Joe Bonamassa – From Child Prodigy to Modern-Day Blues-Rock Hero

Joe Bonamassa is considered by many to be the top blues guitarist of the present generation.  While most musicians his age draw influences from the ‘80s and ‘90s bands they grew up with, Bonamassa grew up listening to his parents’ classic rock records, a great foundation for any budding blues-rocker.  His solo career may just be little more than a decade old, but since 2000, Bonamassa has released a whopping 15 albums (eleven in the studio, four live) and three concert DVDs.  Indeed, this relatively young man has achieved as much in 12 years as most older musicians would in a lifetime’s worth of recorded music.

Joe Bonamassa was born on May 8, 1977 in New Hartford, New York as a fourth-generation musician.  It was his parents who first exposed him to rock music and the electric guitar.  Bonamassa first learned to play guitar at the age of 4, and three years after that, he was copying his heroes’ intricate leads perfectly.  And take note these weren’t any ordinary musical heroes, but the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  The child prodigy would open for legends such as B.B. King and Danny Gatton in the late ‘80s, and his own blues band, Hot in the Shade, became regulars in the New York gigging scene.  As a teenager, Bonamassa joined the band Bloodline, which featured the sons of several famous musicians – rhythm guitarist Waylon Krieger (the Doors’ Robby Krieger), bassist/lead vocalist Berry Oakley Jr. (the Allman Brothers’ Berry Oakley Sr.) and drummer Erin Davis (Miles Davis).  Bloodline disbanded soon after their self-titled 1994 debut, but it was clear that lead guitarist Bonamassa was the star of the band, despite not having a famous dad like his bandmates.

Six years later, Bonamassa, now 23 years old, released his solo debut, A New Day Yesterday, which was quickly followed up by So, It’s Like That, which topped the Billboard Blues album charts in 2002.  Unlike other “young guns” like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Bonamassa offered fans more than just a straight-up interpretation of the blues.  With a voice reminiscent of the Allman Brothers’ Gregg Allman and a sound redolent of ‘70s classic rock, Bonamassa had found his niche as one of the youngest and hardest blues-rockers in the scene.  Though not as well-received as his first two releases, Blues Deluxe (2003), Had to Cry Today (2004) and You and Me (2006) also impressed most reviewers and helped solidify Bonamassa’s status as the “pre-eminent bluesman of his generation.”

 The next few albums – Sloe Gin (2007), The Ballad of John Henry (2009), Black Rock (2010) and Dust Bowl (2011) – would feature more experimentation, with a more distinct touch of American blues, country and folk music.   A new album, Driving Towards the Daylight, was released just last month, again earning positive feedback from fans and reviewers alike.  With its usual mix of interesting cover material and brilliant compositions, Driving Towards the Daylight proves that Joe Bonamassa, just 35 years old, has no plans of slowing down nor forsaking the British blues influence that has been the guiding force throughout his career.  With recent collaborations such as the all-covers album Don’t Explain (with Beth Hart) and the supergroup Black Country Communion (with Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian), there doesn’t seem to be an idle moment in Joe Bonamassa’s career.

Howlin’ Wolf – The Loudest (and Largest) Man in Chicago Blues History

If he didn’t scare the heck out of you, he’d make a lifelong fan out of you instead.  That’s perhaps the best way to describe the legacy of Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin’ Wolf.  With his imposing size and extremely loud vocal delivery, Howlin’ Wolf was not somebody you would want to trifle with.  At 6’6”, he was tall enough to be a professional basketball player, and at 300 pounds, big enough to play professional football.  But he was a superstar in a totally different field altogether – the Chicago blues scene of the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

Chester Burnett was a product of White Station, Mississippi, where he was born on June 10, 1910 and named after the 21st President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur.  He got his stage name from his grandfather, who would frequently warn him about the “howling wolves” in the wild, in an effort to get him to behave.  At the age of 13, Chester was on his own, having ran away from his abusive uncle – a few years earlier, his own mother threw him out for being lazy.  A deeply religious woman, Gertrude Burnett had a contentious relationship with her son even when he became a successful bluesman – to her, the blues was the sound of Satan.

