johnson was another very early (late 1800’s/early 1900’s) Texas musician. His music was highly influential and his music straddled the line between gospel and blues, with such famous songs like “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” His songs were covered by everyone from Led Zeppelin, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan, to The White Stripes and Nick Cave. He also died a tragic, undignified death due to his race and blindness, the prejudice of the day simply barbaric. How haunting is this song “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground”?
T-Bone Walker was an influential blues musician from the 1930s through the 1950s. His legacy is cemented in rock history, as he pioneered the use of the electric guitar as early as 1939. Walker wrote one of the most recorded blues standards, “Stormy Monday,” which incorporated jazz styling. He eventually moved out to Los Angeles, where he eventually died of pneumonia. Here is T-Bone Walker doing “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong”:
Sam “Lightin'” Hopkins came to prominence in the late 1940s and in the 60s gained international recognition. He played alongside Pete Seeger and Joan Baez during the 1960s folk revival and influenced a host of rock musicians including a young Jimi Hendrix, who learned the blues listening to Hopkin’s recordings. He spent most of his life in Houston, Texas with a short stint in Los Angeles with a record label. His life was chronicled in a 1969 documentary, The Blues According To Lightin’ Hopkins. This clip from youtube is called “Lonesone Road” and it is unclear where this clip originates, but I have a hunch it is probably from that documentary.
Freddie King, the “Texas Cannonball” and one of the “Three Kings” of the Blues (along with Albert and BB). Freddie was born in Texas and moved to Chicago, but influenced by both Texas and Chicago style guitar playing. He was also an influence on other blues guitar players like Clapton. Here he’s doing “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and if you want to hear some real hardcore blues – this is it – I’m telling you:
Stevie Ray Vaughn is Austin’s native son, so revered they have a statue of him at the edge of the lake in the center of town. Legendary in his talent and untimely in his passing, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble led a blues revival in the 1980s as well as brought a lot of attention to Texas Blues. Here he is doing his classic song “Texas Flood”:
Los Lonely Boys combine their Tex-Mex roots with bona-fide Texas blues. Out of San Angelo, West Texas, they play straight from the heart. I remember my brother and sister back in 2003 telling me they just saw these amazing Chicano brothers playing the blues at this tiny bar in South Austin, The Saxon Pub. I went right to my local record store and bought a copy of their debut CD. I thought it was good music and the songs were catchy, but it wasn’t until I saw them live that fall at ACL Festival that I realized their true power as musicians. Their playing sent shivers down my proverbial spine; you know that feeling when you know you’re in the presence of something beyond the ordinary. They possess that unique ability to move people deeply and bring together the generations and cultures. Here they are doing a blues ode to Texas called “Cottonfields & Crossroads” at Bonaroo in 2004. This video is not very clear visually, but you get the idea of what it might be like to see them live:
Another up and comer out of Austin, Texas is Gary Clark, Jr. I’ve seen him several times at clubs around Austin and at ACL and he is a really talented guy. He’s also pursuing an acting career. Please check him out doing “Catfish Blues”:
That’s all folks and check out the blogs & resources for links to websites and blogs on The Blues and Texas Music. Also if you’re a twitter-er, check me out there @rootnotemusic
Texas Blues Musicians
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Willie Johnson
Big Mama Thorton
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Doyle Bramhall II
Johnny “Guitar” Watson
Los Lonely Boys
Gary Clark Jr.
(Photo montage from Photobucket, ClarenceBluesMan)