Category Archives: Blues

“Moanin’ At Midnight”

Howlin’ Wolf
The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection

One of the best blind buys I’ve ever made – and as a high school music nerd on a fast food salary, I made many – was this Chess Records Howlin’ Wolf compilation. And one of my fondest musical memories is hearing the first few seconds of “Moanin’ At Midnight” — which dates to 1959 if my Wikipedia sleuthing is correct — for the first time. The sinister fade-in, the way the mics distort as the band builds energy, the fact that dude is literally howling at you from an era long past. Unbelievable, chills-down-the-spine stuff. Chester Burnett was a force of nature; there’s no blues artist living or dead I’d rather listen to. As Sam Phillips was quoted, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’” I can do no better.



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“The Things I Did for You”

Clifton Chenier
Bayou Blues, 1955/1970

“Standing in the shadow of Clifton Chenier, dancin’ the night away…” For about two decades, this lyric from Paul Simon’s Graceland was my only exposure to Chenier, “the King of the Bayou” and one of the most prominent Zydeco musicians of all time. Shifting through a stack of used records last year, I took a chance on “Bayou Blues” and fell instantly in love. This take of “The Things I Did For You” was recorded in 1955, early in Chenier’s career, and serves as a perfect introduction to his sound. There’s the traditional blues structure; the soulful, Creole-inflected, top-of-lungs vocal; the confident ride/snare shuffle. The lyrics may be mournful, but taken on its own the music tells a different story. We should all be so lucky when we get the blues.



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“Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles”

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band
Clear Spot, 1972

To call the Captain Beefheart catalog “intimidating” would be an understatement. I can’t think of a more imposing 20th-century popular artist; even those who adore Trout Mask Replica surely need a little time off between listens. It’s not them, it’s him – dude was brilliant, insane and avant to the end. Except for the handful of times he pretended not to be. On Clear Spot, he brought in the guy who produced The Doobie Brothers – those Doobie Brothers – to hammer his songs into a more commercial shape. It mostly worked, except for the fact that the album only reached #191 on the Billboard Top 200 (back when that mattered). Time has a way of sorting these things out though. “Her Eyes…” would prove to be one of the more durable, commercial songs in the Beefheart songbook, showing up on The Big Lebowski soundtrack and eventually landing the dubious honor of a Black Keys cover. You’ll be surprised how much you like it.



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