Howlin’ Wolf got his unique shouting style after several failed attempts to imitate country legend Jimmie Rodgers’ yodeling vocals.  But it was bluesmen such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sonny Boy Williamson II who served as a greater influence when Wolf started playing professionally.  At the age of 41, after years of criss-crossing the South as an itinerant musician, Howlin’ Wolf was signed to Memphis Recording Service, a recording label owned by one Sam Phillips.  In a few years, this label would become Sun Records and give birth to some of the first and greatest rock and roll recordings ever.

After a brief, moderately successful run in Memphis, Wolf moved to Chicago in 1953.  A year later, Wolf recruited guitarist Hubert Sumlin from the Memphis scene.  Sumlin would become Wolf’s closest co-contributor, playing on songs such as “How Many More Years” and “Smokestack Lightning.”  These two songs gave Wolf his biggest successes to date on the R&B charts, both peaking inside the Billboard R&B Top Ten.    Wolf’s self-titled 1962 album featured the songs “The Red Rooster”, “Spoonful” and “Back Door Man.”  These songs would eventually be covered by the Rolling Stones (as “Little Red Rooster”), Cream and the Doors respectively, firmly certifying Wolf as a big influence on a new generation of largely white rock and roll combos.

Wolf was unique among American bluesmen of his era, as he mostly strayed clear of the usual temptations that prematurely end a musician’s career.  He spent his money wisely, shunning expensive automobiles and other creature comforts in order to provide for his family and sidemen alike.  Still, his health began to fail in the late ‘60s, suffering several heart attacks and damaging his kidneys in an unfortunate car accident.   Wolf died on January 10, 1976, exactly five months shy of his 66th birthday, at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois.  Howlin’ Wolf’s music and influence still lives on, and it’s not just through the music of the bands and singers he influenced.  Every year, West Point, Mississippi is home to two tribute events – the Howlin’ Wolf Memorial Blues Festival and Wolf’s Juke Joint Jam.

Keb’ Mo’ – He’s Mo’ than Just a Bluesman

The name may sound a bit unorthodox to the uninitiated, but Keb’ Mo’ (born Kevin Moore) is a household name in the modern blues scene.  Though he was born well after the heyday of many great Delta blues musicians, the roots of Keb’ Mo’s sound dates back to a simpler time in American blues history, while incorporating other, more modern genres seamlessly into his music.  A late bloomer of sorts, Keb’ Mo’ got his big break in the mid-‘90s, when he was in his early 40s, proving that it’s never too late to become a success in the music industry.

The musician who would later be known as Keb’ Mo’ was born in Los Angeles, California, on October 3, 1951.  Despite being quite skillful on the guitar as a young man, Kevin Moore, as he was then known, got his start as a calypso bassist and steel drummer.  After a few collaborations with violinist Papa John Creach of Jefferson Airplane fame, Moore released a heavily pop and R&B-flavored debut album, Rainmaker, in 1980, using his birth name.  It would be fourteen years before the world would hear of Kevin Moore again – in 1994, he had a new, snappy stage name and a self-titled release Keb’ Mo’ .  Unlike his 1980 debut, this had a distinct Delta blues flavor and even included two remakes of Robert Johnson originals, “Kindhearted Woman Blues” and “Come on in My Kitchen.”  His next album under the new moniker, Just like You, was released in 1996 and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.   Despite being 45 at the time, Keb’ Mo’s midlife was anything but a crisis.  He was the blues scene’s newest superstar, and the best would be yet to come.

The critically-acclaimed Slow Down in 1998 and Keep it Simple in 2004 would also win Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammys for Keb’ Mo’ the year after their release.  In between those two releases, Keb’ Mo’ starred as the legend himself, Robert Johnson, in a 1998 documentary called Can’t You Hear the Wind Now?  He made several recurring appearances on Touched by an Angel.  There were no awards in 2000, but Keb’ Mo’ recorded two albums that year – The Door and Big Wide Grin.   The latter, which was released in 2001, was mostly a covers album, featuring new renditions of several ‘70s rock and R&B classics such as Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair.”

