My Top Five: Blues Artists You've Never Heard Of
The Blues. Its origins are murky (okay, muddy), and it’s legacy is passed from generation to generation. The people who play the Blues happily adopt the genre, give it a home, dress it up a little, and influence it in their own way. While you’ve (likely) never heard of them, here are some ear-opening performers who have made the Blues their own…
With only a couple of 78s and a 1989 ‘comeback’ album to his recording credit, guitatist Zuzu Bolin might be considered just a footnote in the history of the Blues. Not so. Touring with his own combo as early as 1949, he later joined up with Percy Mayfield’s band, and eventually moved to Dallas, where he hooked-up with Torch Records and recorded A-sides Why Don’t You Eat Where You Slept Last Night? and Stavin’ Chain, the latter with ace Blues songwriter Jimmy McCracklin’s band. After various stints with other acts, Zuzu put his guitar in the closet in 1964, only to be ‘rediscovered’ in the late 80’s. He recorded his acclaimed album Texas Bluesman in 1989 and sadly, died in 1990. And we are still amazed. More Zuzu at www.myspace.com/zuzubollin.
Never heard of John ‘Juke’ Logan? Well, check out movies like La Bamba and Crossroads, TV’s Home Improvement, and commericials for Cherry Coke and Jack-In-The-Box – they’re drenched in Logan’s bluesharp. A talented composer and prolific bluesman, his collaborations have included folks like John Mayall, Ry Cooder, Albert Collins, Dave Alvin, Dobie Gray, Leon Russell and the late Gary Primich. His latest project is stellar, teaming him up with drummer Stephan Hodges (Tom Waits, John Hammond) and guitarist Rick Holmstrom (Billy Boy Arnold, Rod Piazza) to produce Twist-O-Lettz, famously described as “neo-roots/blues”. Info at www.mocomborecords.com.
While he passed away in 2009, Piney Brown’s influence continues to this day. He penned tunes for Roscoe Gordon and James Brown, recorded on the Apollo, Duke and King Record labels, toured alongside Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, and was a mentor to the great Albert Collins. Equally at home in Blues, soul, jazz, and even country, his last two CDs were the culmination of a 60-year career that saw him excel as dynamic sideman and shouter. Find his recorded work at www.bonedogrecords.com.
Born and raised in Nashville TN, amazing vocalist Marion James spent her youth in the church, later discovering the Blues through her mother’s collection of old, vinyl 78’s, and listening to performers at vaudeville shows and local clubs. Her early-60s touring band included Jimi Hendrix and legendary bassist Billy Cox. After signing with the Excello Records label, she scored her first hit in 1966 with That’s My Man. More recently, Marion was featured in the renowned historical exhibit “Night Train to Nashville: Music City R&B 1945-1970” and she’s now teamed up with Ellersoul Records. Check out www.ellersoulrecords.com.
Keyboardist Bruce Katz has been described as creative, dexterous, and brilliant – and anyone who has listened to Katz would agree. A master of both Blues & jazz, his working gigs have included Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Witherspoon, Chuck Berry, Johnny Adams, and a pivotal 5-year run with guitar genius Ronnie Earl. Going solo in the early 90’s, Katz also began teaching the very first ‘in-depth’ Blues course at Berklee College. His recorded work, mostly instrumental, is amazingly approachable for even the most novice listener. If you want to hear the Blues boundaries of the B-3 organ (or the piano) pushed to the limit, Katz is your man. Find Bruce at www.brucekatzband.com.