BluEsoterica *** Jim O'Neal


The Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony, presented the night before the Blues Music Awards, is one of the gala events in the blues every year. Blues artists, producers, agents, writers, media personalities, and patrons gather to pay tribute to a cast of honorees who have made the greatest contributions to the blues. In recent years, inductees attending the ceremony have included Joe Louis Walker, Allen Toussaint, Otis Clay, Lazy Lester, Charlie Musselwhite, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Sam Lay, John Mayall, Eddy Clearwater, Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Shaw and Billy Boy Arnold, in additions to friends and relatives who accepted on behalf of artists who are no longer with us.

Blues Hall of Fame inductees are selected by vote of a small committee of blues authorities, musicians, producers and promoters. The Blues Hall of Fame committee conducts its own online discussions and voting. Biographies and other entries for the Blues Hall of Fame’s physical displays in Memphis and online site ( are written by committee chairman Jim O’Neal and reviewed by the committee, Blues Foundation staff, and representatives of the recipients.

The Blues Hall of Fame existed only on paper (or computer) with no physical space of its own for years, but thanks to the many donations to the Raise the Roof! Campaign for the Blues Hall of Fame, the legends of the blues are now on display for all to see at 421 South Main Street in Memphis.


Blues Hall of Fame Inductees, 1980-2024

by Jim O'Neal

2024 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees



Lurrie Bell enters the Blues Hall of Fame only a year after the induction of his father, the late harmonica maestro Carey Bell. Lurrie emerged as one of the most exceptional and gifted blues guitarists in Chicago while only a teenager in the 1970s, and though he has often been beset with trauma and tragedy, he has entered his senior citizen era with the same joyous and youthful exuberance for music he has always had.

Born in Chicago on December 13, 1958, Bell found early inspiration from his father’s musical circle, especially guitarist Eddie Taylor, and first played in a band with Lovie Lee, the pianist who brought Carey Bell to Chicago from Mississippi. Lurrie also lived in Mississippi and Alabama as a child and played gospel music in church. When he and his young Bell brothers played together in Chicago they were christened “The Ding Dongs.” Lurrie first recorded in 1977 on a Carey Bell session and as a bassist on an Eddie C. Campbell album. That year he also joined Billy Branch and other upcoming bluesmen in a “New Generation of Chicago Blues” package in Berlin. The Bell-Branch partnership turned into the Sons of the Blues (S.O.B.) band, which featured Lurrie on guitar in its early years. He also toured with Koko Taylor’s band and did more recordings on his own and with Carey and others in the 1980s, including Eddy Clearwater, Sunnyland Slim and Louisiana Red. His innate sensibility for the blues spotlighted him as one of the brightest budding stars on the blues horizon.

Troubles began to plague his life, however, and yet even in periods of depression, isolation, hospitalization and life on the streets, he could still amaze audiences with his singing and guitar playing. A relationship with photographer Susan Greenberg brought happiness but even that ended in pain when she died, following the deaths of their twin babies. Carey Bell died soon after, in 2007. Peaks and valleys followed for years but Lurrie’s unique musical skills persevered and he recorded several CDs for Delmark and other labels. “Music brought me back to my sanity,” he told fellow blues singer Deira Farr in Living Blues magazine in 2007.

He was later featured on the Chicago Blues—A Living History project and over the years he has recorded with bands from Japan, England and Argentina. But even as he was carrying his music on, he faced personal challenges again. Finally Amberly Stokes, a former Rosa’s Lounge employee who had organized benefits for Chicago blues artists, made Lurrie Bell her mission, and under her care and management he has enjoyed a safe and stable home life and a new level of worldwide acclaim for the still startling talent that energizes his performances.


Scrapper Blackwell was best known as the guitar-playing partner of Blues Hall of Fame pianist Leroy Carr, but he was more than just a superb accompanist, as attested by his many accolades as a true virtuoso in his own right. He and Carr formed a formidable duo when they reigned as one of America’s most popular and influential blues acts during their recording career together (1928-1935) and Blackwell made some fine solo records as well. But they were such a tight pair that Carr’s death in 1935 so disheartened Blackwell that he gave up on music as a profession and did not record again until local fans encouraged him in the 1950s.

No birth documentation has surfaced to verify citations of a February 21, 1903, birthdate in Syracuse, North Carolina (nor is there any evidence of such a town in the state). Census and draft registration files point to Indianapolis in 1904, but at any rate the Indiana capital was his longtime home. Of Cherokee and African-American descent, Francis Hillman Blackwell pieced together a cigar box as a child. He had a corn whiskey enterprise along with a musical reputation in Indianapolis when he was approached to join Carr. At their first session in June 1928, Blackwell sang and played “Kokomo Blues” and “Penal Farm Blues,” but it was Carr’s “How Long—How Long Blues” that became a massive hit for Vocalion Records. “Kokomo Blues” did, however, live on in different form as it was a seminal rendition of the theme that later became ‘Sweet Home Chicago.”

Yazoo Records released a compilation of his 1928-1934 sides on the LP The Virtuoso Guitar of Scrapper Blackwell, noting: “No musician ever surpassed Indianapolis’ Francis (Scrapper) Blackwell for the gifted guitar playing that makes for so much of the blues’ charm and durability.” Blackwell’s single-string guitar runs, the liner notes continued, derived from the piano-guitar format: “The heavy bass sections that only a piano could provide liberated Blackwell to develop his treble-string style to the fullest.”

Vocalion recorded the Carr-Blackwell duo prolifically, usually featuring Carr but occasionally allotting Blackwell a solo spot. Blackwell did two sessions for Decca and its Champion subsidiary in 1935 including a memorial piece about Carr, but thereafter he worked as a laborer for the Works Progress Administration, the City Street Department, and other employers, or not at all.

He was surprised to find a prospective new audience who knew about his old records when Indianapolis jazz scholar and photographer Duncan Schiedt met him in the 1950s. At times Blackwell was unemployed and did not own a guitar although he still did some playing in local taverns and for friends and young musicians who wanted to learn from him. He played some concerts and recorded a few times from 1958 to 1961, even playing Carr’s “How Long” on piano. Albums were released on Bluesville in the U.S. and the 77 label in England, but fate denied him the chance to fully take his place in the folk blues revival of the era. Nicknamed Scrapper as a youngster because he liked to tussle with his brothers, he also had his scraps with the law and others during his life, which ended on October 7, 1962, after he was found in a West Side alley in Indianapolis with two .22 bullets in his chest.


Sugar Pie DeSanto has packed astonishing power and plenty of personality into a tiny frame. Her spunk and gymnastic vigor impressed bandleader and producer Johnny Otis enough to sign her for her first recording session in 1955 after witnessing her performance at a San Francisco talent show. It was Otis who named her Sugar Pie in preference to using her given name, Peylia Balinton. A ballet student as a child, she was born in Brooklyn on October 16, 1935, to a Filipino father and African-American mother, but grew up in the Bay Area and continued to live there except for a spell in Chicago when she was with Chess Records in the 1960s.

After her 1955 debut for Federal Records, Sugar Pie recorded a few more singles, often with her husband, guitarist Alvin Parham, aka Pee Wee Kingsley, acquiring the DeSanto moniker from producer/DJ/club owner Don Barksdale. Her biggest hit, “I Want to Know,” produced by Bob Geddins on the Veltone label, rose to No.  4 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1960 and led to a contract with Chess. The DeSanto magic also energized the already dynamic James Brown revue for two years.

During her tenure with Chess she had some hits on the subsidiary Checker label, including “Slip-In Mules,” an answer to Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers,
and “In the Basement” on the Cadet imprint, a duet with longtime friend Etta James, who was often at the Balinton home as a youngster. Sugar Pie’s records also clicked with the Northern Soul crowd in England, enough so that she left the all-star cast of the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival’s European tour to make U.K. appearances of her own. Under various names including Peylia Parham and P. Parham DeSanto she began writing songs for other artists at Chess, including Billy Stewart, Fontella Bass and Little Milton.

Sugar Pie took her act back to Oakland and remained active and still saucy even into her octogenarian years, a local favorite as well as a world traveler. When times were slow she worked as a paralegal. The Rhythm & Blues Foundation provided support after she lost her husband Jessie Davis in a fire at their apartment. The foundation also presented her a Pioneer award, one of a number of honors she has earned from various sponsors, including the Arhoolie Foundation and Blues Blast magazine. She found a recording home with her manager James C. Moore’s Jasman label, which began releasing DeSanto’s output in 1972, sprinkling her catalog with titles befitting her persona such as Sugar Is Salty, Refined Sugar and Sugar’s Suite.



Few bands have been a tightly knit or as cheerfully yet raucously infectious as Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials. Singer and slide guitar slasher Lil’ Ed Williams, his half-brother and bassist James “Pookie” Young, and cohorts Mike Garrett on guitar and Kelly Littleton on drums began working together more than 35 years ago. Their brand of boogie blues is rooted in the music of another Chicago slide master, Ed’s uncle and mentor J.B. Hutto, who died in 1983 and was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1985. At that time few people outside Ed’s West Side neighborhood had heard the first edition of the Blues Imperials (the name inspired by a TV commercial for Imperial margarine), but that all changed after the band made their recording debut on January 24, 1986.

The story of that session has earned a chapter in Chicago blues lore. Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer had invited the group to record two songs, one of which would be selected for a New Bluebloods collection of young Chicago performers. Ed and company—then consisting of Pookie Young, Dave Weld and Louis Henderson—proceeded to transform the session into a high-energy party, serving up 30 songs in three hours and earning an Alligator contract for a full album in the process. Ten of the songs made up that first LP, Roughhousin’, and Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials were on their way, soon allowing Ed to quit his job at a local car wash.

Ed Williams, who was born in Chicago on April 4, 1955, devoted himself to a style uncannily resembling that of his uncle J.B., both vocally and instrumentally. Ed even wears a fez like Hutto did. His acrobatic showmanship and humor added a good-time element to Hutto’s hard-rocking but darker-toned blues. On the strength of extensive touring behind his debut album, a fan following of fez-wearing “Ed Heads” developed to cheer him on at his shows.  A celebrity Ed Head, late-night TV host Conan O’Brien, even brought Lil’ Ed on his show. The phenomenon has continued to this day.

Ed took a break in the 1990s to record, without the Blues Imperials, for Earwig and Blue Sting but the band reunited and rejoined Alligator, and as a group they have remained Alligator mainstays. The band has recorded nine albums–the last eight with the same core quartet, augmented at times by onetime member Eddie McKinley on sax and others—plus a Best of collection. Their upbeat live shows and albums have rambunctiously perpetuated the Alligator trademark brand of “Genuine Houserocking Music” pioneered by the label’s first act and another of Lil’ Ed’s influences, Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers.



Odetta, the extraordinary performer once called “the mother goddess of folk blues” in the New York Times, was a prominent figure in folk music for 50 years, paving paths for others to follow both as a woman and an African-American in the folk milieu. Classically trained in college, she possessed an impressive repertoire encompassing blues, spirituals, jazz, songs from a variety of folk and popular traditions, and original topical songs often reflecting her work as a civil rights activist. Her resume of performances, honors and accomplishments is equally dizzying and varied, and while she only occasionally worked the blues club and festival circuit in between a myriad of other appearances, her blues credentials were undeniable. Among her many albums were Odetta Sings Blues and Ballad, Odetta and the Blues, Blues Everywhere I Go, and Lookin for a Home, a compilation of songs associated with Lead Belly. She was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 “Salute to the Blues” concert and in Divas, filmed in Clarksdale, Mississippi. She appeared at a blues extravaganza at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and at Blues Foundation events, and she was even once married to a blues singer, Louisiana Red.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, as Odetta Holmes on December 31, 1930, she spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles. Her performing career began in the musical Finian’s Rainbow, and she would often draw on her theatrical experience and classical music studies thereafter. But it was folk music, including its blues forms, that fascinated her, and she began singing and playing guitar in clubs and coffeehouses. Amon her earliest performances was a concert with country bluesman K.C. Douglas in 1954. Her first LP appeared that year on the Fantasy label, and in subsequent years her discography grew to include releases on Tradition, Riverside, Vanguard, Verve Forecast, RCA Victor, United Artists, M.C., and other labels.

In person she could enrapture an audience in dramatic fashion with her magnetic stage presence and remarkable voice. As a musical guest or actress she appeared in movies, on television on shows ranging from The Ed Sullivan Show to Have Gun – Will Travel to multiple PBS specials, and on innumerable radio shows, especially Prairie Home Companion. She needed little or no accompaniment other than her own guitar to deliver mesmerizing performances, but she also sang with symphony orchestras, jazz bands, ballet troupes, opera companies, and all-star musical aggregations.

Odetta sang at the March on Washington and in the Selma, Alabama, march, at human rights and anti-war rallies, and at benefits, tribute concerts and schools. Comrades and collaborators included Harry Belafonte, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nina Simone, Maya Angelou and Pete Seeger, and she was acknowledged as an inspiration to Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Rhiannon Giddens, Eric Bibb and countless others.

Honored by U.S. presidents, the Library of Congress, and a grateful multitude of musical, humanitarian and educational organizations, foundations and fans around the world, Odetta kept performing even when declining health put her in a wheelchair. She died in New York on December 2, 2008.


Jimmy Rushing, known as “Mr. Five By Five” for his short, rotund physique, was a pioneer of the big band blues belting style that blazed a trail for blues shouters who followed, including Big Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown. Rushing recorded or performed with a multitude of legendary jazz figures, including Count Basie, Buck Clayton, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Harry James, and Dave Brubeck. He was also the vocalist on the Johnny Otis orchestra’s first record in 1945 and sang again with Otis at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival.

Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on June 15 or August 26, 1899 (some two years earlier than the 1901 birthdate he usually cited), James Andrew Rushing was inspired to sing blues by an uncle. After graduating from high school, he attended college but dropped out to pursue music in California in 1923, recalling that he played piano there with Jelly Roll Morton, a legendary pianist who switched to drums with Rushing. Back in Oklahoma he began singing in territory bands, including Walter Page’s Blue Devils, before joining Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra and then Count Basie, who had been a bandmate in the Page and Moten units. Rushing recorded his best-known numbers, including “Good Morning Blues,” “Going to Chicago,” and “Sent for You Yesterday and Here You Come Today,” with the popular Basie band beginning in 1935 and rose to national prominence.

Rushing, who cut his first sides with Moten in 1930, recorded and toured prolifically both with the Basie band and then as front man or featured vocalist with other groups in the 1940s and afterwards. After a stay in Detroit, he moved to New York City, where he recorded almost all of his sessions from 1950 on. Following albums on Vanguard, Columbia and other labels, his final LPs included Livin’ the Blues on ABC BluesWay and The You and Me That Used to Be on RCA. After Rushing died of leukemia in New York on June 8, 1972, he won a Down Beat magazine poll as Best Male Singer (by no means his first such honor) and the RCA LP was voted Best Record of the Year.

Recognition of Rushing’s contributions has faded among recent generations of blues followers whose tastes lean toward more roots-oriented Chicago, Mississippi and Texas blues, but his formative impact was enormous on countless blues, jazz, pop and rhythm & blues singers, and on bringing new listeners into the blues fold. As jazz and blues authority Frank Driggs wrote in Evergreen Review in 1966: “Of all the vocalists whose careers have been linked to the blues, Jimmy Rushing’s is the one which has reached the furthest and spread the appeal of the blues on a wider area than anyone had thought of before.”


O.V. Wright’s gritty fusion of blues, soul and gospel was unsurpassed in emotion-drenched intensity. Wright could confess tender testaments of love, descend into downtrodden sprits, wail heartbroken stories of the blues, or deliver potent, prideful proclamations with swagger, immaculately fueled on records by the arrangements of Memphis guru Willie Mitchell. A world-weary sense of torment and anguish plunged many of his songs into a deep blues milieu even if they might not fit the standard blues formats. He once classified his style simply as “O.V. Wright blues.”

Overton Vertis Wright was acclaimed as on the elite talents in his domain, but he spent much of a troubled life lurking in the shadows of wider success despite 22 singles and two albums that charted in the music trade magazines Billboard and Cash Box. Born in Lenow, Tennessee, just east of Memphis near Germantown, on October 9, 1939, he came up singing church music and later said he wished he could have made a living as a gospel singer. He did sing professionally with the Sunset Travelers and recorded with them from 1957 to 1964 and also performed with other gospel groups before the secular world beckoned. He caused a stir with his first R&B record, “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” for the Goldwax label in Memphis, which he said he first recorded as a demo for his friend James Carr. His singing so impressed Goldwax that it became an O.V. Wright release instead. The record occasioned a lawsuit by Don Robey of Peacock Records, who asserted that Wright was still contracted to the label as a member of the Sunset Travelers. Goldwax countersued and won rights to continue recording Wright in a settlement, but in the end sold out to Robey, who recorded Wright for his Back Beat label from 1965 to 1974. Wright’s national hit-making journey began with his second Back Beat 45, “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry,” followed by “Eight Men, Four Women.” Gilbert Caple produced some Back Beat sides in Houston and Willie Mitchell and the Hi Rhythm Section took over the rest in Memphis. In the ‘70s Wright hit a peak with “Ace of Spade” and “A Nickel and a Nail.” Mitchell, famed for his work with Al Green, Syl Johson, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and many others, continued to produce later Wright records on ABC and Hi in Memphis and once remarked that Wright was his most consistent artist in the studio.

Wright could be a dynamic performer onstage. Fellow soul-blues icon Otis Clay once likened Wright’s act to that of a preacher, quoting verses from the blues and from the Bible. The chittlin circuit welcomed Wright to its clubs, auditoriums and dance halls, but he maintained less of a profile as a live performer than as a recording artist. The dark, aching sense of true-to-life tribulations that pervaded many of his songs reflected his own personal problems. A criminal record, health issues and a narcotics conviction hampered his career. He did appear on some blues festivals and major concerts promoted by Blues Hall of Fame disc jockey Pervis Spann and others, and was in fine form on a live album recorded with the Hi Records sidemen in Japan in 1979. In his final years he was also working clubs either with local pickup bands or with a group led by Johnny Rawls and L.C. Luckett. Among Wright’s final recordings was an album with the Luckett Brothers gospel group in Milwaukee. Rawls and Luckett continued to work billed as the O.V. Wright Band after Wright's death, incorporating his songs into their act.

The heart that Wright poured into his music finally gave out when he was stricken while performing at Joe’s Supper Club in Grand Bay, Alabama, and pronounced dead at Providence Hospital in Mobile on November 16, 1980. Short obituaries in the press mostly referred to him as a blues singer though to some listeners he was the epitome of a deep soul artist, and indeed he was both. Wright was buried without a headstone, a situation remedied in 2008 by a group of his fans, honoring his legacy alongside his worldwide core following, which included hip-hop artists who have sampled his music as well as Johnny Rawls and Otis Clay, who teamed to record a tribute CD, Remembering O.V.

and education.

2023 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Junior Kimbrough

Junior Kimbrough, after years of holding forth in the juke joints and house parties of the Mississippi hills, Junior Kimbrough became a nationally renowned blues icon known both for his unique idiosyncratic style and for his role as potentate at his own juke, Junior’s Place, where visitors from far and wide mingled with the party crowd of Marshall County. Kimbrough called his music cotton patch blues or cotton patch soul blues, a custom maintained by his family of musicians, and like other Hill Country blues variants, its foundation lay in a raw, insistent groove. The Kimbrough style—not as hotly energized as the rocking rhythms of his friend R.L. Burnside or an early influence, Mississippi Fred McDowell -- employed a droning, hypnotic roll that won him followings among both blues fans and devotees of trance and alternative rock. David Kimbrough Jr. was born in Hudsonville, Mississippi, on July 28, 1930, He grew up in a musical family which included his father (his most formative influence) and several siblings and sang in a gospel group before assembling his own blues band. Rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers, a longtime friend from Hudsonville, helped Kimbrough secure his first record release, a single on the Philwood label in Memphis in 1966. Another Memphis session for Goldwax was shelved until the sides appeared on a First Recordings collection in 2009. Likewise, a 1969 recording with Feathers and 1980s album for the University of Memphis’ High Water imprint remained unissued until Kimbrough’s later fame prompted their release. High Water did issue a 1982 Kimbrough single which revealed the sound he had developed with his group, the Soul Blues Boys. It was not until his performance of his signature tune “All Night Long” in the documentary Deep Blues and several albums for the Fat Possum label in the 1990s that his fame truly spread. He played festivals in America and Europe but did not tour frequently. Instead, his audience (including some famous rock stars) came to him, especially at his juke joint in Chulahoma where he also recorded some of his CDs. His bands typically included some of his sons and younger members of the Burnside family (who once lived next door). His music was perpetuated by his sons David Malone (1965-2019), Kinney Malone and Robert Kimbrough and grandson Cameron Kimbrough, and his songs have been covered by the Black Keys, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Daft Punk, the North Mississippi Allstars and others. Kimbrough died of a heart attack in Holly Springs Memorial Hospital on January 17,1998. His legacy is celebrated annually in the area at the Kimbrough Cotton Patch Soul Blues Festival. His headstone bears the memorable quote from Charlie Feathers, “Junior Kimbrough is the beginning and end of all music.” Inducted in 2023 The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame -Jim O’Neal,

Fenton Robinson

Fenton Robinson, practiced an erudite brand of blues hailed by musicians, critics and discerning audiences around the world, but rarely enjoyed the kind of wide public acclaim enjoyed by many high energy, hard-rocking blues performers. As Alligator Records’ Bruce Iglauer wrote, “In a world of barroom entertainers Fenton Robinson was a serious musician who is best appreciated with greater concentration than his audience usually gave him.” Robinson relocated to different cities several times trying to find his niche and had his moments of success and satisfaction, as a performer, songwriter and teacher. His 1967 masterwork “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” failed the hit the national charts but scored in Chicago, enough so that Robinson was recruited to compete with B.B. and Albert King, Bobby Bland and other heavyweights in a “Battle for King of the Blues” show at the Regal Theater in 1968. A 1969 rendition by Boz Scaggs with Duane Allman on guitar was the first of many cover versions. Robinson did the first waxing of the often-recorded standard “As the Years Go Passing By,” which he said was written by Peppermint Harris. “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” an Alligator album track, also inspired covers. Born in Leflore County in the Mississippi Delta on September 23, 1935 (or a little before, according to various documents), Robinson began performing as a teenager in Memphis, where he teamed with guitarist Charles McGowan. He and McGowan moved to Little Rock and briefly to St. Louis. Robinson made his first records for the Meteor label in Memphis and Duke Records in Houston, playing with a harder electric attack than on his later Chicago records when he had developed a nimble, fleet-fingered technique influenced by T-Bone Walker’s style and by formal music studies. In addition to “As the Years Go (Passing) By,” his 1950s records (all credited to Fention Robinson) included “Tennessee Woman,” “The Freeze (made famous by Albert Collins) and, on a session backing Little Rock cohort Larry Davis, “Texas Flood” (later popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughan). Robinson moved to Chicago in 1961 and established himself on the club scene, backing Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, Otis Rush and others and working his own gigs on the strength of singles he recorded for USA, Giant and Palos that showcased both his progressive guitar work and sensitive, soulful vocals. HIs debut LP on Nashville’s Sound Stage 7 label captured his talent as a vocalist but allotted little room for his guitar. His upward trajectory was blunted after a 1969 auto accident which eventually landed him in prison, but a letter-writing campaign from blues fans helped him earn an early release. He was based in Chicago in the 1970s, aside from a stay in Santa Cruz, California, where he landed after partnering on tour with Charlie Musselwhite. He recorded two critically acclaimed albums for Alligator, including the Blues Hall of Fame LP I Hear Some Blues Downstairs. But his career in Chicago stagnated and he decided to move back to Little Rock, where he had been well received on return visits. Springfield, Illinois, where he had earlier taught blues in the schools, was his next residence, followed by Rockford, Illinois. Although he toured across the country and overseas, made further high-quality recordings, and was widely admired, high-echelon blues stardom eluded him. A philosophical thinker, serious reader and progressive musician, Robinson embraced the Islamic faith in the 1970s and once went under the name Fenton Lee Shabazz. A Japanese reissue LP honored him with the title The Mellow Blues Genius, and a British album designated him Mellow Fellow. He passed away from cancer in Rockford on November 25, 1997.

Carey Bell

Carey Bell, Harrington took his place in the lineage of Chicago blues harp masters in the 1970s, exuberantly following in the footsteps of his mentors Big Walter Horton and Little Walter Jacobs.  In addition to recording noteworthy albums of his own, he became Chicago’s go-to harmonica player for blues sessions, valued for his creative solo flights and the ease with which he adapted to any song put before him. Bell made is first studio recordings backing guitar virtuoso Earl Hooker in November 1968 and over the next three decades he played on more than 100 different sessions, either as the featured artist or backing Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Louisiana Red, Jimmy Rogers, Eddy Clearwater and many others. He duetted on some with Big Walter Horton and other harp masters and joined James Cotton, Junior Wells and Billy Branch for a historic Harp Attack! album on Alligator. His good-natured, often playful live performances could generate even more excitement when he had the chance to extend his melodic explorations on both on the 10-hole diatonic harmonica and the larger chromatic instrument. Born Cary (sic) Harrington in Macon, Mississippi, on November 14, 1936, he began playing harmonica as a child and by the time he was in his teens he had come under the wing of veteran pianist Lovie Lee in the nearby city of Meridian. Lee took a young band including his “adopted stepson” Bell to Chicago in the mid-1950s and over the years they wove their  talents into the Windy City blues fabric while holding down other jobs to make a living. Guitarist Honeyboy Edwards also guided the young Bell, playing with him and introducing him to both Little Walter and Big Walter. Edwards also showed Bell some runs on the bass, an instrument Bell learned to play with expertise. Bell also worked with Johnny Young, Eddie Taylor, ad others and was recorded in a street performance with Robert Nighthawk at the Maxwell Street market in 1964. Earl Hooker hired Bell for a tour to play bass, and then harmonica when he learned how well Bell could play. After his recording session with Hooker for Arhoolie, Bell played on a Sleepy John Estes session for Delmark and waxed his own Delmark debut LP, Carey Bell’s Blues Harp, in 1969. His career immediately shifted into high gear with regular club gigs, festivals and tours, including several junkets to Europe. Muddy Waters brought Bell into his band, as did Howlin’ Wolf briefly, followed by a stint with Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars, in between his own gigs and sessions. Albums of his work, some co-billed with his son Lurrie Bell, a phenom himself, appeared on ABC BluesWay, Alligator, Blind Pig, Wolf, Rooster Blues, L+R, Blues South West, JSP and other labels in the U.S. and several other countries. His Alligator CD Good Luck Man won a W.C. Handy Award in 1998, the same year he was elected Traditional Male Blues Artist of the Year, following several previous nominations. Among his other accomplishments he sired a brood of blues-playing sons including Lurrie, Steve (now playing harp in classic Carey Bell style in John Primer’s band), Tyson and James. He had moved to North Carolina and lived with Willie Dixon’s daughter Patricia before entering a Chicago hospital where he died of pneumonia and renal failure on May 6, 2007. A diabetic, Bell had suffered a stroke in 2006 but the joy of making music never left him and he recorded tracks for his final CD onstage in a wheelchair. Inducted in 2023 The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame -Jim O’Neal,  

Snooky Pryor

Snooky Pryor, was one of the pioneers of the classic Chicago blues of the post-World War II era, a byproduct of the migratory wave of musicians from Mississippi and the Deep South who changed the sound of the city with their electrified update of Delta blues. After playing a bugle (and harmonica) through a P.A. system while serving in the war, Pryor bought a P.A. system with speakers in Chicago and became one of the first harp players to amplify his sound with electricity. Pryor made some historic recordings for several Chicago labels, including Boogie (Snooky and Moody’s Boogie), a predecessor to Little Walter’s massive hit Juke, and Judgment Day (later revived by British rockers the Pretty Things and Eric Clapton), but none sold well enough to make the charts. He had some success in the city’s nightclubs but finally dropped off the scene in the 1960s, disillusioned with the music business. Rumors and questions about his whereabouts puzzled blues fans and researchers for years. Some thought he had turned to preaching or to Islam. Neither was true, although he was the son a preacher who forbade “devil music” (the blues) in the home, and he could quote the Bible at length. But on a phone call one night in 1971, guitarist Homesick James told Living Blues magazine that he had an old friend with him: “You know Snooky Pryor?” Pryor and his family had moved to Ullin in southern Illinois, where he was working as a carpenter. An article in the magazine led to a musical revival for Pryor, who resumed his recording career and went on to play concerts, clubs and festivals to an enthusiastic new generation of international blues aficionados. He picked up where he had left off, singing and playing the same spirited kind of blues he had perfected in the 1950s, eschewing the influences of subsequent soul, funk and rock music trends that changed the approach of many others in Chicago. Born in rural Quitman County, Mississippi, near Lambert and Denton, on September 15, 1919 (not 1921 as he usually said), James Edward Pryor took up harmonica and the blues in spite of his father’s rules. A childhood friend was future Chicago legend Jimmy Rogers, who was then nicknamed Snooky. Bluesman Floyd Jones later dubbed Pryor as Snooky (pronounced to rhyme with “nuke” rather than “nook”) in Chicago. Pryor left home as a teenager and traveled through Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois, finally settling in Chicago, where his musical partners included Floyd and Moody Jones, Homesick James, Johnny Young and Eddie Taylor. His first Chicago recordings for Planet, J.O.B., Parrot and Vee-Jay have all been reissued on CD and LP. After his 1960s hiatus he cut his first album on the Today label, followed by a slew of others in the U.S., Europe and Canada for Big Bear, Blind Pig, Antone’s, Wolf, Electro-Fi and other companies. Though he made occasional Chicago appearances and worked for a while with Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars, he continued to reside in Ullin, where he trained his sons Earl and Richard (“Rip Lee”) to play. Rip Lee has continued to perform in the venerated style of his father, who died in a Cape Girardeau, Missouri, hospital, on October 18, 2006. Inducted in 2023 The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame -Jim O’Neal,

John Primer

John Primer, earned his pedigree in blues playing with Blues Hall of Famers Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Magic Slim. Still dedicated to the fundamentals he picked up as a sideman and apprentice, Primer now delivers consistently top-notch, no-nonsense blues on his steady slate of shows and recordings. He has been a perennial nominee and frequent victor in the Traditional Blues categories of the Blues Music Awards, Living Blues Awards and other honors programs. Primer’s life story reads like those of many blues greats who preceded him – born in Mississippi, raised in poverty, working the fields as a youngster, moving to Chicago for a factory job, cutting is teeth playing blues for tips at the Maxwell Steet outdoor market, making his way up through the club circuit, learning from the veterans, and maturing into an internationally heralded artist. The saga began in Camden, Mississippi, where Primer was born into a sharecropping family on March 5, 1945. Music provided a relief from daily hardships as he sang in church, played a homemade one-string guitar, and listened to his grandmother’s blues records. In 1963 he came to Chicago and was soon playing with local groups, eventually landing gigs in the house band at the fabled Theresa’s Lounge where he was mentored by guitar wizard Sammy Lawhorn while backing an all-star parade of guests, and at the Checkerboard, Buddy Guy’s home base. In 1979 Willie Dixon invited Primer to join his Chicago Blues All Stars, which gave Prime his first opportunities to tour outside the U.S. When Muddy Waters needed a new band in 1980, Primer found himself playing with one of his lifelong idols until Muddy’s death I 1983. Then began a 13-year stint with Magic Slim & the Teardrops, marked by constant touring and frequent recording, live and in the studio, with Primer regularly featured on a few vocals. Primer left to focus on his own career and began compiling an impressive resume of tours and albums, beginning with the first of several CDs for an Austrian label, Wolf Records, and continuing with Earwig, Code Blue (Atlantic), Telarc and others, including the label he and his wife Lisa own, Blues House Productions. He has been even more prolific in the studio as a first-call sideman in Chicago, recording with James Cotton, Jimmy Rogers, John Brim, Eddie Shaw and many more, along with live recordings with Muddy, Big Mama Thornton and others. His latest CD project, released in February 2023, is a tribute to Magic Slim. His aptly named Real Deal band features Steve Bell, son of Carey Bell, on harmonica.  John Primer remains committed to honoring past heroes while creating his own music and passing the blues torch on to younger generations. Inducted in 2023 The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame -Jim O’Neal,

Josh White

Josh White, transitioned from a career as a traditional Piedmont blues artist to emerge as a unique and integral voice in the burgeoning folk music world of the 1940s, and in so doing played a seminal role in introducing new audiences to the blues. White was outspoken in his songs of protest against racism and injustice, a revolutionary tactic among blues singers of his era who had to couch such sentiments in code or hidden meanings in their lyrics. His induction into the Blues Hall of Fame and concurrent honors as Folk Alliance International’s 2023 Lifetime Achievement memorial award recipient are finally shining the spotlight on an icon whose many contributions have too often been forgotten or overlooked in the years since his death in 1969. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, on February 11, 1914, White sang in church as a youngster and got an extended taste of the road by traveling as a guide (or “lead boy”) for blind street singers. John Henry “Big Man” Arnold, his main local employer, also hired him out to other blind men and White claimed to have led Blind Lemon Jefferson and dozens of others. He also told of suffering beatings and witnessing a lynching. In 1928 he was in Chicago playing guitar behind Blind Joe Taggart on a session for Paramount Records. After returning to Greenville, he headed to New York City and launched his own recording career in 1932, chosen as one of a select crew of blues artists who were able to record prolifically in the Depression years. His blues and gospel records for the A.R.C. label group, many of them solo, some with accompanists including Leroy Carr and Walter Roland, were variously credited to Joshua White, Pinewood Tom, and Joshua White (The Singing Christian). An invitation to appear in a 1940 Broadway play, John Henry, in 1940, served as an entrée into a whole new realm of musical, theatrical, social, intellectual and political circles. White adroitly adapted his act to project folk authenticity with a sophisticated touch. His records, previously marketed to African Americans, changed accordingly to appeal to a predominantly white following. While he always drew on his blues and gospel repertoire, he also incorporated Tin Pan Alley hits, pop tunes, work songs, and folk ballads from various sources. His most popular number, “One Meat Ball,” recorded for Asch Records in 1944, was a bigger hit when covered by the Andrews Sisters, and many listeners heard “House of the Rising Sun” for the first time through White. More momentously, he began addressing segregation, workers’ rights, lynching and other controversial issues in songs such as “Defense Factory Blues,” “Uncle Sam Says,” and “Jim Crow Train” (written in collaboration with Harlem poet Waring Cuney), and “Strange Fruit,” the haunting vision of lynching first made famous by Billie Holiday, on Keynote and other labels. The resultant commotion drew the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who met with White and became the first of three chief executives (prior to Kennedy and Johnson) to invite White to appear at presidential functions. Eleanor Roosevelt also became one of White’s closest confidantes. His other compatriots included Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax, Burl Ives, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Celebrated for his suave stage presence, supple guitar work, engaging showmanship, proper diction and sexual magnetism (plus offstage escapades), he appeared at cabarets, folk gatherings, and political events, on radio and TV shows, and in plays and feature films. In 1950 he broke new ground taking the blues to England, France and Scandinavia, traveling on a goodwill tour with Eleanor Roosevelt. However, his protest songs and leftist associations led to a blacklisting during the McCarthy Anti-Communist era and he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950.  For a while work became harder to find in the U.S. but receptive audiences in England and other countries enabled him to keep performing and he toured and recorded prolifically. In 1949 his Ballads and Blues on Decca was, according to some researchers, the first blues record to be released in a newly introduced format – the 33 rpm LP. His Strange Fruit LP on Mercury followed in 1950.  He also recorded for Columbia, ABC-Paramount, Blue Note, Elektra, Vanguard and labels in France, the U.K., Italy and Denmark. While in England, he came out with a book, The Josh White Guitar Method, followed in the U.S. by The Josh White Song Book. White remained a popular figure on the folk scene although his finances began to decline along with his health. Testimonies to his impact upon upcoming musicians, including the first wave off British blues rockers, are legion. He died during heart surgery in Manhasset, New York, on September 5, 1969. Salutes to White’s legacy have included a children’s book, The Glory Road: The Story of Josh White in 1982, a U.S. postage stamp with his image in 1998, an incisive biography by Elijah Wald, Josh White: Society Blues, in 2000, a “Cultural Heroes” bust sculpted from clay shown in several museums, a three-panel statue in his hometown of Greenville unveiled in 2021, and this year’s Folk Alliance and Blues Hall of Fame honors. His music has lived on through his children, especially Josh White Jr., who has been a folk musician virtually all of his life ever since appearing onstage with White at Café Society as a four-year-old. The belated recognition from the blues community has been attributed to the view that the polished act that served White so well in folk concerts and cabarets has not fit well with recent generations’ preferences in the blues. As Elijah Wald wrote in Living Blues back in 2001: “He did more than any artist until B.B. King to make the blues singer a recognized cultural icon, and his rediscovery as a seminal musical giant and a unique American voice is long overdue.” Inducted in 2023 The Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame. -Jim O'Neil,

Esther Phillips

Esther Phillips, began her career as an astounding 13-year-old prodigy, singing very adult, saucy blues with the legendary Johnny Otis revue in Los Angeles. Hers was a life filled with both triumphs and tragedy, cut short by the effects of heroin addiction, but less than a year before her death famed critic Leonard Feather hailed her as "the indisputable queen of the blues" in a nightclub review. A superlative singer who could deliver blues, R&B, soul, jazz, pop, and even country songs with candor and conviction, Phillips was a devotee of an earlier blues queen, Dinah Washington and often sang in the same vein while developing her own personal approach. He could play many instruments and might take a turn at the piano onstage but on recordings she focused only on her vocals.