After 2006’s Suitcase, a five-year lull followed with no new studio albums recorded.  A semi-live, semi-studio album, Live and Mo’ was released in 2009.  But the real follow-up to Suitcase came last year via The Reflection, which many feel is a poppier departure from Keb’ Mo’s usual sound.  Nonetheless, The Reflection got a Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album this year, losing out to the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Revelator. 

To this day, Keb’ Mo’ remains a force to be reckoned with as a modern-day bluesman.  His sound has certainly evolved through the years to the point it’s debatable to call him a pure blues musician. Still, the blues foundation is there, as it has always been since that inauspicious 1980 debut.

Muddy Waters – King of the Chicago Blues Scene

B.B. King may be the undisputed king of blues to a lot of us, but when it comes to the Chicago blues scene, Muddy Waters is still arguably the greatest Windy City bluesman ever.  And his influence has transcended generations – the Rolling Stones got their name from one of his songs, and Jimi Hendrix counted him as one of his first-ever blues influences.  His songs have been covered or referenced by numerous rock and blues musicians, his name dropped by the Beatles on “Come Together” and his name and legacy referenced on the big and small screen alike. 

However, Muddy Waters did not originate from Chicago – he was born McKinley Morganfield in Issaquena County, Mississippi on April 4, 1915.  The popular legend suggests that Waters got his stage name because of his penchant for playing in the mud as a small boy.  He started out as a harmonica player, and by the age of 17, he had saved enough money earned as a sharecropper to buy his first guitar.  Like most young bluesmen of the era, Waters’ early influences included Delta blues icons like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Son House. 

Waters was first recorded on August 28, 1941, by Library of Congress archivist Alan Lomax, then researching on America’s top country bluesmen.  A year later, a visibly impressed Lomax would return for another recording session.  The success of the Lomax recordings in a cultural vein inspired Waters to move to Chicago in 1943 and become a full-time musician.  Waters would work several menial jobs during the period to make ends meet, and in the evenings he would perform in local events on the south side of Chicago.  Finally, in 1948, Waters recorded his first major hit, “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, which became a huge hit in Muddy’s adopted hometown.  In the early-mid ‘50s, songs like “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Mannish Boy” would all become Top 5 R&B hits and timeless blues classics to be covered frequently in the years to come.

An English tour in 1958 helped introduce the music of Muddy Waters to scores of would-be British Invasion musicians.  However, back home in America, Waters was losing favor on the R&B charts.  While the ‘60s produced some quality songs such as “You Need Love” (later appropriated by Led Zeppelin as “Whole Lotta Love”, there were also missteps such as 1968’s “psychedelic blues” album Electric Mud.  Despite influencing so many white British and American rock ‘n’ rollers in the 1960s, Muddy’s own career was floundering, and it would be a while before the world would hear a quality blues record again from one of the Chicago scene’s pioneers.  That “comeback” album came in 1977 – Hard Again, an album produced by Johnny Winter, one of the many young musicians influenced by Waters’ Chicago blues sound.  Winter would produce two more albums for Waters, but the older bluesman’s health was beginning to fail fast.

Muddy Waters passed away on April 30, 1983 from heart failure.  But the compilations still keep coming, as Waters left behind a treasure trove of unreleased live and studio material.  If not for Waters’ undying influence, it’s possible many of the rock bands we listen to today (or listened to yesterday) may not have come up with all those great songs.

Elmore James – The Undisputed King of the Slide Guitar

You can’t think of the blues without thinking of the slide guitar.  And you can’t think of slide guitar without Elmore James, the legendary Chicago bluesman who hit it big in the early ‘50s with two amped-up covers of Robert Johnson standards.  These songs, “Dust My Broom” and “Standing at the Crossroads” may sound nearly identical, but are probably the best examples of James’ trademark guitar sound.  Well before loud electric guitar sounds became part and parcel of popular music, James was playing louder than anyone else on the scene.  This only served to underscore the passion that came with the music and the brilliance that made Elmore James one of the most recognizable names in the Chicago blues scene.

Elmore Brooks is yet another product of the Mississippi Delta, where he was born on January 27, 1918 in Richland.  He would use his mother Leola Brooks’ surname early in life, then adopt that of his stepfather, Joe Willie James.  He played local small-time events as a teenager, and counted Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson II as two of his biggest influences as a young man.  After serving for the US Navy in World War II, James learned of a heart problem that would eventually lead to his untimely death nearly two decades later.  That didn’t stop him from hitting the recording studios in the early ‘50s, starting out as Sonny Boy Williamson II’s lead guitarist then recording solo shortly thereafter.  His version of Johnson’s “Dust My Broom”, recorded in 1952, would do well on the R&B charts and give him both his signature song and signature guitar lick.

James moved to Chicago in the mid-’50s, after several recordings on Mississippi-based Trumpet Records and the Bihari brothers’ two labels, Flair and Meteor.  He would then become a regular in the Chicago club scene, with his new backing band, the Broomdusters ably providing support.  Upon the expiration of his contract with the Bihari brothers in 1957, James would record for Chief Records, then later Fire Records.  Some of these recordings are “The Sky is Crying”, “My Bleeding Heart”, “Look on Yonder Wall” and “Shake Your Moneymaker.”  Problems with the musicians’ union in Chicago would result in James’ frequent jumps from record label to record label, and also force him to record in so many different locations, including his native Mississippi.

Ever since the start of his career, James’ health had been a dicey proposition.  He had suffered two heart attacks prior to 1963, and it can be argued that his health was also a reason why he wasn’t as active gigging or recording as his contemporaries.  On May 24, 1963, James suffered his third heart attack, and this time it would prove to be fatal.  At the time of his death, he was set to embark on a tour of Europe as part of the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival.

Despite dying at a very young age, Elmore James lived long enough to influence some of the heavyweights of blues and rock.  These include Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who once used the stage name “Elmo Lewis” as a tribute to his idol, and Jimi Hendrix, who also adopted part of James’ name early on in his prestigious career as “Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.”  “Dust My Broom” was covered by numerous artists in the ‘60s, and “The Sky is Crying” would be covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan in the ‘80s.  Elmore James will always be remembered as the man who helped make the slide guitar a valuable part of the electric blues.

John Lee Hooker – The Boogie Man is Real!

With a career spanning a good seven decades, John Lee Hooker is best known to fans as the master of boogie-woogie blues.  His was a form of blues you could dance to, something you can’t say about many of his contemporaries.   He preferred to keep things simple when playing the guitar, focusing on the rhythm and coming up with some of the catchiest blues songs ever recorded, including “Boogie Chillen’” and “Boom Boom”, the latter of which made most famous by the Animals and the Yardbirds in the ‘60s. 

Nobody knows for sure when Hooker was born – some sources state it was as early as 1915, others maintain it was as recent as 1923.  Hooker’s official website has his birth date listed as August 22, 1917, while the man himself claimed it was in 1920.  He was raised by a poor, religious family of Mississippi sharecroppers, and it was Hooker’s guitarist stepfather William Moore who got the young boy started on the path to becoming a bluesman.  Moore’s style was a basic one-chord  blues not unlike many of the songs his stepson would crank out as an adult.  At the age of 15, John Lee Hooker left home to become an itinerant bluesman, and hopping from city to city, hoping to catch that big break.  That break would come in Detroit, where he teamed with business partner Bernie Besman.  With Besman’s help, Hooker recorded his first single in 1948 – “Sally Mae” b/w “Boogie Chillen’.”  This single was released under Los Angeles’ Modern Records, and “Boogie Chillen’” became Hooker’s first #1 hit on the R&B charts.

Another R&B chart-topper would follow three years after the success of “Boogie Chillen’.”  “I’m in the Mood” was also released under Modern Records, and became a #1 hit in 1951.  Due to the horribly low wages African-American musicians would get at the time, Hooker would record for a variety of labels in the ‘50s using a variety of stage names, mostly slight twists on his given name.  He finally settled down on Vee-Jay Records in 1955, where he would release even more eventual blues classics, including “Dimples”, “Baby Lee” and “Boom Boom.”  The Animals’ cover of “Boom Boom” was a Top 50 single on the Billboard charts in 1964, and validated Hooker as an influence for younger musicians, including those (like the Animals) plying their trade across the pond.

