This 45-song, two-disc collection is subtitled "two decades of killer fretwork", and never was a set so aptly described. Chess Records was the home to seemingly every hot guitar player in the Chicago area, and many of them make their appearance here. Besides the usual label guitar hotshots (Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, Lowell Fulson, Earl Hooker, Otis Rush, Robert Nighthawk, Little Milton), space is given to sideman work from legends like Hubert Sumlin and Robert Jr. Lockwood and great one-offs by lesser-known artists like Jody Williams, Danny Overbea, Eddie Burns, Joe Hill Louis, Morris Pejoe, Lafayette Thomas and others. It seems as if everyone recorded for Chess at one time or another, also explaining the inclusion of tracks by John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Lonnie Brooks, Hound Dog Taylor and Elmore James. If electric blues guitar's your thing, then look no further than this fine two-disc compilation.
Starkly printed in black and white with washed-out, grainy photographs, this is one heavy slab of blues by a player who is not as well-known as he should be. Guitarist Jimmy Rogers was usually overshadowed by the leaders he worked for, Muddy Waters particularly. He was also sometimes confused with the hillbilly singer Jimmie Rodgers, and although they might have sounded good together, they don't have anything in common. This reissue collection grabs 14 tracks done at various times in the mostly early '50s which involve practically a who's who of performers associated with the most intense and driving Chicago blues. This includes the aforementioned Waters, leaving behind his role as leader for a few numbers to add some stinging guitar parts. There is also a pair of harmonica players, each of whom could melt vinyl siding with their playing. These are the Walters, big and little, as in Big Walter Horton and Little Walter. Pianist Otis Spann, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Fred Belew are also on hand, meaning the rhythm section action is first class.
It is no exaggeration to call Little Walter the Jimi Hendrix of the electric harp: he redefined what the instrument was and what it could do, pushing the instrument so far into the future that his music still sounds modern decades after it was recorded. Little Walter wasn't the first musician to amplify the harmonica but he arguably was the first to make the harp sound electric, twisting twitching, vibrant runs out of his instrument; nearly stealing the show from Muddy Waters on his earliest Chess recordings; and so impressing Leonard Chess that he made Muddy keep Walter as his harpist even after Waters broke up his band. Chess also made Walter into his studio's house harpist and started to release Little Walter solo records with the instrumental "Juke" in 1952. "Juke" became a smash hit and turned Little Walter into a star, making him a steady presence on the '50s R&B charts.
The documentary Willie Dixon: I Am the Blues examines the remarkably influential career of musician Willie Dixon. In addition to an explanation of how his work for Chess records revolutionized blues and rock & roll, the man performs eight songs, including "Wang Bang Doodle," "I Just Want to Make Love to You," and "I Got the Blues."
Willie Dixon's life and work was virtually an embodiment of the progress of the blues, from an accidental creation of the descendants of freed slaves to a recognized and vital part of America's musical heritage.
When you talk about Blues drumming you have to talk about Sam Lay the man who put the beat behind the Blues, truly a living legend. He worked with Howlin' Wolf, with whom he played both live and on countless hit records. He was with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and while with Butterfield backed Bob Dylan on his first electric gigs, including the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival. He also played drums on the Dylan's "Highway 61".