Esther Mae Jones was her legal name when she started singing, but her birth surname was Washington, as registered in Galveston, Texas, on December 23, 1935. In a restart in later years she chose Phillips, inspired by a Phillips 66 sign. But to the blues/R&B world she was simply Little Esther in her teenage era. Raised in Houston and Los Angeles, she sang in church but wrapped herself in the blues early on. Accounts vary as to how she and Johnny Otis met, but the key event was a talent contest at the Barrelhouse Club which Otis co-owned in Watts. Under his auspices she made her first record for the Modern label on August 31, 1949, and soon she was recording hits with Otis on the Savoy imprint, including three consecutive No 1 R&B hits in 1950: "Double Crossing Blues," "Mistrustin' Blues," and "Cupid's Boogie." Subsequent sessions for Federal and other labels produced some top-notch singles but sales fell off. Little Esther traveled with Otis and band (and initially with her mother, sister and a tutor) and showed impressive poise at the start, according to Otis' producer Ralph Bass. While life on the road was exciting, it also deprived her of a normal adolescence. She turned to drugs and would go through periods of recuperation, relapse, and rehabilitation for the rest of her life. In 1962 Ray Charles’ monumental success with Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music motivated Lenox Records to employ Esther's vocal expertise in a country setting. The result was one of her biggest hits, "Release Me." The Lenox connection resulted in a contract with Atlantic Records and a few more hits including a Beatles cover, "And I Love Him," which led to a BBC-TV appearance co-starring with the Fab Four. Jazz-inflected blues fueled the fine Atlantic albums Burnin’ and Confessin’ the Blues. Extensive studio crews of top musicians in jazz, funk and soul backed Phillips during the ‘70s on albums for the Kudu label (seven of which made the soul charts in Billboard), followed by releases on Mercury. Her Kudu update of Dinah Washington’s What a Diff’rence a Day Makes was her last big hit, but more striking was her emotionally charged rendition of Gil Scott-Heron’s heroin addiction masterpiece “Home is Where the Hatred Is.” The Kudu LP From a Whisper to a Scream earned her a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance of 1972. She lost, but the winner, Aretha Franklin, felt that Phillips deserved it and delivered the Grammy to her. Franklin said, “I gave her my Grammy because Esther was fighting personal demons, and I felt she could use encouragement. As a blues singer, she had her own thing; I wanted Esther to know that I – and the industry – supported her.” Phillips’ final album for Muse Records was posthumously titled A Way to Say Goodbye. The toll of drug and alcohol use alcohol abuse on her body led to her demise at a hospital in Torrance, California, on August 7, 1984. She was married to agent-producer Clyde B. Atkins, former husband of another of Phillips’ idols, Sarah Vaughan, in 1979 but had filed for divorce. Johnny Otis, with whom she had periodically reunited for guest appearances, preached her funeral and helped raise funds for a headstone. The Los Angeles music community has held several celebrations in her memory. Inducted in 2023 The Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame. -Jim O'Neal,

2022 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Lucille Bogan

Lucille Bogan recorded some of the most memorable blues songs of the pre-World War II era, including some that were landmarks in blues and some that continue to sensationalize her reputation decades after her death. She was the first African-American singer to record blues at a session outside of New York or Chicago when she sang at sessions for OKeh Records set up in a warehouse in Atlanta in 1923, and several of her records were later covered or adapted by various artists who preceded her into the Blues Hall of Fame. But by far the predominant association now made with Bogan is the lewdness of two unexpurgated songs she recorded in 1935 that were not intended for public release.

Sexual references were common in blues recording but the proprieties of the day called for them to be disguised in double entendre form. Bogan made a number of those, but presumably, for the entertainment of the recording staff and friends, she used explicit language in “Till the Cows Come Home” and an alternate take of “Shave ’Em Dry” that makes most hardcore rap lyrics seem tame. Though these were “private” recordings, bootleg pressings made their way into circulation and eventually were transferred to legitimate albums in more permissive modern times.

Bogan, however, had already long been a favorite among blues collectors and historians for the depth of her talent and recorded repertoire, and was a significant artist in the blues market of the 1920s and ‘30s. She lacked the name recognition of some of her contemporaries because most of her records were released under the pseudonym, Bessie Jackson.

Some of her songs embodied controversial themes including prostitution, lesbianism, and—since most were recorded during prohibition—drinking. Some veteran researchers doubt that she lived the rough street life she sometimes sang about, but her lyrics did reflect a familiarity with the underside of polite society. Bogan’s 1923-1935 recordings for OKeh, Paramount, Brunswick, Banner, Melotone, and other labels featured various notable accompanists including Will Ezell, Tampa Red, and Walter Roland. Among her influential records that survived via later artists were the first version of “Black Angel Blues” (later recorded by Tampa Red and Robert Nighthawk, and by B.B. King as “Sweet Little Angel”), “Sloppy Drunk Blues” (Leroy Carr, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Jimmy Rogers, and others), and “Tricks Ain’t Walking No More” (Memphis Minnie).

Railroad references also cropped up in her songs, not surprisingly since her father, brother, and husband all worked for the railroad in Birmingham, Alabama, or Amory, Mississippi. Both towns have been purported as her birthplace (as Lucille or Lucile Anderson on April 1, 1897). Misinformation and speculation on her life is rampant on the internet, where Amory is most often cited. She and other relatives did live in Amory at times, but most census entries indicate Alabama, and Bogan herself gave Birmingham as the site on her Social Security application. She returned to the Birmingham area in between stays in Amory, Chicago, and elsewhere. Her brother Thomas “Big Music” Anderson was a musician, as was her son Nazareth Bogan Jr., whose group Bogan’s Birmingham Busters she reportedly managed. A few months before her death on August 10, 1948, she had moved to Los Angeles and kept a hand in the music business, as a song posthumously crediting her as writer appeared on a record on the L.A.-based Specialty label by bluesman Smokey Hogg

Inducted in 2022 to The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame.

- Jim O'Neal,

Little Willie John

The meteoric rise and tragic fall of William Edward “Little Willie” John, who died in prison at the age of 30, is one of the most dramatic chapters in rhythm & blues history. A “singer’s singer” in the words of some (including one of his early inspirations, B.B. King), John was a pioneer of soul music, a rock ‘n’ roll star, and a blues and ballad vocalist extraordinaire who burst on the national scene as a teenager with the hit “All Around the World” in 1955.

Born in Cullendale, Arkansas, on November 15, 1937, John grew up in Detroit, singing with his family’s gospel group (including sister Mable John, who also became a blues and soul singer) before he started sneaking out to nightclubs and theaters. He cut his first record, a Christmas single, for the local Prize label, in 1953. “All Around the World” (later recorded by Little Milton as “Grits Ain’t Groceries”) was the first song he waxed for King Records and was followed by 16 more R&B chart hits for the label over the next six years, including “Need Your Love So Bad,” “Talk to Me, Talk to Me,” “Heartbreak,” “Take My Love,” and, most famously, the original version of “Fever.” Ten of his records also crossed over to the pop charts, and John rode the wave of success headlining shows across the country and appearing three times on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

Small (five feet four and 126 pounds, according to his biography by Susan Whitall and John’s son Kevin) and boyish in appearance, John was a sharply attired and exciting showstopper, recalled by fellow singers as mischievous, fun-loving, and generous. But offstage troubles, drinking, and drugs took a toll on his career and lifestyle. An altercation at an after-hours party in Seattle in 1964 led to a manslaughter conviction, and he died on May 26, 1968, at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The official cause of death was cited as a heart attack, but other sources said John—who suffered from epilepsy—had contracted tuberculosis and some suspected he died from an assault in prison.

James Brown, both a friend and rival, later recorded an album, Thinking About Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things, and was one of many who have sung his praises and recorded his songs over the years. John was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. The Susan Whitall-Kevin John biography is aptly titled Fever: Little Willie John—A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul.

Inducted in 2022 to The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame.

- Jim O'Neal,

Johnnie Taylor

Johnnie Taylor liked to emphasize that he could sing more than blues, as he amply proved when performing gospel and soul, but among African-American audiences, he reigned as the top headliner of his era at blues events. Famed for his 1976 hit “Disco Lady,” Taylor set sales records for several labels and had more than three dozen hits on the national charts.


Gospel was Taylor’s forte in his early years, although he first recorded as a member of a doo-wop group, the Five Echoes, in 1954, in Chicago. Born on May 5, 1934, in Crawfordsville, Arkansas, Taylor was raised in West Memphis and Kansas City, where he sang gospel with the Melody Kings before he moved to Chicago. There he sang lead on most of the first songs recorded by the Highway Q-C’s gospel group in 1955-56 for the Vee-Jay label, and similarly took the lead role when he replaced Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers on their 1958-59 records for the Specialty imprint. Taylor became an ordained minister but followed Cooke into the secular world of rhythm & blues, cutting a series of records for Cooke’s SAR and Derby labels including “Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day).” After Cooke’s death in 1964, Taylor, back in Kansas City with an uncertain future as an entertainer, enrolled in college. His career soon took an upturn when he signed with Stax Records in Memphis.

While he once sounded much like Sam Cooke, Taylor developed a more identifiable style incorporating gospel-influenced blues, soul, and funk during his tenure with Stax from 1966 to 1974. The company touted his 1968 hit “Who’s Makin’ Love” as “the fastest-selling single in the history of Stax Records,” and Taylor kicked his touring activity into high gear displaying a mix of polish and grit while continuing to hit the charts with his Stax recordings. In 1976 Taylor’s chart success peaked with “Disco Lady” on the Columbia label. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) instituted its platinum record category, symbolizing sales of a million units, that year, and the first platinum single award went to “Disco Lady.” By then residing in Dallas, Taylor hosted a local radio show and traveled to studios around the country to record for Columbia, but sales tailed off. He only truly hit his stride again when he began recording for Malaco Records of Jackson, Mississippi, the flagship of soul-blues labels where he likened the atmosphere to that at Stax. With two heart attacks and a drug rehabilitation stint behind him, he recorded and toured as the top star of the “chitlin' circuit,” purveying a mix of Southern soul and blues. His “Last Two Dollars,” “Still Called the Blues,” and “Wall to Wall” were among the favorites of blues followers. His Good Love album eclipsed Z.Z. Hill’s classic Down Home as Malaco’s best seller. Malaco owners Tommy Couch Sr. and Wolf Stephenson had decided to sign Taylor after hearing him sing at Hill’s funeral in Dallas.

Taylor, a Malaco artist until the end, succumbed to a heart attack on May 31, 2000, in Dallas. Among his children, he left three sons who carried on his music: Floyd Taylor and Johnnie Taylor, Jr., who have both since passed on, and T.J. Hooker Taylor of Kansas City.

Inducted in 2022 to The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame.

- Jim O'Neal,

2020/2021 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Eddie Boyd

Eddie Boyd, a proud, outspoken artist, channeled the injustices and mistreatment he experienced and witnessed into memorable songs that embodied the heartaches and outrage of the blues. During his years singing and playing piano in the Southern United States, Chicago, and Europe, he learned how to entertain audiences with more upbeat blues as well, but his legacy is more widely hailed for the themes of hard times and troubled affairs in his three chart hits, “Five Long Years,” “24 Hours,” and “Third Degree.”

Born November 25, 1914, on Frank Moore’s plantation near Stovall, Mississippi, Boyd was childhood friends with Muddy Waters. He worked the cottonfields when he had to, but after learning enough piano he began traveling the route of Highway 61 from the Mississippi Delta through Memphis, Arkansas, and Missouri playing at boarding houses and nightspots, and worked with a band in Memphis for a few years. In 1941 he headed for Chicago, where he hooked up with Big Maceo, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, and others. He made his first records for RCA Victor in 1947 but his classic hit “Five Long Years” came with a much smaller label, J.O.B., in 1952. Two hits followed on Chess Records in 1953, but his relationship with the company was contentious, and he never had another hit despite coming up with more fine material on singles for Chess, Bea & Baby, and other labels.

Finding a welcoming atmosphere in Europe when touring with the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival, Boyd decided to stay and leave behind his battles with American racism and record business practices. He lived and performed in several countries, finally settling in Helsinki, Finland, where he was a vital force in generating interest in the blues. He recorded over a dozen albums for European labels, and collections of his vintage Chicago sides were also compiled in Europe and Japan; the only albums of his work ever issued in the U.S. were reissues of the foreign releases, including some historic sides with Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac. He visited the U.S. on occasion and although he believed America had improved, he continued to live with his wife in Helsinki, where he died on July 13, 1994.

Billy Branch

Billy Branch, once hailed as a leader of “the New Generation of Chicago Blues,” now finds himself a respected elder of the scene following many of his idols into the Blues Hall of Fame. One of the premier harmonica players in the blues, he is also an avid spokesman for the music and the culture and history it represents, dedicated to passing the legacy on to future generations.

Branch has carried the torch for the blues with a band called the Sons of Blues (S.O.B.’s), a group that originally indeed featured sons of blues musicians—except, ironically, Billy Branch. Born at the Great Lakes Naval Station hospital north of Chicago on October 3, 1951, Branch grew up in Los Angeles and returned to Chicago to attend the city campus of the University of Illinois. When he attended the city’s 1969 blues festival in Grant Park, his passion for the blues was ignited. Picking up blues licks on his harp and sitting in at blues bars, he approached blues maestro Willie Dixon and was hired for a session. The first public recognition of his talent came in 1975 when he was denied the prize at a legendary harmonica contest staged (and judged by) Little Mack Simmons, who declared himself the winner. The Sons of Blues came together in 1977 as a part of the New Generation of Chicago Blues package assembled for the Berlin Jazz Festival by Living Blues magazine and hosted by Dixon. In Chicago, Branch worked with pianist Jimmy Walker and others and continued to learn by watching Carey Bell, Big Walter Horton, and Junior Wells. He soon replaced Bell to go on tour with Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars while also regrouping the Sons of Blues. In addition to putting the blues world on notice with their spirit and talent, it became part of their mission to attract younger African-American audiences at South Side clubs with their fresh approach to the blues.

Meanwhile, in 1978 Branch began teaching in the Illinois Arts Council’s Blues in the Schools program, and has since conducted hundreds of blues classes around the country and overseas, instructing students not only about musical technique but about the roots and cultural importance of the blues, just as he had learned from Willie Dixon. Either on his own or with the Sons of Blues or other artists, he has recorded albums for Red Beans, Verve, Blind Pig, Alligator and other labels, continuing to grow as an artist and songwriter, and he is the most in-demand harmonica player for blues sessions in Chicago. A two-time recipient of the Keeping the Blues Alive Award in Education, Branch has shared top billing on three winning Blues Music Awards album, including Harp Attack!, a 1990 collaboration with James Cotton, Junior Wells and Carey Bell spotlighting Branch as “The New Kid on the Block." The Class of 2020 was formally honored with an in-person ceremony May 4, 2022.

Syl Johnson

Syl Johnson parlayed a background steeped in blues and a streetwise sensibility for soul and funk into a hitmaking career that turned even more profitable when hip-hop artists began sampling his vintage records. Johnson, who joins his older brother Jimmy in the Blues Hall of Fame, was born into a blues family in rural Benton County, Mississippi, on July 1, 1936. Their surname was Thompson, but when Syl recorded under the name Johnson in Chicago in 1959, Jimmy followed suit. Their brothers Mack and Grundy and their father Sam Thompson also played.

After moving to Chicago, Syl befriended a young Magic Sam and brother Mack became Sam’s regular bass player. Johnson’s guitar playing came to the attention of fellow 2020 Blues Hall of Fame inductee Eddie Boyd, who hired Syl to play in his band. Johnson also teamed with Billy Boy Arnold and played on recording sessions with him in 1956 and 1957. The Blues Discography also lists him on sessions with Elmore James, Junior Wells and Harmonica George Robinson, and Johnson recalls playing in a five-guitar lineup with Jimmy Reed in the studio. Johnson secured his own contract with Federal Records in 1959 and waxed several blues and R&B singles for Federal and other labels, finally hitting pay dirt in 1967 with a funky play on a popular catchphrase, “Come On Sock It to Me” on the Twilight label. In keeping with the times, “Different Strokes” and “Dresses Too Short” also hit the R&B charts. In a more serious, socially conscious mode, the classic “Is It Because I’m Black” and “Concrete Reservation” joined his Billboard hit list, which came to encompass 19 singles on Twilight, Twinight, Hi, Boardwalk and his own Shama imprint. The biggest hit was “Take Me to the River,” produced by Hi Records’ Willie Mitchell in Memphis.

One of the top stars on Chicago’s soul scene during the 1960s and ‘70s, Johnson embraced his blues roots in the ‘80s beginning with the LP Brings Out the Blues in Me—inspired, he says, by the request of Japanese fans. His last hit, “Ms. Fine Brown Frame,” was recorded with James Cotton’s Blues Band, and Buddy Guy’s brother Phil accompanied him on sessions in Chicago and in France, where Johnson cut the LP Suicide Blues. Mixing his soul, blues, and funk, he recorded for blues-oriented labels Delmark and Antone’s and began playing more guitar and harmonica at blues clubs and festivals while also launching a chain of seafood restaurants which soon took up most of his time but eventually failed. He and Jimmy—whose musical path had likewise taken him from blues to soul and back—recorded together on the 2001 CD Two Johnsons Are Better Than One.

Meanwhile, many hip-hop stars had been picking up on Johnson’s 1960s work, especially “Different Strokes,” which has been sampled several dozen times. The resulting income—some of it by litigation—allowed Johnson a comfortable lifestyle he never earned through his own record sales and performance fees. A new wave of enthusiasm for Johnson greeted the release of a 2010 box set of his early recordings from the Numero Group, and the Johnson legacy has continued as his daughter Syleena has recorded hits of her own.

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette had a hit singing blues as a teenager on her first record, “My Man” on Atlantic in 1962, and though her repertoire has evolved into one of the most eclectic imaginable, blues audiences have embraced the depth and passion of her performances, no matter what she may sing. No one puts more of herself into her songs with such soul-baring drama than Bettye LaVette.

However LaVette may identify herself as a song interpreter, her life story could certainly be turned into a series of blues songs. Her autobiography, A Woman Like Me, begins with a pimp dangling her over the ledge of a 20-story building and brazenly recounts her years of struggles, catastrophes, and dashed hopes, pulling no punches about herself or anyone else. Onstage she exudes the same brash boldness.

Born Betty Jo Haskins in Muskegon, Michigan, on January 29, 1946, she was raised briefly in Pontiac and mostly in Detroit in a house where her parents sold corn liquor to a clientele that included R&B and gospel singers. She adopted the name Betty LaVett when she first recorded, later modifying the billing to Bettye LaVette. An introduction to singer, producer, and songwriter Johnnie Mae Matthews led to the hit recording of Matthews’ song “My Man,” and despite cutting many more records over the years, some of them (“Let Me Down Easy” in particular) regarded as soul classics, LaVette never enjoyed another Top Ten record. Some 45s generated chart action, but spurts of success ended in misfortune or in lack of interest or promotion by record labels, and LaVette sometimes had to take other jobs or find local club gigs to support herself. Joining the cast of the Broadway musical Bubbling Brown Sugar kept her going for several years.

LaVette’s perseverance into the new millennium finally set her on the road to widespread acclaim. Soul and blues aficionados not only sought out her old records but discovered that as a live performer she was even more exciting—even stunning. One such LaVette devotee, Kevin Kiley, brought her not only continuing support, but also wedded bliss. European labels issued a live CD and rescued a Muscle Shoals album that had been kept in the can by Atlantic. A U.S. album on Blues Express netted her a Handy Award from the Blues Foundation in 2004, and she subsequently was voted best female artist in both the contemporary blues and soul blues categories in the Blues Music Awards. Her unique adaptations of songs from country singers, British rock groups, Bob Dylan and other sources on albums for ANTI-, Cherry Red and Verve earned GRAMMY nominations in the fields of R&B, Americana, and blues. Rosebud Agency bookings, blues and soul festival appearances, performances at the Kennedy Center and the inauguration celebration for President Obama, and television guest spots brought her profile into well-deserved prominence at last.

George “Harmonica” Smith

George “Harmonica” Smith is often rated by hardcore blues fans and musicians in the top tier of harmonicists ever to play the blues—not as widely known as others who have entered the Blues Hall of Fame before him, but in the same league. A master of the traditional 10-hole diatonic blues harp, Smith was also celebrated for his superior skills on the larger chromatic harmonica. Smith played with the Muddy Waters band at different times, recorded with some of the leading names in blues, and mentored a corps of young disciples in California including William Clarke, Rod Piazza, and Doug Macleod.

Smith learned harmonica from his mother, Jessie Smith, and began traveling to play with older musicians and on the street, learning pop standards and swing tunes as well as blues. His published biographies offer conflicting details due in part to the fact that none of them reveal his real name, which he gave as Allen George Washington when he applied for a Social Security card in 1939, citing his birthplace as Barton, Phillips County, Arkansas, and the date as April 5, 1921 - (In various bios he was born in Helena, Arkansas, or Cairo, Illinois, in 1924). The fact that he recorded under different names, including Little Walter Jr., Harmonica King, and George Allen, and said he also performed as Big Walter, further obscured his identity. He joined the Kansas City musicians’ union as George Washington in 1955 but when his first records came out that year, he was Little George Smith—yet he was not a little, man, either.

His family lived in the Missouri bootheel and southern Illinois after leaving Arkansas, but his rambles took him back to his parents’ home state of Mississippi, where he sang with a spiritual group in Jackson and played harmonica in Itta Bena and other towns. The first band he joined in Chicago was Otis Rush’s, and his first recording session was with Otis Spann in 1954. His first stint with Muddy Waters ended when he decided to go on his own in 1955. He found work in Kansas City, where he recorded for the RPM label and attracted enough attention for Universal Attractions to book him on an R&B package tour with other artists, including Champion Jack Dupree. Some of his finest recorded work came on a session with Dupree in 1955. He ended up in Los Angeles and recorded more singles under his various stage names and eventually created a following in a city not previously known for harmonica players. Though he did not lack in originality either in style or songwriting, he was called on to do a set of Little Walter tunes for his first album in 1968, backed primarily by the Muddy Waters band (which he had rejoined in 1966, only to resign so he could take care of his large family at home). Thereafter his albums, most recorded in L.A., Europe, or Japan, focused on his own music, and the renown of George “Harmonica” Smith continued to grow even without the benefit of hit recordings. He also played on sessions with Lowell Fulson, Sunnyland Slim, Little Johnny Taylor, Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Witherspoon, and others. Despite heart trouble and financial struggles, he never gave up, and recorded his final album in Tempe, Arizona, just a few months before his death on October 2, 1983.

Victoria Spivey

A belle of the blues with a head for business and a visceral gift as a songwriter, Victoria Spivey enjoyed a long career that took her from the role of ingenue to that of queen mother. Along the way she was a theater pianist, movie star, comedienne, bandleader, manager, church organist, record label owner, historian, and an inspiration to Bob Dylan and many others. Spivey was born on October 15, 1906, (or November 12 in one official document) in Houston, Texas, where her father and brothers had a string band. Two of her sisters, Addie (“Sweet Peas”) and Elton (“The Za Zu Girl”) became blues recording artists, but Victoria’s talent stood out, and the family sent her to St. Louis to pursue a singing career like her lifelong friend from Houston, Sippie Wallace. Spivey hit it big with her first record, the risqué “Black Snake Blues,” in 1926 and wrote many more songs for herself and other artists. “Blues Is My Business” would become her motto, and she started taking care of matters early on by suing her publisher for royalties in 1928.

“T.B. Blues,” another popular record, was one of her many stark, moaning blues on OKeh, Victor, Vocalion, and Decca to employ grim, somber, or deathly themes. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lead Belly, John Lee Hooker, and many others recorded her songs. “You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now,” written with her husband, trumpeter Rubin Floyd, was a duet with Lonnie Johnson, later covered by B.B. King. Spivey’s sessions included stellar accompanists Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Tampa Red, and many others. She earned lasting fame playing “Missy” in the historic all-black 1929 film Hallelujah! She also led an orchestra and became wife and manager to famous tap dancer Billy Adams. Like her idol Ida Cox, she continued to work theaters and nightclubs during and after the Great Depression, which put many other blues women out of business.

After living in Moberly, Missouri with her sister Addie and their mother, she moved to Chicago and then New York, buying a home in Brooklyn. In the 1950s she sang at jazz clubs and played in church but only embarked on a career comeback in the 1960s with the support of jazz and blues buff Len Kunstadt, who became her companion and manager of the label they launched, Spivey Records. In 1961 Spivey also recorded for Prestige Bluesville. With her regal reputation and friendships in the blues world, “Queen Vee” was able to entice many legendary blues figures to record for her label, at the same time nurturing up-and-coming talent including Bob Dylan, who recorded with her and Big Joe Williams on March 2, 1962. Dylan made no secret of his affection for Spivey, and a photo of the pair adorns the back cover of his New Morning album. The Spivey Records catalog includes music by the Muddy Waters band, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson, and many more.

Spivey remained a coy, charismatic performer, touring Europe with the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival, playing the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, the Philadelphia Folk Festival and others, gracing various documentaries, and continuing to appear in New York until shortly before her death from a hemorrhage on October 3, 1976. As befitting her professional endeavors, collections of her business and personal papers and memorabilia are archived at Emory University and the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies.

2019 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin was hailed for decades as the Queen of Soul, but in her time many also viewed her as the Queen of the Blues. To many more her gospel fervor, striking intimacy, vocal range, and impeccable timing and control made her simply the greatest singer ever, regardless of genre. Franklin recorded her first sides a gospel singer for the J-V-B label in Detroit in 1956, following the path of her father, the famous preacher Reverend C.L. Franklin. She began her secular career by singing “Today I Sing the Blues” on her debut session for Columbia Records, in 1960. The single hit No. 10 on the Billboard magazine R&B charts, the first of over 100 singles to chart in addition to dozens of albums. She sounded as natural and masterful singing the blues as soul and pop songs, and in fact, a number of her hits were in essence blues even if they weren’t commonly perceived so. In 1998 Rhino Records took the cue and compiled an album from her Atlantic recordings entitled Aretha’s Blues: The Delta Meets Detroit. Aretha wasn’t from the Mississippi Delta, but her father was. He moved the family to Memphis, where she was born on March 25, 1942, then to Buffalo and finally to Detroit, where he rose to fame with sermons at the New Bethel Baptist Church that were recorded and released on J-V-B and Chess. Reverend Franklin’s religion did not prevent him from embracing other types of music, and Aretha and her singing sisters Carolyn and Erma met many R&B and jazz performers in their home or at events with their father. It was Reverend Franklin who guided Aretha to sign with John Hammond at Columbia. Among her Columbia albums was Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington, recorded after the death of the singer who once held the Queen of the Blues title. Later Columbia retrospectives gathered tracks from various albums under the titles Today I Sing the Blues and Aretha Sings the Blues in the U.S. and Blues Sister in Brazil. Much of Columbia output consisted of pop, jazz, standards and show tunes, however, and Franklin didn’t hit her soul/blues stride until she signed with Atlantic. There her first 45, the bluesy I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You), immediately hit No. 1, and another No. 1 single was her cover of Bobby Bland’s Share Your Love With Me. Dr. Feelgood (the flip side of Respect) became a standard in the repertoire of blues women, and many blues bands continue to perform Chain of Fools and other Franklin hits. Her other Atlantic blues tracks on Atlantic include Night Time is the Right Time, Come Back Baby, The Thrill Is Gone, Honest I Do, Ramblin’, Pitiful, Drown in My Own Tears, You’re Taking Up Another Man’s Place, Ain’t No WayGood to Me As I Am to You, and stirring love versions of Dr. Feelgood. In his liner notes to Franklin’s 1968 Lady Soul album, Jon Landau, a writer for Rolling Stone and future manager of Bruce Springsteen, wrote: “Aretha Franklin sings the blues. But is a blues with a difference . . . Aretha has put together the winning style which has made her the most important blues artist of today.” Aretha Franklin, who was showered with honors and awards during her long and fruitful reign, died at her home in Detroit on August 16, 2018.

Booker T. & the MGs

Booker T. & the MG's delineated the soulful sound of Memphis playing behind a host of stars at Stax Records, all the while making instrumental hits of their own. Their first record, “Green Onions,” inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2018, was followed by 14 more chart hits, including ”Hip-Hug-Her” and “Time Is Tight.” The original group – an unnamed crew who came up with “Green Onions” while jamming in the studio after a 1962 session backing Billy Lee Riley – consisted of Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson, Jr. (drums). Donald “Duck” Dunn took over on bass in 1965. They became “The MG’s” in salute to the MG, a British sports car, but when MG did not approve, Stax announced that the initials stood for Memphis Group. And all the members were Memphis natives except for Cropper, who was born on a farm near Dora, Missouri, on October 21, 1941, and moved to Memphis when he was ten. Jackson, the son of a Memphis bandleader, was the oldest, born on November 27, 1935, followed by Steinberg, who also came from a prominent musical family (November 29, 1939), Dunn, a longtime friend and neighbor of Cropper (November 24, 1941), and Jones, a multi-instrumental wizard who was still in high school when the MG’s started (November 12, 1944). The musicians had all played with other local bands including the Mar-Keys, the Triumphs, and the Willie Mitchell band. At Stax, they became more than just sidemen. They all contributed to the songwriting, while Jones, Cropper, and Jackson were the most involved with session production, and Cropper was the key figure in studio operations. Their major contribution to Stax’s blues catalog was their presence on every Albert King studio session there in the 1960s, although, in deference to the guitar master, Cropper only played on a few of King’s sides. Records on Stax, Volt, and Atlantic cut at the studio with the band included releases by Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Eddie Kirkland, the Staple Singers and many more. Other musicians from the Stax studio cast merged with the MG’s on various sessions and Isaac Hayes even played the organ in Booker T.’s place on one hit single, “Boot-Leg.” There are also reports of entirely different bands touring as Booker T. & the MG’s. After leaving Stax, Jones launched his long solo career, and he and the others stayed busy with multiple projects, including collaborations with many soul, blues and rock stars and reunion shows. Jackson’s time was cut tragically short when he was murdered on October 1, 1975. Cropper and Dunn achieved high profile status with the Blues Brothers band and the two old friends were on tour together in Tokyo when Dunn died on May 13, 2012. Booker T. & the MG’s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement award in 2007.

Count Basie

Count Basie led “The Band That Plays the Blues,” and indeed his band did in its own swinging style for decades, propelling one of the major movements in American music. Long heralded as a giant of jazz, Basie built on a foundation of blues that was always evident in his music. He played blues piano with an easy, economical touch, wrote or revamped an impressive cache of blues and jump tunes, and employed vocalists who could sing the blues with the same mastery the Basie band displayed on their instruments. William James Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, on August 21, 1904, and learned piano from his mother. Early professional experience came in Harlem and on the road accompanying singers Katie Crippen and Gonzell White on the vaudeville circuit. A tour with White brought him to Kansas City in 1927, and he ended up working in the area with Walter Page’s Blue Devils and the Bennie Moten orchestra. His first studio recording was on a Moten session in 1930. Basie’s big break came while fronting his own Barons of Rhythm, which included several alums of the Blue Devils and Moten’s band, in 1935-36 at the Reno Club on 12th Street. W9XBY, a new experimental high fidelity AM radio station, broadcast from the club nightly, and its signal carried far enough for producer and critic John Hammond to hear it. Hammond came to see Basie at the Reno and by late 1936 Basie was recording on his own and touring the East Coast. New York became his new base, but his sound was forever linked to Kansas City, a freewheeling crossroads that was a magnet for musicians who found plenty of opportunities to work, jam and exchange ideas. As a bandleader, Basie employed an easy, uncomplicated approach that allowed both for cohesion and improvisation, infectious riffing and dueling soloists. In common with many blues artists of the era, most of the original band members weren’t formally trained and learned by memory and played by feel, not by reading sheet music. Notable soloists included Lester Young Herschel Evans, Buck Clayton and Harry “Sweets” Edison, and the exemplary rhythm section consisted of Basie, guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Walter Page, and drummer Jo Jones. Longtime Basie vocalist Jimmy Rushing sang on Basie’s classic recordings of “Goin’ to Chicago Blues,” “Sent For You Yesterday and Here You Come Today,” “Good Morning Blues,” and a song from their first session in 1936 simply called “Boogie Woogie” with the tag line “I may be wrong but I won’t be wrong always.” Rushing’s depth and delivery were hugely influential on the generation of jump blues shouters in the coming wave of rhythm & blues and rock ’n’ roll – just as the beat and bravado of the Basie orchestra paved a path for the upcoming bands to follow. In addition to hits by the orchestra such as “One O’Clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” the Basie discography also included blues and boogie-woogie piano features with the rhythm section such as “How Long Blues” and “The Dirty Dozens.” Billie Holiday, Helen Humes and Joe Williams also sang with the Basie unit, and the Basie-Williams rendering of “Everyday I Have the Blues” was a Billboard hit in 1955. The orchestra, sans Basie, played behind Etta James and LaVern Baker on a 1956 broadcast later released on an LP as Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Party and played on a 1959 session with B.B. King. In addition to recording with such luminaries as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald, Basie also did a session with Jackie Wilson in 1968 which resulted in two singles on the Billboard chart. Later Basie collaborations included albums with blues vocals by Big Joe Turner and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Basie was able to buy a home in the Bahamas in the 1970s and was residing there when he took ill in 1984. He spent his last days at a hospital in Hollywood, Florida, where he died on April 26. While he has been honored with too many awards to mention, it is only appropriate that the Blues Hall of Fame recognize Count Basie both for the debt he owed to the blues and for what he gave back in return.

Ida Cox

Ida Cox was touted as the “Uncrowned Queen of the Blues” right from the start of her recording career with the Paramount label in 1923, and before long the crown was bestowed in her ads and press notices. Although historians have often rated Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith as the top blues stars of the classic vaudeville blues era, the popular and prolific Ida Cox was every bit their rival, and the influence of her songs has rarely been given its due. Her records were filled with titles and verses that resurfaced in the work of legendary bluesmen – for example, “How Long, Daddy, How Long” (Leroy Carr), “Death Letter Blues” (Son House), “Mojo Hand” (Lightnin’ Hopkins) and “I Am So Glad” (Skip James). Billed as a high-class entertainer, Cox was a solid, savvy professional who sang the blues with clarity, conviction, and poise and dressed in the finest gowns. A composer of note, she dealt with a range of subject matter, often returning to favorite themes such as death, graveyards, wayward lovers, heartbreak, betrayal and asserting her rights. Her “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” has become a feminist anthem, but by all reports, the salacious lifestyle of the song didn’t actually mirror her own life. In a 1932 interview in the Kansas City, Kansas Plaindealer she claimed she preferred classical music but sang blues by public demand. She told the reporter that she was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on January 25, 1894, and left home to perform after finishing high school there. However, by official records, she was born Ida M. Prather in Cedartown, Georgia, on February 25, 1888, 1894 or 1896 depending on which source is cited (census, Social Security or death certificate). Toccoa, Georgia, has also been cited as her birthplace. As a teenager, she went on the road to perform as a comedienne and singer with minstrel shows and married a Bahamian-American cornetist, Attler Cox. News reports of her singing at theaters and appearing with her husband in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels show in Georgia appeared as early as 1913. By 1915 Attler had found a new wife, Ethel, to sing with the Florida Blossoms minstrels, while Ida continued her theatrical work in Georgia. In the city she cited as her favorite, Chicago, she was spotted by J. Mayo Williams of Paramount and recorded for the label for six years, accompanied on many records by one of the first women to play piano on blues sessions, Lovie Austin. Jesse Crump also played piano, wrote songs, and toured with her, and the two were married in 1927. Cox, based in Chicago, organized and headlined the Raisin’ Cane revue for several years, then took top billing in another touring theatrical show, Darktown Scandals, persevering through the Depression when most of her competitors had faded away or changed career paths. For two seasons in 1941-42, she even tried reviving an old tent show called Mandy Green From New Orleans. Under the auspices of John Hammond, she appeared at the historic 1939 Spirituals to Swing concert in Carnegie Hall and recorded for Columbia’s Vocalion and OKeh subsidiaries in 1939 and 1940 with lineups of all-star sidemen including guitarist Charlie Christian on several sides. During World War II she entertained at U.S. Army camps with her Darktown Scandals but during a nightclub performance in Buffalo on April 12, 1945, she suffered a stroke and went into retirement. She lived with her daughter in Knoxville afterward. After her old records began to be reissued on albums in the 1950s, Cox was coaxed into recording again and cut an LP for Riverside backed by the Coleman Hawkins Quintet in 1961. That, however, was the extent of her participation in the blues revival, and otherwise, she said she only sang in church. In interviews, she said the highlights of her career were appearing with Jelly Roll Morton at the 81 Theater in Atlanta, with King Oliver at the Grand Theater in Chicago, with the Count Basie band in Carnegie Hall, and on the Queen Mary ocean liner in Nova Scotia. On November 10, 1967, Ida Cox died in Knoxville.