Thanks to his growing list of connections in the world of popular music, Hooker collaborated with artists such as Canned Heat in 1970, the Blues Brothers (comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi) at the dawn of the ‘80s and Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt in 1989.  The latter collaboration resulted in a Grammy for Santana and Hooker, a long-overdue achievement for a man who had, at that point, been in the business for nearly 50 years. 

Hooker spent most of his last years semi-retired from the music scene, though he did release four albums on Pointblank Records in the ‘90s.  By this time he had earned enough to live comfortably, owning a few homes in California.  In 1991, Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  He had even appeared in a few television commercials, including one for Pepsi.  Hooker passed away at the age of 83 on June 21, 2001, dying from natural causes.  With a legion of artists covering his work and a status as an influential figure in both the blues and rock and roll, it’s safe to say the Boogie Man had left the living world as a happy man.

Robben Ford – Sideman, Bluesman and Jazzman Extraordinaire

Ever since he formed his first band in 1969, Robben Ford has had a colorful, yet underrated career.  He has had the privilege to play with a variety of artists, from jazz musicians like Miles Davis to hard rockers such as KISS.  Yet his roots have always been the blues, and that’s arguably what he can play the best, as heard on albums such as 1992’s Robben Ford and the Blue Line.  

Californian guitarist Robben Ford, born December 16, 1951, came from a family of musicians.  His father Charles was a guitar player in his younger days, and it was his name Robben used for his first band – the Charles Ford Blues Band.  While it did not include the Ford family patriarch himself, the band did include Robben’s brothers Mark on harmonica and Patrick on drums.  The Charles Ford Blues Band recorded one album in 1972, and before that, served as Charlie Musselwhite’s backing band.  They would reunite from time to time in the following decades, recording several albums in the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s, including tribute albums to the boys’ blues heroes, Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield. 

The ‘70s and ‘80s were an exciting time for Ford.  Playing mostly as a sideman, Ford backed up blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon from 1972 to 1973, folk singer Joni Mitchell in 1974 and saxophonist Tom Scott the same year.  Scott and Ford’s band, the L.A. Express, was ex-Beatle George Harrison’s backing group on his 1974 tour of the US.  In 1979, Ford released his first official solo album, The Inside Story.  This mostly instrumental album had more of a jazz-fusion sound than anything else, and Ford’s Inside Story bandmates would go on to form the core of the Yellowjackets.  In 1982, Ford had what one may call his most adventurous project to date, two cameo appearances on KISS’ album Creatures of the Night.  Ford was one of several musicians who played lead guitar on that album, contributing on “Rock and Roll Hell” and “I Still Love You.”

In between solo releases, Ford teamed up two legendary jazz musicians in separate projects – Miles Davis in 1986 and Sadao Watanabe in 1985 and 1987.  Ford’s 1988 solo album Talk to Your Daughter  included a cover of Albert King’s signature song “Born Under a Bad Sign” which appeared in the 1989 Clint Eastwood film Pink Cadillac.   Not only did this cover underscore Ford’s natural preference for the blues, it also gave him a bit of long-overdue mainstream recognition.  Several blues-oriented albums would follow in the years to come, including Robben Ford and the Blue Line (1992) and Mystic Mile (1993).  Most of Ford’s ‘90s releases were blues-oriented albums, the sole exception being 1999’s jazzy retrospective Sunrise, a collection of live recordings from 1972.  Ford is currently on Concord Records, which released his four solo albums thus far in the 21st century, including the most recent, 2009’s Soul on Ten.

Though mostly known as a sideman, Robben Ford has established himself as a credible and versatile solo performer.  Equally adept at blues, jazz and even heavier sub-genres of rock, Ford is a skilled guitarist and (again) underrated vocalist who is still very active touring, recording and collaborating with some of the biggest names in music.

Jimi Hendrix – Possibly the Greatest Rock Guitarist Ever

It’s hard to define a truly iconic moment in the career of James Marshall Hendrix, known otherwise to friends, family and fans as Jimi Hendrix.   Did it happen at the end of the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967?  Was it that legendary version of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock?  Or maybe one of his many classic hits – “Purple Haze”, “Foxy Lady” and “All Along the Watchtower” to name a few.  Chances are you would say all of the above – after all, this is a man many consider to be the greatest rock and blues guitarist of all time.

