.

It’s no secret that I ain’t been around for a while. Truth be told, I got The Blues. Alright, I know that’s what I said in 8 Great Blues Cassettes – Part One. This time, though, I had a different kind of Blues: The Summertime Blues. With all the smog, San Francisco fog, and dog days of summer, how’s a girl gon’ keep from cryin’? That question was answered resoundingly by none other than “Empress of The Blues” Bessie Smith in 8 Great Blues Cassettes – Part Two.

Now that we’ve fallen into autumn, it’s high time to discover which bodacious, breathtaking, bonafide Blues artists made the Final Four in 8 Great Blues Cassettes – Part Three.

5. Etta James – My Greatest Songs (1992)

In 1938, a baby girl named Jamesetta Hawkins was born in South Central Los Angeles, California to her 14-year old mother Dorothy, and an unidentified father. Bounced around from home to home as a child, the one consistent force in her life since infancy was music. As told in her autobiography Rage to Survive, Jamesetta’s “vocal fire” at the age of 5 made her a singing sensation at St. Paul Baptist Church in the Echoes of Eden Choir. By 14, she formed a girl group named the Creolettes due to their light skin complexions. During this time, she was taken under the wing of musician and talent scout Johnny Otis, who changed the group’s name to the Peaches, and reversed Jamesetta’s birth name to create her stage name Etta James.

Attaining some success with the label Modern Records including Roll With Me Henry (The Wallflower) in 1955, which earned her a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2008, it was her move to Chess Records that shot Etta into stardom with her iconic debut album At Last! (1960). The year 2008 was also the debut of the film Cadillac Records, in which singer/actress/diva Beyoncé Knowles captured the “diamond in the rough” essence of Etta in a story loosely based on the rise and fall of Leonard Chess’ namesake label where Etta remained for 18 years. While Beyoncé’s performance received accolades, nobody—and I mean nobody—and can do The Etta James Story justice better than the W.O.M.A.N. herself. Honored as the Matriarch of R&B, Etta James has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993), the Blues Hall of Fame (2001), and placed 22nd on Rolling Stones list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Though she succumbed to leukemia in 2012 just 5 days before her 74th birthday, it was her addiction to drugs, alcohol, and food that haunted Etta James for most of her life. Fortunately, she raged on for over 6 decades with a voice based in The Blues, infused with the Blue Notes of Jazz, drenched in Doo-Wop, and filled to the brim with a rousing mix of R&B, Gospel, Soul, Rock & Roll, and even Rockabilly. Her compilation cassette My Greatest Songs (1992) is the embodiment of all this and more, surpassing the manufactured feel of a “Greatest Hits” album with a more personalized song selection. The tape begins with Something’s Got a Hold On Me, a get-up-and-dance Baptist Church throwback with a soul-stirring intro that has been sampled many times—most famously by Flo Rida on his 2011 single Good Feeling. It then slips into Sunday Kind of Love, showcasing Etta’s softer, gentler side and smooth jazz sensibilities. Soon enough the sassy lil’ ditty Pushover assures you she ain’t too soft, while Trust In Me is a tantalizing blend of tender and tough, orchestrated with stringed instruments for 1960’s Pop crossover appeal. My Greatest Songs rocks on with Spoonful—the groovy duet with Harvey Fuqua, rocks out with Tell Mama, gets down with The Blues classic I’d Rather Go Blind, then gets down and dirty with I Just Want To Make Love To You, originally recorded by Muddy Waters. And betwixt R&B and The Blues is Etta James’ signature song At Last. There’s something mystical, majestic, timeless, and transcendent about this quintessential wedding song. Just like “Miss Peaches” herself, it’s got heart and above all—Soul.


6. Jimi Hendrix – Blues (1994)

“I’m Buster, savior of the universe!” proclaimed the young boy who was convinced he was the Sci-Fi Superhero Larry “Buster” Crabbe, aka Flash Gordon, and would indeed grow up using his “superpowers” claim his place as GOAT: Greatest Of All Time. Born John Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington, “Johnny’s” father legally changed his first child’s name to James Marshall Hendrix upon his return from the army in 1945. As recounted by his younger brother Leon Hendrix in Jimi Hendrix: A Brother’s Story, his big brother answered only to “Buster” for most of his childhood in protest of this name change. Artistic, athletic, and fascinated by the night sky as a kid, it was one lone string on an old ukulele that ignited 14-year-old Jimmy’s love affair with stringed instruments.

Soon Jimmy was fixated with “finding the music”, attaching rubber bands to bedposts to experiment with sounds, until he finally got his first guitar: an old, beat-up Kay acoustic in 1957. Being left-handed, Jimi began playing that guitar upside down until he swiftly restrung it so the neck could rest in his right hand instead of his left. Since the acoustic couldn’t be heard at jams, it wasn’t until after Jimmy got an electric guitar in 1959 that he began playing with local bands in Seattle nightclubs. Finally amplified, Jimmy was on fire with his undeniable gift of guitar, going from jamming with the Rocking Kings in high school, to playing with the King Kasuals along the Southern Chitlin’ Circuit after a brief stint in the army, to touring with the Isley Brothers and, like Etta James, with his childhood idol Little Richard.

