First recorded by Kansas Joe McCoy & Memphis Minnie (1929).
Hit album version by Led Zeppelin (1971).
From the wiki: “The blues song ‘When the Levee Breaks’ was written and first recorded by husband and wife Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929, in reaction to the upheaval caused by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that ravaged the state of Mississippi and surrounding areas. The flood destroyed tens of thousands of homes and devastated the agricultural economy of the whole Mississippi Basin, forcing people to flee to the cities of the Midwest in search of work and contributing to the ‘Great Migration’ of African Americans to the industrial North in the first half of the 20th century.
“The song was re-worked in 1971 by UK rock group Led Zeppelin, and released as the final track on Led Zeppelin IV. According to Led Zeppelin guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, the famous drum performance of John Bonham was a happy accident:
First recorded by Howlin’ Wolf (1960).
Based on “Spoonful Blues” by Charley Patton (1929).
Hit versions by Etta & Harvey (US #78/R&B #12 1961), Cream (1966).
Also recorded by The Blues Project (1966), Koko Taylor (1978).
From the wiki: “The blues song ‘Spoonful’ was written by Willie Dixon, and loosely based on ‘Spoonful Blues’, recorded in 1929 by Charley Patton. ‘Spoonful’ was first recorded in 1960 by Howlin’ Wolf. Backing Wolf on vocals are longtime accompanist Hubert Sumlin on guitar, relative newcomer Freddie Robinson on second guitar, and Chess recording veterans Otis Spann on piano, Fred Below on drums, and Dixon on double-bass. ‘Spoonful’ would go on to become one of Dixon’s best-known and most-interpreted songs.
“Etta James had a Pop and R&B record chart hit with ‘Spoonful’ in 1961, in duet with Harvey Farqua (who would go on to become head of A&R at Motown Records). ‘Spoonful’ would become more popularized in the late 1960s when recorded by the British rock group Cream who produced a cover of ‘Spoonful’ for their 1966 UK debut album, Fresh Cream.
First recorded (as a demo) by George Harrison (1971).
First commercial release by Jesse Ed Davis (1972).
Hit album version by George Harrison (1973).
From the wiki: “‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ was written by George Harrison. Harrison let American guitarist Jesse Ed Davis record it first for release, for the latter’s Ululu album (1972) in gratitude to Davis for his participation in the ‘Concert for Bangladesh’. Harrison had drawn inspiration for the song from the legal issues surrounding the Beatles break-up during the early months of 1971, particularly the lawsuit that Paul McCartney initiated in an effort to dissolve the band’s business partnership, Apple Corps.
“Harrison recorded a brief demo of ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’, in the Delta blues style, which became available in the 1990s on bootleg compilations such as Pirate Songs. Harrison biographer Simon Leng describes this 1971 recording as ‘astonishing’ and a ‘must’ for inclusion on any forthcoming George Harrison anthology, with Harrison sounding like ‘a lost bluesman, bootlegged in Chicago.’
First recorded by Prince’s Band (1917).
Popular versions by W.C. Handy (1917), Jelly Roll Morton (1926), Fats Waller & Alberta Hunter (1927), “Big” Joe Turner (1940), Louis Armstrong (1954), Ella Fitzgerald (1958).
From the wiki: “‘Beale Street Blues’ was written in 1917 by American composer and lyricist W.C. Handy. The title refers to Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, the main entertainment district for the city’s African American population in the early part of the twentieth century, and a place closely associated with the development of the Blues. ‘Beale Street Blues’ was first popularized for a mass audience when sung on Broadway by Gilda Gray in the 1919 musical revue Schubert’s Gaieties.
“Like many of Handy’s songs, Beale Street Blues is a hybrid of the blues style with the popular ballad style of the day, the opening lyrics following a line pattern typical of Tin Pan Alley songs and the later stanzas giving way to the traditional three-line pattern characteristic of the Blues. The song itself is now in the public domain in the United States, due to expiration of the copyright, though most of the recordings of it are still covered by their own copyrights.”
First recorded by Leona Williams & Her Dixie Band (1922).
Popular versions by Clyde McCoy (US #2 1931), Fats Waller (1935), Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (1936), Ella Fitzgerald & the Chick Webb Orchestra (1940), Johnny Mercer (US #4 1947).
From the wiki: “‘Sugar Blues’ was written in 1920 by Clarence Williams and recorded for the first time by Leona Williams (no relation) and Her Dixie Band in 1922. The song was made popular by Clyde McCoy in 1931, featuring the sound of the growling wah-wah mute. MCcoy recorded it no less than four times, and it became his trademark song. ‘Sugar Blues’ would also be recorded by Fats Waller (1935), Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys (1936), and Ella Fitzgerald (1940), and chart again on the Hit Parade in 1947 with a vocal cover by noted songwriter-lyricist Johnny Mercer (‘Satin Doll’, ‘Fools Rush In‘, ‘Jeepers Creepers‘).”
First recorded by Helen Jepson (1936).
Hit versions by Billie Holiday (US #12 1936), Sidney Bechet (1939), Sam Cooke (US #81 1959), Al Martino (UK #49 1960), The Marcels (US #78/UK #46 1961), Billy Stewart (US #10/R&B #7/UK #39 1966), Fun Boy Three (UK #18 1982).
Also recorded by Janis Joplin (1968).
From the wiki: “‘Summertime’ is an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the, Porgy, on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin. The song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard, described as ‘without doubt … one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote … Gershwin’s highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of blacks in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century.’
“Gershwin began composing the song in December 1933, attempting to create his own spiritual in the style of the African American folk music of the period. Gershwin had completed setting Heyward’s poem to music by February 1934, and spent the next 20 months completing and orchestrating the score of the opera.
First recorded (as “Dis Train”) by The Florida Normal and Industrial Institute Quartette (1924).
Also recorded (as “This Train”) by Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1939).
Hit version adapted by Willie Dixon and recorded (as “My Babe”) by Little Walter & His Jukes (R&B #1 1955).
Also recorded (as “My Babe”) by Cliff Richard (1959), The Uniques (1969), Willie Dixon (1970).
From the wiki: “‘My Babe’ was based on the traditional Gospel song ‘This Train (Is Bound For Glory)’, first recorded in 1924 by The Florida Normal and Industrial Institute Quartette. It was also first recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe as ‘This Train’ in 1939; a second version would be recorded by Tharpe in 1947 with the Sam Price Trio.
“‘My Babe’ was written by Willie Dixon (‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, ‘Spoonful’, ‘Little Red Rooster‘) for Little Walter. Dixon reworked the Gospel arrangement and lyrics from the sacred (the procession of saints into Heaven) into the secular (a story about a woman who won’t stand for her man to cheat): ‘My baby, she don’t stand no cheating, my babe, she don’t stand none of that midnight creeping.’ Released in 1955 on Checker Records, the song was the only Dixon composition ever to become a #1 R&B single, one of the biggest hits of either of Dixon’s or Walter’s careers. Backing Little Walter’s vocals and harmonica were Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Leonard Caston on guitars, Willie Dixon on double-bass, and Fred Below on drums.
First recorded by “Pinetop” Sparks (1935).
Also recorded by Memphis Slim (1949).
Hit versions by Lowell Fulson (R&B #3 1950), Joe Williams (R&B #8 1952), B.B. King (R&B #8 1955), The Count Basie Orchestra with Joe Williams (R&B #2 1955).
From the wiki: “‘Every Day I Have the Blues’ is a Blues song that has been performed in a variety of styles. An early version of the song is attributed to Pinetop Sparks and his brother Milton (or Marion), and was first performed in the taverns of St. Louis by the Sparks brothers. It was first recorded on July 28, 1935 by Pinetop with Henry Townsend on guitar. After a reworking of the song by Memphis Slim in 1949 (see below), ‘Every Day’ became a Blues standard with renditions recorded by numerous artists. Four different versions of ‘Every Day I Have the Blues’ have reached the R&B Top 10. Two recordings – one by B.B. King, and one by Count Basie with Joe Williams – have received Grammy Hall of Fame Awards. Williams first recorded and charted ‘Every Day’ for Chess in 1952 with the King Kolax Orchestra before re-recording the song again in 1955 with the Basie orchestra, a version that spent twenty-weeks on the R&B chart.
First recorded (as “Bull Doze Blues”) by Henry Thomas (1928).
Hit version by Canned Heat (US #11 1969).
From the wiki: “Canned Heat, who were early Blues enthusiasts, based ‘Going Up the Country’ on ‘Bull Doze Blues’, recorded in Chicago for Vocalion Records in 1928 by Texas bluesman Henry Thomas. Thomas was from the songster tradition and had a unique sound, sometimes accompanying himself on quills, an early Afro-American wind instrument similar to panpipes. For Canned Heat’s recording ‘Going Up the Country’, Alan Wilson used Thomas’ melody on the quills and his basic rhythm, but re-arranged it for a Rock setting and rewrote the lyrics; multi-instrumentalist Jim Horn reproduced Thomas’ quill parts on the flute.
“I’m going where I never get bulldozed…”
“The term ‘bull doze’ in the original Thomas recording was a reference to a prolonged beating with a whip, and its earliest recorded use in print was from newspapers in 1876, not long after the civil war, when white men would beat black men with whips to warn them not to vote.”