Born in Seattle, Washington on November 27, 1942 to Al and Lucille Hendrix, Jimi was originally known as Johnny Allen and renamed James Marshall, or “Jimmy” in 1945.  The Hendrix family lived in abject poverty, and three of his four siblings were eventually sent off to foster homes.  After years of fighting and boozing, Al and Lucille divorced in 1951 when Jimmy was nine, and seven years after that, Lucille Jeter Hendrix died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 32.  Hendrix would drop out of high school in 1959 – at this point, he was beginning to hone his guitar chops in a number of local bands.  Some of Hendrix’s earliest influences included bluesmen B.B. and Albert King and rock ‘n’ rollers Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.

After a brief spell in the US Army, Hendrix became a regular in the “chitlin’ circuit” and would soon become a sideman of choice for some of America’s biggest names in R&B, including Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Little Richard.  After being spotted by Linda Keith (Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard’s then-girlfriend) at New York’s Cheetah Club, Hendrix was endorsed to former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who was then beginning his career in band management.  In September 1966, Hendrix arrived in London, all set to be signed by Chandler and his partner, former Animals manager Michael Jeffery. 

Thanks to the management team of Chandler and Jeffery, the slightly-renamed Jimi Hendrix became an overnight success in the UK.  Also featuring bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded three consecutive US and UK Top 5 albums together – Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love in 1967, and Electric Ladyland in 1968.  Shortly after the release of Are You Experienced?, Hendrix finally attained stardom in his homeland, with an unforgettable guitar smashing and burning finale at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Dissatisfaction within the Experience led to the power trio’s unofficial breakup in June 1969, following a performance at the Denver Pop Festival.  Hendrix would then reformat his backing band, retaining Mitchell and hiring several African-American musicians, including former Army buddy Billy Cox on bass.  This new group would appear at the Woodstock Music Festival in August 1969, an event where Hendrix’s psychedelic instrumental version of the Star-Spangled Banner is still the highlight for many of those who attended.

Unfortunately, rock stardom began to take its toll on Hendrix, who was increasingly dependent on hallucinogenic drugs as the ‘60s ended.  A live album Band of Gypsys was released early in 1970, and several festival performances that year were huge successes for Hendrix and his ever-changing band of backup musicians.  However, nobody could have guessed how prophetic Hendrix’s comment “I’ve been dead a long time” would be less than two weeks later.  This comment was made at Germany’s Isle of Fehmarn Festival, where a visibly wasted Hendrix ended his set after just two songs.

Jimi Hendrix died in his London flat on September 18, 1970, following what many believe was an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.  The circumstances of his death are still shrouded in mystery, but Hendrix’s indelible impact on rock music as we know it is one that needs no explanation whatsoever.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – The Pride and Joy of Texas Blues

On August 27, 1990, Texan blues-rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan, better known to his fans as SRV, passed away in a helicopter crash.  This was a man who had conquered his demons just a few years prior to his tragic death, coming back stronger than ever and becoming well-known to fans of different musical genres.  And it all had to end so quickly in a tragic accident that nobody could have foreseen, but could have nonetheless been prevented.

The son of an asbestos worker and a secretary, Stevie Ray Vaughan came of age in the ‘50s and ‘60s and got into music thanks to his older brother Jimmie.  The Vaughan brothers grew up on rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack, as well as blues giants like Muddy Waters and B.B. King.  Stevie Ray dropped out of high school early in his senior year, and moved to Austin, Texas with Blackbird, one of his earliest bands.  Before forming Double Trouble in 1978, Vaughan played with several Austin-area bands including the Nightcrawlers and Paul Ray and the Cobras.  It was the latter band that gave Vaughan his first opportunity at singing lead vocals, when their lead vocalist came down with a throat problem.

Double Trouble would turn out to be Vaughan’s most enduring band, and remain active to this day.  Originally starting as a four-piece, the classic Double Trouble lineup remains the three-piece setup of Vaughan on guitar and vocals, Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums.  The band got their break in 1983 when their debut album Texas Flood was nominated for the Best Traditional Blues Recording Grammy.  The album spawned a few instant classics, including the title track and arguably the best-known Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble song, “Pride and Joy.”