Pee Wee Crayton

Pee Wee Crayton was one of the brightest stars on the West Coast blues horizon when his 1948 recording of “Blues After Hours” reached No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s chart for “race records” (renamed “rhythm & blues” in 1949). It remains the only instrumental by a guitarist to ever occupy the top R&B spot. Although his run on the charts ended in 1950, Crayton continued to display a creative flair on later records and delivered many a memorable performance. Guitarists Lowell Fulson, Johnny Heartsman, Mickey Baker, Doug MacLeod, and others have cited him as an inspiration, and Sun recording artist Billy “The Kid” Emerson claimed that Elvis Presley developed some of his moves after seeing Crayton perform in Memphis. Crayton’s guitar riffs have been cited as the basis for some of Chuck Berry’s, and even for the Beatles’ “Revolution” intro. It adds up to an impressive legacy for a bluesman who said he had only been playing guitar for about four years when he recorded. He was born Connie Curtis Crayton on December 18, 1914, in Liberty Hill, Texas, near Rockdale, just east of Austin, where he grew up and learned a little trumpet, ukulele and banjo. Moving to Los Angeles, he worked as a janitor and chauffeur and then headed north to a shipyard job in Vallejo during World War II, and delved into the Bay Area blues scene. With tutelage from T-Bone Walker and jazz guitarist John Collins, Crayton developed his own approach on guitar, incorporating their sophistication but picking with a harder edge than his mentors, sometimes bending strings much in the way B.B. King would soon be doing. His first attempts at recording didn’t amount to much, but he earned the distinction of playing on two No. 1 hits in 1948 by providing the guitar work on Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Pretty Mama Blues,” which peaked just six weeks before “Blues After Hours.” Crayton recorded his chart-topper for the Modern label in Los Angeles in addition to two other Billboard hits, ”Texas Hop” and a vocal ballad, “I Love You So.” Although he considered his skills rudimentary at that point, he was hailed as a guitar phenom in publicity for national tours that followed, and guitar manufacturer Leo Fender presented him with a prototype Stratocaster and amp. His success also occasioned threats of lawsuits, including one from an Oakland company that had signed him to a contract, but he continued recording more instrumentals and vocals for Modern. To his frustration, no further hits came, for Modern or for a myriad of other labels, despite the quality and increasing expertise he brought to his music. But with the songwriting and management support of his wife Esther, he maintained his performing career in Los Angeles as well as in Detroit and Des Moines, even during lean years when he drove a truck to make ends meet. Extra income came from teaching guitar and winning money on the golf course. Crayton’s legendary status brought him renewed attention and several albums and festival appearances in later years. His periodic guitar battles with longtime friend T-Bone Walker always made headlines. Crayton died in Los Angeles on June 25, 1985, just after returning from a triumphant return to his hometown of Austin to play at Antone’s. In his honor, a host of the area’s best guitar slingers later gathered to stage the “Pee Wee Crayton Battle of the Blues Guitars.”

2018 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


The Aces

Brothers Louis and Dave Myers and their longtime friend Fred Below (pronounced BEE-low) formed the Three Aces, one of Chicago’s premier blues combos, in the early 1950s. Also known as the Three Dukes, the Four Aces (when they hooked up with Junior Wells), the Jukes (when they teamed with Little Walter), or more often just the Aces, the band was in demand to play behind various singers, but also could deliver top-notch blues with Louis Myers taking a lead role. The Myers brothers and their older harmonica-player sibling Bob were born into a musical family in the country near Byhalia, Mississippi—Louis on September 18, 1929, and Dave on October 30, 1927. They moved to Chicago 1941. Louis had started playing guitar in Mississippi and took it up again in Chicago, followed by Dave, who later switched to electric bass. They played with other blues artists on the South Side and on their own, without a drummer until Below joined. Below, who was born in Chicago on September 6, 1926, brought experience from playing in high school and U.S. Army bands and studying at a percussion school. Trained in jazz, he found the blues difficult at first but before long he had developed his own backbeat style, which set the standard for generations of blues drummers to come. The group first recorded in 1952, backing Little Walter on “Mean Old World” and other numbers for Checker, a subsidiary of Chess Records in Chicago. Other sessions, club dates, and tours with Walter followed. The foursome toured widely as one of the country’s most popular and energetic young blues acts. Although Louis and Dave played with Junior Wells before Walter, they recorded with Wells only in 1953. Louis and Below also recorded with him 1954. All three Aces later backed Wells on a live recording in Boston. As a unit the Aces were not a constant presence on the blues scene, although the individual members stayed busy in town or on the road. In testament to their prowess as an all-purpose band, the Aces backed Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Koko Taylor, Lightnin’ Slim, Jimmy Dawkins, and others at the 1972 Montreux Jazz Festival, in addition to doing their own set, and all the proceedings were recorded, resulting in several albums. They also recorded behind Jimmy Reed, Roosevelt Sykes, Billy Boy Arnold, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood Jr., Eddie Taylor, and numerous others in the U.S., Europe, or Japan. As the Aces, they recorded albums of their own for three French labels and a few tracks on various compilations. Louis Myers, heralded primarily for his skills on guitar, also possessed a potent harmonica attack and was featured on an instrumental single for the Abco label in Chicago in 1956. He later recorded albums on Advent, JSP, and Earwig. Both Louis and Dave also recorded a few songs for the Wolf label, and Dave concluded his recording career with a CD for Black Top in 1996. Below was a prolific session drummer, providing the beat for dozens of other Chicago blues artists from 1952 through 1979, including Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Koko Taylor. Louis and Dave, together or individually, added further session credits to the collective discography, recording with John Lee Hooker, Earl Hooker, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and others. Below, also a photographer, had one number he liked to sing, “Route 66,” introduced by “a one, a two, a you know what to do,” and his renditions were recorded as a bonus on various sessions. The Aces’ Blues Hall of Fame induction would have been welcomed by the genial Below and likely viewed as a vindication by the Myers brothers, who were known to many for voicing conspiracy theories about the lack of respect and opportunities offered them. Below died on August 13, 1988, followed by Louis on September 4, 1994, and Dave on September 3, 2001.

Georgia Tom Dorsey

Thomas A. Dorsey was famed as the “Father of Gospel Music,” but earlier in his career he was “Georgia Tom,” a Chicago blues pianist, Ma Rainey accompanist, partner of Tampa Red, and composer of the some of the most humorous and risqué songs of the 1920s and early ’30s. Dorsey was born July 1, 1899, in Villa Rica, Georgia, and developed his piano-playing skills as a teenager in Atlanta, where he was known as “Barrelhouse Tom.” He moved to Chicago in 1916 and began playing with local groups, and started traveling with Ma Rainey’s troupe in the 1920s. Dorsey learned to write, arrange, and publish songs, and by 1923 his compositions were being recorded for the Paramount label by Alberta Hunter and others. He collaborated with Tampa Red from 1928 to 1932, and their Vocalion recording of “It’s Tight Like That” became one of the biggest hits of the era. In need of a name that could be paired with Tampa Red’s, Tom Dorsey became Georgia Tom. Dorsey also had a number of releases of his own, in addition to recording with Ma Rainey, Memphis Minnie, Jim Jackson, the Hokum Boys, and others. With his many roles, he could be viewed as the Willie Dixon of his particular era of Chicago blues. Dorsey was also writing gospel songs at the same time, and eventually left the blues to devote himself to gospel. He did not record much as a gospel singer, but launched a lucrative career as a music publisher and wrote two famous gospel songs, “Precious Lord,” inspired by the tragic deaths of his wife and day-old child, and “Peace in the Valley.” One of the keys to gospel, a more modern style than the old spirituals and hymns, Dorsey said, was the infusion of “the feeling and the pathos and the moans and the blues . . . that got me over.” Dorsey directed choirs at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, in addition to organizing national gospel conventions and operating his publishing business. He died on January 23, 1993. Dorsey never condemned the blues, and told Living Blues magazine in 1975: “There’s just as great a message in the blues as it is in gospel. It depends on the position in which the individual is in.”

Sam Lay

Sam Lay joins his main influence, Fred Below of the Aces, as the first Chicago blues drummers elected to the Blues Hall of Fame. Lay is one of the rare blues drummers to earn crossover fame in the rock world, beginning with his work with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and others, but his résumé is loaded with blues credentials both before and after he played on the Butterfield band’s historic debut album in 1965. He is the fourth member of the band to enter the Blues Hall of Fame, following Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, and Elvin Bishop. Lay says his drumming trademark, the double shuffle, is based on the double-time rhythms of the hand-clapping and tambourines he heard in church in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was born on March 20. 1935. He began performing with bands after moving to Cleveland, and arrived in Chicago when recruited by harmonica wizard Little Walter. Lay left Walter’s combo to begin a long stint with Howlin’ Wolf’s band, playing on the Blues Hall of Fame classics “Killing Floor” and “I Ain’t Superstitious.” Lay recalls that he only switched bands again when Paul Butterfield offered him a pay raise—to play Chicago clubs for $20 a night. During his tenure with Butterfield he also accompanied Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and on one studio session for the Highway 61 Revisited album. Lay’s time with Butterfield was cut short when an illness landed him in the hospital in late 1965, and he joined James Cotton’s new band and later began a long association with the Siegel-Schwall Band. As his own name was established, he launched a career leading a band while continuing to lay down the beat for many others in the studio, in Chicago clubs, and on the road. In the ’60s he played with Muddy Waters, Butterfield, and others on the historic Fathers and Sons concert and album, recorded in the studio with Cotton, and accompanied Magic Sam, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Wolf on shows that were taped and later released on LP or CD. Lay sang “Got My Mojo Working” on the Paul Butterfield Blues Band album and followed that with four 1966 tracks on the Testament LP Goin’ to Chicago and his first full album, Sam Lay in Bluesland, for Blue Thumb, in 1969. Later albums appeared on Appaloosa, Telarc, Evidence, and other labels in the U.S. and Europe, and Lay added to his discography by drumming on sessions by the Bob Riedy Blues Band, Wild Child Butler, Johnny Littlejohn, Carey Bell, Eddy Clearwater, Siegel-Schwall, Mojo Buford, Jimmy D. Lane, Hubert Sumlin, Rockin’ Johnny, Sunnyland Slim, Barrelhouse Chuck, Eomot Rasun, Easy Baby, Bonnie Lee, Mississippi Heat, Kenny Neal, Byther Smith, Taj Mahal, and others. His Sam Lay Blues Revival Band toured the U.S. and Canada, with Butler, Littlejohn, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, and others featured in the revue. Lay also developed a talent as a down-home blues guitar player. In addition to his musical skills, Lay earned a reputation for his cordiality and for the silent home movies he shot in the Chicago clubs, capturing rare footage of Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and others. He was elected to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992.

Mamie Smith

Mamie Smith, the first true queen of the blues, created a sensation with the phenomenal success of her 1920 recording of “Crazy Blues” and her extravagant stage shows. Not only did she help pioneer a new trend that led to the creation of what was called the “race record” market for African-American buyers, but she also validated the blues, which was not regarded as a valuable commodity in certain musical circles. Her following cut across racial lines, and she broke new ground by taking blues into uncharted territories—a reviewer in Anaconda, Montana, in 1923, for instance, gushed: “Nothing of the kind has ever been seen or heard here before. . . . Mamie Smith is a riot of whirling color, twinkling feet and jazz melodies.” Smith’s training in the theater and vaudeville prepared her to emerge on the blues circuit with a formidable act for other divas to challenge. Her blues had polish, her wardrobe was lavish, and her troupes of dancers, singers, and comedians brought press notices such as “the cleanest and most wholesome colored attraction now touring” and “high-class dancing and clean-cut comedy.” Her flamboyance carried over into a luxurious lifestyle afforded by the sudden wealth she amassed. She bought three houses in New York, complete with fine accoutrements, servants, and, one visitor noted, “rugs on the floor as thick as mattresses.” Smith continued to record until 1931 for OKeh and other labels, scoring early hits with “Dangerous Blues,” “Lonesome Mama,” a reissue of her first release, “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” and others. Her popularity as a recording artist was soon eclipsed by other women such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, but she remained a major attraction on the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit. In a retrospective piece in 1955, Floyd G. Snelson wrote in the Chicago Defender: “Mamie carried thousand dollar bills in her money belt. She bought gilt securities, and a farm in the South. All of this went with the crash of 1929 and the poor gal lived off charity and friends until her death.” This was somewhat at odds with how Snelson described her in 1939: “Mamie is hale and hearty and looks the picture of health, having lost many fortunes during her eventful career. . . . She’s a grand gal if you ask me!” While the 1930s were lean years in the business, Mamie’s management continued to feed the press with stories of her touring in “a blaze of glory” and headlines such as “Mamie Smith is Still the South’s Favorite Singer” in 1934 and afterward. From 1939 to 1942 Mamie revived a film career which began with Jail House Blues in 1929, appearing in movies such as Sunday SinnersParadise in Harlem, and Murder on Lenox Avenue. She was reportedly married to promoter and film producer Jack Goldberg at one point. Some details of her life remain sketchy, and there is still debate about her birth and death dates. The 1939 Chicago Defender article offered some important details, stating that she was born Mamie Robinson in Cincinnati on September 19, 1890, and began performing at the age of ten. The 1890 citation is in line with her age as entered in the census and mentioned in obituaries. Sheldon Harris, author of Blues Who’s Who, published information he obtained from a Mamie Smith death certificate that listed her dates of birth (May 26, 1883) and death (September 16, 1946), but he noted that both dates were unconfirmed (the certificate turned out to be for a different Mamie Smith). He listed other possible death dates and, based on a report from a New York columnist in Pittsburgh’s African-American paper the Courier, one of them was correct: October 30, 1946. The former blues queen was buried without a headstone. Singer Victoria Spivey, an admirer and rival, helped put together a tribute to her memory at New York’s Celebrity Club in 1964 to raise money for a monument, and a headstone was reportedly sent from Germany. Finally, after a new campaign by Michael Cala, a headstone was dedicated in 2014, engraved with the unconfirmed dates quoted in Blues Who’s Who.

Roebuck “Pops” Staples

Roebuck “Pops” Staples, one of the foremost figures in American gospel music as a singer, guitarist, and patriarch of the Staple Singers family group, was a blues performer in his younger days, and his blues-drenched guitar work was a constant trademark of the Staple Singers’ gospel sound. Staples traced his style back to the hymns and spirituals he learned from his grandfather and the blues he heard in Mississippi. Roebuck and his older brother Sears, the last two of fourteen Staples children, were named after the Chicago mail-order company that numbered many rural African-Americans among its millions of customers, including many who ordered guitars by mail. Another Staples brother, David, played blues guitar before becoming a preacher, and a famous relative born years later was Oprah Winfrey, whose great-grandmother was Roebuck’s aunt, Ella Staples. Staples was born on a farm near Winona, Mississippi, on December 28, 1914. The family moved around, ending up at the famous Dockery plantation—longtime home of Delta blues king Charley Patton—around 1923. Inspired by Patton and Howlin’ Wolf (a Patton devotee who often performed in the nearby town of Drew), Staples took up guitar and began frequenting local juke house parties, but also sang in church and at local gospel gatherings, sometimes with the Golden Trumpets. Although he chose to stay on the gospel path, he remained a lifelong blues fan and was a friend to many blues singers, from Wolf and Muddy Waters to Albert and B.B. King. Staples’ children Cleotha and Pervis were born at Dockery, followed by Yvonne, Mavis, and Cynthia after the family moved to Chicago. Staples put the guitar aside for several years while he worked meatpacking, factory, and construction jobs to support his brood, although he sang locally with the Trumpet Jubilees. The success of their 1956 recording “Uncloudy Day” enabled Pops, Pervis, and Cleotha to quit their day jobs to become full-time singers. Pops and Pervis had been lead vocalists when the group began, but Mavis’ powerful voice soon took center stage. Under Pops’ guidance, the Staple Singers not only earned the title “the first family of gospel music,” but also developed followings among blues, soul, folk, rock, and jazz audiences with their inspirational “message songs.” The Staple Singers’ Vee-Jay 45 “Too Close,” featuring Pops’ down-home guitar, was recorded live at a concert in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1960 by legendary WROX blues and gospel DJ and promoter Early Wright. Revenant Records later included it on the award-winning box set The Worlds of Charley Patton. Staples was heard to play Patton’s blues note-for-note at home or backstage, but would not perform the songs onstage. Although he professed not to be a blues singer, Staples did collaborate with guitarists Albert King and Steve Cropper on the Stax album Jammed Together, and he won a Grammy in the Contemporary Blues category in 1994 for his final CD, Father Father. “It’s just my way of playing,” he explained. “I can’t get away from it—it’s gonna have a little touch of blues.” The Rhythm & Blues Foundation honored Staples with a Pioneer Award in 1992, and in 1998 he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Pops died on December 19, 2000. His daughter Mavis was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

2017 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees



Henry Gray, who played piano in the Howlin’ Wolf band and other Chicago blues groups before returning to his native Louisiana in 1968, has rarely been in the spotlight, but has steadily built an impressive resume entertaining audiences around the world with his blues-drenched piano pounding. Gray, born on January 19, 1925, in Kenner, Louisiana, and raised in the Baton Rouge area, was playing both in church and in local nightspots before serving in World War II and moving to Chicago. Gray’s style continued to develop under the influence of Big Maceo Merriweather, and he began playing with Little Walter, Little Hudson’s Red Devil Trio, guitarist Morris Pejoe and others.

Gray’s tenure with Howlin’ Wolf lasted 12 or more years, although he was in and out of the band. According to The Blues Discography 1943-1970, he recorded only eight songs with Wolf—four in 1955 and four in 1961, including “I Ain’t Superstitious,” although Gray has remembered others. He did more sessions with Pejoe than anyone else in Chicago, and also recorded behind Billy Boy Arnold, Dusty Brown, Harold Burrage, G.L. Crockett, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and Jimmy Rogers, among others. Back in Louisiana, he recorded with swamp bluesmen Whispering Smith, Clarence Edwards, Silas Hogan and others, though his blues retained its hard Chicago edge.

His first release under his own name came with a 45 for the Blues Unlimited label of Crowley, Louisiana, in 1970, “You’re My Midnight Dream”/“I’m a Lucky Lucky Man.” Lucky Man was also the title of his first full U.S. LP on Blind Pig in 1988. But Gray had been decidedly unlucky in getting one of his own recordings released in Chicago, as sessions for 1950s Chess, Parrot and Atomic-H remained in the can, despite their quality. until they were released on vintage Chicago blues compilation albums many years later. Gray, who worked as a roofer and driver in Baton Rouge, became more musically prolific as an elder statesman, adding albums for HighTone, Delta Groove, Lucky Cat, and several European and Japanese labels while making dozens of European tours and establishing himself on the U.S. festival and blues club circuit. A 2006 National Heritage Fellowship honoree, Gray continued to hit the stages even as a nonagenerian.


Willie Johnson recorded few songs on his own, but as a sideman his storming barrage of distortion and incendiary guitar licks in the 1950s, especially on the early records of Howlin' Wolf, earned him a lasting reputation as a groundbreaking commando in the annals of electric guitar playing. Mentored as a teenager by Wolf in Mississippi, Johnson played in Wolf's band in West Memphis and in Chicago and recorded for Sun Records in 1955.

Johnson gave interviewers several different birthplaces in Mississippi, including Senatobia, Arkabutla and Lake Cormorant, but the state’s Vital Records office certifies the site as a Tate County community called Savage, an aptly named location for a guitarist as wild as Willie Johnson, and the date as March 3, 1923, a day earlier than the day Johnson cited. Johnson recalled meeting Wolf when Wolf, Son House and Willie Brown were performing together. Wolf showed Johnson how to tune his guitar and the two began playing together on weekends.

As a member of Wolf’s band, Johnson played on all of the Memphis singles Wolf recorded for Chess at Sam Phillips’ studio from 1951 to 1953, including the debut two-sided hit “How Many More Years”/”Moanin’ at Midnight,” as well as the  RPM singles Wolf cut in West Memphis. Johnson’s playing galvanized Willie Nix’s first sessions in Memphis as well. In 1955 he and harmonica player Sammy Lewis teamed to record a single for Sun, with each singing on one side of the disc. Wolf moved to Chicago in 1954 and summoned Johnson to rejoin him in 1956. Johnson played on several more Wolf classics on Chess, notably “Smokestack Lightning.” Their relationship was a volatile one, however, fueled by Johnson’s drinking, and they soon parted ways again. Johnson did a few more sessions accompanying McKinley Mitchell, Bobo Jenkins, Harmonica George Robinson, and Little Mack Simmons. Johnson played the clubs a while longer with J.T. Brown, Sunnyland Slim and others but music took a back seat when he found a factory job.

After fans from Chicago and England sought him out, he made occasional club appearances in later years, and in 1988 Michael Frank of Earwig Records produced three tracks by Johnson that were released on the Wolf label from Austria. Frank also recorded several other Johnson tracks that one day could be combined with live tapes made at local clubs to compile Johnson’s only album. Johnson died at his home in Chicago in February 26, 1995.


Mavis Staples, one of America's premier singers of gospel and soul music, has expanded her musical mastery with her performances in more blues-based settings in recent years. The blues is nothing new to the Staples family, as Mavis' father and founder of the Staple Singers, Roebuck "Pop" Staples, was a devotee of Delta blues master Charley Patton back in Mississippi. Mavis, born in Chicago on July 10, 1939, also spent time as a child with her grandmother in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and it was there, in a school talent show, that she sang Buddy and Ella Johnson’s “Since I Fell For You” and found herself roundly chastised by her family for straying from religious songs.

The Staple Singers (Pops, Mavis and her siblings Cleotha and Pervis) first recorded in 1953, after Mavis had already been singing with the group for several years. Even as a teenager her deep timbre and powerfully impassioned singing left audiences in disbelief, and the Staples’ spirited gospel performances crossed boundaries, drawing fans from followers of blues, R&B, folk, rock and country music. Venturing beyond traditional gospel, the family added freedom songs, inspirational message songs and soul music to their repertoire.

With Mavis’ voice at the forefront, the Staples registered 25 singles on Billboard’s Soul and Black charts, including two that also went to No. 1 in the pop field, “Respect Yourself” and “Let’s Do It Again.” Mavis also had nine chart singles under her own name, including two recorded for Prince’s Paisley Park label.

Mavis put the blues world on notice with a memorable rendition of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” at the 2003 Lightning in a Bottle Year of the Blues concert documentary. Another version of that classic won her a GRAMMY for Best American Roots Performance in 2015. Other blues connections surfaced when she teamed with blues virtuoso Lucky Peterson on a gospel album in 1996, recorded an album for Alligator (a label known for house-rocking blues) in 2004, and began touring with a band led by guitarist Rick Holmstrom, performing at several blues festivals.

Staples won W.C. Handy Blues Awards as Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year in 2005 and 2006, largely on the strength of Have a Little Faith, the album she recorded for Alligator. The LP won dual W.C. Handy Blues Awards as Blues Album of the Year and Soul Blues Album of the Year in 2005, and the title track penned by producer Jim Tullio earned Song of the Year honors. She also graced the cover of Living Blues magazine in 2004. Several albums on ANTI-, a label with a diverse catalogue of alternative and roots music, further broadened her market and earned Mavis a GRAMMY in 2011 for Best Americana Album, You Are Not Alone. Mavis Staples remains on her lifelong mission to inspire and uplift her listeners no matter what musical genre she employs.


Johnny Copeland was one of a vaunted crew of blazing guitar slingers to emerge from the vibrant Third Ward of Houston, Texas, and one of the city's most powerful singers as well.  Establishing himself with a series of blues, rock ‘n’ roll and soul singles beginning in 1958, he attained national prominence in the 1980s recording blues albums for Rounder Records.

Born March 27, 1937, in Haynesville. Louisiana, Johnny Clyde Copeland lived in Magnolia, Arkansas, before moving to Houston in 1950, where he learned from, formed a band with, Joe “Guitar” Hughes. The pair both came up under the influence of T-Bone Walker, and their contemporaries included Albert Collins and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Copeland, who became known as the “Texas Twister,” recorded over two dozen 45s, beginning with “Rock and Roll Lilly” on Mercury, in Houston from 1958 to 1974, as well as a few for the Kent label in Los Angeles. Most of his singles and a number of previously unreleased sides were later compiled on albums that were issued only after he had created a splash with Rounder. Some of his singles, including those leased by producer Huey P. Meaux to Wand and Atlantic, achieved national distribution, and he traveled on the chittlin’ circuit on his own and as a bandleader backing bigger names, but none of his records ever hit the Billboard or Cash Box charts.

Relocating to New York City in 1975, Copeland did some studio work, including a 45 for legendary producer Bobby Robinson’s Fire n’ Fury label, and spent a couple of years recording his debut LP, Copeland Special. The album won a W.C. Handy Blues Award in 1981 and Copeland found his niche sticking with the blues, earning Contemporary Male Blues Artist of the Year honors in 1982 and 1983, securing nominations in both the vocal and instrumental categories, and taking home a Handy and a GRAMMY in 1986 for Showdown!, his Alligator collaboration with Albert Collins and Robert Cray.

Following his acclaimed series of albums on Rounder, which included one recorded in Africa, Copeland recorded CDs for EmArcy and Verve and appeared on a variety of CDs. His last recording, “Tumblin’ Dice,” was featured on the House of Blues compilation Paint It, Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones. His daughter Shemekia sang backup on that session and has followed in his footsteps by winning multiple Blues Music Awards. Copeland, who moved to Teaneck, New Jersey in 1993, continued to perform even after multiple heart surgeries, inspiring benefits around the country to raise money for his medical bills. He succumbed on July 3, 1997, in a New York City hospital.


Magic Slim led one of the most relentless, hard-driving bands in Chicago blues history for several decades until his death in 2013. Born Morris Holt in Torrance, Mississippi, on September 7, 1937, according to his birth certificate (although he always claimed August 7), he earned his nickname from his friend and fellow blues guitar ace Magic Sam, a schoolmate when they both lived in Grenada, Mississippi. Slim was also known for possessing perhaps the largest repertoire of any blues artist, always able to pick up another song from the radio or the jukebox, enabling him to record over 30 albums and garner dozens of Blues Music Awards nominations.

Slim—whose physique was massive and not at all on the slender side by the time he gained fame in the blues—manhandled his guitar, extorting piercing notes to propel rugged blues shuffles. The fire and the feel in his music were often compared to the best Chicago blues of earlier eras, but Slim’s style was fresh and unique. It wasn’t that way when he first tried to break into the club scene, however, and he retreated to Grenada to woodshed with his brothers Nick and Douglas. By 1965 he was ready to hit the Windy City again and he began recording for the local Ja-Wes label the next year. By the early ‘70s he and his band, the Teardrops, had hit their stride and were a force to be reckoned with from then on. When not rocking the house in Chicago they were devastating crowds on the road, in Europe and in places like Lincoln, Nebraska, a city Slim loved so much (and vice versa) that he eventually moved there so that his son Shawn “Lil’ Slim” Holt could grow up in a gang-free environment.

Slim recorded for numerous labels in the U.S. and Europe, most prolifically with Blind Pig and Wolf Records. Releases on Rooster Blues and Wolf won W.C. Handy Blues Awards and he and the Teardrops also earned a Handy for Blues Band of the Year.  In all he garnered seven Handy or Blues Music Awards and 37 additional nominations. The BMA for Traditional Male Blues Artist went to Slim in 2013, not long after he was taken ill on tour and died on February 21 in a Philadelphia hospital. His son Lil’ Slim is ably carrying on the family’s magical blues tradition with his own band.

Chicago blues harmonica ace Billy Branch wrote after Slim’s death: “Magic Slim played the natch’l, stomp down, gut-bucket, slap your mama, nasty, stinkin’, what you gonna do about it, funky lowdown, Chicago Blues.  . . . There was only ONE Magic Slim.”


Latimore, the abbreviated stage name of singer, keyboardist and songwriter Benny Lattimore, has cut a dashing figure on the Southern soul circuit ever since he began touring the 1970s on the strength of hits such as "Stormy Monday" and his best-known original, "Let's Straighten It Out."  Latimore, who has called the Miami area home since the 1960s, is now a distinguished and still spirited love philosopher and silver-haired elder statesman of the scene.

Benny William Lattimore was born in Charleston, Tennessee, on September 7, 1939. He sang in church and grew up hearing blues and country music from local musicians including his father, Eddie Lattimore, who played banjo. While attending college at Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State University) he became more interested in the Nashville R&B scene than classwork, and started singing with the Neptunes and Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers. After touring and recording with Joe Henderson of “Snap Your Fingers” fame he moved to Miami and began playing organ and piano at local lounges and nightclubs.

Billed as Benny Latimore (dropping a “t” from his surname) on his first 45s for Miami record mogul Henry Stone’s Blade and Dade labels beginning in 1965, he became just Latimore for his first album for Glades, another of Stone’s imprints, in 1973. Two singles from that LP, including his jazzy version of “Stormy Monday,” hit the national soul charts, and the tender, sensitive “Let’s Straighten It Out” from his next LP went to No. 1 and has become a staple in the repertoire of blues and soul singers. It remained his biggest hit, although subsequent LP and 45 releases for Glades and Malaco saw some chart action and helped him maintain a steady presence among Southern soul audiences. After six albums on Glades, eight on Malaco and one each on J-Town and Mel Waiters’ Brittney label, Latimore reunited with Henry Stone to partner in LatStone Records and release several more CDs. He also did extensive session work playing behind other artists over the years in Miami.

Though underrecognized in Blues Music Awards balloting, Latimore remains an important figure among African-American soul-blues audiences and DJs and on websites such as,, and His LatStone recording “My Give a Damn Gave Out (A Long Time Ago” won a Blues Critic award as Southern Soul/R&B Song of the Year in 2007, and Latimore is such a fixture on the scene that the Jus’ Blues Awards instituted a category named in his honor, the Benny Latimore Let’s Straighten It Out Award.

2016 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Elvin Bishop

Elvin Bishop first came to prominence alongside fellow Blues Hall of Fame guitarist Michael Bloomfield as a member of the influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s and has since carved his own niche both as a hit making roadhouse rocker and as a multiple Blues Music Awards recipient.  The blues bug bit Bishop when he heard Jimmy Reed and others on the radio as a teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was born in Glendale, California, on October 21, 1942, but grew up on an Iowa farm and in Tulsa, and his persona and music reflect his rural roots, wit and humor, and an appreciation of a wide range of sounds, including blues, rock, soul, gospel, and country. Bishop attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship in 1960, ostensibly to study physics, but the city's thriving blues scene became his laboratory, with guitarist Little Smokey Smothers his prime instructor.  His productive partnership with Paul Butterfield yielded several historic albums, his guitar work coming more to the fore as the years passed. In 1968, Bishop struck out on his own, drawn to another fertile musical landscape in the San Francisco Bay Area.  While he never lost his blues chops, his music took a new direction when he recorded his first albums for Epic, and then for Capricorn. Five of his Capricorn albums, led by Struttin' My Stuff, made the pop charts from 1974 to 1978, as did five singles, including his biggest hit, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love."  Several competing Best of Elvin Bishop compilations from his '70s work later hit the market. A return to more blues-based showcases for his guitar, vocals, and songwriting began in 1988 with a series of albums for Alligator, Blind Pig, and Delta Groove, including a collaboration with Little Smokey Smothers and albums with guests such as James Cotton and B.B. King. Bishop was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 2015, the same year he took home Blues Music Awards for Album and Song of the Year ("I Can't Even Do Wrong Right”).

Eddy Clearwater

Eddy Clearwater earned a reputation early in his career as a colorful and versatile entertainer, one whose onstage flamboyance belied his soft-spoken nature. A Chuck Berry act was once his specialty, and he learned how to play music, from Top 40 to country to R&B, to please any audience in the clubs of Chicago and the suburbs. But his blues roots ran deep, back to the Macon, Mississippi area where he was born Edward Harrington on January 10, 1935, to a prodigious musical family tree that includes Carey and Lurrie Bell, and to the West Side blues of Otis Rush and Magic Sam that inspired him. By the time he made his first record for his uncle Houston Harrington's Atomic-H label in 1958, he had acquired the stage name Clear Waters (later just Clearwater)-- a play on another of his influences, Muddy Waters. A few more singles followed, some in the Chuck Berry vein, but when it came time to do his first albums his blues talents had begun to be recognized in Europe and in the blues clubs of Chicago. He earned another nickname, "The Chief," from the title of his first American LP on Rooster Blues when he posed for the cover on horseback in an Indian headdress (a gift from a fan).  Already playing one of the busiest nightclub schedules of any Chicago bluesman, Clearwater ramped up his road work and rocked the blues harder than ever. More albums for Rooster Blues, Blind Pig, Bullseye Blues, and his own Cleartone imprint followed, along with assorted European releases, leading to widely acclaimed releases for Bullseye Blues (Rock 'n' Roll City, with Los Straitjackets) and Alligator (West Side Strut). Still strutting his stuff in his war bonnet, Eddy Clearwater adds to a proud legacy every time he steps onstage or into a recording studio. Eddy Clearwater passed away in 2018.

Jimmy Johnson

Jimmy Johnson followed a circuitous route back to the blues he grew up with in Mississippi to reemerge on the Chicago blues scene in the 1970s heralded as a fresh and exciting “new” voice in the music. Johnson was born Jimmy Thompson in Marshall County, Mississippi, on November 25, 1928. His father and younger brothers Mac and Syl were all musicians, and as a teenager he counted Matt "Guitar" Murphy as a best friend.  (Syl Thompson later became a soul star under the name Syl Johnson, and Jimmy and Mac eventually followed suit to become Johnsons.) Jimmy sang gospel in Memphis and Chicago, finally trying his hand at playing blues guitar in the late '50s. But soul music was hot in the '60s, and Johnson began to find better-paying work playing shows and touring with his brother Syl, Otis Clay, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush, Tyrone Davis, and many others. As jobs on the soul circuit began to wane in the ‘70s, Johnson answered the call of the blues again when he joined the Jimmy Dawkins band in 1974. He soon began to develop his blues career with his own band, gigging in Chicago as well as making European tours and recording for the French MCM label, Alligator, and Delmark. The piercing, soulful quality of his vocals and guitar playing earned him a staunch following among blues fans, bringing him several W.C. Handy Blues Awards (now called Blues Music Awards) along the way. Johnson cut back on traveling after a tragic accident in 1988. He and his band were returning from a job in Indiana when their van ran off the road, and two band members perished. But when he has chosen to perform and record again, he has proven that his talent remains undiminished, as evidenced by his live shows (even in his eighties sounding uncannily like he did 40 years earlier) and his albums for Verve in 1994 (voted Comeback Album of the Year), Ruf in 1999, and a pairing with brother Syl in 2002 on Evangeline, Two Johnsons are Better Than One.

John Mayall

The "Godfather of British Blues" and a longtime crusader for American blues originators, John Mayall joins many of his idols, as well as a famous former band member, with his induction into the Blues Hall of Fame. Eric Clapton, guitarist with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the 1960s, was inducted in 2014, while the bluesmen who inspired Mayall, including Sonny Boy Williamson, J.B. Lenoir, Otis Rush and Freddie King, were among the first inductees. Born November 29, 1933, in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, Mayall inherited an early interest in blues, boogie woogie, and jazz from his father, Murray Mayall, a trombonist, guitarist, and record collector. Mayall took up piano, guitar, and harmonica, formed his first band in 1962, and founded the legendary Bluesbreakers in London in 1963. The band featured a succession of guitarists who went on to greater blues/rock fame, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor, as well as future Fleetwood Mac founders Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. The Bluesbreakers' 1966 LP with Clapton was a Top 10 album in England. In the liner notes to his 1967 album Crusade, Mayall wrote, his goal was "to campaign for some of my blues heroes," and he later devoted a whole album to songs by one of them, Freddie King. Mayall moved to California to continue his blues journey stateside and has recorded prolifically and toured steadily with only a rare hiatus, still recruiting hot young sidemen such as Coco Montoya and Walter Trout, and making his mark as a songwriter as well as a devoted interpreter. His studio albums number more than 60, augmented by a growing catalog of live recordings.  Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Albert Collins, and other Blues Hall of Famers have taken guest spots on some, and along the way Mayall also produced an album by another, Albert King. Numerous Mayall albums have appeared on the Billboard pop charts over the years, including The Turning Point, Bare Wires, Empty Rooms, U.S.A. Union, and Back to the Roots, and his later releases have scored high on the magazine's blues charts. As Mayall's odyssey continues, the words he wrote for Crusade in 1967 still resonate decades later: " I have dedicated my life to the blues ... I hope you'll join forces with me."

