Jimmy Nolen, most famous for his “chicken scratch” with James Brown (that’s him on “poppa’s Got A brand New Bag”, “Cold Sweat”, and Johnny Otis’ “Willie & The Handjive”) opens the album with “After Hours”, an late-night slow shuffle just west of Kansas City. Languid clean-toned guitar simmers through chorus after chorus of tasteful phrasing. Next up is a pair from Albert King, “Killing Floor" and “You Threw Your Love On Me Too Strong”, both showcasing his signature sound and style.
Lowell Fulson continues the laid back vibe with the mid-tempo horn-driven “Talkin’ Woman” with its West Coast sound and the lazy shuffle “Every Time It Rains”. B.B. King is represented with a pair from his early days on RPM, swinging his heart out on the uptempo and optimistic “Early In The Morning” and burning through gritty instrumental “Talkin’ The Blues”. Both songs are also textbook examples of electric guitar through an overdriven tube amp. Elmore James is another iconic Blues guitarist included here and we get to hear him in a slightly different setting. “Dust My Blues” is of course the expected signature song but on “Elmo’s Shuffle” we get to hear him without a slide and he lays into some stinging licks over a jumpin’ boogie-woogie shuffle.
Lafayette Thomas was born in Louisiana and got his start in California where he helped define the West Coast sound. “Jumping In The Heart Of Town” elicits the memories of T-Bone Walker and Guitar Slim with it’s stinging guitar and boogie bass line as does the slow Blues “Standing In The Back Door Crying”. Guitar Slim himself makes an appearance with the call-and-response song-along “Certainly All” followed by his classic hit “The Things That I Used To Do” featuring a very young Ray Charles on his first session.
Much has been said about Ike Turner’s less than stellar behavior and the unfortunate thing for us music buffs is that it has overshadowed his musical contributions. As a teenage talent scout for Sun Records he discovered Chester Burnette, a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf, and brought him to Sam Phillips to record who in turn sold his contract to the Chess brothers. Also while at Sun Records Ike played on a number by Jackie Brenston called “Rocket 88”, hailed by many as the first Rock ’n’ Roll record for its distorted guitar, an effect produced by a tear in the speaker filled in with a piece of paper. The amp and the paper, still shoved inside the speaker, are on display at Sun Studio. His earlier work has somewhat fallen by the wayside while the Ike & Tina catalog remains fairly well known. Prior to Tina he recorded a number of instrumentals with his Kings Of Rhythm and here we are treated to one of his baddest, “Twistin’ The Strings”. His over the top whammy bar action foreshadows both Lonnie Mack and Jimi Hendrix while being in a league of its own.
Texas takes over for the next two pairs. Houston Third Ward native Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson shows up with his classic slow Blues “Three Hours Past Midnight”, his one-finger picking style in full force yanking the strings for all they’re worth. The theme is continued as the tempo picks up with “Oh Babe”. Austin-born Pee Wee Crayton was a T-Bone disciple like no other and the Jump Blues instrumental “Twinky” shows him flying that Texas flag with pride complete with traces of Western Swing in his chord work. “Mistreated So Bad” is another simmering after-hours Blues in the same vein as the opening track, this one with vocals.
T-Bone Walker had an overarching influence on nearly all the guitarists on this set, as well as everyone who came after them, so it’s only fitting that the man himself be represented here. “Hey Hey Baby” is an uptempo swinging Texas shuffle with horns and an uncommonly pronounced organ playing what could be horn parts. T-Bone’s guitar is classic T-Bone and is as simultaneously earthy and sophisticated as ever.
Two more iconic heavyweights close out the collection, John Lee Hooker in his typical gutbucket gear with “I Had A Good Girl” and Elmore James once again with “Hawaiian Boogie” which follows familiar territory with a slight twist.
Once upon a time Blues and Rhythm & Blues bands cranked out hip shaken’ house rocking’ music that reflected the optimism of better times ahead. Across the U.S. the chitlin’ circuit was home to the wildest music played by some of the wildest musicians to ever walk the audience. BLUES GUITAR BLASTERS captures a brief moment in time just before the birth of Rock ’n’ Roll when all the ingredients were percolating and gives us a glimpse into that world. Next month we’ll peek deeper with a rare B.B. King live album from before his crossover success.