The 1984 follow-up Couldn’t Stand the Weather was another success, if not as memorable as Texas Flood.  Shortly thereafter, Vaughan celebrated his 30th birthday with a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall.  A third album, Soul to Soul, was released in 1985, and the highlights of several 1985 and 1986 concerts made up the fourth Double Trouble release, Live Alive.  Unfortunately, SRV was unraveling at this point, as his drug and alcohol consumption was reaching fever pitch.  Vaughan’s prodigious appetite for booze and cocaine led to health problems, and after a nearly-fatal episode in Europe, he finally decided enough was enough.  Vaughan underwent a month’s drug rehab and upon release, he renounced all his vices, including cigarettes, and went right back to touring.

In Step was SRV and Double Trouble’s fourth studio album, released June 1989.  Here, Vaughan was at the peak of his creativity, clean and sober and writing songs that only a man who had been to hell and back could write.  Little did anyone know this would be the last Double Trouble album with Vaughan, or that Stevie Ray and Jimmie’s collaborative album Family Style (released posthumously in September 1990) would be the last SRV album ever.

Vaughan and Double Trouble had just come off two concerts in East Troy, Wisconsin, opening for Eric Clapton, another one of SRV’s boyhood heroes.  Four helicopters carrying all the musicians and crew had taken off on that fateful August day, pushing on despite a thick fog.  One of those helicopters carried Vaughan and three Clapton aides would crash just a few minutes after takeoff, killing everyone on board.  Vaughan was only 35 years old.

Otis Rush – The Unlucky Lefty of the Chicago Blues Scene

Despite influencing blues-rock legends in waiting like Eric Clapton and Michael Bloomfield, Otis Rush hasn’t gotten the accolades and success many other ‘50s-‘60s Chicago blues mainstays have.  That hasn’t made him any less influential, though.  He recorded some definite blues classics in the ‘50s, such as “I Can’t Quit You, Baby” and “Double Trouble”, and is still known for his vibrato-rich left-handed guitar playing style and his passionate vocal work.  Unfortunately, he has occasionally been known as a difficult person to work with, and bad luck seems to follow him in his numerous jumps from label to label. 

Unlike other Mississippi Delta-born bluesmen who moved to Chicago as adults, Otis Rush (b. April 29, 1935) arrived in Chicago at the age of 13, in 1948.  As a young man, Rush was a regular in Chicago’s South Side and West Side blues clubs, and after being discovered by Willie Dixon, he signed with Cobra Records in 1956.  This is where he recorded the two aforementioned classics, songs that reached the Top 10 of Billboard’s R&B charts and more or less guaranteed the young bluesman stardom outside of the Windy City.  Cobra would fold in 1959, but Rush wasn’t without a label for long.  In 1960, he signed with Chess Records, where he recorded eight songs, including another all-time favorite, “So Many Roads, So Many Trains.”

Following those eight tracks with Chess, Rush bounced from label to label for the rest of the ‘60s.  By 1971, he was on a major label (Capitol), where he recorded the prophetically-titled album Right Place, Wrong Time.  Capitol would ignore the record completely, and it would be four years before the album finally surfaced, this time on an independent Japanese label, P-Vine.    After a few live albums on even more record labels, Rush would stop recording and touring for a few years.

Rush seemed to be on the comeback trail in 1986, recording an album on Rooster Blues with some esteemed session musicians.  Unfortunately, Rush would abandon the project in the middle of recording sessions,  apparently unsatisfied with how the amplifiers made his guitar sound.  The project would be scrapped, and it would be eight years before Rush would finally record a studio album again.  The result was another aptly-titled release, Ain’t Enough Comin’ In, an album which received critical acclaim despite purely consisting of cover material.  This was followed in 1998 by Any Place I’m Goin’, an album that won the Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy the year after.

Bad luck continued to stand in Rush’s way despite the success of his last two albums.  In 2004, Rush was forced into retirement from live performances after suffering a stroke.  And it’s been 14 years since Any Place I’m Goin’, and still no new studio releases.  It’s been a quiet 21st century for Otis Rush, but it is every blues fan’s hope that the venerable southpaw would return with a vengeance, hopefully without the bad luck that h