The Memphis Jug Band

The Memphis Jug Band was one of the most popular and prolific blues groups of the 1920s and '30s, employing jugs, harmonicas, kazoos, guitars, mandolins, fiddles, and other instruments to entertain a wide variety of audiences with brisk renditions of downhome blues, waltzes, hokum, minstrel songs, and pop tunes.  The band revolved around founder Will Shade, who played guitar, harmonica, and "bullfiddle," a homemade one-string bass. Shade recruited a fluid cast of singers and musicians that included Charlie Burse, Ben Ramey, Milton Roby, Will Weldon, Jab Jones, and Charlie Polk on their 1927-1934 sessions when they recorded "Stealin', Stealin," "K.C. Moan," "Cocaine Habit Blues," "Fishin' in the Dark," and a cache of other enduring favorites. Their records were marketed mainly to African American blues audiences, but white patrons often employed the band for social affairs, political events, conventions, country club dances, and railroad and riverboat excursions. They also played in parks, restaurants, and the back of trucks, and did some traveling to Chicago, New Orleans, and other destinations for both black and white events. Such was their renown, even at the start, that on February 24, 1927, the Memphis Jug Band had the honor of making the first phonograph records not just in the city of Memphis, but also within the five-state area of Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Kentucky. The session for Victor Records, on the fourth floor of the McCall Building (where the Waterfront Plaza now stands in downtown Memphis), began with "Sun Brimmers Blues"  -- a title based on Will Shade's nickname "Son Brimmer." Shade, born in Memphis on February 5, 1898, put various incarnations of the band together for several decades, and recorded again for Sam Charters in 1956 and for other folklorists and researchers in the 1960s. Inspired by the success of the Memphis Jug Band, several other jug bands sprang up in Memphis, but none ever matched the primacy of Shade's group. Shade died on September 18, 1966.

2015 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Tommy Brown

Tommy Brown, hailed during the 1950s as "one of the most dynamic entertainers in show business," has spent most of the past four decades out of the performing spotlight, but his resume of vintage records, onstage theatrics and a 21st century career revival have brought him long overdue recognition among current blues aficionados. Brown was a friend of fellow Georgia singer and 2015 Blues Hall of Fame inductee Little Richard when both were starting out, and he remembers letting Richard sleep in his station wagon when times were tough. A young James Brown picked up cues for his fabled stage show from both of them. Brown was born in Atlanta on May 27, 1931, and began performing as a dancer when he was in the first grade. He also worked as a drummer before he became a stand-up singer. But he did much more than stand, as the Atlanta Daily World reported in 1953: ". . . he jumped off the stage, fell prostrate on the floor, got up, banged his head on the wall then fell down on his knees and wailed the blues." Brown began recording in 1950 and sang (and sobbed) on the No. 1 R&B hit Weepin' and Cryin' with the Griffin Brothers in 1951. The song evolved from a real life experience, when he broke down while singing onstage as he saw his fiance´ walk in with another man. Humor was an important part of his show, however, and in the 1960s he began performing and recording as a comedian. After stays in St. Louis, Chicago (where he teamed on shows with Otis Clay), and New York, Brown settled back in Atlanta in 1977 to run the Landmark West Personal Care Center, a business his mother had founded. After fans sought him out to interview him and book him on festivals in the U.S. and Europe, he began traveling and recording again in the new millenium. His Classic Tommy Brown CD, on his own Chittlin' Circuit label, reintroduced listeners to the rocking, crying and shouting blues he waxed on labels such as Savoy, King, United and Imperial. "I'm looking to retire at 103." he says, "and take up a new profession -- teach people how to love."

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton has been tapped for Blues Hall of Fame induction not only for his many achievements during a long and successful career but also for his role as a popularizer who has brought the blues to audiences far more widespread than those reached by the original bluesmen whose music inspired him. Clapton has consistently included blues material on albums that have registered in the upper echelons of the pop music charts. In the process Clapton has not only brought new listeners into the blues fold but has generated royalties for the blues legends whose songs he has covered--royalties often well in excess of those the bluesmen earned from their own recordings. The first British musician inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, Clapton was born in Ripley, Surrey, on March 30, 1945. He identified with the power and uplifting spirit of the blues from his early days as a guitarist, and amidst forays into other genres has always remained a blues devotee. At the age of 18, as a member of the Yardbirds, he played guitar on a Sonny Boy Williamson LP, and soon did sessions with bluesmen Otis Spann and Champion Jack Dupree, not to mention the influential work he did with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith. In between his many subsequent albums and world tours, he played on Howlin' Wolf's London Sessions and recorded with several of his early guitar heroes, including B.B. King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker and Otis Rush.   Clapton topped the Billboard charts with an album of blues standards, From the Cradle, in 1994, and with the blues-laden Unplugged album in 1992, and hit the top ten with his Robert Johnson tribute, Me and Mr. Johnson in 2004 and his collaboration with B.B. King, Riding With the King, in 2000. Clapton's battle with drug and alcohol addiction led him to found the Crossroads Centre rehab facility in Antigua in 1998. His Crossroads Guitar Festival is both a showcase for many of the world's leading guitarists and a fundraiser for the Crossroads Centre.

Little Richard

Little Richard joins an elite group of Blues Hall of Fame icons, including Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, who built rock 'n' roll from a foundation in the blues. Richard's earliest recordings were in the blues vein and he continued to employ a blues format, often accelerated to a frenzied tempo, on many of his sessions. By bandleader Johnny Otis' recollections from witnessing his first "beautiful, bizarre and exotic" Little Richard performance, Richard exclaimed, "This is Little Richard, the King of the Blues! And the Queen, too!" Gospel was also a profound force in Little Richard's life and music, and at times during his career he left the rock 'n' roll stage to study, preach and sing the gospel, only to return to the secular side. He eventually maintained a mission in both worlds, handing out religious tracts at his rock concerts. Born December 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, Richard Wayne Penniman stunned audiences even in his adolescent days performing with minstrel shows. As he described himself, "I was very effeminate. I was very frisky. I was loud." He honed his appearance and stage act under the influence of gay blues/R&B artists Billy Wright and S.Q. Reeder (Esquerita). He recorded blues for RCA Victor in 1951-52 and Peacock in 1953 but only with Specialty did he transfer his wild flamboyance to wax, beginning with the bombshell Tutti Frutti in 1955. His lives shows were still more frantic, to the point that even his films could inspire riots among teenaged fanatics. The list of performers he inspired is endless, from James Brown to the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix, who was once the guitarist in Richard's band. Even since his hitmaking days have been over, he has remained a charismatic celebrity. Once "The King of the Blues," he has since anointed himself "The Originator, the Emancipator and the Architect of Rock 'n' Roll."

2014 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson

Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson was an acclaimed alto saxist who fit in comfortably in a variety of blues, jazz and R&B settings. A contemporary and admirer of Charlie Parker, he contributed to the first wave of bebop, but achieved his greatest popularity with his unique singing voice, which combined full-bodied blues shouting with a quirky, broken squeal. Vinson, born in Houston on December 18, 1917, played locally with the bands of Chester Boone and Milt Larkin before he was recruited to join trumpeter Cootie Williams' orchestra in New York in 1942. Three of the records he made singing with Williams 'Cherry Red Blues,' 'Is You Is Or Is You Ain't' and 'Somebody's Got to Go' made the Top Ten of Billboard magazine's Harlem Hit Parade charts in 1944-45 and he won Esquire magazine's jazz poll in the 'New Stars' vocalist category. Leaving Williams to front his own band, Vinson scored more Billboard hits with the 1947 Mercury double-sider 'Old Maid Boogie/Kidney Stew Blues' and his 1948 waxing of 'Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red' on King. Other favorites included his original version of the standard 'Person to Person', his cover of Big Bill Broonzy's 'Just a Dream,' and a number of tunes, such as 'Cleanhead Blues,' touting his trademark baldness. (He shaved his head to maintain the look after first losing his hair to a lye-based hair straightener treatment gone awry.) Vinson's later recordings retained his characteristic warmth and humor and included albums with backing by Cannonball Adderley, Jay McShann, Mike Bloomfield and Roomful of Blues, collaborations with Count Basie, Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker and Oscar Peterson, and vocal and instrumental spots on sessions with Johnny Otis and others. He played alongside many other top names in blues and jazz at different points during his long career, from accompanying Big Bill and Lil Green to hiring a young John Coltrane as a sideman. Following his years in New York, Vinson returned to Houston and spent time in Detroit and Kansas City before settling in Los Angeles to enjoy a career revival during his last two decades, recording prolifically and making several European tours. 'Mr. Cleanhead' died in Los Angeles on July 2, 1988.

Robert Pete Williams

Robert Pete Williams made his first recordings in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 1959 while serving time for murder. Folklorist Dr. Harry Oster was in search of work songs but found instead one of the most original blues artists ever in Williams, who wailed and played guitar with ominous passion and intensity in a visceral style outside the bounds of traditional musical structure, rhyme and meter. Oster's co-worker Richard Allen noted, 'He did unorthodox things. He'd be in three modes at once.' Williams often made up lyrics and improvised accompaniments (picked rather than chorded) as he played, and his subject matter could be stark and disturbing. In one of his best-known songs, 'Grown So Ugly,' he looks in the mirror and moans, 'I got so ugly I don't even know myself.' The spontaneous nature of his music made it all but inimitable and it was fitting that one of the few musicians to cover 'Grown So Ugly' was an equally unconventional rock icon, Captain Beefheart. Robert Williams, who added the nickname Pete as a teenager, was born in Zachary, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, on March 14, 1914. He played music at local gatherings but made his living by farming and working at a dairy, a lumber yard and other odd jobs until he shot a man, in self-defense, he claimed, in a barroom altercation. He entered Angola in 1956 and earned a work parole in 1959 with the support of Oster and others (in a scenario reminiscent of Lead Belly). After songs from his prison sessions appeared on the Louisiana Folklore Society label, the burgeoning folk-blues revival was ready to welcome Williams. His photo appeared in the national press along with news of an invitation to appear at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival. But the parole board refused him permission to travel, and he continued to work on a local farm until his time was served. His long-anticipated Newport debut in 1964 was recorded by Vanguard, and during the 1960s and '70s he saw albums released on Folk Lyric, Arhoolie, Bluesville, Takoma and several European labels. He performed widely at folk and blues clubs and various festivals, endearing himself in the process to an international audience who found him anything but murderous. His music made him famous among a select segment of the blues world but not prosperous at home; his jobs during his years of freedom included collecting and selling scrap iron. Williams died on December 31, 1980, in Rosedale, Louisiana.

Big Jay McNeely

Big Jay McNeely became the act no one wanted to follow during the 'honkers and shouters' era of rhythm & blues that preceded rock 'n' roll, when the gunslingers of the trade wielded saxophones, not electric guitars. McNeely, 'The Wild Man of the Saxophone,' launched sonic assaults while lying on his back, walking the bar or leading a procession out the door, driving his young audiences into a frenzy. While less acrobatic now that he's in his eighties, McNeely has still maintained his instrumental prowess and his talent for exciting a crowd. Born on April 29, 1927, in Watts, when the neighborhood had yet to be incorporated into the city of Los Angeles, Cecil James McNeely played jazz and classical music in high school. He graduated into the rocking world of R&B at the Barrelhouse, a club co-owned by Johnny Otis, who hired McNeely to play on a recording session in 1948. Savoy Records' A&R man Ralph Bass signed McNeely to a contract and label owner Herman Lubinsky gave him the name 'Big Jay.' His Savoy instrumental Deacon's Hop hit No. 1 on Billboard's 'race music' charts in 1949. McNeely continued to record for other labels, including Exclusive, Aladdin and Federal, but it was as a live act, both locally and on tour, that he had his greatest impact. The Los Angeles Sentinel reported in 1955 that the 'inimitable brand of excitement imparted by his music was recently studied by a psychiatric board engaged in youth activities.' Varying and expanding his show, he added doo-wop groups to the revue and performed with glow-in-the-dark instruments and strobe lights. His over-the-top showmanship reportedly influenced a youngster who saw McNeely's show in Seattle named James (later Jimi) Hendrix. As musical trends changed, McNeely recruited a singer, Little Sonny Warner, for his band, and together they recorded his best-remembered song, the blues ballad 'There is Something on Your Mind,' a 1959 hit which bore no trace of McNeely's raucous honking. Within a few years, though, finding fewer outlets for his music, he took a job at the post office and continued the Jehovah's Witness ministry he had adopted in his youth. In the 1980s a revival of interest in vintage R&B led to his return to the stage, as he excited a new generation of audiences around the world. McNeely was profiled in the 1995 Jim Dawson book Nervous Man Nervous: Big Jay McNeely & the Rise of the Honking Tenor Saxophone. Big Jay McNeely passed away in September 2018.

R.L. Burnside

R.L. Burnside was a champion of Mississippi Hill Country blues who was able to energize rock audiences just as he did local juke joint revelers. He achieved crossover success by attracting a cult following among young college-age crowds with his infectious rhythms and good humor, and by agreeing with his producers at Fat Possum Records to collaborate with indie rock musicians and to submit his blues to sampling, scratching and digital programming. Although his 1990s studio product caused some reviewers and listeners to define his sound as progressive blues, Burnside himself was a traditional bluesman who never changed the way he played, and entertained live audiences as he always had. Burnside was born in the Harmantown community near Oxford, Mississippi -- where he would later become an Ole Miss favorite and Fat Possum artist -- on November 23, 1926. He sometimes said his initials stood for Robert Lee, but he was also called 'Rule,' and Social Security records cite his name as Rural or Rural L. Burnside. His musical inspiration came from his neighbor, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Ranie Burnette, and he entertained at house parties, juke joints and local gatherings in the Holly Springs area while working in the cotton fields and catching and selling fish. Burnside also lived for a few years in Chicago where he grew close to another influence, Muddy Waters. His first recordings, made in 1968 by folklorist George Mitchell, appeared on Arhoolie Records and, as his reputation grew, he made many more records and began traveling to appear at blues festivals and clubs, in the U.S. and overseas. He usually performed alone with his guitar but, as patriarch of a growing brood of musicians, he began playing with his sons and other family members, and the addition of hard-driving drumming to the rhythm of his guitar grooves gave his music an electric edge that boded well for expanding his audiences. Six of Burnside's later albums, some of them done with Jon Spencer or Tom Rothrock, made the Billboard blues charts. With this success, a spate of Burnside albums appeared on various labels, the result of tapes Burnside had happily agreed to make during earlier years for any fan who showed up with a tape machine. He died at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis on September 1, 2005. The family blues legacy has been carried on by sons Duwayne, Garry and Daniel, grandsons Cedric and Kent, and several other Burnsides.

Eddie Shaw

Eddie Shaw had an unparalleled career as a Chicago blues saxophonist/bandleader in a city where guitar, harmonica and piano players have long ruled the roost. A multiple Blues Music Award winner and perpetual nominee in the Instrumentalist--Horn category, Shaw blew his industrial-strength sax with the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Magic Sam. And with his Wolf Gang he racked up the most road mileage of all Chicago bands over the past four decades, crisscrossing the country from Maine, where his upbeat, high-energy blues is a particular favorite, to countless points south and west. Shaw, born March 20, 1937, in Stringtown, Mississippi, learned saxophone at school in nearby Greenville, Mississippi, the hub of blues activity in the Delta. He continued at Mississippi Vocational College (now Mississippi Valley State University) in Itta Bena, meanwhile working or sitting in with Little Milton, Ike Turner, Charlie Booker, Elmore James and others, including Muddy Waters when he brought his band down from Chicago. Muddy was so impressed that he offered Shaw a spot in the band, and before long the sax phenom was a Windy City resident. His most significant work in establishing himself in Chicago, both in the clubs and in the studio, came with Magic Sam and Howlin' Wolf. Shaw also ran a laundry business, an air conditioning service and blues clubs on the West Side. After Wolf died in 1976, Shaw took over the band, with Hubert Sumlin on guitar, and initiated a tireless touring itinerary. His son Eddie 'Vaan' Shaw, Jr., soon assumed guitar duties and, along with bassist Shorty Gilbert, has now been with the Wolf Gang for more than 30 years. Shaw has recorded for Alligator, Rooster Blues, Delmark, Wolf, North Atlantic and other labels, and has found time in the studio to do sessions with Jimmy Dawkins, Willie Kent, Lonnie Shields, John Primer, Sunnyland Slim, George Thorogood, Big Head Todd and a growing list of others. His son Stan Shaw is a veteran Hollywood actor, and father Eddie made his own big screen debut in the 2007 film Honeydripper. Eddie Shaw passed away in January 2018.

2013 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Earl Hooker

Earl Hooker was the 'blues guitarists' guitarist,' the most respected six-string wizard in Chicago blues musicians' circles during the 1950s and '60s. A cousin of John Lee Hooker and a protege of slide guitar master Robert Nighthawk, Earl Zebedee Hooker was born near Vance, Mississippi, on January 15, 1929, but raised in Chicago. As a youthful prodigy, he preferred playing on the streets to attending school and frequently ran away from home for extended stays down south. He joined the King Biscuit Time radio show in Helena, Arkansas, for a stint in 1949, and made his first recordings in Florida, where he entertained fruit and vegetable pickers, in 1952. In 1953, he recorded for Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis in the company of Pinetop Perkins or Boyd Gilmore. The Sun sides amply displayed Hooker's prowess but remained unissued until after his death, when European labels began to mine the Sun vaults. In Chicago his records included his best known instrumental, 'Blue Guitar,” and session work with Junior Wells ('Messing With the Kid' and 'Little By Little') and Ricky Allen ('Cut You Loose'). Chess Records used Hooker instrumentals as backing tracks for Muddy Waters' 'You Need Love' (reworked by Led Zeppelin as 'Whole Lotta Love') and 'You Shook Me' (also covered by Zep). The restless Hooker often took to the highway with his Roadmasters band, sometimes without advance bookings, depending on his ability to hustle up gigs. Despite trickery that sometimes got him trouble with band members, club owners or the law, Hooker was still well-liked among fellow musicians. Hooker recorded several albums in his final years, and during 1969 alone he recorded four LPs of his own and several live tracks that later appeared on other albums, in addition to playing guitar on sessions by Charles Brown, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, Jimmy Witherspoon, and his cousin John Lee, among others. Hooker, who battled tuberculosis for most of his life, succumbed to TB in Chicago on April 21, 1970. In 1975, B.B. King named Hooker one of his ten favorite guitarists in Guitar Player magazine. An excellent biography, Earl Hooker: Blues Master by Sebastian Danchin, was published in 2001.

Jody Williams

Jody Williams, one of the hottest and most creative guitarists in Chicago during the 1950s, put his guitar down in disgust with the music business in the '60s. His return to action some three decades later showed him still in command of his formidable skills and also brought him the realization that his recorded legacy had made him a hero to a new generation of blues fans. Joseph Leon Williams was born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 3, 1935, and moved to Chicago as a youngster. He joined schoolmate Bo Diddley to play the streets as a teenager and within a few years had honed his chops enough to become a valued session musician at Chess Records and other labels. His crisp fretwork enlivened such classic records as 'Who Do You Love' by Bo Diddley, 'I Wish You Would' by Billy Boy Arnold, and 'Evil' and 'Forty Four' by Howlin' Wolf. He also accompanied Willie Dixon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Otis Rush and Jimmy Rogers among others. Williams also worked regularly in the Chicago clubs, toured with big package shows backing blues, rock 'n roll and doo wop acts. The handful of early sessions on his own produced the influential instrumental 'Lucky Lou,' the model for Otis Rush's 'All Your Love' and later the Fleetwood Mac and Santana classic 'Black Magic Woman.' Another instrumental, 'Moanin' for Molasses,' was later covered by Sean Costello, and 'Billy's Blues,' recorded with Billy Stewart, was lifted for the Mickey & Sylvia smash 'Love is Strange' in a case that went to court for copyright infringement. Williams ended up with neither a composer credit nor royalties for 'Love is Strange,' and remains wary of playing his original uncopyrighted music for anyone to this day. After a few more years of working the clubs, he married and learned electronics to find a suitable job to support his family. He worked for years as a technician for Xerox and as an ATM machine serviceman until longtime fan and producer Dick Shurman convinced him to bring out his guitar again. Williams began recording anew in 2002 and has toured widely to warm receptions around the world.

Otis Clay

Otis Clay, who has carried the banner of deep soul music in Chicago since the 1960s, has never been a blues singer in the traditional sense, but he became a favorite on the blues circuit nonetheless, successfully crossing over into territory rarely reached by his soul-singing contemporaries. Clay's stirring, straight-from-the-heart vocals came directly from gospel music, and in fact he has been able to maintain a career singing both secular and sacred music, drawing crowds at blues festivals, soul shows and gospel concerts. Clay was born in the Mississippi Delta hamlet of Waxhaw on February 11, 1942, and sang in church there and later in Muncie, Indiana, and Chicago, in addition to touring the country with a latter-day version of the Blue Jay Singers. A string of soul 45s recorded in Chicago for the One-derful label in the 1960s led to more fine recordings for Cotillion, cut in Muscle Shoals, Hi Records in Memphis, and various Chicago labels, including his own imprints. Of his six singles that charted in Billboard magazine between 1967 and 1977, the best known is the Hi 45 'Trying to Live My Life Without You,' later covered by Bob Seger. For most of his life in gospel and soul, the blues has not been far away, though: as a youngster, he heard plantation singers in Mississippi and caught a show at the Roxy Theater in Clarksdale when Muddy Waters was back home on a tour, and in the Chicago clubs he worked alongside many blues acts and for several years was paired with blues-singing comedian Tommy Brown on shows. He has done guest vocal spots on albums by Roy Buchanan, Eddy Clearwater, Magic Slim and others. Otis Clay passed away in January 2016.

Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker's heralded artistry has kept him at the forefront of the blues ever since his remarkable debut album, Cold is the Night, was released in 1986. A San Francisco native, born on Christmas Day of 1949, Walker was grounded in gospel, blues and soul and came of age in 'flower power' era of psychedelic rock. His contemporary vision of the blues reflected all those influences, and he kept an open, progressive approach while maintaining profound respect for the deepest roots of the blues. Walker began playing blues and rock with local bands as a teenager but, troubled by the problems he saw musicians having with drugs and alcohol, he opted out and played gospel music for the next decade. Finally, feeling that blues would allow him a better creative outlet, he started doing blues gigs again in 1985 and ended up doing five albums with Hightone Records, followed by several on Verve and other labels, including the 1997 Great Guitars CD which featured Walker swapping licks with the likes of B.B. King, Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. He also guested on King's Blues Summit and on albums by James Cotton, Shemekia Copeland, Branford Marsalis and Robert Lockwood. In an impressive array of settings--whether fronting his own Bosstalkers band, playing solo traditional blues, recording with the Muscle Shoals session crew, or adding a multi-ethnic flavor to his shows when he lived in Europe for a while--his work drew accolades from critics and enthusiasts. His 2012 album Hellfire, an amped-up rock-oriented outing on Alligator, hit both Billboard's blues and Heatseekers charts. Walker has earned more than four dozen nominations in the Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Blues Awards).

Little Brother Montgomery

Little Brother Montgomery was one of the foremost piano men in the blues for several decades, a product of a musical family in Louisiana that included two brothers (Joe and Tollie) and a nephew (Paul Gayten) who also recorded as blues pianists. Born Eurreal Wilford Montgomery on April 18, 1906, in Kentwood, a sawmill town north of New Orleans, Montgomery heard a myriad of pianists in his father's juke joint and in his travels around Louisiana and Mississippi. Most of them would be forgotten to blues history but for Montgomery's uncanny ability to recall and record their songs. Montgomery's famous 'Vicksburg Blues' was a variant of 'The Forty Fours,' or 'Forty Four Blues,' a number he and some cohorts developed in the 1920s. Another Montgomery song, 'The First Time I Met You,' was rerecorded by Buddy Guy as 'The First Time I Met the Blues,' with Montgomery playing piano on the session for Chess Records. Montgomery first recorded in Chicago in 1930 but spent most of his early professional years in south Mississippi, where he played lumber camps, cafes and nightclubs, sometimes in a blues mode, other times leading a more jazz-oriented dance band. Among the bluesmen influenced by his music in Mississippi were Skip James, Sunnyland Slim, Arthur 'Big Boy Crudup, and especially Willie Dixon. In a 1940 issue of Downbeat magazine, Dave Clark (also a 2013 Blues Hall of Fame inductee) called Montgomery 'the greatest piano man that ever invaded Dixie.' Montgomery settled in Chicago in the 1940s and maintained a dual career as a blues icon and as a trad jazz bandsman. Montgomery also took pride in his ability to play pop songs, sentimental tunes and pretty ballads and often complained that record companies only wanted blues from him. But it was blues, often stately and elegant, edged with emotion from his quivering vocals, that earned him lasting fame. His prolific career included recordings for Paramount, Bluebird, Folkways and Prestige/Bluesville. Montgomery died in Chicago on September 6, 1985.

Jimmie Rodgers

Jimmie Rodgers, 'The Blue Yodeler,' is renowned as the father of country music, but his strong ties to the blues have earned him a place in blues history as well. The blues element in Rodgers' music was evident throughout his short but spectacular recording career from 1927 to 1933 when he cut the classics 'Blue Yodel (T for Texas),' 'In the Jailhouse Now,' and 'Waiting for a Train.' His reworkings of the blues not only helped popularize the music with white audiences but were also performed by many singers from the African American community that produced the blues that inspired Rodgers in the first place. James Charles Rodgers was born on September 8, 1897, in Pine Springs, Mississippi, near Meridian, where the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Museum was founded in 1976. Growing up in Mississippi and Alabama and spending his young adult years working as a railroad brakeman and traveling musician gave him plenty of opportunities to hear blues performers, and he would later structure more than 30 of his recordings in a blues format, including 13 Blue Yodels. Among the blues artists reported to have known or played with Rodgers, either as guests on his shows or as fellow travelers or workers on the railroad, were Robert Nighthawk, Houston Stackhouse, Hammie Nixon, Rubin Lacy, Ishmon Bracey, and a popular Mississippian whose influential falsetto was sometimes compared to Rodgers' yodel, Tommy Johnson. Rodgers even recorded with black musicians, including Louis Armstrong, blues guitarist Clifford Gibson and Clifford Hayes' Louisville Jug Band. Rodgers, one of America's most beloved entertainers, was featured in a 1929 film short, 'The Singing Brakeman,' and sold millions of records. As evidence of his widespread influence and his place in American music history, he is the only artist to be inducted into the halls of fame of country music, songwriters, rock 'n' roll, and, now, blues, as well as the Mississippi and Alabama Music Halls of Fame. Rodgers, who spent his last few years in Kerrville, Texas, died in New York City on May 26, 1933, two days after recording 'Mississippi Delta Blues” at his final session. Rodgers joins the similarly named Jimmy Rogers, a Mississippi-born Chicago bluesman, in the Blues Hall of Fame.

2012 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint has been shaping the sound of New Orleans rhythm & blues for more than 50 years, carrying on the tradition of a crew of legendary trailblazers who preceded him to the Blues Hall of Fame: his main influence, Professor Longhair; the producer/bandleader who hired him for his first recording session, Dave Bartholomew; and rock 'n' roll pioneer Fats Domino. Bartholomew used Toussaint to lay the piano tracks on several Domino sides in 1957-58, and Toussaint was on his way to a prolific career as a studio musician, songwriter, producer and arranger, establishing himself as a major force behind the scenes. Toussaint also stepped out front with his own records and live performances, and now headlines festivals around the world, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where he is a perennial favorite. Toussaint, who was born on Jan. 14, 1938, in the Gert Town district of New Orleans, has also been featured in the HBO series named after another historic neighborhood, Treme, and has been acclaimed for his community and charity work in the city. His credentials include Broadway plays, movie soundtracks, co-ownership of NYNO Records, an appearance with Professor Longhair in the documentary Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together, and productions and collaborations with rock, gospel, country, jazz and reggae stars, in addition to a long list of R&B, blues, funk and soul artists. He has produced records by Albert King, James Cotton, Z.Z. Hill, Etta James, John Mayall, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Earl King, Labelle, and Dr. John, and has penned such often-covered classics as 'Mother-in-Law,' 'Get Out of My Life, Woman,' 'Fortune Teller,' and 'Working in the Coal Mine.' His own albums have blended New Orleans R&B, jazz, blues, sweet soul, and hard funk, all graced by the elegant Toussaint touch. Blues content has varied but is to the fore on his 2009 album Bright Mississippi,' which echoes the Crescent City's traditional jazz legacy with versions of classics such as 'St. James Infirmary' and 'Winin' Boy Blues.'

Mike Bloomfield

Mike Bloomfield was one of the top entrants in the battle for blues-rock virtuoso honors in the psychedelic '60s. Bloomfield drew kudos for his guitar prowess with the Butterfield Blues Band and played an important role in introducing rock audiences to blues. His guitar work inspired many listeners and musicians, and it was in turn through his recommendation that the bluesmen who inspired him, like B.B. King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Otis Rush, got their first bookings at the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco and broke through to a new white audience. Bloomfield was born in Chicago on July 28, 1943, and grew up on Chicago's Gold Coast and in the wealthy suburb of Glencoe. He and his friends credited their black maids with turning them on to the blues, and a teenaged Bloomfield started venturing down to the Chicago ghetto clubs. He not only played with as many bluesmen as he could, but interviewed them, wrote articles about them, and helped them get bookings in white venues in the hip Old Town district. A Bloomfield interview with slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk, conducted during the filming of the Maxwell Street documentary And This Is Free, was later issued on CD, and Bloomfield's experiences with Big Joe Williams were published in a book, Me and Big Joe. Bloomfield also began playing on sessions with Sleepy John Estes, Little Brother Montgomery, Eddie Boyd, Chuck Berry, Yank Rachell, Sunnyland Slim, Muddy Waters (on the Fathers and Sons double LP) and others. He formed a band of his own but left to join forces with Paul Butterfield in an influential band that took the music in new directions, especially on the 1966 album East-West, which fused blues, jazz, and Indian raga roots. Bloomfield was among the band members who provided the controversial electric accompaniment for Bob Dylan's 1965 Newport Folk Festival appearance, after Dylan had hired Bloomfield to play lead on his historic Highway 61 Revisited LP. Bloomfield went on to form the Electric Flag and then scored his biggest chart hit with the Super Session album which co-starred Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. Further big-name collaborations followed, but rock superstardom was not a comfortable slot for Bloomfield, who never lost his love for the blues. Bloomfield died of a drug overdose in San Francisco on Feb. 15, 1981.

Buddy & Ella Johnson

Buddy & Ella Johnson formed one of the most successful brother-sister teams in the history of rhythm & blues and big band music. Although their music is unfamiliar to many blues and R&B fans today, they were a top national attraction during the 1940s and '50s, when the Buddy Johnson orchestra was the most tireless touring unit on the chittlin' circuit. The Johnsons, best remembered for the silken ballad "Since I Fell For You," scored a number of hits on the Decca and Mercury labels, including some that reappeared in the records of Chicago bluesmen, such as "I'm Just Your Fool" (covered by Little Walter) and "That's the Stuff You Gotta Watch" (recorded by Muddy Waters). Pianist Woodrow Wilson "Buddy" Johnson composed most of their songs as well, and was one of the few bandleaders to keep a big band working into the 1950s when most such orchestras had to disband or downsize. The Johnson band even thrived as a rock 'n' roll act, appearing on many bills with Bill Haley & the Comets, Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, and others. Ella's vocals were always a popular feature, and various male singers, most notably Arthur Prysock, also worked with the group. The Johnsons were born in Darlington, South Carolina (Buddy on Jan. 10, 1915, and Ella on June 22, 1917); Buddy moved to New York City in the 1930s and was joined there by Ella in 1940. Buddy claimed that he preferred to play the classics, but when he began touring and recording, he realized that blues-based material was his bread and butter, especially in the South. His catchy dance beat was often advertised as "Walk 'Em rhythm," after one of his popular Decca tunes. He directed his shy sister's career to such an extent that after he retired, she chose to quit also. Buddy died on Feb. 9, 1977, Ella on Feb. 16, 2004.

Furry Lewis

Furry Lewis was one of the foremost figures in Memphis blues, both during the 1920s when he made his first recordings and again during the blues revival of the '60s and '70s. Lewis was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, possibly on March 6, 1899, although dates of 1893 and 1895 have also been cited. Just after the turn of the century, he moved with his mother to Memphis, which was home to Lewis for most of his life. In his early musical years he traveled with medicine shows and played with musicians such as Jim Jackson and Gus Cannon, picking up not only blues but minstrel songs, folk ballads, and jug band tunes. He also claimed to have played with W.C. Handy's band, and said that Handy gave him a Martin guitar. In 1927 Lewis became one of the first Memphis bluesmen to record when he cut "Furry's Blues," "Jelly Roll," and other songs for Vocalion. His records for Vocalion and Victor from 1927 to 1929 displayed nimble guitar work and a talent for putting together songs peppered with memorable verses, some from traditional sources, others from own mother wit. Decades would pass before Lewis could depend on music for a living, however, and he kept a job with the city of Memphis that entailed garage work, sweet sweeping, and other duties. In 1959, after decades of playing music only for friends and neighbors, Lewis again was at the forefront of a new Memphis blues recording movement when author Sam Charters produced Lewis' debut LP for the Folkways label. Lewis recorded several more albums, appeared at festivals, on television, and in movies, enjoying his final decades while surrounded and supported by a coterie of young musicians and fans, who shared the tasks of retrieving Lewis' guitar and wooden leg from the pawn shop. Upon his death on Sept. 14, 1981, the New York Times entitled his obituary "Furry Lewis, a Gentle Giant of Blues."

Frank Stokes

Frank Stokes, a muscular blacksmith, singer and guitarist, is often regarded as the seminal figure in Memphis blues history. His duets with guitarist Dan Sane, his partner in the Beale Street Sheiks, laid a bold foundation for those who followed, and he was equally effective when accompanied on other recordings by fiddler Will Batts. Stokes' music encompassed minstrel and vaudeville tunes as well as blues, some of them adapted from fellow Memphian W.C. Handy (who had, in turn, written orchestrated blues arrangements based on folk forms played by musicians like Stokes). Yazoo Records entitled its Stokes reissue LP "The Creator of Memphis Blues," asserting that Stokes played as role as pioneer and popularizer in his genre similar to that of Charley Patton in the Delta blues. Stokes was born in Whitehaven, Tennessee, a community later annexed by the city of Memphis, on Jan. 1, 1888, according to information provided by his widow on his death certificate, although Stokes supplied an 1877 birthdate when he registered for the World War I draft. Either way, he was one of the oldest blues artists to record when he made his first Beale Street Sheiks sides for Paramount in 1927, and his repertoire reflected his familiarity with songs that predated the blues, as well as examples of the earliest forms of blues. His recording of "Mr. Crump Don't Like It" preserved the lyrics and flavor of Handy's 1909 campaign song before Handy changed it to "Memphis Blues" when he published it in 1912. Stokes' recording career ended in 1929 but he continued to perform locally and hosted house parties at his Memphis home. He died in Memphis on Sept. 12, 1955.

Matt "Guitar" Murphy

Matt "Guitar" Murphy only garnered widespread public attention through the 1980 "Blues Brothers" movie, in which he acted in a scene with Aretha Franklin and played with Jake and Elwood's band, but his laurels in the blues world had long been secured by then. His sizzling guitar licks energized Memphis Slim's records in the 1950s and pushed the James Cotton Band to the peak of high-energy blues in the '70s, and along the way he contributed to sessions by Bobby Bland, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush, Chuck Berry, and many others. Murphy was born on Dec. 28, 1929, in Sunflower, Mississippi, and first made a name for himself around Memphis and West Memphis playing in the bands of Howlin' Wolf and Tuff Green and with the Blue Flames, a young group that included Junior Parker and Ike Turner. News of the hotshot guitarist reached Memphis Slim, who recruited Murphy in 1952 to play with him for almost a decade. When Slim moved to Europe he tried to persuade Murphy to join him there, but Murphy stayed in Chicago, doing session work and playing with blues and jazz bands, along with occasional touring, including the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival in Europe. A long stint with James Cotton put him out on the touring circuit again, but only after the notoriety of the Blues Brothers did Murphy, a lifelong sideman, begin touring with a band of his own. Even then he hired a lead vocalist although he proved he could sing, too, when he gave himself the chance. Murphy recorded his first album for Antone's in Austin, Texas, in 1990, joined by his brother Floyd, also an acclaimed guitarist. After years of playing the blues bar circuit, Murphy suffered a stroke in 2003 but returned to performing in 2009. In the words of the late blues legend Willie Dixon, who hired Murphy to play on sessions and tours whenever he could, "He is definitely the best guitar player -- the best one I heard anywhere." Or, as Memphis Slim put it, Murphy is just "a damn genius."

Lazy Lester

Lazy Lester, the last surviving member of the colorfully nicknamed South Louisiana blues artists who created the "swamp blues" sound on Excello Records, joins his friend, the late Slim Harpo, in the Blues Hall of Fame. (Lightnin' Slim and Lonesome Sundown have yet to be inducted.) Lester, whose real name is Leslie Johnson, was born on June 20, 1933, in Torras, Louisiana. He began his recording career in 1956 playing harmonica behind Lightnin' Slim, and Slim's exhortations to "Blow your harmonica, son!" became a trademark of their work together. Lester played harmonica, guitar or percussion on many other sessions in Crowley, Louisiana, behind a variety of artists, including Clifton Chenier, Lonesome Sundown and Tabby Thomas. He began recording as a featured artist, also in 1956, showing a stylistic range that included both laconic swamp blues and uptempo rockers. His waxings of "Sugar Coated Love," "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter" and "I Hear You Knockin'" were not chart hits in the '50s but became favorites over the years, and his singles were later covered by the Kinks, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roomful of Blues, Barbara Lynn and others. One of the world's premier roots music gatherings, the Ponderosa Stomp, took its name from Lester's last Excello single, and Lester has been a regular at that New Orleans event and other festivals in recent decades. Lester left Louisiana for a brief stay in Chicago and settled in Michigan, where he laid low for years working in an auto plant before making a welcome comeback in 1987. He has recorded albums for Blue Horizon, Alligator, Antone's, and APO, and his fine performances, easy-going nature and good-humored presence (on- and off-stage) have made him a favorite with blues audiences around the world.

Billy Boy Arnold

Billy Boy Arnold emerged as the youngest recording star among Chicago's impressive corps of blues harmonica players in the 1950s, when he cut a series of invigorating blues for Vee-Jay Records, including "I Wish You Would," "I Ain't Got You," and "Rockinitis." Arnold, one of the few bluesmen of his era who was actually born in Chicago (Sept. 16, 1935), hailed from a family of musicians and educators: his brother Jerome was one of Chicago's top bass players and another brother, Augustus, plays harmonica and writes books under the name Julio Finn. Arnold himself is regarded as quite an oral historian, one whose interviews are distinguished by his musicological and sociological perspectives on the blues. As a 12-year-old Arnold idolized John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson so much that he started going to Williamson's home to learn harmonica, and he has paid tribute to Sonny Boy in interviews and in his musical performances ever since. In 1955, after Arnold had been playing on the streets with guitarist Ellas McDaniel for a few years, he and McDaniel went to Chess Records with a batch of songs, including one that ended up with the title "Bo Diddley" after Arnold suggested using the name in the lyrics. McDaniel himself was billed as Bo Diddley when the record came out with Arnold playing harp on the two-sided classic, "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man." Arnold took his own songs to Vee-Jay and became a popular attraction in the Chicago clubs over the next few years, when harmonica was at a peak of popularity with the black blues audience. As times and styles changed, harp men fell out of fashion in the '60s, and although Arnold recorded an album for producer Sam Charters on the Prestige label, along with a few other sessions, by the 1970s he was only an occasional presence on the club scene. In the meantime, however, the Yardbirds, the Animals, David Bowie and other rock acts had covered his Vee-Jay recordings, establishing his name with a new audience that came to blues through rock 'n' roll. Arnold, who had been working as a bus driver and parole officer, returned to a busier performing and recording schedule in the '90s, sporting a style that still sounded fresh, just as it had in the '50s. Two strong albums on the Alligator label, followed by releases on Stony Plain and Electro-Fi, have kept his name going, and in 2011 two of his Vee-Jay recordings, "I Ain't Got You" and "I Wish You Would," were included on the Jasmine CD "50 of the Most Influential Blues Songs of the 20th Century."

2011 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter was a leading diva during the first wave of classic blues recording in the early 1920s and astonished the world with a remarkable singing comeback in 1977 when at the age of 82. Born in Memphis on April 1, 1895, Hunter took a trip to Chicago with her schoolteacher when she was eleven and decided not to go back home. She soon found a job singing at a sporting house she called Dago Frank's and eventually became a regular attraction at the Dreamland Café before moving to New York City in 1923. She began an extensive recording career in 1921, and in 1922 waxed one of her most famous tunes, “Down Hearted Blues,” later a hit for Bessie Smith. Hunter spent most of his career in New York and made the first of several transatlantic voyages in 1927 to perform in Europe, where she became a popular cabaret singer. She came home to work with USO shows in the 1940s and '50s, but in 1957 her professional course changed when her mother became ill and Hunter became a practical nurse. Although she did do two recording sessions in 1961, she put her singing career on hold until she retired from nursing. Her return to performing, at Café Society and then at the Cookery in New York, brought renewed glory to one of the grand ladies of the blues, and she recorded four albums for Columbia as well as a live album at the Cookery during her final years. She died in Roosevelt Island, N.Y., on Oct, 17, 1984.

J.B. Lenoir

J.B. Lenoir never achieved the level of stardom of some of his Chicago blues contemporaries, but his musical and political legacies ensured that he would be remembered long after his death at the age of 38 in 1967. On the Chicago scene he was most renowned for boogies and blues, sung in such a high-pitched voice that some listeners thought the singer was female. “Mama, Talk to Your Daughter” (his only chart hit, from 1955), “How Much More” and “Mojo Boogie” entered the repertoires of many other Chicago bluesmen. Lenoir also created a small political stir with a lament on economic woes that he titled “Eisenhower Blues.” But it was his 1965-66 recordings, made for the European market and seldom heard in America until years later, that have earned him posthumous acclaim as a spokesman for civil rights and the antiwar movement. Those moving songs, produced by Willie Dixon (who would record more political material himself in subsequent years), include “Alabama March,” “Born Dead,” “Down in Mississippi,” and “Vietnam.” Lenoir was one of the rare bluesmen of his era to speak out so overtly on such topics in his songs. Lenoir (pronounced Lenore), who was born on March 5, 1929, on a farm near Monticello in southern Mississippi, learned guitar from his father, and lived in Gulfport and New Orleans (the city he saluted in “Mojo Boogie”) before moving to Chicago in 1949. He toured Europe in 1965 and 1966 and was poised to take his career to a new level, at least overseas, but at home he had taken a kitchen job at the University of Illinois. All too soon, he was gone - three weeks after an auto accident, Lenoir's heart failed. He was pronounced dead on arrival at an Urbana, Illinois, hospital, on April 29, 1967. British blues icon John Mayall recorded two songs in tribute to a “friend and great poet,” and released a Lenoir LP on his Crusade imprint, and filmmaker Wim Wenders brought the J.B. Lenoir story to life in his documentary Soul of a Man, part of Martin Scorsese's The Blues series on PBS in 2003.

Denise LaSalle

Denise LaSalle has reigned as the Queen of the Blues on the Southern soul circuit for years, famed for her many self-penned hits as well as her bold and bawdy stage act. LaSalle, born Ora Denise Allen on a Sidon, Mississippi, plantation, on July 16, 1939, spent some of her childhood in Belzoni, a town that continues to bring her back home for festivals and tributes. She showed her writing talents as a teen when she wrote stories for True Confessions and Tan. A gospel singer at first, Allen chose LaSalle as her stage name when she started singing rhythm & blues in Chicago. Blues singer Billy “The Kid” Emerson recorded her debut for his Tarpon label in 1967, and LaSalle had a No. 1 R&B single with “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” on Westbound in 1971. More hits followed, as did the development of her spicy onstage language. LaSalle moved to Jackson, Tennessee, in 1977, and in the 1980s began a long tenure with Malaco Records of Jackson, Mississippi, at first writing songs such as the Z.Z. Hill favorite “Someone Else is Steppin' In.” With her own Malaco recordings she came to be marketed as a blues singer for the first time, and she quickly established herself as an important figure on the chittlin' circuit. In 1986 she founded the National Association for the Preservation of the Blues to recognize artists performing in the Southern soul/blues style, a genre often overlooked by mainstream and traditional blues media. In recent years, LaSalle has recorded gospel as well as blues and soul. Denise LaSalle passed away in January 2018.

Big Maybelle

Big Maybelle, one of the most powerful and expressive blues vocalists of the 1950s, led a life that was, as a sticker on one of her albums advertised, “One part triumph, two parts tragedy.” In her triumphs her star shone brightly as a hit recording artist and headline act on the R&B circuit; in her tragedies, heroin addiction, health issues and personal problems darkened her horizon. Born Mabel Louise Smith in Jackson, Tennessee, on May 1, 1924, she won a singing contest at Memphis' Cotton Carnival and began performing in the 1930s with a band led by Dave Clark, who would gain later fame as a record promoter. She made her first record as vocalist with Christine Chatman and her Orchestra in 1944 and had Top Ten R&B hits with the OKeh label in 1953 (“Gabbin' Blues”, “My Country Man,” and “Way Back Home”), in addition to recording the first version of “Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On.” “Candy,” “Don't Pass Me By,” and her cover of “96 Tears” made the charts in later years as she recorded for a succession of different labels. She appeared at the Apollo Theater and many other top chittlin' circuit venues, as well as in a film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, but her reputation and health suffered from her drug habit, which often left her penniless and turned engagements into no-shows. Still, at her peak, reports indicate she could bring audiences to tears with her true-to-life blues or leave them laughing with her comic routines. Big Maybelle, a big woman indeed at 250 or 300 pounds, died in a comatose state in a Cleveland hospital on Jan. 23, 1972, suffering from diabetes.

John Hammond

John Hammond, one of the most noted performers to emerge from the folk-blues revival of the 1960s, has sustained a consistent career and maintained a loyal following by remaining true to his sources as he reinterprets the works of the blues masters. John Paul Hammond, sometimes called John Hammond, Jr., is the son of famed record producer John Henry Hammond, Jr. (1910-1987). Born in New York City on Nov. 13, 1942, Hammond was inspired by a Jimmy Reed performance at the Apollo Theater. As a teenager he devoted himself to the blues, becoming something of an instant sensation on the festival and coffeehouse circuit and playing alongside legends such as Big Joe Williams. The first of his more than 30 albums, the self-titled John Hammond LP on Vanguard (1963), featured his renditions of classics by Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, and others, a pattern he usually followed until he began to pen some of his own tunes on recent releases. Although best known as a solo performer, accompanying himself on guitar and racked harmonica, Hammond has often performed and recorded with bands. Various albums have featured him with the Muscle Shoals studio band, the Nighthawks, Little Charlie & the Nightcats, and The Band (when they were still Levon Helm & the Hawks), among other aggregations. Blues Foundation voters have rewarded Hammond with five Blues Music Awards as acoustic blues artist of the year and two more for the albums Wicked Grin and Got Love If You Want It. Following the elder John Hammond's election to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008, the Hammonds become the hall's first father and son inductees.

Robert Cray

Robert Cray helped reenergize the blues scene in the 1980s with a fresh, appealing blend of blues and soul music that even crashed the pop charts. Between 1986 and 1999 his consummate vocals and guitar work graced 10 albums that hit the “Billboard 200” charts, including four that won Grammys and three that earned Blues Music Awards or W.C. Handy Awards. For Cray, the son of an Army quartermaster born in Columbus, Georgia, on Aug. 1, 1953, the journey to stardom began in Tacoma, Washington, when he and schoolmate Richard Cousins began playing in bands together. A following developed in the Pacific Northwest and in 1978 Cray recorded the first of five albums under the aegis of producer Bruce Bromberg. With his second LP, Bad Influence, Cray became the talk of the blues world, garnering four Blues Awards in 1984 for best vocalist, album, single, and song. Amidst a heavy touring schedule, the Robert Cray Band continued to make recordings that stretched the boundaries of blues and, with Strong Persuader, established Cray as a pop icon. Cray has continued to deliver crowd-pleasing live performances while producing his own albums, consistently ranking high on the blues charts. With his induction Cray becomes the youngest member of the Blues Hall of Fame. Two of his albums - Strong Persuader and False Accusations - are now in the Hall of Fame, as well as his historic Showdown! collaboration with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland.

2010 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Bonnie Raitt

While most of Bonnie Raitt's songs may fall outside the realm of blues, there is no doubting her commitment to and love for the music and the blues musicians themselves. Heavily influenced by, and sometimes mentored by, older blues veterans when she started out, Raitt not only sang soulfully but played bottleneck guitar in the style of Mississippi Fred McDowell. McDowell was one of many artists whose cause she championed over the years--others included Sippie Wallace, Charles Brown, and Ruth Brown. After she began to tour on the strength of her first albums in the 1970s, she often insisted that blues performers be booked as her opening act, and her manager, Blues Hall of Fame member Dick Waterman, also represented many of the top traditional and Chicago blues acts of the era. Raitt's highest level of commercial success came in the 1989 with the album Nick of Time and in the 1990s with Luck of the Draw and Longing in Their Hearts. Among her Grammy Awards was one for Best Traditional Blues Recording shared with John Lee Hooker in 1989 for their collaboration on 'I'm in the Mood.' Raitt also played or sang on blues albums by B.B. King, A.C. Reed, Sippie Wallace, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Ruth Brown, Charles Brown, Keb' Mo' and Joe Louis Walker. Her contributions to the blues have also included assisting artists in royalty recovery as co-founder of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, helping to fund headstones and memorials, and quietly, sometimes anonymously, donating money to blues singers in need. Bonnie Raitt's example is one that ought to inspire many other blues-influenced performers from the worlds of rock and pop music.

W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy was already being hailed as 'The Father of the Blues' when the blues recording industry was still in its infancy. Handy's compositions and adaptations of blues he had heard in his travels began to be published in 1912 in an era when sheet music was the primary medium of musical dissemination. Various orchestras, military bands, and vaudeville singers began recording 'St. Louis Blues,' 'Memphis Blues,' and other Handy pieces before the record companies launched 'race record' series in the 1920s to cater to a newly discovered market for African American blues, jazz and gospel music. Handy never became a prolific recording artist himself but retained a prominent position as a music publisher and as a nationally recognized spokesman for the music he did so much to popularize. Handy, who was born in Florence, Alabama, on Nov. 16, 1873, was well educated in music, and though he had heard early versions of blues songs in Alabama, Indiana, and Kentucky, he wrote in his autobiography Father of the Blues that it was his encounters with blues in the Mississippi Delta that enlightened him to the potential in the music. Historical markers have been placed in his honor in the Delta, and a statue of Handy was erected in 1960 on Beale Street, near the site where Handy first worked as a music publisher. Handy died in New York on March 28, 1958, just ten days before the premiere of the Hollywood film dramatization of his life story, 'St. Louis Blues,' starring Nat 'King' Cole in the role of Handy.

Gus Cannon and Cannon’s Jug Stompers

Jug band pioneer Gus Cannon, a seminal figure in Memphis blues, was born in Red Banks, Mississippi, in either 1883, 1884, or 1885, according to various sources. Cannon's primary instrument was the banjo, and he made his first recordings under the name 'Banjo Joe' in 1927. Already in his forties at the time, he played songs that harked back to earlier black folk and minstrel tunes as well as blues, which was then a relatively more modern style. His most famous records were as the leader of Cannon's Jug Stompers, a group that featured harmonica virtuoso Noah Lewis and guitarists Hosea Woods, Ashley Thompson, or Elijah Avery, with Cannon on banjo, jug, and vocals. The band's 1928-30 recordings for the Victor label not only established them as important artists of the era but also had an impact decades later when folk and rock acts began to revive elements of the jug band style and repertoire. The Grateful Dead recorded Cannon's 'Viola Lee Blues,' among others, and the Lovin' Spoonful transformed his 'Prison Wall Blues' into 'Younger Girl,' but the most famous of all was the Rooftop Singers' cover of 'Walk Right In,' which hit the pop charts in 1963. The renewed attention enabled Cannon to record an album for the fledgling Stax label in Memphis, but his advanced age prevented Cannon from enjoying many fruits of the blues revival. He died in Memphis on Oct. 15, 1979.

Amos Milburn

Amos Milburn was one of the most popular young blues artists of the late 1940s and early '50s, famed for his rollicking piano boogies, smooth blues and ballads, and a slew of drinking songs that unfortunately reflected far too personal a view of the alcoholic star. Milburn got his start playing in Houston, Texas, where he was born on April 1, 1927. He spent most of his recording career with the Los Angeles-based Aladdin label, from 1946 through 1957, scoring No. 1 R&B hits on the Billboard charts with 'Chicken Shack Boogie,' 'Bewildered,' 'Roomin' House Boogie,' and 'Bad, Bad Whiskey.' Milburn's popular follow-ups on the alcohol theme included 'Let Me Go Home Whiskey,' 'Thinking and Drinking,' and 'One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.' Milburn and his longtime friend Charles Brown later recorded together on the Ace and King labels. Although Milburn had a name on the R&B touring circuit and was filmed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, he often traveled as a solo act playing lounges around the country and working mostly in the Cincinnati area in the late 1960s. After a stroke in 1970, he returned to Houston. His death came there on Jan. 3, 1980.

Lonnie Brooks

Lonnie Brooks was born with the name Lee Baker, Jr., and made his first records under the moniker 'Guitar Junior.' But no matter what name he uses, Brooks has been a crowd pleaser for decades, blending his Louisiana/Texas R&B roots with the blues and soul sounds of Chicago to forge a strong musical identity enhanced by his songwriting skills and bright stage presence. Born in Dubuisson, Louisiana, on Dec. 18, 1933, Brooks says he didn't begin playing guitar until he was 22, in Port Arthur, Texas, but it didn't take long for him to land a record deal with the Goldband label. After moving to Chicago, he worked with Jimmy Reed, among others, playing guitar on Reed's classic recording of 'Big Boss Man.' Given the Brooks pseudonym by blues pianist and producer Billy 'The Kid' Emerson, Lonnie established himself in the South and West side clubs and recorded for several labels, finally attracting the attention of European blues promoters and Chicago's Alligator Records. Brooks' extensive series of albums for Alligator and steady touring brought a new level of acclaim, and although his schedule slowed down in the new millennium, his sons Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks have carried on the family blues banner in fine tradition. Lonnie and Wayne made their own unique contribution to the music as two of the rare blues musicians to be credited with co-authoring a guidebook to the blues in the 1998 publication Blues For Dummies.

Charlie Musselwhite

One of the most prominent harmonica players of the past several decades, Charlie Musselwhite burst out of the vibrant Chicago blues scene in the 1960s to become a trendsetter for a new musical generation in California. Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on Jan. 31, 1944, Musselwhite began playing harp and guitar in Memphis, where he sought out blues veterans Will Shade, Furry Lewis, and others. He shared a Mississippi and Memphis background with many of the bluesmen he later met in Chicago and became a friend and disciple of harmonica maestro Big Walter Horton, among others. Finding a receptive audience for his music on the West Coast upon the release of his debut album, Stand Back! in 1967, Musselwhite quickly relocated to San Francisco and has lived in the area ever since although tours have taken him around the globe. Thousands of performances and dozens of albums later, Musselwhite remains a well-liked, world-famous, and highly influential musician whose work has been honored with numerous Blues Music Awards and Grammy nominations. Still drawn back to his roots, Musselwhite has become a familiar figure at events in Mississippi and Memphis, and has received a Mississippi Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts as well as a Brass Note on Beale Street's Walk of Fame.

2009 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Son Seals

Son Seals' fiery, hard-driven electric blues renewed the gritty Southern roots of Chicago blues during the 1970s and 80s, an era during which many of his contemporaries were molding their blues around the rhythms of funk and soul music or the excesses of rock 'n' roll. Frank 'Son' Seals, born August 13, 1942, in Osceola, Arkansas, grew up with the blues at his father's juke joint, the Dipsy Doodle. He learned from his father, Jim Seals, and from musicians who played at the club, especially Albert King, who drove a truck in Osceola, and Earl Hooker. As a guitarist he led his own band, the Upsetters, in Arkansas, and as a drummer he toured with both King and Hooker. King remained his foremost influence, and sometimes Seals would do entire sets of Albert's material, but he could deliver them with raw fury and a harsh tonality that gave him a sound all his own. Seals' approach exemplified the term 'high-energy blues' in its purest form and proved to be a great match for the promotions and productions of the label he spent most of his career with, Alligator Records. Health problems slowed him down in later years, but even after he was shot in the jaw and had a foot amputated, he did his utmost to generate sparks whenever he took the stage. Seals died of complications from diabetes on December 20, 2004, in Richton Park, Illinois.

Reverend Gary Davis

Rev. Gary Davis was one of the foremost guitarists in acoustic blues, gospel and folk music, a spirited performer who not only dazzled audiences with his virtuosity but who also served as a mentor and personal instructor to generations of guitar pickers. A self-taught musician, the blind Davis often played the streets for tips in the Carolinas and New York before he became a sought-after festival performer and private teacher during the 1950s and 60s. Born in Laurens, South Carolina, on April 30, 1896, Davis made his first recordings in 1935 under the name Blind Gary, performing both blues and gospel songs. As Reverend Gary Davis he later devoted his public performances to gospel singing, although there was still plenty of blues, jazz, and ragtime influence in his instrumental work, and students or producers might coax a few blues out of him at home or in the studio. Renowned as the master of finger picking styles, Davis was such a wizard that he only needed to use his thumb and forefinger while chording complex figures with his left hand. His students ranged from Blind Boy Fuller to Dave Van Ronk, Rory Block, David Bromberg, Ry Cooder, Jorma Kaukonen, Taj Mahal, Philadelphia Jerry Ricks, and Ernie Hawkins. Davis died in Hammonton, New Jersey, on May 5, 1972.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal may have explored more far-flung corners of African-rooted musical traditions than any other performer, but he has always returned to the sound at the core of his journeys, the blues. Born Henry St. Clair Fredericks on May 17, 1942, in New York, and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, Taj chose his exotic stage name well in advance of his world travels when he was at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After relocating to California, he rose to national prominence with the release of his Columbia album, Taj Mahal, which was highlighted by his modern-day re-workings of vintage tunes by the traditional blues masters, many of whom Taj had gotten to know during the folk-blues revival era. Taj's brand of blues was embraced by rock audiences and over the years inspired a number of younger African-American performers as well. His recordings have featured him on guitar, harmonica, piano, bass, banjo, mandolin, fife, and other of the 20 instruments he plays. When he delved into reggae and other Afro-Caribbean sounds, he was no stranger to the culture, since his father was a West Indian from the island of St. Kitts and his stepfather was Jamaican. Taj also recorded zydeco, New Orleans Creole music, childrens songs, folk tunes, gospel, soundtracks, and rhythm & blues, and did sessions with musicians from Africa, India, and Hawaii. But it all revolved around and interacted with his blues, and audiences continue to be treated to inspiring performances by one of the genre's most eclectic and charismatic performers.

Irma Thomas

Irma Thomas has reigned as 'The Soul Queen of New Orleans' since the 1960s and remains not only a hometown favorite but also an international legend in the annals of rhythm & blues. Born Irma Lee in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, on February 18, 1941, she always loved to sing at home, in church, in school, in talent shows, and finally in the nightclubs and recording studios of New Orleans. She even lost jobs by singing in clubs when she was being paid to waitress, but that led to one of her first professional breaks, when the bandleader at the Pimlico Club, Tommy Ridgley, hired her and took her on the road. She was a young mother of four when her first record, 'Don't Mess With My Man', hit the charts in 1960. Her biggest hit was the soul-baring, self-penned Imperial single 'Wish Someone Would Care' in 1964, but the best-known song she recorded was the flip side of another 1964 Imperial 45, 'Time Is On My Side,' which became a rock 'n' roll classic for the Rolling Stones. A series of less successful records followed, along with a period of semi-retirement from music when she moved to California after Hurricane Camille devastated the Gulf Coast in 1969. Irma has been a fixture on the New Orleans scene since returning home in the 1970s, and began to win wider acclaim again after recording the first in a long series of albums for Rounder in 1985. She and her husband ran a club, the Lions Den on Gravier Street, until another hurricane Katrina, flooded the premises and sent her away from the Crescent City again, but this time only as far as Gonzales, Louisiana. Thomas has been a perennial nominee and frequent winner in the Blues Music Awards.

2008 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Hubert Sumlin

Hubert Sumlin made his mark with his sharp, innovative and unpredictable guitar work on Howlin' Wolf's classics such as Killing Floor, Shake for Me, and Hidden Charms, and became an acclaimed and beloved figure in his senior years when he pursued his own solo career after Wolf's death. Born on a plantation outside of Greenwood, Mississippi, on Nov. 16, 1931, Sumlin was an adolescent blues partner of James Cotton in Arkansas, where he started following Howlin' Wolf. After Wolf moved to Chicago, he summoned Hubert to join him, and together they weathered turbulent times as Wolf fired his protégé time after time, only to hire him back. Sumlin even went over to play for Wolf's main rival, Muddy Waters, at times, but Wolf was like a father to him and he was never out of the fold for too long. His guitar work with Wolf was so legendary among other musicians that even Jimi Hendrix reportedly said: 'My favorite guitar player is Hubert Sumlin.' Accolades from the rock world continued to accrue to Sumlin in later years as he shared stages with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Aerosmith, Santana, and many others. Sumlin died Dec. 4, 2011.

Jimmy Witherspoon

Jimmy Witherspoon was one of the most prominent of the blues shouters who emerged in the 1940s and 50s, a smooth vocalist whose style made him a favorite among jazz audiences as well as blues and R&B listeners. Witherspoon was born in Gurdon, Arkansas, probably on August 18, 1922 (some sources say a year earlier or later), and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s. His first recordings were done with Jay McShann, the Kansas City bandleader who had moved to California; although Witherspoon's music has been strongly associated with Kansas City jazz, blues and swing, he never lived in K.C. In 1949 Spoon entered the record books when his hit Ain't Nobody's Business for the Supreme label stayed on the Billboard rhythm & blues charts for an incredible 34 weeks. In later years he recorded in a variety of musical settings, backed by jazz, soul, and rock musicians on various sessions, but Spoon always delivered the blues. He died on Sept, 18, 1997, in Los Angeles.

Mississippi Sheiks

The Mississippi Sheiks were the premier African-American string band of the pre-World War II era, responsible not only for creating new hits for the blues audiences but for keeping alive a tradition that predated the blues. Fiddlers once ruled the roost in rural black music, before the guitar came to prominence, and the music intertwined with white old-time and country traditions. The Mississippi Sheiks fiddler was Lonnie Chatmon, a member of a prolific musical family from Bolton, Mississippi, all of whom performed as members of the Sheiks at times. His brothers Bo Chatmon, better known as Bo Carter, and Sam Chatmon both had significant careers in the blues as solo acts. While apparently the Sheiks might include any number of Chatmons at their dances, on record the unit usually consisted of just Lonnie Chatmon and guitarist Walter Vinson. Their major contribution to the blues came at their first session in 1930 when they recorded Sitting on Top of the World and Stop and Listen Blues. Muddy Waters once said that when he lived in Mississippi, he walked ten miles to see them play.

Jimmy McCracklin

One of the pioneers of West Coast blues, singer, pianist and songwriter Jimmy McCracklin enjoyed one of the longest recording careers in the blues, lasting from 1945 until 2010. Born James Walker on Aug. 13, 1921, in Helena, Arkansas, McCracklin was influenced in St. Louis by singer-pianist Walter Davis, one of the most popular bluesmen of the 1930s. But McCracklin always kept up with the times, and his records accordingly progressed from basic blues piano outings to West Coast jump into boogie, R&B, soul, and funk-tinged blues. His hits include The Walk, I Got to Know, Every Night, Every Day, and Think; in addition, he composed (but did not credit for) Just a Little Bit by Rosco Gordon, co-wrote Tramp with Lowell Fulson, and played piano on B.B. King's Rock Me Baby. McCracklin, who remained a major figure on the Bay Area blues scene , was called 'the face of Oakland blues' by San Francisco Blues Festival founder Tom Mazzolini. McCracklin died in San Pablo, California, on Dec. 20, 2012.

Peetie Wheatstraw

The colorful persona of Peetie Wheatstraw The Devil's Son-in-Law (The High Sheriff From Hell) belonged to William Bunch, a singer, pianist and guitarist from Ripley, Tennessee. Born on December 21, 1902, Bunch was using the Wheatstraw name by the time he made his first recordings in 1930. He went on to become one of the most popular and influential blues artists of his era, whose songs and signature Ooh, well, well vocal lines were adopted by many others. Among his followers was Robert Johnson, who not only sang of the devil and hell, but also borrowed lyrics and music from various Wheatstraw tunes such as Police Station Blues. If Wheatstraw has not risen to the iconic, near-mythological status of Johnson, perhaps it's because Johnson's songs seem so serious, whereas Wheatstraw was obviously having fun with his character. Comedian Rudy Ray Moore, author Ralph Ellison, and others have invoked the folk legend of Peetie Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-in-Law, in their works. The real Peetie Wheatstraw died in a car crash in East St. Louis, Illinois, on December 21, 1941. His stature was such that even Variety magazine ran an obituary, an honor afforded very few blues musicians of the time.

Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson

Johnny 'Guitar' Watson reinvented himself as a flamboyant funkster and ultra-hip player extraordinaire in the 1970s, when his career reached new heights with hits such as A Real Mother For Ya, Superman Lover, and Lover Jones. Few of his new fans realized that he was already a veteran blues guitarist, a product of Houston's Third Ward where he came up alongside guitar slingers such as Joe Hughes, Johnny Copeland, and Albert Collins in the shadow of Gatemouth Brown. Born in Houston on February 3, 1935, Watson cut his first records at the age of 17 under the name Young John Watson after moving to Los Angeles. Many of his early recordings demonstrated his hard-hitting guitar style; in the 1960s he recorded as a soul singer and pianist as well, before reemerging with his blues integrated into a contemporary groove of stylized funk that would help shape the rap and hip-hop that followed. One of his 70s hits, Gangster of Love, was a remake of a blues he had originally cut in 1957. Watson suffered a fatal heart attack while performing onstage in Yokohama, Japan, on May 17, 1996.

2007 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Dr. John

One of the most colorful characters to emerge from the psychedelic 1960s was Dr. John the Night Tripper. The mastermind behind the mystical voodoo funk of the 1968 album Gris Gris was Malcolm John 'Mac' Rebennack, Jr., who up until that point had spent his recording career mostly as a sideman in New Orleans (where he was born on November 21, 1940) and Los Angeles. When the mist cleared along with the glitz and glitter, the world began to recognize Dr. John as a New Orleans rhythm & blues icon, carrying on the traditions of Crescent City legends like Professor Longhair, Smiley Lewis, and Huey 'Piano' Smith. He has recorded more than 30 albums on his own while also playing piano or organ on sessions by blues, rock, soul, and jazz performers such as B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Luther Allison, Big Joe Turner, Johnny Copeland, Mike Bloomfield, Duke Robillard, Tab Benoit, Johnny Adams, Charles Brown, James Cotton, Johnny Winter, Ringo Starr, Bill Wyman, Aretha Franklin, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones)

Eddie 'Guitar Slim' Jones helped drive the electric guitar to new levels of power and intensity during his brief career in the 1950s. Jones was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, on December 10, 1926, according to his Specialty Records bio but earlier documents indicate his birth may have come two or three years in a rural area somewhere near Greenwood. After some early experience in Hollandale, Mississippi, as a singer and dancer, Jones developed a blasting guitar attack, which, combined with his gospel-inflected vocals, powered his rise to fame in New Orleans. There he recorded the blues classic 'The Things That I Used to Do'' for Specialty in 1953. The pianist on that record, which was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the Classics of Blues Recording category in 1984, was Ray Charles. Guitar Slim was a flamboyant showman who sometimes appeared with his hair and shoes dyed to match his vibrantly colored suits. He would stroll the audience and walk outside playing guitar using a cord of 100 feet or more. He was a major influence on Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Earl King, Chick Willis, Lonnie Brooks, and many others. Jones died of pneumonia during a trip to New York City on February 7, 1959.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the foremost African-American celebrities of the 1940s and early 1950s, an exhilarating performer with an impressive fingerpicking guitar style. She sang gospel music for most of her career, but crossed over into jazz, blues, and rhythm & blues. Her 1945 recording of 'Strange Things Happening Every Day' has even been called an early example of rock 'n' roll. She toured or recorded with Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Lucky Millinder, and Sammy Price among others, and collaborated with Marie Knight to form one of the top gospel acts of the early post-World War II era. Some members of the religious community met her forays into secular music with outrage. Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, on March 20, 1915, and died in Philadelphia on October 9, 1973. Among those who have cited her as an influence are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Etta James, Little Richard, and Isaac Hayes. Her biography, Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, by Gayle Wald, was published by Beacon Press.

Dave Bartholomew

Dave Bartholomew has been a driving creative force in the history of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, a man whose name may not be well known to the general public, but whose work as a songwriter, bandleader, producer, and arranger was crucial to the success of Fats Domino and many others. Bartholomew, a trumpeter who still performs in New Orleans, was born in Edgard, Louisiana, on Dec. 24, 1918. Although he recorded as a singer or featured instrumentalist for the DeLuxe, Imperial, and King labels among others, as far back as 1947, he had only one jukebox hit, 'Country Boy,' in 1950. His work in the studio however, resulted in a parade of hits by Domino, Lloyd Price, Shirley & Lee, Smiley Lewis, Earl King, and others. Among Bartholomew's songwriting credits, on his own or as co-composer, are 'Walking to New Orleans,' 'Blue Monday,' 'My Ding A Ling,' 'I Hear You Knocking,' 'I'm Walkin',' 'Let the Four Winds Blow,' and hundreds more.

2006 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


James Cotton

James Cotton came up under the masters Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), Howlin' Wolf, and Muddy Waters, and emerged in the mid-1960s with his own hard-hitting blues style, one that came to epitomize the term high-energy blues for harmonica players. Born July 1, 1935, on the Bonnie Blue Plantation in Clayton, Mississippi, Cotton got his first harmonica from his mother, Hattie Cotton, and learned to play what she played, using the harp to imitate the sounds of cackling hens and trains. But he soon heard a new, enticing harmonica sound on the radio when he started listening to King Biscuit Time on KFFA radio from nearby Helena, Arkansas. By the time he was nine, his uncle had introduced him to King Biscuit Time star Sonny Boy Williamson, who was so impressed that he took the nine-year-old prodigy into his home. Cotton lived with Williamson in Helena and then West Memphis until the early '50s, when Sonny Boy left for Milwaukee. In West Memphis Cotton worked with Sonny Boy's band members, including Willie Love, Willie Nix, and Joe Willie Wilkins, as well as Howlin' Wolf's band. In 1952 he went into the studio for the first time to play harp on Wolf's Chess single Saddle My Pony. He returned to the same studio 'Sam Phillips' Mempis Recording Service, to cut his first two singles in 1953 and 1954 for Phillips' Sun label. In 1954 Muddy Waters was in Memphis for an appearance at the Hippodrome and needed a harp man to replace Junior Wells, who had left the band; he heard about Cotton, hired him for the gig, and took him on the rest of the tour, on back to Chicago. Cotton stayed with Muddy for 12 years, touring the country and overseas and gigging regularly in Chicago as well. Cotton was primed to go out on his by 1966, and put together the first of a series of top-notch bands to tour the country and record for Vanguard, Verve, Capitol, Alligator, Antone's, Telarc and other labels. He persevered through health problems and a 1994 throat surgery, and although unable to continue singing on stage, he maintained his harp skills and has continued to amaze and entertain audiences with his good-natured demeanor and dynamic performances. -- Jim O'Neal

Roy Milton

Though he began his musical career as a drummer, Roy Milton always utilized that sense of swing and rhythm in whatever he played. His 1946 single 'R.M. Blues' for Art Rupe's fledgling Juke Box imprint (soon to be renamed Specialty), climbed to the top of the R&B charts and established Milton as a musical force. 'R.M. Blues' was such a huge seller that it established Specialty as a viable concern for the long haul. Rupe recorded Milton early and often, through 1953. He was rewarded with 19 Top Ten R&B hits by Milton and the Solid Senders, including 'Milton's Boogie, 'True Blues,' 'Hop, Skip and Jump,' 'Information Blues,' 'Oh Babe' (a torrid cover of Louis Prima's jivey jump), and 'Best Wishes.' Even though Rock 'n' Roll had rendered Milton an anachronism, the drummer remained active nonetheless, thrilling the throng at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival as part of Johnny Otis's all-star troupe. -- (Blues Foundation press release, 2006.)

Bobby Rush

Bobby Rush began his career in music over 55 years ago. Schooled in the music of Chicago in the 1950s, Rush has taken his brand of Soul Blues from the Chitlin' Circuit to stages around the world. After Rush arrived in the Windy City, he formed bands that attracted such talent as Luther Allison, Freddie King, Eddie Boyd, Tyrone Davis, and Willie Mabon. In the mid-1990s he expanded his touring to include as many mainstream Blues festivals and clubs as possible. In the past five years, Rush starred in the Martin Scorsese PBS films; released numerous CDs; founded a new label, Deep Rush Records; and, never stopped touring. Last year, 2005, Rush won his first Blues Music Award. It seems like every year that Bobby Rush is nominated as Entertainer of the Year and Soul Blues Performer of the Year, but he is also well known for his charitable work in Jackson, Mississippi. From chairing a prison ministry to feeding hundreds of children every week to hosting benefits for the needy, Bobby Rush never stops. -- (Blues Foundation press release, 2006.)

Paul Butterfield

Paul Butterfield ranks among the most influential harp players in the Blues. Born in 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, he began playing classical flute as a child. He also grew up listening to his father's Jazz records and in 1957 he and future band mate Nick Gravenites began to catch Blues acts in the clubs of the South Side. There he met and started jamming with the legends of the postwar Blues scene - Muddy Waters, Little Walter Jacobs, Howlin' Wolf, and others. In 1963, he and teenage guitar virtuoso Michael Bloomfield lured a couple of Howlin' Wolf's sidemen away from Wolf's band to form the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Fronted by Butterfield's strong vocals and harp and augmented by Bloomfield's Blues-based guitar, the band landed a deal for their first LP with Elektra in 1965 and also backed Bob Dylan when the Folk hero famously defected to Rock at the Newport Folk festival that year. The albums released by the Butterfield Blues Band brought Chicago Blues to a generation of Rock fans during the 1960s and paved the way for late 1960s electric groups like Cream. -- (Blues Foundation press release, 2006.)

2005 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Walter Davis

One of the most popular and prolific blues recording artists of the 1930s, Walter Davis was born in Grenada, Mississippi, on March 1, 1911. He became a leading figure on the St. Louis blues scene, working alongside Roosevelt Sykes and Henry Townsend. Sykes was on the pianist on Davis' early recordings; subsequent sessions featured Davis' own idiosyncratic brand of piano. Although Walter Davis is not a name well known among today's blues audiences, his songs of trouble and despair, as well as his double entendre humor, struck a resounding chord with blues buyers of the era: from 1930 to 1941, he recorded more than 160 sides, released on the Victor, Bluebird, Supertone, and Montgomery Ward labels. Davis recorded again for RCA Victor and Bullet from 1946 to 1952. Among Davis' notable recordings were Come Back Baby (a Top 10 R&B hit in 1955 when covered by Ray Charles), Angel Child (Top 10 in 1949 for Memphis Slim), 13 Highway (later recorded by Muddy Waters), Think You Need a Shot, Pet Cream Blues, Ashes in My Whiskey, Fallin' Rain, and Tears Came Rolling Down; his songs and lyrics have also been reworked or adapted by B.B. King, J.B. Hutto, Fred McDowell, Jimmy McCracklin, Eddie Boyd, Champion Jack Dupree, Dave Ray & Tony Glover, and others. In his final years, Davis became a preacher in St. Louis. He died on October 22, 1963.

Ike Turner

Though more widely known for his exploits in the worlds of rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll, Ike Turner played an important role in blues history. His first recording session at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis produced what is often called the first rock 'n' roll record' Rocket '88,' sung by Ike's saxophonist Jackie Brenston, but the song was actually a rocking Delta version of Jimmy Liggins' jump blues recording Cadillac Boogie. Izear Luster Turner Jr. learned piano from Pinetop Perkins in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he was born on November 5, 1931. As a talent scout, producer, pianist, or guitarist, Ike participated in some of the earliest recordings of Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Little Milton, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, B.B. King, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy. After Turner and his Kings of Rhythm band moved to East St. Louis, he formed one of the tightest R&B revues in the business, first with male vocalists such as Brenston, Billy Gayles, and Clayton Love, and later with a young singer named Annie Mae Bullock. Ike renamed her Tina, and the rest is rock 'n' roll and Hollywood history. Drug abuse and spousal abuse sullied his reputation, but a cleaned-up Ike Turner managed to reemerge as a headliner in the blues world during his final years by re-embracing his blues roots in his performances and recordings. Turner's 2001 album, Here and Now, which was nominated for a Grammy as Best Traditional Blues Album, took Handy Award honors for Comeback Album of the Year. His final CD, , Risin' With the Blues, won a blues Grammy in 2006. He died at his home in San Marcos, California, on December 12, 2007. -- Jim O'Neal

2004 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Blind Boy Fuller

Fulton Allen, also known as Blind Boy Fuller, was one of the most influential and popular Bluesmen of the 1930s. Born in Wadesboro, NC in 1908, Fuller was one of the pioneers of the Piedmont style of Blues that helped define the sound of the Southeast Atlantic coast of the United States. He recorded an impressive collection of songs in a short span from 1935-1941 on his National steel guitar. He was a master of deep Blues, but was best-loved for his Ragtime influenced hits like 'Rag Mama Rag,' 'Trucking My Blues Away,' and 'Step It Up and Go.' -- (Blues Foundation press release, 2004.)

Bo Diddley

Ellas Otha Bates McDaniel, better known as Bo Diddley, was born in McComb, Mississippi in 1928, and moved to Chicago in the mid-'30s, where he eventually would shock the music world in 1955 with his 2-sided hit 'Bo Diddley'/'I'm A Man' on Chess Records. The distinctive syncopated rhythm of his self-titled song captured the primal spirit of restless youth of those times. He followed that success up the next year with 'Who Do You Love,' solidifying his place in history as the originator of what has since become known around the world as the 'Bo Diddley Beat.' Other Diddley classics include 'Pretty Thing,' 'Mona,' and 'You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover.' -- (Blues Foundation press release, 2004.)

2003 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Sippie Wallace

One of the few blues queens of the prewar vaudeville era to enjoy a new round of celebrity in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, Sippie Wallace began her recording career in 1923. Billed as the 'Texas Nightingale,' Wallace was born Beulah Thomas in Plum Bayou, Arkansas, on Nov. 1, 1898, but was raised from infancy in Houston. She was singing in tent shows and performing with her brothers, pianists George and Hersal Thomas, before moving to Chicago and then to Detroit in the 1920s. She became a popular act for OKeh Records and toured the T.O.B.A. circuit for several years, but eventually left the stage and began playing organ in her Detroit church. After recording only sporadically in the intervening decades, she made a comeback in 1966 at the encouragement of Victoria Spivey and recorded her most critically acclaimed albums in Europe for the Storyville label. Her career was subsequently boosted by Bonnie Raitt, bringing her more prestigious performing and recording opportunities as Wallace's songs 'Women Be Wise' and 'I'm a Mighty Tight Woman,' among others gained renewed popularity. Wallace died in Detroit on her 88th birthday, Nov. 1, 1986. -- Jim O'Neal

Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington enjoyed great renown in her later years for her ballad singing and jazz stylings, as well as for her catchy pop/R&B duets with Brook Benton, but in her day she was hailed as the undisputed queen of the blues. Forty-five of her songs (including both sides of several singles) for Mercury Records made the Billboard charts between 1948 and 1961. Born Ruth Lee Jones on Aug. 29, 1924, she moved from her native Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Chicago as a child and grew up singing gospel and playing piano in church, but in her teens she also sang blues in theaters and clubs. A club owner gave her the name Dinah Washington in 1942, and the next year her growing renown landed her a job as vocalist with the Lionel Hampton band. Her first recording, "Evil Gal Blues," made with the Hampton band, was a Top Ten hit in 1944. During her tenure with Mercury, she enjoyed five No. 1 R&B hits: "Baby, Get Lost," "Am I Asking Too Much," "This Bitter Earth," and two duets with Benton, "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" and "A Rockin' Good Way." Famed as much for her saucy stage presence and volatile love life as she was for her vocal sophistication, Dinah Washington died of an overdose of sleeping pills in Detroit on Dec. 14, 1963. -- Jim O'Neal

Pinetop Perkins

Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins got a late start as a solo artist, after supplying the piano background for the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, and Earl Hooker for decades. But his piano mastery became so celebrated among blues audiences in the 1980s and ‘90s that the Blues Foundation finally had to remove his name from the Blues Music Awards’ annual list of nominees and retitle the category “Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year.” Born on July 7, 1913, on the Honey Island Plantation, near Belzoni, Mississippi, Perkins started out on guitar, but he also learned piano as a youngster, influenced by local pianists and by the records of Clarence “Pine Top” Smith and others. Smith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” of 1929 was so popular that many pianists, including Perkins, took up boogie woogie and sometimes even adopted the name “Pine Top” or “Pinetop.” His first professional job in music was as a guitarist with blues legend Robert Nighthawk. In the 1940s Perkins played piano on radio broadcasts with Nighthawk and with Williamson on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. During the World War II years Perkins also drove a tractor on the Hopson plantation near Clarksdale, where an annual celebration is now held in his honor. In Clarksdale he later mentored a young Ike Turner on piano and began working with another prodigy, guitarist Earl Hooker. Perkins first recorded as pianist on a Nighthawk session in Chicago in 1950. In 1953 Perkins recorded two versions of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” when he and Earl Hooker did a session together for Sun Records in Memphis, but the tracks remained unissued until they appeared on a British album in the 1970s. In 1969, when Otis Span left the Muddy Waters band, Muddy called on Perkins to take his place. International touring and recording with Muddy brought him widespread recognition, and he made his first album in 1976 for a French label, Black & Blue. In 1980 Perkins and other band members left Muddy and formed the Legendary Blues Band. After recording two albums with the unit, Perkins embarked on his belated solo career. Although he did not have a full album under his own name in the United States until he was 75 years old (in 1988), during the next two decades he recorded more than 15 LPs and CDs as the reigning patriarch of blues piano. The Pinetop Perkins Blues Museum and Cultural Center was established in his honor by his home town of Belzoni in 2010. On March 21, 2011, three weeks after receiving a Grammy award for Joined at the Hip, a CD he shared with former Muddy Waters bandmate Willie Smith, Perkins died in his sleep at his home in Austin, Texas. -- Jim O’Neal

Fats Domino

Lifelong New Orleans resident Antoine “Fats” Domino turned the infectious piano rhythms of the Crescent City into Top 40 hits as one of the few African American performers to cross over to the top ranks of rock ‘n’ roll icons in the 1950s. Born Feb. 26, 1928, Domino began playing clubs as a teenager, influenced by boogie woogie, jump blues, and local pianists Professor Longhair and Archibald. He developed a winsome style aided by his smiling persona and the masterful record production of Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records. In 1950 his first record, “The Fat Man,” an adaptation of Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker Blues,” became the first of more than 60 Domino entries on the Billboard or Cash Boxrhythm & blues charts. His records hit the pop charts just as often, both in the form of reworked standards like “Blueberry Hill” and easy-rocking dance tunes like “I’m Walkin’.” Bumping the piano across the stage with his ample midsection, Domino, known for his shyness offstage, created such a sensation onstage that some of his rock ‘n’ roll shows erupted into riots, according to newspaper reports from the ‘50s. In the ‘60s he became a regular in Las Vegas, both as an entertainer as a gambler whose losses reportedly totaled in the millions. In later years he retired except for an occasional special home town appearance. Domino was in the news again in 2005 as a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, safely evacuated from his flooded house in the Ninth Ward. -- Jim O'Neal www. Domino passed away in October 2017.

2002 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Ruth Brown

The old Yankee Stadium in New York was called “The House That Ruth Built” in tribute to slugger Babe Ruth's accomplishments. Another New York institution, Atlantic Records, later shared the nickname thanks to its own heavy hitter, Ruth Brown. Raised in a religious household where blues was banned, in Portsmouth, Virginia, where she was born on Jan. 12 (or 30, according to some reports), 1928, Brown was a ballad singer when she began singing professionally. Atlantic recognized her potential as a saucy blues and R&B artist and Brown became the most popular African American woman of the 1950s rock 'n' roll era. She had five No. 1 R&B hits for Atlantic, including “Teardrops from My Eyes,” “5-10-15 Hours,” and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” According to Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles, Brown's record ranked No. 4 in chart success among all R&B artists in the '50s. Brown left the music business to raise a family and sometimes had to resort to menial jobs to survive; despite her sales figures, she said that Atlantic's accounting of production costs left her in debt to the company, and her struggle for royalties eventually led her to establish the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1988 to help other past stars of R&B who were in the same situation. Atlantic Records not only paid their housebuilder but also contributed funds to get the foundation started. Brown, who had begun working as an actress, made a comeback as a singer and became a heralded performer and spokesperson for African American music in her final years. Ruth Brown died in Henderson, Nevada, the Las Vegas suburb where she made her home, on Nov. 17, 2006. -- Jim O'Neal

Big Maceo (Merriweather)

Big Maceo Merriweather was one of the most prominent blues recording artists of the 1940s, famed not only for his powerful piano work but for his expressive singing on hits such as Worried Life Blues. Although he had only a short career, his music had a strong influence on the Chicago pianists who followed, especially Otis Spann and Little Johnnie Jones. Born Major Merriweather on March 21, 1905, near Newnan, Georgia, Maceo and his family lived on a farm until they moved to nearby Atlanta in 1920. There the left-handed Maceo took up the piano, developing a pounding style with, naturally, a prominent left hand that would later distinguish his recordings. In 1924 he moved to Detroit, where he began playing the house party circuit which was the bread and butter of piano players in prewar blues. He also worked the night clubs of Detroit and, during the 1940s and '50s, Chicago after he moved to the Windy City. In Chicago Maceo often teamed with guitarist Tampa Red, both on record and in clubs such as the H&T. Maceo recorded for Bluebird and RCA Victor under the supervision of Lester Melrose from 1941 to 1947, establishing himself as a major name among blues record buyers. The first song he recorded, the poignant Worried Life Blues, is considered such an essential blues work that it was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in the first year of the Classics of Blues Recording balloting, years before Maceo himself was inducted as a performer. Other highlights of his recorded repertoire include Things Have Changed, a hit on Billboard's “Race Records” jukebox chart in 1945, County Jail Blues and its flip side Can't You Read from 1941, and his 1945 instrumental masterpiece Chicago Breakdown.. A stroke in 1946 cost him the use of his right hand, although he continued to sing and play one-handed, sometimes employing a protégé such as Johnnie Jones or Eddie Boyd to play the keys, or at least the treble notes. He never regained the strength or stature he had once enjoyed, though, and, like a number of top blues recording artists of the era, was never able, even at his peak, to translate his fame into a successful touring career. Blues promoters, agents, and clubs were only beginning to coalesce into what we know as the chittlin circuit, and the big theater circuit was the domain of jazz and swing bands and uptown blues shouters and crooners. Big Maceo made his final records for Specialty in 1949 and Fortune in 1950, in addition to an unissued session for Mercury in 1952 . He died of a heart attack on February 26, 1953, in Chicago. -- Jim O'Neal

2001 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Etta James

At the age of five Etta James was singing gospel in her church choir and by her early teens she was drawn into the sounds of R&B. Her first hit was 'The Wallflower' for the Modern Records in 1955. An answer song to Hank Ballard's 'Work With Me Annie', James wrote the song with bandleader and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Otis. She continued to record hits for the Modern, Argo and Cadet labels throughout the 1960's. From 'At Last' and 'All I Could Do Was Cry' to 'Something's Got A Hold On Me' and 'I'd Rather Go Blind, Etta transformed songs into timeless classics. Her battle with drugs became a focal point during the teen years of her career but as a testament to Etta's talent and personal fortitude she returned to recording and performing in 1973. James is heralded as a purveyor of great music as she has embraced songs from different styles and molded them into her own. A journey through the music of Etta James' career declares her as a great translator of music and emotion. Suggested listening: Etta James - The Chess Box (MCA-Chess 088 112 288 2)

Junior Parker

Junior Parker was one of the four most popular blues recording artists of the 1950s and '60s, in a league with B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, and Little Milton, based on the number of records that hit the Billboard charts during that era. Parker sang and blew harmonica with smoothness and warmth, handling blues, uptempo R&B and soulful ballads with ease. Born Herman Parker, Jr., on a plantation near Bobo, Mississippi, on March 27, 1932, Junior grew up in West Memphis, Arkansas, where he got to know fellow young harp blowers Junior Wells and James Cotton. Like Cotton, he played in Howlin' Wolf's band before making his first recordings for Sam Phillips' Sun label in Memphis. Recording as Little Junior's Blue Flames, Parker hit it big right away with the energetic boogie Feelin' Good, which reached No. 5 on the Billboard R&B charts. His Mystery Train didn't sell as well but it did inspire Elvis Presley to record his own version for Sun. Parker's closest associate was Bobby Bland. The two performed together in the Memphis area, and when Parker started going on the road on the strength of hit records on the Duke label such as Next Time You See Me, Driving Wheel, and Sweet Home Chicago, Bland went with him as his valet and opening act. Sweet Home Chicago, today an all too familiar barroom blues, dated back to Robert Johnson and earlier artists, but it was Parker's record that revived it and inspired the versions often played in Chicago by Magic Sam and many others. Toward the end of his career, Parker was still embracing the blues, and also trying out new musical settings, ranging from a partnership with jazz organist Jimmy McGriff to covering Beatles songs in a very non-British manner. He might well have tapped into entirely new audiences for his blues had he lived, but he died of a brain tumor on November 18, 1971, in Blue Island, Illinois. -- Jim O'Neal

Rufus Thomas

Radio personality, entertainer and talent scout, Rufus Thomas the self-proclaimed world's oldest teenager, personifies Memphis music. Thomas' professional career began in the 30's performing as a comedian in minstrel shows, and he heightened his career in the 1940's as a disc jockey on WDIA, one of the few black managed stations of the era. Rufus Thomas has been a mentor to some of the most influential talent to come from the Memphis. He ran a talent show on the famous avenue for the Blues, Beale Street. His contestants soon turned into legends - B.B. King, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, and Ike Turner. As patriarch of the Thomas family, Rufus also guided the talent and careers of his children Carla, Vaneese and Marvell. In 1953, Thomas found success as a recording artist with his Sun Records release 'Bear Cat,' an answer song to Big Mama Thornton's 'Hound Dog.' The song gave Sun Records its first national hit. Rufus and Carla became the first stars on Satellite Records, soon to be renamed Stax, recording the highly acclaimed duet 'Cause I Love You.' Thomas' hits 'Walking the Dog,' 'Do the Funky Chicken,' and '(Do The) Push and Pull' have become R&B classics. Suggested listening: Rufus Thomas - Funky Chicken (Stax SCD-88036-2)

2000 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Stevie Ray Vaughan

A major contributor to the resurgence of interest in the blues in the 1980s, Stevie Ray Vaughan inspired a new generation of blues and rock guitarists to follow his lead. Drawing on a variety of blues, rock, soul and jazz influences, including Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, and an array of iconic blues guitarists from Chicago and Texas, Vaughan developed an identifiable sound, one that proved commercially viable outside the limits of the blues market -- his debut album, Texas Flood (its title track a cover of a 1958 Larry Davis' blues 45) - was the first of a series to hit the Billboard pop charts. Born in Dallas on Oct. 3, 1954, Vaughan was inspired by his older brother Jimmie, who carved his own niche as a Texas guitar hero. Honing his skills amidst fertile music scene of Austin, where visiting guitarists such as Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush provided inspiration on their visits to Antone's famous nightclub, Vaughan and his band Double Trouble (named after another 1958 blues single, this one by Otis Rush) impressed veteran producer John Hammond enough in 1982 to sign them to a contract with Epic Records. Vaughan's star rose quickly thereafter, as did his level of substance abuse, but he was going strong again after rehabilitation when he died in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin, following a concert on Aug. 27, 1990. The posthumously issued The Sky is Crying album was his most successful album on the Billboard Hot 200 charts, peaking at No. 10. His signature licks, and even his look, are still copied by a host of aspiring blues-rock guitarists who have come to be known as “Stevie Ray Wanna-Be's.” -- Jim O'Neal

Johnny Otis

There was probably no one who played a greater role -- or as many roles -- in catalyzing rhythm & blues on the West Coast than Johnny Otis. Bandleader, club owner, producer, writer, label owner, DJ, singer, drummer, and vibraphonist, Otis was responsible for recording such artists as Charles Brown, Little Esther Phillips, and Big Mama Thornton, and off and on beginning in the '40s led a revue that featured both big names and new discoveries, in comedy as well as music. Otis' best known vocal recording was the 1958 rock 'n' roll hit “Willie and the Hand Jive,” but he usually preferred to put other singers out front, and the majority of his hits featured Little Esther and/or Mel Walker during the Otis aggregation's peak of popularity in 1950-52. The Johnny Otis Show made a resurgence in the early '70s with vocalists such as Delmar Evans, Big Joe Turner and Cleanhead Vinson heading an all-star cast which included Otis' son Shuggie on guitar. In varying configurations the Otis crew periodically regrouped to tour and record in the midst of the leader's other pursuits, which grew to include hosting a TV show, writing books on race and music, painting, sculpting and publishing a book of artwork, teaching, and preaching at his own church. Otis was born John Veliotes, on Dec, 28, 1921, in Vallejo, California. Although Otis came from a Greek family, he chose to marry a black woman in 1941 and live as a member of the African American community. Traveling with African American bands on tours of the South during the years of segregation, producer Ralph Bass recalled that Otis “passed” as a light-skinned black man in order to avoid official harassment (or more dangerous consequences). Otis died on Jan. 17, 2013, at his home in Altadena, California, survived by his widow, Phyllis, and their children. -- Jim O'Neal

1999 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Roosevelt Sykes

In Pre-World War II Blues, Rosevelt Sykes was a prolific figure, waving his Urban Blues sensibilities with intricate chord patterns and bass figures. Born in Arkansas, Sykes moved to St. Louis with his family in the early 20's, soon becoming the city's top Blues attraction. Sykes recorded for many of the prominent Blues labels of his era including Victor, Decca and Bluebird often using a different pseudonyms such as 'Dobby Bragg,'' Willie Kelly,' 'Easy Papa Johnson.' Relocating to Chicago in the 40's, Sykes brought with him the powerful style of piano playing that made him a top level solo act and much-in-demand accompanist. -- (Blues Foundation press release, 1999.) As a credit to his popularity, Roosevelt Sykes was one of the few Blues artists who continued to record during the shellac rationing of World War II. Charm and style earned him the nickname 'The Honeydripper,' and Roosevelt turned around and gave his band the moniker while touring throughout the South before and after the war. One of the first American Bluesmen to tour Europe, Sykes was a constant figure on the road through the 1970's and 1980's. His legacy lives on in his music and the music of those he influenced from Fats Domino and Champion Jack Dupree to Professor Longhair and Ray Charles.

Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown

A true musician's musician, Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown has mastered the guitar, fiddle, drums, viola, harmonica, piano, mandolin and bass. Gatemouth's smooth blend of Texas style with Jazz, Country and Cajun music has altered the definition of the Blues. His versatility singles him out as an architect of modern Blues sounds. A protege' of T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth filled in for the legendary Texas guitarist on night in 1945 at a Houston club called The Bronze Peacock. The club owner Don Robey loved young Brown's performance, and he offered Gatemouth not only several shows at the club, but also a management deal. Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown's acceptance marked the beginning of this Blues career and soon after he became the first artist on Robey's new Peacock label. Gatemouth influenced a generation of Texas guitarists with favorites like 'Okie Dokie Stomp,' 'Mary is Fine' and 'Pale Dry Boogie.' In 1982 Gatemouth received his first Grammy® for the Rounder release Alright Again, but that failed to compare to the amazing eight W.C. Handy Blues Awards he has received over the years. -- (Blues Foundation press release, 1999.)

1998 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Luther Allison

Luther Allison broke onto the national blues scene as the hot young up-and-comer from Chicago in 1969, so highly touted that he even scored a contract with Motown in 1973 -- almost unheard-of for a bluesman in an era when funk and soul dominated black music. Allison had plenty of funk and soul in his blues, however, and added a heavier touch of rock guitar over the years. Born in Widener, Arkansas, on Aug. 17, 1939, Allison came up on Chicago's West and South sides, working as a sideman before forming his own band to back his B.B. King-influenced blues. Peoria, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin, were other bases for his career at different times. Allison made his recording debut on Delmark Records, worked the blues circuit for a few years, and made big news when he signed to record three albums for Motown's Gordy subsidiary. But predictions of crossover stardom failed to materialize. His career in the U.S. stalled, and he moved to France in 1984 to build on his already-substantial European blues-rock following. A decade later, he finally began to achieve some measure of the success he had long sought after he returned home and hit his stride with a series of albums for Alligator. With marketing and promotion behind him, his crowd-pleasing, high-energy live show and winsome personality made him a favorite with festival audiences, as well as a multiple Handy Award winner. Allison made his mark on the blues, but all too suddenly it was over: he was diagnosed with cancer in July of 1997 and passed away on August 12, at the age of 57. He left his legacy in capable hands, however, as his son Bernard Allison has continued to attack the blues with the same kind of spirit that drove his father. -- Jim O'Neal

Junior Wells

Amos Blackmore had barely shaken the dust of his native Memphis' streets from his pants cuffs when he began to make a name for himself in Chicago Blues. Soon after the pugnacious 12-year-old moved north with his mother, Blackmore could be found standing shoulder-to-hip with the great Little Walter blowing harp for tips on Maxwell Street. Four years later he was fronting his own band - the Three Deuces, with the brothers Dave and Louis Myers. And in 1953, at age 19, he made his first recordings as a leader, backed by Elmore James and the drummer Fred Below. His second session, 10 months later, featured Muddy Waters and Otis Spann. Thus began Blackmore's 49-year career as the irrepressible Junior Wells - a genius, a little giant of the Blues. A dynamic innovator who electrified juke joints and international concert halls with his flamboyant steps, funky arrangements, raw yet buttery vocals and his harmonica - the instrument Junior often called his 'Mississippi saxophone' and played like a Chicago Illinois Jacquet. It was the harmonica that put his star in ascendance. Schooled as he was by Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Junior Parker and Big Walter Horton, Wells was a natural for Walter's job in Muddy Waters' band when Walter quit in 1952. And it was there that he blossomed, smoothing his ghetto-hardened edges into a charming stage persona under Muddy's paternal tutelage. Wells once described himself as 'one set of lungs, one tongue and a whole lot of teeth - like a baby piranha.' Just how much bite he packed became apparent when he began recording a series of career-defining singles for the Chief and Profile labels in the late-1950s. They included such regional best-sellers as 'Little By Little' and 'Come On In This House,' and the number that would become his signature: 'Messin' With the Kid.' Like Junior, the song is a bundle of fiery attitude - bristling with energy and rhythm, a genial warning shot at a conniving lover. 'Messin' With the Kid' also foreshadowed where Junior was about to take the Blues. On Chicago's West Side, his contemporaries Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and Magic Sam Maghett were incorporating the emotional dynamism of Soul music into the Delta-bred sounds upon which they were raised. While in the South Side's watering holes, Junior began fusing old-school Blues with the funky beat of modern R&B. Together these men defined the sound of electric Blues' second generation. Although Wells was himself becoming a Pied Piper - a musical skyrocket disguised as a derby-wearing dandy whose incendiary performances proved irresistible to streetwise audiences - he was in turn lured by the sound of the then-emerging James Brown. Wells adopted the Georgia singer's trademarks like driving horns and unison playing for own his bands. He made his vocal phrasing hew closer to the beat. And he punctuated his wailing voice and harp with dazzling splits and spins. In 1958 Wells also began one of the Blues' most famous musical partnerships. He and guitarist Buddy Guy tag-teamed in the studio and on stages all over the world on-and-off for 30 years. They opened for the Rolling Stones in 1970 and later recorded with members of the group. But their best work together appeared on deep Blues albums for Delmark, Vanguard, Atlantic and other labels, recorded as a duo or under either of their names. Those include Junior's classics 'Southside Blues Jam' and 'Hoodoo Man Blues,' the first recordings that reproduced the spontaneity and feel of intimate, soulful Chicago club dates. Junior Wells continued to tour and record and make historic music nearly until his death on January 15, 1998. His final string of recordings for Tel Arc reflect the diversity of his Blues. On 1995's Everybody's Gettin' Some, famous guests Bonnie Raitt and Carlos Santana repaid him their debt of influence. The next year Junior made Come On In This House with a host of slide guitarists. The release won the W.C. Handy Blues Award for 'Traditional Blues Album of the Year' in 1997. In that album's abundance of songs featuring acoustic and National steel guitars and Junior's will-o'-the-wisp harmonica, he conjured up the spirits of the rural Blues man he'd heard during his Delta boyhood. Most recently Junior had taken to the road with a nine-piece band that embraced every aspect of his repertoire. With that group his made his last album, 1997's Live At Buddy Guy's Legends. Later that year he became too ill to perform. After a four-month battle with lymphoma, it claimed him at age 63. Remembering his friend of so many years, Buddy Guy recently observed that 'Junior and me are both from the old school. We were students of Muddy Waters and them. They handed the Blues to us. And we did our thing and have been trying to carry it on to the young people today.' Through his recordings, legendary performances and, now, his induction to the Blues Hall of Fame, Junior Wells will continue to bring his soulful music to future generations as well. -- (Blues Foundation press release, 1998.)

1997 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Brownie McGhee

Walter Brown 'Brownie' McGhee was born November 15, 1915 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Because family records of his birth were lost, he believed for years that he had been born in 1914. It was only when he went to apply for a passport that he found out otherwise. Brownie came by his music naturally. His father, George 'Duff' McGhee, played local corn shucking parties with Brownie's uncle John Evans. Around the house the family listened to recordings by the likes of Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson. His brother Granville was born in 1918. Shortly thereafter Brownie contracted polio which shortened his right leg and made it difficult to walk without the aid of a crutch or cane. As a youngster, Granville acquired the nickname 'Stick' because he used a stick to guide the small wagon Brownie often used to get around. Perhaps because of his inability to interact fully with neighborhood children, Brownie learned to play guitar and piano. Brownie spent his school years in Kingsport, Tennessee where the family had moved without his mother. Brownie began playing guitar, piano, and pump organ for the Solomon Temple Baptist Church. The frequency of his playing forced him to learn to use picks. He began using a thumb pick and finger picks for all of his guitar playing. When he was in the eighth grade he moved to Maryville, Tennessee. He and Stick began entertaining white people at the Smoky Mountain Hotel and at drinking parties on riverboats. Brownie played picnics, carnivals, medicine shows, and worked for a time in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He began playing all over the Piedmont area, thumbing rides up and down the highway, living the life of an itinerant Bluesman. He often slept in graveyards, feeling that others superstitions kept him safe. He moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where he could be found in 'Brownie's Alley,' which became a hot spot for area musicians looking for work. In 1937, he got rid of his canes and crutches following an operation on his leg sponsored by the March of Dimes. In 1938, Brownie went to New York to be in John Hammond's Carnegie Hall series. There he befriended such people as Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, and Big Bill Broonzy. That same year Blind Boy Fuller's washboard player, George 'Red' Washington, introduced Brownie and his harp player to J. B. Long. Long was a Durham, North Carolina department store owner who had been managing the career of Blind Boy Fuller and had close ties with the Okeh record company. Because Fuller's failing health prevented him from making a recording session, Long persuaded Okeh to give Brownie an audition. Brownie's first session was on August 6, 1940. The recordings went on for two days and yielded 12 sides. The first song was 'Picking my Tomatoes.' On these sessions Brownie played an inexpensive Gibson guitar sold under the Stewart brand. As Blind Boy Fuller's life and career drew to a close, Okeh made Brownie's recordings 'B' sides to Fuller's records. Following Fuller's death Long began promoting Brownie as Blind Boy Fuller #2. Though this was not an uncommon practice at the time, McGhee and his family resented it. It was at this juncture that Brownie began his longtime partnership with Fuller's harmonica player, Sonny Terry. Brownie learned the subtleties of the publishing business from Buddy Moss at a swap session later in Chicago. With the proceeds from his first recordings he bought the top of the line Gibson J-200. As his recordings became popular in the 40's Brownie became afraid that his audience might grow tired of him. He began to record under various pseudonyms for various labels. Around 1947, he cut 'My Fault' for the Savoy Company. The song was a hit and stayed on top of the Billboard charts for 12 weeks. In 1950, he married his wife, Ruth, with whom he had two daughters. To supplement his income as a recording artist he appeared in Langston Hughes' 'Simply Heaven,' and Elia Kazan's 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' The Folk boom of the 1960's exposed Brownie and Sonny to a brand new crowd of adoring young white people. They played college concerts and folk festivals and made a number of recordings up into the 70's. Brownie parted company with Sonny Terry in 1982. His last album was an effort with Robben Ford titled, The Facts of Life. In 1995, Brownie was featured as an actor and singer in the movie 'Angel Heart,' starring Robert De Niro and Mickey Rorke. Walter Brown 'Brownie' McGhee died in retirement in Oakland, California February 16, 1996. -- (Blues Foundation press release, 1997.)

Koko Taylor

Say you were inclined to pitch a 'Wang Dang Doodle' or 'Let The Good Times Roll.' What might be your preferred choices for musical accompaniment? Most likely somewhere in the mix would be the music of the premiere blueswoman of her generation, the Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor. She certainly has all the tools: a big, gravely voice; a ton of good tunes; a wardrobe of flashy dresses; and a stage personality so compelling, so riveting, that you can't help but watch and listen. Yet there's also the offstage Koko: sweet and humble, focused and directed, cheerful and energetic. The one who delights in 'making people happy all over the world with my music.' The glorious blueswoman we know as Koko Taylor was born simply Cora Walton, on September 28, 1935, on a sharecropper's cotton farm just outside Memphis, Tennessee, to Annie Mae and William Walton. She sang in the local Baptist church choir and, along with her three brothers and two sisters, played music on homemade instruments. Koko's instrument was her voice. The young woman heard deejays Rufus Thomas and B.B. King play blues on Memphis radio, including the artists she recalls as her strongest influences-Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey and Big Maybelle, along with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1953, Koko came to Chicago with her future husband, Robert 'Pops' Taylor. She remembers they 'rode to Chicago with 35 cents and a box of Ritz crackers.'* At home in the evenings, Pops played guitar and they would sing together. The couple went to clubs to hear music almost every weekend. Eventually, Koko started sitting in with the leading Chicago artists, including Muddy, Wolf, Elmore James and Magic Sam. Through a connection she met the man who would be her first music business mentor, Willie Dixon. After a couple unsuccessful efforts at other labels, Dixon started recording Koko for Chess. In 1965, they struck gold with 'Wang Dang Doodle,' which Dixon had recorded with Howlin' Wolf five years earlier. The million-seller blues standard became Chess' last Top Ten R&B hit. Koko had arrived on the scene as the popularity of blues was fading with the black audience, and soul was catching fire. Nevertheless, Koko's recording success led to regular work in Chicago, plus trips to black nightspots in the South. As the 1970s began, she started singing on Chicago's Northside at Wise Fools Pub with Bob Riedy's band, then added Kingston Mines, then Biddy Mulligan's, as these new clubs opened and her audience (and the blues') became increasingly more diverse. Powerfully dynamic and successful performances, including the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, led to national touring, and a connection with Bruce Iglauer, owner of the then-fledgling Alligator Records. 'My career didn't start until I got with Alligator,' she told Living Blues magazine.* 'There is only one Queen of the Blues,' Iglauer says. 'She is the blueswoman. I consider her music firmly in the tradition of the first generation of Chicago blues artists. She never wanted to sing anything but the blues, and she likes to leave the raw edges showing. In fact, she injects that rawness into all the music she sings.' 'Koko is as tough as they come, and very proudly a country person in the very best sense of what that means,' Iglauer adds. 'She is the essence of what a blues musician should be.' Once the albums started flowing out, the awards began flowing in: Fourteen W.C. Handy Awards. Fourteen! A Grammy Award for the Atlantic album 'Blues Explosion.' Multiple Grammy nominations for her Alligator albums. Koko is particularly proud of 'Koko Taylor Day,' declared March 3, 1993 by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Undaunted even by a 1988 van accident that left her with a broken shoulder, broken collarbone and four broken ribs, Koko keeps on, in her words, 'carrying the torch for the many great names that have passed on - Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Albert King, Albert Collins, Luther Allison - all over the world.' Unfortunately, the accident caused Pops to go into cardiac arrest. Koko feels he never got over it*, and he died about year later. Koko's first gig back after a six-month recuperation was on the main stage at the Chicago Blues Festival. Talk about guts and resilience! (Note: Koko married tavern owner Hays Harris in 1996. She says 'I'm still on my honeymoon, still smiling.') These qualities are things she continues to share with the world, though not just from the stage. In addition to creating exciting recordings and inspiring performances, Koko is now passing on the fruits of her nearly three and a half decades in the music business by mentoring a new generation of female blues performers. 'Young people is important to me,' Koko says, 'and it makes me proud to be a role model for young people coming up that wants to sing and play the blues. I'm reaching for the sky, but if I fall somewhere in the clouds, I'll still be happy. I'm gonna keep on doin' what I'm doin', and hanging in there for the best.' And singing her blues, no doubt. *Passages with an asterisk are from a Living Blues interview by Mary Katherine Aldin, published July/August 1993. Koko Taylor passed away June 3, 2009, less than a month after a strong performance of 'Wang Dang Doodle' at the 30th Blues Music Awards. -- (Blues Foundation press release.)

