Pete Frame’s Guide to the Blues Part 2

OK, so you should be in with the spirit of things now. If not, click here for a spot of revision.

So, where to next? How about Rolling Fork and Vicksburg, 45 miles apart, mostly on Route 61, skirting the Delta National Forest. And here we find two giants of the blues, Muddy Waters, born in 1915, and then Willie Dixon born the same year. But then it gets a bit murky. Robert Gordon, in his biography of Muddy Waters, called I Can’t Be Satisfied, says the correct birth date is 1913, at Jug’s Corner, Issaquena County, a few miles away. That’s the blues for you.

Here is Pete’s take:

MB6

We’ve discussed Willie Dixon before in detail, so here we’ll focus on Muddy Waters. Pete generously credits a book called Deep Blues by Robert Palmer (no, not ‘Addicted to Love’ Robert Palmer, but the superb music critic). Published in 1981, and now in its 39th impression, it is a must-read for anyone who has got this far in this post. The Library of Congress recordings that Pete mentions are available as The Complete Plantation Recordings, and include a few interviews as well as the first Muddy Waters recordings. Here is one of the first two numbers he cut: I Be’s Troubled.

Think you recognise it? This is the version you probably know better:

Willie Dixon and the Roots of Rock Family Trees

If Rock Family Trees had DNA then traces of Willie Dixon would be found everywhere. Rolling Stones, Little Red Rooster: Willie Dixon (Kinks, Stones and Pretties, London R&B Explosion). Cream, Spoonful: Willie Dixon (Alexis Korner, Clapton early and late, Steve Winwood). Jeff Beck, You Shook Me: Willie Dixon (Jeff Beck, Beck Page and Yardbirds). Bluesbreakers: All Your Love: Willie Dixon (John Mayall). Led Zeppelin: Whole Lotta Love, after legal action admitted to have been derived from Willie Dixon’s You Need Love (Beck, Page and Yardbirds, and others).

Check it out for yourself:

Here are some more examples:

Alexis Korner, I’m Built for Comfort

Savoy Brown: Wang Dang Doodle

Dr Feelgood, You’ll Be Mine

The Merseybeats: You Can’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover

Fleetwood Mac: My Baby’s Sweeter

Georgie Fame: Seventh Son

Spencer Davis: My Babe

It’s an old cliche, but if you want to see an illustration of what we could call ‘music laundering’ – how British players imported black Chicago blues and rendered them in a form acceptable to white American audiences – compare Eric Clapton’s solo on All Your Love with the Otis Rush version.

Listen to the solo starting around 1:22, and then listen at 1.20 to this:

And a further twist, Willie Dixon’s performances of his own songs don’t always have the power other singers sometimes can manage. Compare his version of Spoonful, at the top of this page, with Howlin’ Wolf, one of the greatest performances of any Willie Dixon song. Actually, make that one of the greatest performances of any song, full stop. Turn up the volume. And then some more.