Though he accompanied greats like Otis Redding and B.B King in the early 60s, Jimmy was destined to be the main attraction. By 1966 he moved to London to form and transform into Jimi Hendrix and the Experience. Essentially overnight, Jimi became a star, releasing 3 studio albums with the Experience—all which are on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list—and one live album with his post-Experience group Band of Gypsys. Much like a shooting star, Jimi’s bright light and life was short-lived (at least in this realm) as he perished on September 18, 1970, joining the “27 Club” with his musical inspiration Robert Johnson. Posthumously, his superhuman talent and legacy landed him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 6th place on Rollin Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time—and in the awe-inspiring top spot on their roster of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

While Jimi Hendrix still shines for his mind-blowing ability to make psychedelically different sounds with the wah-wah pedal, string-bending, fingering, fuzz distortion, feedback, “guitar gymnastics”—playing with his teeth, tongue, and behind his back—stage antics, like setting his beloved guitar aflame, and smash hits such as Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, and Hey Joe, what many do not connect him with is Blues (1994). Just as he created colorful music from diverse sounds including Rock & Roll, Folk, Acid Rock, R&B, and Classical, the Blues cassette cover is a work of art with vibrant, stamp-sized vignettes of Jimi’s Blues idols rockin’ out over his black and white image—and afro. Eight of 11 tracks on Blues were previously unreleased, forming a “compilation within a compilation” as many are hybrids of different studio takes, outtakes, live shows, and jam sessions.

The first sounds you hear are the lovely strums and slightly off-key layering of the intro for Jimi’s acoustic rendition of his original Blues song Hear My Train A’ Comin’, played in a Delta Blues manner. Next is the instrumental version of Albert King’s Born Under A Bad Sign, with an awesomely almost offbeat bass line and seemingly percussive sounds coming from Jimi’s guitar. This leads into the original UK version of Red House from Jimi’s famous first album Are You Experienced? The entire tape is one groovy-bluesy adventure, also including: Voodoo Chile Blues comprised of the first 2 takes of Voodoo Chile from the Experience’s 3rd and final album Electric Ladyland; Mannish Boy, a fun fusion of the Muddy Waters classic and Bo Diddley’s I’m A Man; and the live, trippy jam Electric Church Red House where Jimi says, “Just dig the sounds. It’s all freedom.”

7. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood (1983, reissued in 1999)

An autodidact who preferred to learn music by ear as opposed to formal training, Stevie Ray Vaughan electrified the 80s Blues Revival with his raw talent and guitar virtuosity. Born Stephen Ray Vaughan on October 3, 1954 in Dallas, Texas, about 3 and a half years after his brother Jimmie, Stevie received his first guitar at age 7, bought his first record at 9—Lonnie Mack’s Wham!—and performed with his first band The Chantones by age 10. In high school, he often showed up exhausted from nightclub gigs, even failing a music theory class. On New Year’s Eve 1971, Stevie dropped out of high school and followed Jimmie, also a performing guitarist, to Austin, Texas to pursue his musical aspirations full time.

Throughout the 70s, Stevie Ray Vaughan began paving his path as a Texas Bluesman with bands including Blackbird, Marc Benno and the Nightcrawlers, and Paul Ray and the Cobras. After Paul Ray had to step down from his vocal duties, Stevie stepped up to the microphone—a musical move that inspired him to leave the Cobras and form his own band Triple Threat Revue. As band members came and went, Triple Threat evolved into Double Trouble, named after a song by Otis Rush, one of Stevie’s idols. Taking creative reign as lead singer-songwriter and guitarist of this 3-person powerhouse, complete with Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums, Stevie was finally able to showcase his expansive talents largely shaped by the likes of Albert King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix.

Venturing beyond their Lone Star State, “SRV” & Double Trouble’s 1982 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland sparked an overnight sensation that led to Stevie playing lead guitar on much of David Bowe’s best-selling album Let’s Dance in 1983, and the release of their debut album Texas Flood that same year. The group released 3 more albums, performing at prestigious spots such as Carnegie Hall and receiving Grammy nods along the way, amidst Stevie’s battle with drugs and alcohol, and eventual recovery. Coming back clean and sober in 1988, recording his 4th Double Trouble album in 1989, Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash that included members of Eric Clapton’s tour crew on August 27, 1990, just weeks before the release of Family Style, his lone album with big brother Jimmie. Considered one of the best musicians to ever hail from Texas, a memorial statue of Stevie was erected in Austin in 2000, the same year he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone honored Stevie’s guitar prodigy by listing him as their 7th Greatest Guitarist of All Time.