First recorded by Big Joe Williams’ Washboard Blues Singers (1935).
Also recorded by Muddy Waters (1953), Mose Allison (1960), Georgia Fame (1963).
Hit versions by The Orioles (R&B #8 1952), Them (US #102/UK #10 1964).
From the wiki: “‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ is a Blues song which has been called ‘one of the most played, most arranged, and most rearranged pieces in Blues history’ by music historian Gerard Herzhaft. Delta Blues musician Big Joe Williams popularized it with several versions beginning in 1935. The song’s roots have been traced back to nineteenth-century slave songs, dealing with themes of bondage and imprisonment. In 1952, a Doo-wop version by The Orioles reached the R&B Top 10 (an early 45 rpm issue available only on red vinyl); Muddy Waters’ 1953 recording recast the song as an electric Chicago Blues ensemble piece, influencing many subsequent renditions.
First recorded (as “Pistol Pete’s Midnight Special”) by Dave Cutrell (1926).
Also recorded (as “The Midnight Special Blues”) by Sam Collins (1927).
Hit versions by Lead Belly (1934), Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper (C&W #4 1959), Paul Evans (US #16/UK #41 1960), Johnny Rivers (US #20/CAN #36/AUS #86 1964).
Also recorded by Harry Belafonte (1962), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969).
From the wiki: “‘Midnight Special’ was first commercially recorded on the OKeh label in 1926 as ‘Pistol Pete’s Midnight Special’ by Dave ‘Pistol Pete’ Cutrell (a member of McGinty’s Oklahoma Cow Boy Band). (In March 1929, the band, now named ‘Otto Gray and the Oklahoma Cowboys’, recorded the song again, this time with the traditional title using only the traditional lyrics.)
“Sam Collins recorded the song commercially in 1927 under the title ‘The Midnight Special Blues’ for Gennett Records. Collins’ version also follows the traditional style but his recording was the first to name the woman in the story, Little Nora, and he was the first singer to refer to the Midnight Special’s ‘ever-living’ light. In 1934 Huddie William ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter recorded a version of the song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to him as the author. Ledbetter recorded at least three versions of the song, including one in 1940 with the Golden Gate Quartet, a gospel group.
First recorded (as “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer”) by Amos Milburn (R&B #2 1953).
Other popular versions by John Lee Hooker (1966), John Lee Hooker & the Muddy Waters Band (1967), George Thorogood & the Destroyers (1977).
From the wiki: “‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ (or ‘One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer’ as it was originally titled) was written by Rudy Toombs and first recorded by Amos Milburn in 1953 – one of several ‘drinking’ songs recorded by Milburn in the early 1950s that placed in the Top 10 of the Billboard R&B chart.
“John Lee Hooker recorded the song as ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ in 1966. Hooker transformed Milburn’s song, using the storyline and chorus but altering the order. According to historian and critic Charles Shaar Murray, Hooker ‘edited the verse down to its essentials, filled in the gaps with narrative and dialogue, and set the whole thing to a rocking cross between South Side shuffle and signature boogie.’ The song was released on Hooker’s 1966 The Real Folk Blues album. In 1967, a live performance by Hooker with Muddy Waters’ band was recorded at the Café Au Go Go in 1967 has been described by Murray as ‘dark, slow, swampy-deep, and the degree of emotional rapport between Hooker and the band (particularly Otis Spann, on piano) [is] nothing less than extraordinary.’
First recorded (as “Rising Sun Blues”) by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster (1933).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1941), Lead Belly (1944 |1948), Josh White (1947), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Pete Seeger (1958), Andy Griffith (1959), Miriam Makeba (1960).
Hit versions by The Animals (US #1/UK #1 1964), Frijid Pink (US #7/UK #4 1970).
From the wiki: “Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Alan Price of The Animals has even claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel.
First recorded by Howlin’ Wolf (1960).
Hit versions by Koko Taylor (US #58/R&B #13 1966), The Pointer Sisters (US #61/R&B #24 1973).
Also recorded by Savoy Brown (1971), Willie Dixon (1973).
From the wiki: “‘Wang Dang Doodle’ is a Blues song written by Willie Dixon and first recorded in 1960 by Howlin’ Wolf. In 1965, Dixon and Leonard Chess persuaded Koko Taylor to record it for Checker Records. Her recording charted both R&B and Pop, and ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ has since gone on to become a Blues standard. In his autobiography, Dixon explained that the phrase ‘wang dang doodle’ ‘meant a good time, especially if the guy came in from the South. A ‘wang dang’ meant having a ball and a lot of dancing, they called it a rocking style so that’s what it meant to ‘wang dang doodle’.’ Dixon claimed that he wrote ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ when he first heard Howlin’ Wolf in 1951 or 1952, but that it was ‘too far in advance’ for him and he saved it for later. Wolf supposedly hated the song at first and commented, ‘Man, that’s too old-timey, sound[s] like some old levee camp number.’
