Blues Today!: Chicago Box set
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When blues historian Samuel Charters released his three-volume collection of Chicago blues in 1966, it had an impact on the rock and roll world similar to that of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, exposing a new, predominantly white generation to the sounds of the urban blues Mecca. Each artist came in and recorded 4-6 songs specifically for the project; many of these tunes have become staples in blues and rock repertoires. Includes Messin' with the Kid Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band; I Can't Quit You Baby Otis Rush Blues Band; Dust My Broom Homesick James & the Dusters; Hey, Hey Johnny Shines Blues Band; the Blues Keep Falling Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet; Sometimes I Wonder Otis Spann's South Side Piano, and more.
Few anthologies capture lightning in a bottle quite like Sam Charters's Blues Today! series. Producer/writer/all-around blues champion Charters conducted the sessions for what would become three LPs in the winter of 1965, rounding up some of Chicago's superior but still undiscovered South Side talent--Junior Wells, J. B. Hutto, Otis Spann, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Homesick James, Johnny Young, Johnny Shines, and Big Walter Horton. The frontmen and their bands were skilled, tight, and ready to go when Charters came calling, quickly churning out anywhere from a single track (Horton, who turns in a harmonica duet with a young Charlie Musselwhite) to a half-dozen selections. Much of what they summoned up was nothing short of sensational. Wells's Chicago Blues Band offerings rival their work on their hallmark Hoodoo Man Blues, while the gifted but inconsistent Rush is inspired throughout his five efforts. Vanguard's repackaging on the original three records is a boon for blues fans, thanks to its handsome design and generous notes, including an 11-page 1999 memoir from Charters. --Steven Stolder
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If you like the blues, you won't be disappointed!
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Those last four legends are NOT on these recordings--Walter and Sonny Boy had passed by then--but just about everyone who meant anything in Chicago blues is. Muddy's former harp player James Cotton and the one and only Otis Spann, his favorite keyboard man, are both in strong form. Cotton's version of Rocket '88 is the most rocking and explosive jump blues you will ever hear, truly a gigantically important recording. His harp performances on this set are tremendously powerful and creative, showcasing his inimitable style. Junior Wells and Buddy Guy play a strong mini-set, with Junior's vocals on Vietcong Blues some of the best he's ever done.
It is simply incredible that these recordings feature three guys who, over the years became some of my all-time favorite musicians, and remain so to this day: Johnny Shines, Otis Rush, and Charlie Musselwhite. Not that race matters, but Charlie, just as in the very first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969, is the only white guy on the records. Since it's Chicago blues, Johnny Shines plays electric here, and he blows the doors off with his powerful and impassioned vocals. I am convinced that Shines, unlike any musician I can name, is at least as great acoustically as he is amped up. The great Big Walter "Shakey" Horton lends superb harp to Shines', and Johnny Young's sets, and Charlie--billed then as Memphis Charlie--plays a really nice harp duet with Big Walter.
The immortal Otis Rush, again, only in my opinion, the greatest combination blues singer/guitarist ever, tosses off a sublime version of I Can't Quit You Baby, which rivals and possibly exceeds his Cobra version.
This is an absolutely essential recording for anyone interested in blues Chicago-style: amplified, electric, stunningly powerful. These blues will grab you and will not let you go.
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