Recorded in just 2 days, Texas Flood was a hot commodity with a cool cassette cover featuring an artful illustration of SRV leaning against a wall with his guitar. It kicks off with Love Struck Baby, a refreshing Rockabilly hit with 1950s Rock & Roll style and a great guitar solo. The first of only 2 singles to drop off the album, it received regular rotation on MTV, you know, back when they actually played music videos. Pride and Joy, the next song and single, is an upbeat Blues Rock love song which, like Love Stuck Baby and the gorgeous instrumental Lenny, were written about SRV’s first wife Lenora “Lenny” Bailey. While the entire tape is a joy ride, a few standouts include: Testify the wild instrumental version of the Isley Brothers song that featured Jimi Hendrix on guitar in 1964; Rude Mood, the fast and furious 264 beats per minute spin off of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Hopkins Sky Hop (1954), which received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1984; and Dirty Pool with its Spanish guitar mystique and classical technique, the bit of vibrato in Stevie’s voice personified on his guitar, and a loco solo.

In 1999, Texas Flood was reissued with 5 new tracks added after Lenny: an interview segment; a jazzy, slow Blues studio outtake of Tin Pan Alley (aka Roughest Place in Town); and 3 live songs—Buddy Guy’s Mary Had a Little Lamb, Lonnie Mack’s Wham!, and an even wilder delivery of Testify. As Stevie says in the interview, “If I just go with what’s in my heart, and let it come out, then I’m OK.”


8. Eric Clapton – Me & Mr. Johnson (2004)

Born March 30, 1945 in a small house in Ripley, Surrey that opened directly onto the village Green in England, Eric Patrick Clapton was called “Ric” by his family and created his own mischievous alter ego “Johnny Malingo” at about 6 years old. Forming a secret identity as a young boy provided a form of escape after he discovered the folks he was raised to believe were his “mom and dad” were actually his grandparents, and his “big sister” was really his mom. Drawing soon became another world for Eric to get lost in, as he excelled in Art class in school. Like many kids, the first instrument he learned to play was the recorder, and he won an award for his rendition of the English folk tune Greensleeves.

Though Eric received his first guitar, a German acoustic Hoyer, at age 13, it wasn’t until 15 that he began playing it earnestly, becoming a street and pub performer at 16, and joining his first band, an R&B group called The Roosters, by age 17. Less than a year later in 1963, Eric joined The Yardbirds, a Rock & Roll band rooted in The Blues. This proved to be his breakthrough into the British music scene as he gained a reputation as a dynamic Blues guitarist with fast fingers, and a “Slowhand”—his nickname and musical pun due to the way he would carefully change his guitar strings on stage every time he broke one during a show. When The Yardbirds opted for a Pop sound in 1965, Eric disbanded from the group, joining John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers on two separate occasions, touring with other bands in between, and swiftly becoming known as the best Blues guitarist on the club circuit.

In the summer of ‘66, Eric joined the band Cream featuring Ginger Baker on drums and Jack Bruce on bass and vocals. Cream burst onto the international music scene as a “supergroup” with their blazing blend of Hard Rock, Jazz, and The Blues, allowing Eric to embark on his first U.S. tour, and develop skills as a singer and songwriter. This power trio rose to stardom with legendary songs—and lengthy solos—such as their bluesy instrumental version of Spoonful, popularized by Etta James 5 years prior, and Crossroads, a live rendition of Robert Johnson’s Cross Road Blues. Though personal differences, drug, and alcohol abuse, led to their dissolution in 1968, Cream reunited in 1993 to perform at the ceremony inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and again in 2005. Post-Cream, Eric Clapton has played with a myriad of other groups including Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and Derek and the Dominos, while exemplifying his talent as a solo artist into the present day with songs like After Midnight, Layla, and Tears in Heaven. He has received dozens of awards, including 17 Grammys, is the only 3-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and holds the #2 spot on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list, right next to his good friend Jimi Hendrix.

Eric’s 2004 album Me & Mr. Johnson helped breathe new life into the life’s work of Robert Johnson. The first chords you hear on the cassette sound like a blend of an old 1930s acoustic and a modern-day electric guitar as the song When You Got A Good Friend is introduced. It’s a good way to start the album as Robert Johnson has clearly been a good friend to Eric Clapton even though he died 7 years before Eric was born. And Mr. Johnson’s spirit is ever-present throughout this song selection, especially on Me And The Devil Blues—an almost chilling, ethnographic embodiment of the “Father of The Blues” himself. The tape takes you on a trip down the Mississippi Delta, past and present, with tracks like the slow Blues, saloon swingin’, harmonica laden Little Queen of Spades, the hoppin’ Ragtime dance ditty They’re Red Hot, the soul-filled, sittin’ on the front porch with the washboard ‘n’ banjo sing-along Come On In My Kitchen, and the Blues Rock Love In Vain rendition with that old-timey, signature Robert Johnson intro.

It’s so good, you just might think Mr. Johnson was in the studio with Mr. Clapton—and perhaps he was. Stranger things have happened—like coming full circle on this 3-part series of 8 Great Blues Cassettes.

____
SPOTIFY: