When I was in high school and the beginning of college, all I really knew was rock music. I wanted to learn about other styles of music, but where to start that education. Certainly, I found some help in books and magazines. But another huge contribution to my learning came from my friends who ran and inhabited record stores.
First, I had to learn who the great blues artists were. Sure, I knew about B.B. King; but I needed to discover more blues and rhythm and blues artists. John Voorhees at Honest John’s Records was a big help as well as his brothers Dave and Steve. These guys all knew more than me.
So, I listened and found out about Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, John Mayall, Albert King, Savoy Brown Band, Freddie King and many more. I bought a lot of vinyl albums from these artists and took them home to listen to. I quickly found my favorites.
This kind of new information allowed me to build a blues library of my own and actually intelligently play and talk about various blues artists on my radio show on KCMU FM at the University of Washington. This station was our student run radio station that began in 1972.
My beginning voyage actually led to me meeting and recording Muddy Waters live at the Student Union Building, second floor, at the University of Washington. This was very eye opening to an innocent middle class kid from the very white north Seattle. After all, I’d never seen or met any blues artists, black or white.
While we were at the station one day, someone announced that Johnny Shines would be playing at Kane Hall on the U of W campus. Johnny Shines was not an incredibly well known blues artists and was really more of a delta bluesman versus electric Chicago Blues.
The audience was small but appreciative. We were part of the rebirth of blues fans in college students during that 1968 to about 1975 period.
Next was Albert Collins at the Walrus Tavern on Greenwood Avenue. This had to be somewhere around the end of 1972 to the beginning of 1973. John Duff and I sat in their small balcony and thoroughly enjoyed the incredible playing and singing of Albert Collins, another great black bluesman.
So, this was my education in that wonderful field of blues music. I kept adding favorites like Magic Sam, Paul Butterfield, Charley Musselwhite, Earl Hooker and many more. And, I’ve never stopped exploring the blues and getting to know an extended list of artists. Our band even started incorporating more blues music.
The blues continues to appeal to a much smaller following than rock or pop music, but does keep that almost fanatical following. Since my business is buying and selling vintage vinyl records, we find that the really good jazz and blues records tend to be the field that music and vinyl fans seem to hang onto the most and not offer them to us.
If you’ve been thinking about checking out the blues more, don’t wait any longer. It’s an awesome journey.