1996 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards

David "Honeyboy" Edwards defied the odds by only increasing his stature as a performer as he aged into his nineties with his skills and charms still intact. Both as a singer-guitarist and an oral history source, Edwards, was treasured as a living link to the Mississippi country blues of his old friends Robert Johnson, Tommy McClennan, and Big Joe Williams. Born June 28, 1915 (or 1914 according to some Social Security and census records), Edwards rambled and gambled his way through the Delta and beyond in his early years. He first recorded for the Library of Congress in Clarksdale in 1942 but only sporadically during the next two decades. Moving to Chicago in the 1950s, he continued playing in a style that resembled that of his mentor Big Joe Williams, the king of the rambling blues bards, in its idiosyncracies -- a trait that later served him well as a senior statesman of Delta blues, but one which rendered him a secondary figure for years on the more structured postwar Chicago blues band scene. As the original purveyors of Delta blues faded away, however, Honeyboy was well prepared to carry the tradition into the 21st century. Recording for and traveling with Michael Frank of Earwig Records, Edwards became a favorite at concerts and festivals around the world and may have played in more countries than any bluesman other than B.B. King. When ill health finally sidelined him at the age of 95 (or 96), Honeyboy's fire finally burned out on Aug. 29, 2011, in Chicago. He left a legacy not only of cherished music and memories but of a Blues Hall of Fame Classic of Blues Literature, his autobiography <i>The World Don't Owe Me Nothing.<i> -- Jim O'Neal

Charles Brown

Few singers have ever conveyed the troubles, heartache, and loneliness of the blues with a softer, more elegant touch than Charles Brown, one of the most popular and influential pioneers of postwar blues on the West Coast. Brown had sophistication and education (including a college degree in chemistry and classical training on the piano) and never had to shout or growl; his smooth, urbane approach struck such a chord with listeners that his Aladdin recordings of “Trouble Blues” (1949) and “Black Nights” (1951) spent 15 and 14 weeks, respectively, as No. 1 records on the Billboard R&B charts -- marks that still rank them among the most successful singles ever. Brown was born in Texas City, Texas, on Sept. 13, 1921, worked as a teacher and chemist before settling on a career in music after moving to Los Angeles. He first recorded as the vocalist and pianist with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, establishing himself with “Drifting Blues” (1946) and several other hits, including the first of the Christmas songs he would become widely known for, “Merry Christmas Baby” (1948). Brown came up with a second Yuletide standard, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” in 1960. Though he experienced some lean decades as an entertainer, he made his way as a gambler. Eventually he won a following among new blues audiences in the 1980s and '90s, recording several albums and earning awards and honors for his historic achievements. Brown, an acknowledged influence on Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland, and many more, died on Jan. 21, 1999, in Oakland, California. -- Jim O'Neal

1995 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Jimmy Rogers

Although never quite a stage-stopping headliner on a Chicago blues scene loaded with more aggressive personalities, Jimmy Rogers nonetheless played an integral role in the development of the city's electric postwar blues sound. A key member of the Muddy Waters band for years, Rogers also made memorable music on his own, especially during the 1950s with Chess Records. Especially adept at reworking other artists' songs into his own warm and satisfying treatments, Rogers made classics of 'That's All Right,' 'Ludella,' 'Chicago Bound,' 'Walking By Myself' and others. Rogers was born James A. Lane near Ruleville, Mississippi, on June 3, 1924. His music never lost its deep Delta flavor during the 50-odd years he lived in Chicago. Rogers scuffled after parting ways with Muddy and virtually vanished from the active scene during the 1960s, but returned to action and eventually claimed a respected position in the blues world. His final album was an all-star collaboration with rockers Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills and others paying their respects as guest participants. Rogers died in Chicago on Dec. 19, 1997. -- Jim O'Neal

1994 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Wynonie Harris

One of the most popular and powerful singers to contribute to the birth of 1940s rhythm & blues, Wynonie Harris achieved his greatest hits by rocking long and hard or by making his listeners laugh the same way. His two No. 1 hits were the Roy Brown-penned Good Rockin' Tonight and All She Wants to Do is Rock, while other chart records were often in a comic novelty vein. But his nickname was 'Mr. Blues,' and a blues powerhouse he was, as well as a humorist, showman, and 'a profane and raucous individual' in the words of his lifelong friend Preston Love. Many of his 1946-52 hits for Apollo and King Records were recorded with top-flight jazz accompanists. Harris recorded sporadically afterwards but never again enjoyed the glory or success he'd known as one of the kings of jump blues. Today he is most acknowledged for laying the groundwork for rock 'n' roll. Harris began his career as a dancer in Omaha, where he grew up. Omaha is cited as his birthplace in his bios (Aug. 24, 1915) but the 1920 census of the family in Omaha gives an Iowa birthplace and suggests an earlier birthdate (c. 1913). Harris died in Los Angeles on June 14, 1969. -- Jim O'Neal (Revised from O'Neal's entry in the first edition of The All Music Guide.)

Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup

After Elvis Presley recorded three of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup's songs in the 1950s, Crudup became known as “The Father of Rock 'n' Roll.” Crudup was recorded for RCA Victor or its Bluebird subsidiary from 1941 to 1954 and at one point was probably the country's most popular downhome-style bluesman in terms of record sales and jukebox play. Other artists from Elton John to Eric Clapton to B.B. King covered his songs, too. But Crudup was a classic victim of music industry exploitation, and despite the commercial success of his music, was never able to even support his family from his music. Yet those who knew Crudup say that, as an enterprising, self-made man and self-taught musician who had lived through poverty and oppression, he had learned not depend on, or even expect for, his songs to make money, and when the recording business finally got the best of him, he simply left it behind - only to return near the end of his life when the new “blues revival” audience clamored for his music. But he spent most of his musical career playing in juke joints with local musicians such as George Lee, brothers Odell and Clyde Lay, Robert Dees, his son Percy Lee Crudup, or with his legendary blues companions Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) in the Delta. He worked all sorts of jobs, from stacking lumber to picking cotton to selling bootleg liquor, and finally started his own business transporting migrant workers by truck or bus between Florida and Virginia after he left Forest in the mid-1950s. Although Crudup, who was born in Forest, Mississippi, on Aug. 24, 1905 (or 1909 according to his Social Security file), grew up singing spirituals, he did not start playing guitar until he was in his thirties, after his cousin, a string band musician named Malcolm Banks, gave him a guitar with two strings. Adding one string at a time, Crudup taught himself to play, and picked up pointers on the blues from George Lee, who was nicknamed “Tutor” for his renown as a music teacher. In 1941 Crudup took his guitar to Chicago and started playing on the streets for tips. Although he recalled that he had to sleep for three weeks in a pasteboard box under the elevated train tracks, Crudup soon got an offer from producer Lester Melrose to record for Bluebird. His unique sound, expressive voice, and memorable lyrics caught on with record buyers, and his discs not only sold well, but were reissued often, including special releases for the armed forces during World War II, and on the on the first batch of releases on a brand new 7-inch 45 rpm format that RCA introduced in 1949. His best known records included Rock Me Mama, Mean Old 'Frisco Blues, Dig Myself a Hole, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane, and the three that were covered by Presley: That's All Right, My Baby Left Me, and So Glad You're Mine. He recorded a few out-of-contract singles in the '50s under pseudonyms on labels such as Trumpet Checker. In later years, he cut albums for Fire, Delmark, and other labels, but remained a working man who never depended on music to survive. When interviewed not long before his death, he was running a juke joint in Virginia and picking peas and strawberries to make ends meet. His booking agent during his final years, Dick Waterman, wrote a poignant piece on the trip he and Crudup took to New York expecting to finally receive a check from his publisher for long past due royalties, only to have attorneys nix the payment at the last moment. After his death, his family was able to claim his copyrights. Crudup died on March 28, 1974, in Nassawadox, Virginia. Elvis Presley himself said in a 1956 interview: 'The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I'm doin' now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and juke joints and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goose it up. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I'd be a music man like nobody ever saw.' -- Jim O'Neal

1993 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Champion Jack Dupree

One of the blues world's most colorful characters, William Thomas' “Champion Jack' Dupree was both a first-rate entertainer and a top-quality artist, whether he took the role of merry mirthmaker, political commentator, or down-and-out denizen of the gutters of life. Born in New Orleans on July 23, 1909, according to official records (but July 4, 1910, by Dupree's account), Dupree came up under a crew of barrelhouse pianists in the Crescent City, later making stops in Indianapolis (where he ran a restaurant), Chicago, and New York. The nickname 'Champion Jack'  came from his career as a boxer. The first of a notable wave of top American blues pianists to emigrate to Europe, Dupree managed, perhaps better than any of the other expatriate bluesmen, to infuse his work on the continent (both live on and record) with a continuing sense of freshness and vitality. His recording career spanned 51 years, beginning with the 1940-41 sessions for OKeh that produced, among other classics, 'Junker Blues'  (later rewritten by Fats Domino as 'The Fat Man'). The depth of his 1958 Blues From the Gutter album on Atlantic earned it a Blues Hall of Fame entry as one of the Classics of Blues Recording. After recording in Europe since 1959, Dupree returned for triumphant U.S. tours in 1990-91, waxing his final sessions for Bullseye Blues. Dupree, who took pride in his talents as a cook and painter as well as in his music, died in Hanover, Germany, on Jan. 21, 1992. - Jim O'Neal (Revised from O'Neal's entry in the first edition of The All Music Guide.)

Lowell Fulson

One of the foremost figures in postwar blues over a period of several decades, Lowell Fulson possessed an impressive ability to adapt to or set his own trends in the blues. Born on a Choctaw Indian reservation in Atoka, Oklahoma, on March 31, 1921, Fulson learned in a variety of settings in his early years in Oklahoma and Texas, ranging from a large string band that played no blues to traveling with prewar blues star Texas Alexander. After World War II, Fulson relocated to Oakland, a city he had gotten to know while serving in the U.S. Navy. He recorded his first tracks for producer Bob Geddins, very much in a yearning Texas country blues vein, and moved to the fore of West Coast urban blues with hits such as 'Everyday I Have the Blues', 'Blue Shadows', and the original version of the Yuletide standard 'Lonesome Christmas'. 'Reconsider Baby'  from 1954 was his most enduring classic, but more were to follow with 'Black Nights' and 'Tramp', a song that can be considered a forerunner of funk, with a beat that has been sampled dozens of times by hip-hoppers. Fulson even joined the Muscle Shoals crew for a rock-flavored foray and continued to write and perform with the aplomb of a master into the 1990s. He died in Long Beach, California, on March 7, 1999. -- Jim O'Neal

1992 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Skip James

Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James possessed one of the most hauntingly distinctive styles in the blues, and, according to some who knew him, one of the most disturbed and complex personalities as well. His vocals, guitar work, and song constructions raise the blues to a level of high art and rare beauty, yet his subject matter and presentation were of such a heavy, cheerless nature that Mississippi bluesman Johnnie Temple, a contemporary of Skip's, told an interviewer that James' music was so sad that people would pay him not to perform. Listeners can be entranced and fascinated by Skip James' music, but they are not likely to find in it the entertainment value and uplifting power to soothe a troubled mind that is characteristic of other blues greats. James was born on June 9, 1902, on the Woodbine Plantation in Bentonia, Mississippi, and counted local guitarist Henry Stuckey as his greatest influence. Over the years several other Bentonia guitarists have played the same type of songs in a style similar to James', giving rise to controversial discussions about the existence of a “Bentonia school” of blues. Some historians dismiss the notion of a folk style based on local elements and assert that the other guitarists, such as Jack Owens, were simply following the lead of Skip James - or was it Henry Stuckey? The music is often eerie, somber, and played in a minor key, and the repertoire always includes a song or two about the devil and the trouble he has caused. Guitarist Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, owner of the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, is the current torch carrier of the tradition. The Holmes family remembers James playing piano on the front porch of the Blue Front, probably not long after it opened in 1948. James' percussive piano style was equally conventional, but completely different from his approach to guitar. James made a lasting mark - but one that brought him very little money due to poor sales during the Depression - at a historic session for Paramount Records in 1931. Devil Got My Woman, Cherry Ball Blues, 22-20 Blues, Hard Time Killing Floor Blues, and I'm So Glad were among his most influential works, inspiring covers or reworkings not only from prewar blues artists such as Robert Johnson, Joe McCoy, and Johnnie Temple but also in the rock era from Eric Clapton and Cream, who transformed I'm So Glad into a blues-rock anthem in 1966. After spending a lifetime working as a laborer, minister and off and on as a blues player or gospel singer, settling here and there around the South in between returns to Bentonia, James was enticed (on the strength of his 1931 recordings) to start performing again during the blues revival of the 1960s. He made some important appearances and added to his recorded legacy with several albums after relocating to Washington, D.C., and then to Philadelphia, where he spent his final days. He died on Oct. 3, 1969. During his lifetime, James achieved only limited fame, and no fortune, from his music, but his stature as one of the great blues artists in history only grows as the years go by. Jim O'Neal

Big Joe Williams

Even in a blues world populated by colorful and idiosyncratic characters, Big Joe Williams loomed as one of the most inimitable - and irascible. Born to ramble, he left his Crawford, Mississippi, home at age 12 or his early teens, worked across the South in levee camps, minstrel shows, and other settings, and spent most of his career traveling between Crawford, St. Louis, Mobile, Chicago, and Omaha, with hundreds of stops in between. Joe, who was born on October 16 in either 1899 or 1903, according to various documents and driver's licenses, never learned to read or write but no one knew better how to negotiate the highways of America, how to improvise a blues, or how to get a record deal (for himself or for any number of friends and relatives). Big Joe recorded a number of prewar blues classics for Bluebird and Columbia, including the much-covered Baby Please Don't Go and several follow-ups, and during the postwar years when the record industry bypassed most country bluesmen of his generation, Joe was still able to hustle recording opportunities. He had singles on Bullet, Trumpet and Vee-Jay and also did sessions for Specialty and Cobra that ended up on reissue albums decades later. Joe knew right where to go when the folk blues movement began in the late 1950s, and his propulsive rhythms, irregular timings, robust vocals, and unique nine-string guitar were featured on constantly reinvented body of work on albums for Delmark, Arhoolie, Testament, Prestige/Bluesville, Folkways, and other companies. Joe expanded his touring base to eventually include Europe, Japan, Canada, and Mexico. He died on December 17, 1982, in Macon, Mississippi. -- Jim O'Neal

Johnny Shines

Delta blues master Johnny Shines was known as 'Little Wolf'  in his younger days when he modeled his music after that of Howlin' Wolf, but he came to be primarily associated with his legendary cohort of the mid-1930s, Robert Johnson. Shines excelled not only in recreating Johnson's songs but also in writing his own. Although his style often evoked Mississippi, Shines never lived there. He was born in Frayser, Tennessee (now part of Memphis) on April 25, 1915, and spent his youth in Memphis and in Arkansas before moving to Chicago in the 1940s. During his years in Chicago he recorded career some of the most powerful Delta blues of the postwar era, although he started working on construction jobs when the music life failed to support him. With the welfare of his growing family in mind, Shines left the Chicago ghetto to live in Alabama in the 1960s. He continued to give excellent performances, on record and in concert, and paired with another Johnson protege, Robert Lockwood during the 1980s. A stroke hampered his guitar playing although he remained a magnificent vocalist and an astute, insightful conversationalist. Shines died in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Apr. 25, 1992. Peter Guralnick wrote in Shines' funeral program: 'What distinguished his music is what distinguished the man: a restless spirit of inquiry, a fierce sense of determination, a pride in himself, his family, and his people.'  -- Jim O'Neal

1991 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Sleepy John Estes

The songs of Sleepy John Estes constituted a poetic, personal and insightful body of work that both portrayed and transcended the everyday troubles, hardships, and meager pleasures of life in Brownsville, Tennessee. As Ray Harmon wrote in Rhythm & News, “ . . many have asked what it is that makes John's music so vital, so absolute in its sense of emptiness and desperation. His voice, filled to the brim by the lackluster existence of life in a poor farming community, informs all that hear it of the barely suppressed passion in his words. . . . John's music is that of an extraordinary man caught in a mundane world, but captivated by the very things that make this world mundane.” Estes, born Jan. 25, 1899, in Ripley, Tennessee, sang with conviction about his work, travels, friends, and townsfolk, as well as his loves, laments, hopes and desires. He began his recording career with the anthemic “Broken-Hearted, Ragged And Dirty Too” in 1929 for Victor Records. Subsequent sides included the classics “Diving Duck Blues”, “Drop Down Mama,” “Someday Baby” - known in other artists' variations as “Worried Life Blues” or “Trouble No More.” As Big Bill Broonzy wrote in Big Bill Blues (1955), “We called Sleepy John Estes' way of playing and singing the blues 'crying the blues', because he did really cry when he was singing work songs or some blues.” Broonzy also wrote that Estes was 87 years old then, and many thought him to be dead until Big Joe Williams and Memphis Slim spread the word that he was still in Brownsville. David Blumenthal filmed him there for a documentary and soon John was embarking on a new career, recording for Delmark in Chicago and traveling around the country and overseas, where he was greeted with stirring ovations from audiences who knew nothing of Brownsville but who knew a great blues poet when they heard one. Estes, nicknamed “Sleepy” because of his appearance and a condition that caused him to doze off, lost his sight in the 1940s, and made a song about that too (“Stone Blind”). Estes, who frequently partnered with Yank Rachell or Hammie Nixon, died in poverty on June 5, 1977, despite his international renown. His house in Brownsville was turned into a museum in 1998. -- Jim O'Neal

Billie Holiday

Although Billie Holiday is most widely hailed for her revolutionary role in jazz history, she is also indelibly associated with the blues - not so much in the musical structure of her material as in the moods and emotions she could convey with the remarkable inflections of her voice. And, despite her reported objections, her 1956 biography was entitled Lady Sings the Blues (as was the 1972 movie based on her life). While it has generally been reported that she was born Eleanora Fagan in Baltimore on April 7, 1915, her birth certificate lists her as Elinore Harris, born in Philadelphia. (See for a thorough dissection of the conflicting details reported about Holiday's life and family.) A tragic figure in the end, Holiday embodied both the joys and sorrows of her songs. 'The blues to me',  Holiday told Time magazine in 1957, 'are like being very sad, very sick - and again, like going to church and being very happy.'  Her eloquent vocals could be sweet and endearing, sensual and alluring, or desolate and forlorn. Her improvisations, working around the melody, introduced a new and influential approach to singing, and her prominence helped elevate the role of vocalists in jazz . Most of Holiday's songs were love songs; 'Fine and Mellow' was perhaps her best known blues, and she made a lasting mark with the controversial flip side of that 1939 release, 'Strange Fruit', a harrowing image of Southern lynchings that a New York songwriter brought to her at Cafe' Society. Her own classic composition 'God Bless The Child' was another of the 39 songs entered in Pop Memories 1890-1954, all from 1935 to 1945, that, by compiler Joel Whitburn's criteria, would have made the equivalent of Billboard's pop charts had such charts been published then. Holiday's struggle with drugs was well publicized in the 1950s, and after her death in a New York hospital on July 17, 1959, the Associated Press reported: 'Billie Holiday, child of sordidness and slums, who rose through the smoky night clubs of Harlem to fame as a magnificent singer of the blues, died Friday on a low, sad note. Liquor and dope and high living ruined her body and stole the vibrance from her tremendous voice.' Jim O'Neal

Fred McDowell

McDowell, a seminal figure in Mississippi hill country blues, was one of the most vibrant performers of the 1960s blues revival. McDowell was a sharecropper and local entertainer in 1959 when he made his first recordings at his home on a farm near Como, Mississippi, for folklorist Alan Lomax. The depth and originality of McDowell's music brought him such worldwide acclaim that he was able to record and tour prolifically during his final years. “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, as he was usually billed, was actually born and raised in Rossville, Tennessee. He never knew his birth date; Jan. 12, 1904 is often cited, although census and Social Security documents point to 1906 or 1907. His music blended the sounds he heard from local guitarists in Tennessee with the pulsating juke joint grooves of the North Mississippi hills and the hard-edged blues he picked up during several years spent in the Delta. Spirituals were an important part of his repertoire, and one, “You Got to Move,” recorded by McDowell in 1965, gained widespread fame when the Rolling Stones recorded it on their 1971 album Sticky Fingers. McDowell honed his skills under the tutelage of longtime friend and neighbor Eli Green, who was said to possess magical powers. Green's song “Write Me a Few Lines” became a McDowell signature piece and was later recorded by one of McDowell's biggest admirers, Bonnie Raitt. McDowell was also so well known for the rhythmic tour-de-force “Shake 'Em On Down” that he earned the nickname “Shake 'Em.” His music laid the groundwork for generations of hill country musicians to come, most notably R. L. Burnside, who started out by playing McDowell's guitar at a house party. Alan Lomax described McDowell as “a bluesman quite the equal of Son House and Muddy Waters, but, musically speaking, their granddaddy.” The albums that McDowell waxed during his belated recording career (1959 to 1971) proved that some of the greatest country blues music had gone undiscovered by the record companies that scoured the South for talent in the 1920s and '30s. McDowell found himself in demand at folk and blues clubs and festivals, yet kept a job pumping gas at the Stuckey's candy store and service station on Interstate 55 during his final years, even when he was at last able to support himself as a musician. Stuckey's became his social hangout and his office, where he would receive phone calls from booking agents and record producers. In earlier years, McDowell was employed by the Hotel Peabody in Memphis when he applied for a Social Security card in 1940. Fifty-one years later the Peabody was the site of McDowell's posthumous induction into the Blues Hall of Fame. McDowell died at Baptist Hospital in Memphis on July 3, 1972. (Adapted from Mississippi Blues Trail marker text by Jim O'Neal.) -- Jim O'Neal

Sunnyland Slim

Albert Luandrew, better known as Sunnyland Slim, became a legendary figure in Chicago blues history long before he died, and he lived to be inducted in to the Hall of Fame and garner a National Heritage Fellowship, but he never really became a widely popular recording star like his compatriots Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, and Buddy Guy. Sunnyland never had a hit on the Billboard charts despite a prolific recording career that spanned almost 50 years. He toured far and wide and had his loyal fans, but the size of his audiences, or of his paychecks, didn't compare with those of many big-name blues artists. He never sought a more lucrative overseas residency the way his piano-playing friends Memphis Slim, Eddie Boyd, and Willie Mabon did in Europe. The fact was that he never quit playing the small local blues clubs of Chicago as long as his health would allow, even when he was well into his eighties. Sunnyland seemed so at home in the Chicago clubs -- black or white, South Side or North Side, sometimes West Side -- and so much a constant presence on the local blues scene -- that it's hard to imagine him having spent his musical career doing anything else. If he wasn't a rich man, neither was he one who pleaded poverty. He made plenty of money over the years operating on the local circuit, truth be told, and only a portion of it from playing music. Long ago, even before his Chicago days, he'd learned to hustle, to deal, to connect with the right people, whether he found himself a job driving for the sheriff or running a gambling and good-time house. He'd picked cotton in Mississippi (where he was born near Vance on Sept. 5, 1906 or 1907) and fruit in Michigan, cooked meals for road gangs, and run his own storefront business in Chicago. He used to sell customers homebrewed whiskey, cut their hair, and take the rest of their money with crooked dice. Payoffs to Chicago's finest were once part of the regimen. So, according to other musicians' tales, were hot-tempered scuffles with band members and threats to record producers. But in later years he'd toned down his wild side. He remained a musical hustler, hauling a battered portable electric piano around to bars and hawking self-produced 45s and LPs on his own Airway label pressed by the Mexicans who ran the closest manufacturing plant. He was, in short, a successful bluesman on his own terms, and more than that, a benevolent godfather who measured his success not in terms of hit records but by how many musicians he'd helped along the way. His generosity extended not to just the ones who went on to fame like Muddy, whom he'd taken to Chess (then Aristocrat) Records, but also to any number of newcomers who might need some guidance, advice, or a place to stay, not to mention the lady friends whose voices he paid to put on wax. It was this Sunnyland Slim -- benefactor, mentor, patriarch -- that his latter-day audiences came to know and love. To them he was a genial gentleman of the piano, cracking jokes between Woody Woodpecker laughs and incomprehensible ramblings, surrounded by adoring, respectful young musicians and listeners. Sunnyland (the name taken from a song he wrote about a train called the Sunnyland) died in Chicago on March 17, 1995. (Text adapted from Delmark Records liner notes by Jim O'Neal.) -- Jim O'Neal

1990 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Lonnie Johnson

Every time a guitarist in blues, jazz, or rock plays a solo today, he carries on the legacy of one of the first virtuosos of the instrument, Lonnie Johnson. The predominant style of modern blues guitar playing, derived from the single-string technique of B.B. King, is a continuation of a concept that Lonnie Johnson first put on wax the year B.B. was born (1925). In an era when guitar was not widely considered a serious instrument, Johnson was the man who brought it respect. Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson was born into a musical family in Louisiana -- probably New Orleans, although some documents cite Port Allen, near Baton Rouge. Various birthdates from 1889 to 1909 have been listed, with Feb. 18, 1899 often considered an accurate date, but Dean Alger, who is working on a Johnson biography, believes 1894 to be correct. In 1918, an influenza epidemic claimed the lives of the entire Johnson family except for brothers Lonnie and James (multi-instrumentalist James "Steady Roll" Johnson). Both brothers left the city to begin anew elsewhere. They ended up in St. Louis, a hotbed of blues and jazz activity. Lonnie rose to the top of the blues world on the strength of his prolific output for OKeh Records and his appearances on the TOBA (Theater Owners Booking Association, also known to the performers as "Tough On Black Asses") circuit. His OKeh work also included accompaniments with Victoria Spivey, Clara Smith, Texas Alexander, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, along with some outstanding instrumental duets with white guitarist Eddie Lang. By that time Lonnie had elevated the guitar to a role of prominence in the blues and jazz. Johnson was acknowledged as a major influence by the fathers of electric blues guitar (T-Bone Walker) and electric jazz guitar (Charlie Christian). Robert Johnson idolized Lonnie so much that not only did he re-record some of Lonnie's musical themes, he even told people that he was Lonnie's brother. Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, B.B. King, Freddie King and Albert King all greatly admired Lonnie's guitar. In Texas and Oklahoma, Lightnin' Hopkins, Lil' Son Jackson and Lowell Fulson took cues from Lonnie's work; rock 'n' roller Buddy Holly apparently also was a Johnson devotee. The list goes on . . . some sources include Django Reinhardt, Teddy Bunn and Eddie Durham among the jazzmen inspired by him. No other guitar player of the seminal era of blues and jazz had such an impact either upon blues guitarists or jazz guitarists. A gifted singer and songwriter as well, Johnson could craft the kind of sexual double entendre material that appealed to the black record-buying audience, and also composed and sang some of the deepest, most introspective and sensitive blues songs ever recorded -- songs that never became hits but which set uncompromising artistic standards. Johnson would have some major hits such as <i>Jelly Roll Baker</i> (for Bluebird in 1942) and <i>Tomorrow Night</i>, a ballad he did for King Records in 1947, and among other musicians he was always a seminal hero, but despite his successes and his reputation, he often found it impossible to make a living playing music. Lonnie's career, like his music, was bittersweet: bold and triumphant at times, utterly sad at others. Public tastes in blues shifted from Lonnie's own aesthetic, especially during the postwar rhythm & blues years and the folk-blues revival period. His graceful, eloquent, melancholy blues, sung and picked with clarity and ingenuity, were undeniably works of art. But to audiences who wanted to rock or to boogie, Johnson's blues offered none of the upbeat relief that could be found in the repertoires of other blues singers. Lonnie Johnson could swing on the guitar, but swing music became passe and Johnson unfortunately never capitalized on his early stature in the jazz world (exemplified by his recordings as guest soloist with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong) -- he did little to further explore such jazz connections in later years. Johnson also loved ballads, which some of his blues and folk audiences disdained. In the '60s, folk-blues audiences sought out rough-voiced Delta bluesmen with aggressive guitar rhythms or smooth fingerpicking guitarists who sang with pleasant buoyancy. But Lonnie Johnson wasn't Son House or Mississippi John Hurt or even Brownie McGhee; what Lonnie played and sang just didn't fit with what the new audiences looked for in the blues. It wasn't so much a matter of talent as it was taste. He spent his last few years in Toronto, performing as long as he was able. Lonnie Johnson died there on June 16, 1970, leaving a legacy that the world may never fully appreciate. But as Brownie McGhee put it: "His musical works may and should be the first book of the blues Bible." -- Jim O'Neal

Blind Blake

One of the biggest 'guitar stars' of the first generation of blues recording artists was Blind Blake, whose facile, fingerpicked rags and blues set the standard for guitarists who played in the genre later geographically designated as Seaboard blues, East Coast blues, or Piedmont blues. Biographical details on Blake have been hard to come by; he probably moved to Chicago from Florida, but only in 2011 did researchers unearth a death certificate that revealed that he was born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1896. He reportedly played around the Southeastern states, in Ohio, and in Chicago, where he began his recording career with Paramount Records in 1926. At a time when guitar was still a novelty on blues records, still ranked behind the piano, Paramount advertised its new six-string sensation in the Chicago Defender: 'Early Morning Blues' is the first record of this new exclusive Paramount artist, Blind Blake. Blake, who hails from Jacksonville, Florida, is known up and down the coast as a wizard at picking his piano-sounding guitar. His 'talking guitar' they call it, and when you hear him sing and play you'll know why Blind Blake is going to be one of the most talked about Blues artists in music. Blake recorded prolifically for Paramount until 1932, often singing alone with his guitar but also in combination with other blues and jazz artists, performing with such dexterity and precision that guitar aficionados have speculated that Blake must have been an experienced ensemble player. Blake's affiliation with the Wisconsin-based label probably explains how he ended up in Milwaukee, where he died on Dec. 1, 1934. His blindness did not deter him from gambling and carousing, according to Paramount producer J. Mayo Williams. Blake's name, as he gave it himself on one recording, was Arthur Blake (verified by a number of song credits and copyrights, as well as the Chicago Defender and the death certificate), but it was also thought to be Arthur Phelps, the name under which his entry appears in Blues Who's Who. Many of Blake's finest recordings, including 'Diddie Wa Diddie' 'Police Dog Blues' 'Southern Rag' and 'Rope Stretching Blues' were collected on the Yazoo album Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Fingerpicker, and on reissues on Biograph, Document, and other labels. -- Jim O'Neal

Bukka White

Booker T. Washington White was one of the most powerful, imaginative and original country blues artists both in the pre-World War II era and during the folk blues revival of the 1960s. In between, he made his own contribution to postwar blues by helping his young cousin B.B. King get started in Memphis. White was born on a farm near Houston, Mississippi. Several dates have been given, including Nov. 12, 1906, and 1909, but White entered March 9, 1904, when he applied for a Social Security card in 1940. His guttural growl, piledriving rhythms, and facile slide technique earned him recording dates in Memphis in 1930 (under the name Washington White) and in Chicago in 1937 (as Bukka - pronounced book-a, a colloquial version of Booker - White). His next recording opportunity came when folklorist John Lomax showed up to collect songs for the Library of Congress in 1939 at Parchman Penitentiary, where White was serving time at for a shooting. In 1940, after his release, White returned to Chicago to record some of his most memorable songs, including “Parchman Farm Blues,” “District Attorney Blues,” and “When Can I Change My Clothes,” which were based on his trial and incarceration. Another 1940 recording, “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” provided a clue to whereabouts in 1963 when guitarist and researcher John Fahey sent a postcard to “Bukka White, Old Blues Singer, in care of General Delivery, Aberdeen, Miss.” Remarkably, the card was forwarded to White, who was living in Memphis. He was soon recording again and delivering energetic, robust performances that indicated he had lost none of his skills or his drive, and some critics viewed him as strongest performer among the older bluesmen whose careers were revived in the '60s. Among his later recordings were two albums of “sky songs” that displayed his improvisatory abilities; as White explained, “I just reach up and pull them out of the sky - call them sky songs - they just come to me.” He died in Memphis on February 26, 1977.

1989 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Clifton Chenier

Clifton Chenier's propulsive bi-lingual blend of rhythm & blues and traditional Creole music set the standard for all who followed the zydeco trail he blazed. His renown was such that not only was he hailed as the undisputed “King of Zydeco,” he was such a force on his home turf in Louisiana and Texas that he was also billed as the “King of the South.” Releases on Specialty and Argo, some of them hard driving accordion boogies, brought him national attention in the 1950s and during one of his 1957 tours Billboard reported him to be “King of the R&R Accordion.” Undoubtedly his bluesy accordion work, so unlike what most audiences were used to, gave him novelty appeal to new audiences at the time, but his strongest base remained among the French-speaking black and Creole population back home. (Chenier was born in Opelousas, Louisiana, on June 25, 1925, but spent much of his career in Houston.) A long and productive association with Arhoolie Records beginning in 1964 served as a springboard to send him far and wide as he and his aptly named Red Hot Louisiana Band introduced zydeco to international audiences at blues clubs and festivals; in addition to selling his albums worldwide, Arhoolie also released a steady stream of 45s to service jukeboxes in South Louisiana and East Texas, where Chenier continued to rule the roost at zydeco dances. Of all the blues artists who recorded as prolifically as Chenier did, very few managed to retain such a high level of artistic quality throughout - one who comes to mind was his cousin by marriage, Lightnin' Hopkins (who had recommended Clifton to Arhoolie). Chenier's family legacy extended to his brother Cleveland, several cousins, and a son, C.J., who carried the tradition on in fine fashion after Clifton died in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Dec. 12, 1987. While many wondered who would inherit Clifton's crown, and title was unofficially bestowed on Rockin' Dopsie and later on Buckwheat Zydeco, Buckwheat himself asserted, more than 20 years after Chenier's death, that there was and would be only one “King of Zydeco”-Clifton Chenier. -- Jim O'Neal

Robert Jr. Lockwood

Though he traveled side by side with some of the most notorious personalities in the blues, including Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), and Little Walter, “Robert Jr.” never fit the wild image of the rambling bluesman. He regarded himself as a serious, progressive musician who conducted himself with dignity and professionalism. Often as irascible as he was authoritative, Lockwood demanded respect and competence from those he worked with, and in turn he bestowed songs, arrangements, advice, and music lessons upon both aspiring blues musicians and established artists, from the 1940s on up. Lockwood, who was born in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, on March 27, 1915, was often called the “stepson” of Robert Johnson - his mother was Johnson's girlfriend, and Johnson inspired him to take up guitar. Lockwood carried the Johnson legacy in grand fashion but proved that he could cross musical boundaries and master whatever styles he chose. His impact on the blues began to be felt in 1941, the year he cut his first records, including “Take a Little Walk With Me,” in Chicago for Bluebird. Though now regarded as classics, the records weren't big hits at the time, and Lockwood came to prominence through another medium that year: live radio broadcasting back in Helena, Arkansas, when he joined Sonny Boy Williamson on “King Biscuit Time.” In the documentary “Blues Story,” B.B. King recalled listening to the show: “And to hear Robert Jr. . . . ooh, I just started to fantasizin', dreamin', if I could just play a little bit like him.” Eventually the lure of Chicago and the steady work offered him there drew him back, and though he rarely recorded as a singer, he contributed guitar work to dozens of records by Sonny Boy, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, St. Louis Jimmy, Eddie Boyd, Little Brother Montgomery, Otis Spann, Willie Cobbs, Freddie King, Roosevelt Sykes, Harold Burrage, The Moonglows, and others from 1949 to 1961. After taking a trip to Cleveland with Sonny Boy, he opted to stay, and soon took up a quiet family life, working a day job while keeping up his chops playing at local taverns and lounges. Delmark Records enticed Lockwood back into the studio in 1970 to record his first album, “Steady Rollin' Man,” and Lockwood subsequently reclaimed a place of honor for himself, out front with his own band, recording and touring around the world. Numerous awards and tributes, including a night in his honor at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, flowed his way in his final years. Lockwood died in Cleveland on Nov. 21, 2006. -- Jim O'Neal

Memphis Slim

One of the most prolific of all blues recording artists, Memphis Slim was never away from the studio for too long after he cut his first records in 1940 for OKeh. Although a sophisticated vocalist with a suave approach, Slim seldom strayed from his deep blues roots when it came to piano playing. Born John L. Chatman (and known also as Peter Chatman) in Memphis on Sept. 3, 1915, Slim left home to ply his trade as a pianist and moved to Chicago in the late 1930s. He recorded in various solo, band, and small combo settings, and when he teamed with Matt “Guitar” Murphy he led one of the prfeeminent blues bands of the 1950s. Among his most notable recordings were “Nobody Loves Me” (an influential version of “Every Day I Have the Blues”), “Mother Earth,” and “The Comeback.” He began touring abroad in 1960 as a duo with Willie Dixon. In 1962 he moved to Paris and became the most successful of the transplanted American bluesmen in Europe, enjoying a long residency at Les Trois Mailletz in Paris and recording album after album on the continent. Proud of his triumphs, Slim drove a Rolls Royce and insisted on the finest quality alcohol and tobacco products for his enjoyment. On return trips to Memphis, he was hailed as a celebrity, and the U.S. Senate even passed resolutions on Dec. 15, 1977, to recognize Memphis as “the home of the blues” and Memphis Slim as “ambassador at large of good will for the United States.” After Slim died in Paris on Feb. 24, 1988, his body was shipped home for burial in Memphis. -- Jim O'Neal

1988 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter burst on the national scene with a barrage of guitar pyrotechnics during a period when blues was super-hip to the rock 'n' roll crowd and staked his claim to fame with his first album for Columbia, Johnny Winter, a 1969 showcase of his high-energy reworkings of blues classics. Rolling Stone had provided the advance hype in a December 1968 article heralding "a 130-pound cross-eyed albino bluesman with long fleecy hair playing some of the gutsiest blues guitar you have ever heard.' Winter grew up in blues territory (Leland, Mississippi, where his father had once served as mayor) but began his blues/rock journey as a teenager with his brother Edgar in Beaumont, Texas. (The Winter family was living in Mississippi when his mother became pregnant; she chose to go to her hometown of Beaumont for Johnny's birth on Feb. 23, 1944, and then returned to Leland. A few years later the family resettled in Beaumont.) Johnny Winter became the first of sixteen Winter albums to hit Billboard's Top 200 charts. While his next albums were more rock-oriented, Winter later refocused his energies on blues by producing a series of albums by his idol, Muddy Waters, recording Sonny Terry for his own Mad Albino imprint, and signing with Chicago's Alligator Records for three chart albums in the 1980s. In between dealing with health problems, both drug-related and hereditary, Winter managed to keep his career going and continued to return to the blues for inspiration into the 21st century. His biography, Raisin' Cain: The Wild And Raucous Story of Johnny Winter, was published in 2010. Winter was the first non-African American performer elected to the Blues Hall of Fame. . -- Jim O'Neal

Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt was one of the heroes of the 1960s folk-blues revival and a much-loved 'patriarch hippie' in the words of his former booking agent Dick Waterman. Hurt's gentle, finger-picked blues -- so unlike the harsher brand of blues usually associated with Mississippi artists -- startled and inspired a new generation of listeners and guitarists in 1963, yet his playing had remained virtually unchanged since he first recorded in 1928. In the 35-year interim Hurt had continued to perform, although not as a touring professional - he was a favorite entertainer around Avalon and Grenada for house parties and social affairs, among both blacks and whites. But he made his living doing farm work; to some locals he was known as “Mr. John the Hoe Filer.” Hurt's repertoire included not only blues of his own making like the now-familiar “Candy Man,” but also songs adapted from various folk traditions that predated the blues, as well as religious material; for a man known for such a sweet countenance, he seemed to have an unusual fondness for murder ballads. Although age took its toll on most of the older country bluesmen and songsters whose careers were rejuvenated late in life, Hurt was still in his performing prime in his seventies, and his 1963-66 recordings are prized just as are the 1928 originals. Hurt spent his revival career living and performing mostly on the East Coast, but returned to Mississippi not long before he died in Grenada on Nov. 11, 1966. His age remains uncertain because he was born in the tiny community of Teoc, Mississippi, without a birth certificate, and various sources have cited at least eight different birth dates from 1892 to 1900. But according to his grandniece Mary Frances Hurt-Wright, who started a museum and festival in honor in Avalon, the Hurt family bible gives the date as July 3, 1893. Jim O'Neal (Revised and expanded from an O'Neal entry in the All Music Guide.)