First recorded by Benny Spellman (1962).
Also recorded by The Rolling Stones (1963).
Hit versions by The Rolling Stones (AUS #5 1966), The Throb (AUS #5 1966).
From the wiki: “‘Fortune Teller’ was written by Allen Toussaint (under the pseudonym ‘Naomi Neville’) and first recorded by Benny Spellman (‘Lipstick Traces‘) in 1962.
“A couple of different versions have been released by The Rolling Stones (‘Time Is On My Side‘, ‘As Tears Go By‘). On 19 August 1963, the band recorded ‘Poison Ivy’ and ‘Fortune Teller’ to be the two sides for their second single. A few hundred copies were pressed, but the single was withdrawn – replaced by ‘I Wanna Be Your Man‘. The studio recording would be eventually released in 1964 on the UK-only EP Saturday Club), a compilation of tracks from various artists who had appeared on the BBC Radio program Saturday Club, and again, for wider distribution, on the 1972 compilation album More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)).
Inspired by “You Need Love” by Muddy Waters (1963)
and “You Need Loving” by Small Faces (1966).
Hit version by Led Zeppelin (US #4 1969).
From the wiki: “In 1962, Muddy Waters recorded ‘You Need Love’, written for him by peer Willie Dixon. In 1966 British mod band the Small Faces recorded the song as ‘You Need Loving’ for their 1966 debut album. Some of the lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s version were copied from the Willie Dixon song, a favorite of Plant’s. Plant’s phrasing is particularly similar to that of Steve Marriott’s in the Small Faces’ version. Similarities with ‘You Need Love’ would lead to a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 1985, settled out of court in favor of Dixon.
Based on “San Francisco Bay” by Lee Oskar (1977).
Hit version by Pitbull feat. Ke$ha (US #1 2013).
From the wiki: “Pitbull told Ryan Seacrest that the use of a harmonica on his recorded was inspired by Avicii’s hit single ‘Wake Me Up’. However, songwriters Lee Oskar, Keri Oskar and Greg Errico filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in June 2014 against the makers of ‘Timber’, claiming it features a harmonica melody that is identical to the one used in Lee Oskar’s 1978 song ‘San Francisco Bay’. The lawsuit claims that while the record label obtained permission to use the sample from a license holder, it failed to obtain permission from the songwriters themselves.”
First recorded (as “The Red Rooster”) by Howlin’ Wolf (1961).
Hit version by Sam Cooke (US #11/R&B #7 1963), The Rolling Stones (UK #1 1964).
Also recorded by Willie Dixon (1970).
From the wiki: “‘Little Red Rooster’ (also ‘The Red Rooster’) is credited to arranger and songwriter Willie Dixon. It was first recorded in 1961 by Blues musician Howlin’ Wolf in the Chicago Blues style. Sam Cooke adapted the song, sweetened it with additional instrumentation, and it saw chart success in 1963 as a Top 40 and R&B hit. The Rolling Stones recorded ‘Little Red Rooster’ in 1964 with original member Brian Jones, a key player in the recording. Their rendition, which remains closer to the original arrangement than Cooke’s, became a #1 record in the UK and is still the only Blues song to reach the top of the British chart.”
First recorded (as “Ball ‘n Chain”) by Big Mama Thorton (c. 1961, released 1968).
Hit album version by Big Brother & The Holding Company (1968).
From the wiki: “‘Ball and Chain’ (also known as ‘Ball ‘n Chain’) was written and first recorded by Blues artist Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton (‘Hound Dog‘). Although her recording did not appear on the record charts, ‘Ball ‘n’ Chain’ has become one of Thornton’s best-known songs largely due to performances and recordings by Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company. According to music writer Gillian Gaar, Thornton originally had recorded the song for Bay-Tone Records in the early 1960s, but it was not released until 1968 (by Arhoolie Records). Gaar adds that ‘[Bay-Tone held] on to the copyright – which meant that Thornton missed out on the publishing royalties when Janis Joplin recorded the song later in the decade.’
“However, Thornton’s (and Big Brother/Joplin’s) releases do list ‘W.M. Thornton’ as the songwriter. In 1967, after hearing a set by Big Mama Thornton at the Both/And Club, Joplin and Big Brother guitarist James Gurley asked Thorton if they could record ‘Ball and Chain’. ‘OK, take it – and sing it,’ was all Thorton said and then she meticulously wrote down the lyrics of the song for Gurley to use. With permission granted, and a signed release by Thorton’s manager, Jim Moore, Big Brother & The Holding Company began performing ‘Ball and Chain’ as part of their set.
First recorded by The Coasters (1965).
Hit versions by Manfred Mann (UK #1 EP 1965), Ray Charles (US #31/R&B #1 1966).
Also recorded by Ronnie Milsap (1965), Joe Cocker (1969).
From the wiki: “‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’ was written by Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Josephine Armstead, and was originally recorded by The Coasters in May 1965. It is notable for being one of the first successful compositions by Ashford & Simpson (‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘California Soul‘, ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’), but was most memorable because it became a 1966 #1 R&B hit for Ray Charles and was recorded shortly after Charles was released from rehab after a sixteen-year heroin addiction. The year prior, the UK group Manfred Mann recorded the song for their #1 British extended-play No Living Without Loving, which topped the UK EP charts in December 1965. Joe Cocker covered the song several times live, most notably at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen live album released 1970.”
First recorded by The Sunset Four Jubilee Singers (1925).
Also recorded by Birmingham Jubilee Singers (1930), Odetta (1954), Johnny Griffin & the Big Soul Band (1960), Graham Bond Organisation (1965).
Hit versions by Ramsey Lewis (US #19/R&B #3/UK #31 1966), Herb Alpert (US #37/MOR #5 1967).
Melodic refrain used (in “Little Walter”) by Tony! Toni! Toné! (1988).
From the wiki: “‘Wade in the Water’ is the name of a Negro Spiritual first published in New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (1901). It is associated with the songs of the Underground Railroad, and the verses reflect the Israelites’ escape out of Egypt as found in the Book of Exodus. Some sources claim that songs such as ‘Wade in the Water’ contained explicit instructions to fugitive slaves on how to avoid capture. (This particular song allegedly recommends leaving dry land and taking to the water as a strategy to throw pursuing bloodhounds off one’s trail.) The first known recording was made in 1925 by The Sunset Four Jubilee Singers.
“Other early recordings were published by the Birmingham Jubilee Singers (1930) and Odetta (1954). A 1960 instrumental recording by Johnny Griffin & the Big Soul Band is thought to have inspired both the Graham Bond and Ramsey Lewis recordings.
First recorded by John Lee Hooker (US #60/R&B #16 1962 |UK #16 1992).
Other hit versions by The Animals (US #43/CAN #14 1964), Big Head Todd & The Monsters (US #29 1998).
Also recorded by Mae West (1966).
From the wiki: “‘Boom Boom’ was written by American Blues singer/guitarist John Lee Hooker and first recorded in 1961. Although a Blues song, it has been described as ‘the greatest Pop song he ever wrote.’ ‘Boom Boom’, as recorded by Hooker, was both an American R&B and Pop chart success in 1962 as well as placing in the UK Singles Chart in 1992. It is one of Hooker’s most identifiable and enduring songs, and ‘among the tunes that every band on the [early 1960s UK] R&B circuit simply had to play’ (wrote Cub Koda in the liner notes for The Yardbirds compilation, Ultimate!). Hooker later re-recorded and re-released the song in 1968 on the Stateside record label as the B-side of ‘Cry Before I Go’ under the longer title ‘Boom Boom Boom’. According to Hooker, he wrote the song during an extended engagement at the Apex Bar in Detroit:
‘I would never be on time [for the gig]; I always would be late comin’ in. And she [the bartender Willa] kept saying, ‘Boom boom — you late again’. Every night: ‘Boom, boom — you late again’. I said ‘Hmm, that’s a song!’… I got it together, the lyrics, rehearsed it, and I played it at the place, and the people went wild.’
First recorded (as ‘See See Rider Blues’) by Ma Rainey (US #12 1925).
Popular versions by Wee Bea Booze (R&B #1 1943), Chuck Willis (US #12/R&B #1 1957), LaVern Baker (US #34/R&B #9 1963), Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels (US #10 1965), The Animals (US #10/CAN #1/AUS #8 1966).
Also recorded by The Orioles (1952), Elvis Presley (1970 |1973).
From the wiki: “The song is generally regarded as being traditional in origin. Ma Rainey’s version (recorded as ‘See See Rider Blues’) became popular during 1925, telling the story of an unfaithful lover, commonly called ‘easy riders’ (‘See See rider, see what you have done’), making a play on the word ‘see’ and the sound of ‘easy’. The song has since become one of the most famous of all Blues songs, with well over 100 versions.
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