Little Milton

Little Milton Campbell remained a top name in the soul and blues field for more than four decades after scoring his first national hit in 1962. Milton was an influential bluesman even by the 1950s when his St. Louis recordings for the Bobbin label, including “Lonely Man” and “Same Old Blues,” contributed to the repertoires of Chicago bluesmen Otis Rush and Magic Sam. Milton also had the distinction of signing with the most storied record companies in blues and R&B history, beginning with Sun in Memphis and continuing through Bobbin, Chess/Checker in Chicago, Stax in Memphis, T.K.'s Glades subsidiary in Miami, and Malaco in Jackson, Mississippi. According to family sources, Milton was born Sept. 7, 1933 (not 1934 as stated in previous bios) on a plantation near Inverness, Mississippi. After Greenville bluesman Eddie Cusic gave Milton his juke joint training in the Delta, Milton had his own radio program as well as a contract with Sun, thanks to his friend Ike Turner. The raw electric blues sound of his Sun recordings gave way to more polished productions as the years passed, and Milton hit the top of the R&B charts with a soul anthem, “We're Gonna Make It,” in 1965 with Checker. Dozens more hits followed, including “If Walls Could Talk,” “That's What Love Will Make You Do,” and the song that became a staple of countless blues bands, “The Blues Is Alright.” Milton, who was quick to state that he was a businessman first and an entertainer second, maintained a following among African American audiences throughout his career with his professional showmanship, a repertoire calculated to please fans of his soulful vocals on one hand and his sharp blues guitar on the other, and his constant acknowledgments of thanks to those who attended his shows - “Without you there would be no stars.” Milton achieved some crossover success, but not as much as he would have liked; he never achieved his dream of becoming a major Las Vegas headliner but he did, during his final years, take up residence there. Always aware of his primary market, however, he kept an apartment in Memphis to stay close to the Southern circuit that always supported him. More milestones lay ahead, but Milton's career ended with a stroke that led to his unexpected demise in Memphis on Aug. 4, 2005. -- Jim O'Neal

Jay McShann

Comfortably situated right at the juncture of blues and jazz, both stylistically and geographically (in Kansas City), Jay McShann carved out a distinguished career as a master of both idioms. Coming out of the swing and jump band scene of K.C., the McShann orchestra also gave bop a boost by providing a spotlight for a young Charlie Parker, while scoring on the blues side by featuring vocalist Walter Brown on the 1941 classic “Confessin' the Blues.” McShann and his brother Pete accompanied Jimmy Witherspoon on “Ain't Nobody's Business,” a Supreme Records release that stayed on the Billboard charts for an astounding 34 weeks in 1949, and in 1955 the McShann band hit the top of the R&B charts with Priscilla Bowman handling the saucy vocals on “Hands Off” for Vee-Jay. Though known for his leadership and piano artistry, McShann himself could sing, too, as proven on the many albums he recorded later in his career, some of them solo outings, most with trios or small combos. McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on Jan. 12, 1916, and was so taken with Bessie Smith's recording of “Back-Water Blues” that he sang it at a talent show as a youngster. The wide open Kansas City scene of the 1930s provided boundless opportunities for musicians to interact, and McShann built his band and his reputation there before he, like the other city's other major bandleaders before him, decided to head for the brighter lights of the bigger entertainment centers - in McShann's case, Los Angeles. In the 1950s he returned to Kansas City and lived there and in Hutchinson, Kansas, in subsequent years. He died a respected elder statesman of jazz and blues on Dec. 7, 2006. -- Jim O'Neal

1987 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Percy Mayfield

Percy Mayfield was a popular recording artist in the early 1950s when he had a No. 1 R&B hit with “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” but after a disfiguring injury in an auto accident in 1952 he performed less often and focused his attention on the talent that brought him even greater acclaim - songwriting. Always insightful, his songs could be meditative, pensive, inspirational, or psychologically probing, dealing with the complexities of the human mind and human relationships. Mayfield was one of the two songwriters variously honored as the “poet laureate of the blues” -- the other was Willie Dixon, whose works had an entirely different tone from Mayfield's. Born in Linden, Louisiana, on Aug. 12, 1920, Mayfield spent most of his career in Los Angeles. He rose to fame when he began recording for Specialty in 1950 and had occasional hits thereafter, including “River's Invitation” in 1963 for Ray Charles' Tangerine label. Mayfield also signed a contract to write songs for Charles, resulting in the No. 1 hit “Hit the Road Jack” and dozens of others. His songs were often recorded by other blues and R&B singers, particularly B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Johnny Adams, and the timeless quality of his work extended across stylistic borders to inspire versions by country, pop, rock, and jazz artists as well. Mayfield had started to attract some attention as a performer again when he died in Los Angeles on Aug. 11, 1984. -- Jim O'Neal

Sonny Terry

Often cited as the greatest and certainly most famous of the acoustic blues harmonica players, Terry was also famed for the exuberant whoops and hollers he worked into his blues numbers, fox chase imitations, and folk songs. Born Saunders Terrell in Greensboro, N.C., on Oct. 24, 1911, the blind harp virtuoso first recorded with Piedmont blues star Blind Boy Fuller in 1937, and did much of his best work with longtime partner Brownie McGhee, whom he met in 1939. Terry also recorded with other accompanists including Woody Guthrie, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Johnny Winter in settings ranging from pure folk to rocking electric blues; he took his blues into such varied settings as the Carnegie Hall Spirituals to Swing concert, Broadway theater (notably a long-running role in “Finian's Rainbow”), commercial television, and even classical music - his first 78 rpm release for Columbia, recorded in 1938, was released in the label's classical series. Like Brownie, he went through an early '50s blues band period in the New York studios, followed by extensive albums in the folk-blues vein and numerous tours together before the pair stopped speaking to one another and finally went their separate ways a few years before Terry's death on March 11, 1986, in Mineola, N.Y. (Revised from an entry in the All Music Guide.) -- Jim O'Neal

Eddie Taylor

When you're talking about the patented Jimmy Reed laconic shuffle sound, you're talking about Eddie Taylor,' wrote blues critic Bill Dahl in All Music Guide. 'Taylor was the glue that kept Reed's lowdown grooves from falling into serious disrepair. His rock-steady rhythm guitar powered the great majority of Reed's Vee-Jay sides during the 1950s and early 60s, and he even found time to wax a few classic sides of his own for Vee-Jay during the mid-50s. 'Eddie Taylor was as versatile a blues guitarist as anyone could ever hope to encounter. His style was deeply rooted in Delta tradition, but he could snap off a modern funk-tinged groove just as convincingly as a straight shuffle. Taylor viewed Delta immortals Robert Johnson and Charley Patton as a lad, taking up the guitar himself in 1936 and teaching the basics of the instrument to his childhood pal Reed. After a stop in Memphis, he hit Chicago in 1949, falling in with harpist Snooky Pryor, guitarist Floyd Jones and--you guessed it--his old homey Reed. 'From Jimmy Reed's second Vee-Jay date in 1953 on, Eddie Taylor was right there to help Reed through the rough spots. Taylor's own Vee-Jay debut came in 1955 with the immortal 'Bad Boy' (Reed returning the favor on harp) . Taylor's second Vee-Jay single coupled two more classics, 'Ride 'em on Down' and 'Big Town Playboy' and his last two platters for the firm, 'You'll Always Have a Home' and 'I'm Gonna Love You' were similarly inspired. But Taylor's records didn't sell in the quantities that Reed's did, so he was largely relegated to the role of sideman (he recorded behind John Lee Hooker, John Brim, Elmore James, Snooky Pryor, and many more during the 50s) until his 1972 set for Advent, 'I Feel So Bad' made it abundantly clear that this quiet, unassuming guitarist didn't have to play second fiddle to anyone. When he died in 1985, he left a void on the Chicago circuit that remains apparent even now. They just don't make 'em like Eddie Taylor anymore.' Eddie Taylor also is recorded on P-vine in Japan and Wolf Records in Austria. His wife Vera, a fine, gritty blues singer, died in 1999 just after the recording of her own album on Wolf Records. Taylor's sons are among the leading players in the true tradition of postwar blues in Chicago today: Larry on drums and vocals and Eddie Jr. on guitar and vocals; and Tim on drums, who has often played with sax man Eddie Shaw. (1987 Blues Foundation press release.)(Not by J.O.)

1986 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Tommy Johnson

Although Tommy Johnson left behind only a small body of recorded work, he was one of the most influential blues artists in Mississippi. Born in Hinds County, Mississippi, between Terry and Crystal Springs, in January 1896 (according to the 1900 census), Johnson performed with his brothers LeDell, Clarence, and Mager, and with Charlie McCoy other leading bluesmen in the Jackson area. Some formative years spent around Drew in the Delta left a strong impression on Johnson, especially via the music of Charley Patton. Perhaps because he was in Jackson, where talent scout H.C. Speir was signing most of Mississippi's first generation of blues recording artists, Johnson beat Patton to the studio and etched his reputation and impact permanently into the history books. The six songs from Johnson's three 1928 singles for Victor (“Cool Drink of Water,” “Big Road Blues,” “Maggie Campbell Blues,” “Bye Bye Blues,” “Big Fat Mama Blues,” and “Canned Heat Blues”) were kept alive by a legion of Johnson followers long after Johnson's recording career ended prematurely in 1929. How well the records actually sold is a matter for consideration - they are extremely rare among collectors - and according to the testimony of many of Johnson's proteges, they learned the songs and Johnson's signature falsetto vocals and hypnotic guitar phrasings not from records but from hearing Johnson in person. Why he never recorded again is another puzzle - reportedly he believed he had “sold out” his rights, but his well-known propensity for consuming intoxicants of any sort -- alcohol, “canned heat” (Sterno), or “jake” (Jamaican ginger extract, the subject of his final recording, “Alcohol and Jake Blues”) -- undoubtedly took its toll. The fabled scenario of the Mississippi bluesman selling his soul to the devil (universally associated with Robert Johnson) actually came from a story about Tommy told by his older brother LeDell to folklorist David Evans. Johnson still continued to perform on the streets and at house parties and local gatherings around Crystal Springs and Jackson. He died in Jackson on Nov. 1, 1956.

Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter)

The legacy of Huddie William Ledbetter looms large in the course of American folk music, thanks to the unparalleled repository of songs he was able to record and to several classics he contributed to the genre. Ledbetter's records appeared under his nickname, Leadbelly, the spelling of which has been noted as Lead Belly by the Lead Belly Society in accordance with the way Ledbetter himself signed his name. Born in Mooringsport, Lousiana, on Jan. 20, 1888, Ledbetter learned a number of instruments but specialized in the 12-string guitar. He spent time with Blind Lemon Jefferson as a youngster and might have had a more blues-focused career had he been able to continue to play the streets, dances, and red light districts of Shreveport and Dallas, but a violent lifestyle landed him in prison on more than one occasion, and while he serving time for murder in the Angola, Louisiana, prison, folklorist John Lomax showed up in search of songs for the Library of Congress. In 1933 Lead Belly, who had absorbed a huge repertoire of songs in his travels and in prison, recorded the first of hundreds that John and his son Alan Lomax would collect from him over the years - work songs, childrens' music, spirituals, folk ballads, pop, cajun, and cowboy songs, as well as the blues that often captured his deepest emotions. After his release from prison Lead Belly went to work for John Lomax in Texas and later moved to New York, where he became a celebrity on the emerging folk music scene. His versions of “Midnight Special,” “Cottonfields,” “Rock Island Line,” and “Irene Goodnight” inspired folk, pop, and rock performers for generations to come, while his life experiences provided plenty of material for such blues gems as “Fannin Street” and the scathing indictment “The Bourgeois Blues.” Ledbetter died in New York in Dec. 6, 1949. -- Jim O'Neal

Albert Collins

The hottest of a bevy of guitarists to emerge from a veritable hotbed of blues guitar in Houston, Texas, Albert Collins was also the “coolest.” His searing, stinging guitar attack came to be marketed with icy images after the release of his first single, “The Freeze,” in 1958, was followed by “Defrost,” “Frosty,” “Thaw-Out,” and “Sno-Cone.” Born in Leona, Texas, on Oct. 1, 1932, Collins spent his adolescent years in Houiston's Third Ward, which was home at times to Johnny Copeland, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Lightnin' Hopkins, and many others. Three albums for the Imperial label, recorded at the instigation of Canned Heat's Bob Hite, raised Collins' profile in the late 1960s when he was based in Los Angeles, but he hit full stride with a series of acclaimed albums for Alligator Records beginning in 1978. He began touring and recording with the Icebreakers, a unit of top Chicago blues sidemen that later expanded to include future stars Debbie Davies and Coco Montoya, and rose to the upper echelons of the blues world. Always a powerful, explosive instrumentalist, Collins (the “Master of the Telecaster”) also developed a more effective vocal style while at Alligator. But it was his good-humored showmanship that he is probably best remembered for. His specialty was strolling the audience and wandering outside with a 150-foot cord, still wailing away on his Telecaster while the Icebreakers never missed a beat. As Peter Watrous wrote in the New York Times: “His shows were often wild rides, intense performances that burst with his almost endless imagination. He was a master of the ecstatic moment, . . .” Collins died in Las Vegas on Nov, 24, 1993. -- Jim O'Neal

1985 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Buddy Guy

George 'Buddy' Guy was a guitar hero and an inspiration to blues and rock guitarists alike long before he finally achieved success in the pop market with his 1991 album 'Damn Right I've Got the Blues.' Known for his supercharged and unpredictable live performances, Guy had seen only one of his previous records hit the charts, and that was a 45 ('Stone Crazy') for the R&B market in 1962. Guy, born in Lettsworth, Louisiana, on July 30, 1936, cut his teeth on the Baton Rouge area blues scene and came up under the influence of B.B. King and the flamboyant Guitar Slim. He created a sensation soon after he arrived in Chicago in 1957. Guy recorded under the direction of Willie Dixon for Artistic and Chess and began to cross over to blues-rock audiences in the late 1960s, often teaming with longtime cohort Junior Wells. His reputation as both a singer and guitarist was assured among aficionados and musicians, but it seemed as though he might never break through to a more lucrative level. Guy's stature in rock circles, enhanced by his ability to parlay his relationships with rock guitar icons to his benefit, set the stage for his major-label breakthrough. Perhaps not so coincidentally, it came on the heels of the death of one of his big admirers, Stevie Ray Vaughan. A new wave of blues-rock guitar fans turned to Guy, who further cemented the link by touring and recording with Vaughan's band, Double Trouble. In Chicago, Guy maintained a strong presence on the club scene, first with his association with the Checkerboard Lounge and then with his own venue, Buddy Guy's Legends, now rated as one of the country's top blues clubs. -- Jim O'Neal

Slim Harpo

Of the many legendary “swamp blues” artists to emerge from the bayou country of south Louisiana, none was more distinctive than Slim Harpo, who was also by far the most popular and influential outside the area. Born James Moore on Jan. 11, 1924, in Lobdell, Louisiana, he was known as Harmonica Slim before he made his first recording, the classic “I'm a King Bee,” for Excello Records in 1957. The swamp pop ballad “Rainin' in My Heart” was his first national R&B hit, and the funky harmonica workout “Scratch My Back,” was even bigger (No. 1 in 1966), and became a number all blues harp players needed to know. Slim ran a trucking business in Baton Rouge but started to tour beyond the South, and had appeared in New York and Los Angeles prior to making arrangements for a European tour with fellow Excello bluesman Lightnin' Slim. Slim Harpo's music was already well known in England, having been covered by the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Kinks; Mick Jagger once said, “What's the point of listening to us do 'I'm a King Bee' when you can hear Slim Harpo do it?” But transatlantic audiences never had a chance to see him. He died of a heart attack in Baton Rouge on Jan. 31, 1970. -- Jim O'Neal

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry's greatest fame came as a rock 'n' pioneer, but his blues roots go deep. Born October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Berry combined blues, country, and boogie woogie with a lyrical flair keenly attuned to the heartbeat and habits of teenage America in the 1950s. Berry acknowledged T-Bone Walker as a major influence on his guitar style, as well as Louis Jordan's guitarist Carl Hogan, whose 1946 riff on Jordan's Ain't That Just Like a Woman was made famous by Berry in the intro to Johnny B. Goode. Berry was sent to a reformatory in Jefferson City, Missouri, after getting arrested during a joy ride to Kansas City in 1944, and while doing his time he also picked up some pointers from a Kansas City guitarist, Sam Alexander (referred to in Berry's biography only as Po' Sam). Berry played in the blues clubs of East St. Louis in the early '50s, trying out not only the blues of Muddy Waters on his black audiences, but also some country. On a trip to Chicago in 1955, he looked up Muddy, who suggested he approach Chess Records about recording, and the result was Maybellene (a rocked-up version of an on old country song, Ida Red). The flip side, which made some noise on the R&B charts, was a straight blues, Wee Wee Hours - one of many Berry would record over the years, including Confessin' the Blues, Merry Christmas Baby, Worried Life Blues, Dust My Broom, Don't You Lie to Me, Driftin' Blues, The Things I Used to Do, and St. Louis Blues. Sidemen on the Chess sessions included such blues notables as Willie Dixon, Lafayette Leake, Fred Below, Hubert Sumlin, Odie Payne, and Matt Murphy - and even Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield on one session - in addition to the St. Louis pianist who helped shape the Berry sound, Johnnie Johnson. -- Jim O'Neal

J.B. Hutto

Joseph Benjamin Hutto's potent slide guitar and blustering roar made him a favorite with national and international boogie-blues audiences after he broke out of Chicago's South Side ghetto. Hutto started as a gospel singer in Augusta, Georgia, which he claimed as his birthplace in early interviews. But when he applied for a passport to tour overseas, a different birth site was determined - Elko, South Carolina (Aug. 29, 1926). Hutto's blues career began in Chicago, where he cut his first records for the Chance label in 1954 and later became a fixture at Turner's Lounge. His appearance on the historic “Chicago/The Blues/Today!” series on Vanguard and albums for Testament and Delmark brought his music to new listeners, and the East Coast in particular was so receptive that Hutto moved to Boston for a while. When Hound Dog Taylor died, Hutto was the natural heir to the houserocking phenomenon and even toured with Taylor's HouseRockers, Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey. Hutto's music was in turn carried on in uncanny fashion by his nephew, Lil' Ed Williams. Hutto died in Harvey, Illinois, on June 12, 1983. Jim O'Neal

1984 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Otis Rush

Perhaps the most driven, impassioned, and creatively gifted of the young singers and guitarists who became known for the West Side style of Chicago blues in the 1950s and '60s was Otis Rush. The records he made while still in his early twenties for the Cobra label, such as I Can't Quit You Baby, Double Trouble, and All Your Love (I Miss Loving), still stand the test of time as classics of the electric blues genre. His influence has been acknowledged by Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Carlos Santana, who have all performed onstage with him Rush grew up in such dire poverty in Mississippi that few listeners realized the depth of the lyrics to Double Trouble when he sang, “It's hard to for me to find decent clothes to wear.” Born near the rural community of Neshoba on April 29, 1935 (or 1934 according to most biographies), Rush married young, sharecropped his own fields, and discovered a new path in life when his sister took him to a Muddy Waters performance in Chicago. Rush, a self-taught guitarist who played left-handed with the guitar upside down, began performing in the Chicago clubs and soon caught the attention of Willie Dixon, who took him to Cobra and then to the Chess and Duke labels. I Can't Quit You Baby, his first single, hit the national rhythm & blues Top Ten in 1956, but it was the only Rush record ever to do so. In light of Rush's talent and the reputation his band held as the best in town at one time, his discography is disappointingly sparse. The frustrations of what he viewed as bad deals, suspicious offers, and mismanagement meant that studio sessions became few and far between, and many of the albums on the market now are live performances. Excellent though some of them are, they leave the listener wondering what more Rush had in him that he never let out. His last studio album, Any Place I'm Going, did, however, earn him his only Grammy. Hopefully, there is more to come from Otis Rush, but he is now in physical therapy following a stroke in 2004. -- Jim O'Neal Otis Rush was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984. He passed away in September of 2018.

Wille Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton

“Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton is in my opinion the greatest female blues singer of this and any other decade,” renowned producer Chris Strachwitz proclaimed in the liner notes to the 1965 Arhoolie album Big Mama Thornton In Europe. Thornton, a big, brawny belter who sometimes played drums or harmonica and sang in a husky, masculine-sounding voice, was unique among blues queens. Stories described her as intimidating, but she had no power over a music business she considered unfair. Although her warmth was known to friends, others only saw her become an angry, emaciated woman who took to drink and died of cirrhosis of the liver. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, on Dec. 11, 1926, Thornton took to the road as a teenager and ended up in Houston, where she made her first recordings with Don Robey's Peacock label. Her 1953 Peacock single “Hound Dog” was her only record to hit the R&B charts, but it went to No. 1. After Elvis Presley made an even bigger hit of it in 1956, Thornton reaped little benefit: royalties went to songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller but not to her. Her act made her a popular attraction on rhythm & blues revues with Johnny Otis and others, but major fame eluded her. Her association with Arhoolie brought her new acclaim, and one of her 1968 recordings, “Ball and Chain,” became a rock classic for Janis Joplin. She continued to tour and record as her health deteriorated, and she was found dead at her Los Angeles apartment on July 25, 1984. -- Jim O'Neal

Hound Dog Taylor

“Have some fun!” Those were Hound Dog Taylor's favorite words to his audiences, and in the history of the blues, few performers have so engagingly used the blues to further the cause of having fun as much as Hound Dog did. Had he never recorded at all, he would still be remembered in Chicago for the house-rocking good-time atmosphere he created wherever he played. People in the South and West Side bars and taverns who had been seeing him for years would still watch and laugh in amazement every time he took the bandstand, crowding the bandstand to get a closer look as Hound Dog, seated in a chair and stomping his feet, would sometimes be unable to finish a verse without breaking into laughter himself, invariably sending the drinkers and dancers home happy. Hound Dog's act was so infectious that a young neophyte in the blues business named Bruce Iglauer decided that Hound Dog was marketable far beyond the bounds of the black Chicago ghettos. Taylor became the first artist on Iglauer's new Alligator label in 1971 and set the tone for the company's “Genuine Houserocking Music” philosophy. Hound Dog only lived for another four years, but during that short time he made a huge impact on audiences around the world with his albums and his live performances. Taylor's specialty was slide guitar - primarily in an uptempo boogie mode to keep his audiences dancing, but he also excelled at slow, intense slide numbers that plumbed the depths of the blues. Hound Dog (real name Theodore Roosevelt Taylor) was born April 12, 1917, in Natchez, Mississippi-or so he usually claimed in interviews in the 1970s; an earlier account cites April 14, 1916, in Greenville, and on his Social Security application Taylor supplied the name of a nonexistent Mississippi town: “Lounder.” In some interviews Hound Dog would acknowledge Elmore James as an influence, but he might also claim that Elmore also learned from him. Taylor arrived in Chicago in the early 1940s but didn't start performing regularly until 1957. After recording his first Alligator LP in 1971, he and his HouseRockers, Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey, toured widely, delighting new fans at primarily white nightclubs, college, and festivals. Despite his good-time reputation, he was a deep bluesman as well, as Bruce Iglauer recalled: “He was in direct touch with both the joy and the pain of life, and he knew you couldn't ever entirely forget either one. His most raucous boogie and his most melancholy blues were the reverse sides of the same coin.” Taylor died on December 17, 1975. He was not a virtuoso, nor a master technician. But the few things he could play, he could play like no one else could. He told writer Bob Neff the way he would like to be remembered: “He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good.” -- Jim O'Neal

1983 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Albert King

Albert King, often billed as “King of the Blues Guitar,” was arguably at one time the world's most widely imitated blues guitarist, although his self-taught left-handed method of playing with his axe turned upside down was a technique only a few of his followers (notably Otis Rush) would use. King's licks reverberated through the work of contemporary blues bands across the country as well as in the music of British and American rock guitar idols including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. King, also a much-admired blues vocalist, was an icon among white blues-rock audiences - a phenomenon well-documented on his classic Live Wire-Blues Power album from the Fillmore West -- yet maintained a following among black blues and soul listeners as well. Documentation of his earliest years is vague, and King-whose surname at birth may have been Nelson, Blevins, or Gilmore-only added to the confusion in the 1960s by claiming B.B. King as his brother (a relationship denied by B.B.), naming his guitar “Lucy” after B.B.'s “Lucille,” and further citing B.B.'s hometown of Indianola as his own. However, on his Social Security application in 1942, his birthplace was entered as “Aboden, Miss.,” likely based on his pronunciation of Aberdeen. King, who gave his birth date as April 25, 1923, was raised primarily in Arkansas, where he began performing, and later resided in Gary, Indiana, and Lovejoy, Illinois, a town near East St. Louis that provided the title of one of his popular albums for Stax Records in the 1970s. King, also a key figure in Memphis, where he often performed and record, died there on Dec. 21, 1992. -- Jim O'Neal

Big Joe Turner

Big Joe Turner, the quintessential shouter of the blues, crossed many boundaries with his spirited, free-swinging vocal excursions. He was a king of the jump blues genre, a boogie woogie belter, progenitor of rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll, and a respected performer in jazz circles. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 18, 1911, Joseph Vernon Turner got his start as a singing bartender, teaming with his longtime piano-pounding partner, Pete Johnson. The pair bounded to prominence during the nation's boogie woogie craze with 'Roll 'Em Pete' and other uptempo stomps and burning blues. Turner's prolific recording career began in 1938 and peaked during the 1950s with a string of hits on Atlantic including 'Shake, Rattle and Roll,' 'Honey Hush,' and 'Flip, Flop and Fly,' as well as a historic album collaboration with some of the top names in jazz, Boss of the Blues. Known for his ability to improvise phrase after phrase, Turner continued to engage blues, jazz, and oldies audiences with his infectious performances. Many music historians agree with Turner's assertion that the rock 'n' roll he and others sang during the '50s was basically the same music that he and Pete Johnson were doing back in K.C. decades earlier. The 'Boss of the Blues' died in Ingleside, California, on Nov. 24, 1985. -- Jim O'Neal

Robert Nighthawk

Slide guitar master Robert Nighthawk was one of the first bluesmen to achieve regional stardom in the Delta through radio broadcasting. Following on the heels of Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time radio show, Nighthawk went on the air during World War II on the same station, KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Helena was where Nighthawk born and died, but in between he ranged far and wide, living in Mississippi, Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, Florida, the southern Illinois town of Cairo, and other stopping points. He seemed to have as many wives and girlfriends (many of whom sang or played drums in his band) as he had addresses, and he had several different names as well. His real name was Robert Lee McCollum, born in November 30, 1909 -- in Helena, he always said, although recent census research has placed the McCollum family in the nearby town of Searcy in both 1900 and 1910. His first records in 1937 appeared under the name Robert Lee McCoy on the Bluebird label, and on subsequent releases he was billed as Rambling Bob, Peetie's Boy (a reference Peetie Wheatstraw), the Nighthawks, and, finally, by the early '50s, Robert Nighthawk. The record that most musicians remember him by was the 1949 single by the Nighthawks on Aristocrat Records that paired Annie Lee Blues and Black Angel Blues (Sweet Black Angel). Both were electrified versions of songs Nighthawk heard from one of his major influences, Tampa Red, and Nighthawk's recordings, in turn, influenced up-and-coming musicians such as Elmore James, B.B. King, and Earl Hooker. Muddy Waters was a close friend and admirer as well - Nighthawk had played at Muddy's first wedding in Mississippi in 1932. Nighthawk's intermittent stays in Chicago resulted in more excellent sides on Aristocrat, Chess, and United, and a classic album, Live on Maxwell Street 1964. Nighthawk made his way back to Helena and Dundee, Mississippi, where his son, drummer Sam Carr, had been carrying on his legacy with the Nighthawks band (Frank Frost and Big Jack Johnson, later renamed the Jelly Roll Kings). Nighthawk took over King Biscuit Time for a while and though he was struggling with what he believed to be the effects of poisoned whiskey, he managed to do a final recording session with his mentor, guitarist Houston Stackhouse. He died on November 5, 1967. -- Jim O'Neal

Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan was the most popular African American entertainer of his day, when his comic blues, jump and novelty routines not only put his records atop the charts but also entertained movie audiences in a series of short films called “soundies.” His 18 No. 1 hits on the race and R&B charts spent a total of 113 weeks in the top slot, almost twice as many weeks as any other artist in the history of rhythm & blues, according to Joel Whitburn's Billboard books. Jordan was born in Brinkley, Arkansas, on July 8, 1908, and after learning clarinet and saxophone from his father he played sax in some traveling bands around Arkansas before heading to New York, where he began his recording career with the Decca label. From 1942 to 1951 he had 57 hits on the national charts, including many that influenced the likes of B.B. King, James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles, including “Caldonia,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” and “Blue Light Boogie.” Known as “King of the Juke Boxes,” he has since been variously saluted as the father of jump blues, rhythm & blues, and rock 'n' roll as well a forefather of rap for the rapid-fire rhyming patterns he executed. After his string of hits ran out, Jordan continued to perform and record but never again enjoyed the stature he did in the 1940s when his every exploit was newsworthy in the African American press. Jordan died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on Feb. 4, 1975. -- Jim O'Neal

Ma Rainey

Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey not only deserved the title she earned as 'Mother of the Blues', she also claimed to have named the music the blues. She recalled first hearing it sung by a young girl in Missouri while Ma was performing at a tent show in 1902. Biographies usually cite her birthplace as Columbus, Georgia (April 26, 1886), but a 1900 census entry from Uchee, Alabama, located by researcher Bob Eagle gives her birthplace as Alabama and the date as September 1882, leading to speculation that her upbringing was much more rural than previously thought. Her recordings presented her as a tougher, more gutsy singer than most of the city-bred blues queens who ruled the blues world in the early days, closer in some ways to the country blues artists. But she performed for years before she truly evolved into the blues singer who teamed with husband Will 'Pa' Rainey to form TThe Assassinators of the Blues.'  Articles from the African-American press in the pre-blues era advertised her, in fact, as a 'coon shouter' - a typical term of the time. But she was indeed 'assassinating' the blues with a passion by the time she launched her recording career with Paramount Records in 1923. Recordings such as the original See See Rider, Bo-Weavil Blues, Moonshine Blues, and Stack O'Lee Blues. 'Ma'  was renowned both for her flamboyant stage show and for her uninhibited lifestyle: she was a woman who sang both Lawd Send Me a Man Blues and Prove It On Me Blues (with its classic line 'Went out last night with a crowd of my friends/They must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men' ) She made her final recordings in 1928, and her career faded in the 1930s along with those of the other blues 'comediennes' of the vaudeville theater era. She finally bade farewell to the road and began operating theaters of her own in Columbus, where she died on Dec. 22, 1939. Her former home in Columbus, the Ma Rainey House, opened as a museum in 2007. -- Jim O'Neal

1982 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Big Walter Horton

Big Walter Horton was widely regarded as one of the most brilliant and creative musicians ever to play the harmonica. Born near Horn Lake, Mississippi, on April 6, 1921 (the date officially confirmed by Mississippi's Vital Records office), Horton quit school in the first grade and made his way doing odd jobs and playing harmonica with members of the Memphis Jug Band and other local veterans such as Jack Kelly, Little Buddy Doyle, and Garfield Akers, as well as younger friends including guitarists Johnny Shines, Floyd Jones, and Honeyboy Edwards. Horton and his companions performed in Church Park, W. C. Handy Park, in hotel lobbies, and anywhere else they could earn tips. Horton began recording for legendary Memphis producer Sam Phillips in 1951. Some of his records appeared under the name of “Mumbles,” and some later discs were credited to “Shakey” Horton – both nicknames (and others he was tagged with as a youngster, including “Tangle Eye” and “Shakey Head”) referred to his physical mannerisms. (Horton was diagnosed with nystagmus, a condition related to eye movement that can result in involuntary head shaking.) Although he often had difficulties in coping with personal and professional business affairs, none of his peers doubted his innate genius on the harmonica or his knowledge of music. Horton joined the Muddy Waters band in Chicago in 1953. Chicago’s foremost blues producer/songwriter, Willie Dixon, who called Horton “the greatest harmonica player in the world,” began recording him for labels including States, Cobra, and Argo, and hired him to play harmonica on sessions by Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, and others. Horton also toured and recorded with Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars, and played on the Fleetwood Mac album “Blues Jam in Chicago.” Full albums of his work appeared on several labels, including Alligator, Chess, and Blind Pig. Horton, more comfortable as a sideman than as a singer or bandleader, only sporadically worked with his own group, and despite his professional stature, he continued his lifelong tradition of playing the streets for tips, often appearing at Chicago’s Maxwell Street market. He toured internationally, but in Chicago most of his work was in small clubs, often with longtime friends such as Floyd Jones, Honeyboy Edwards, Eddie Taylor, and Sunnyland Slim. Horton’s playing – sometimes powerful and dramatic, other times delicate and sensitive -- left an influence on harmonica masters Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), on younger musicians such as Carey Bell, Charlie Musselwhite, and Billy Branch, and on the generations to follow. His technique and tone continue to be studied and emulated by harmonica players around the world. His shy, gentle nature, often hidden beneath a gruff or glum exterior, endeared him to many. The uplifting beauty of Horton’s music contrasted with the sorrows and tragedies of his personal life. He was found dead in a neighbor’s apartment in Chicago on December 8, 1981. Jim O’Neal (Bio adapted from Mississippi Blues Trail marker text.)

Freddie (Freddy) King

Freddie King was one of the most successful instrumentalists in the blues, able to turn a seemingly endless string of themes into crafty guitar hooks with dance beats in keeping with the times during the 1960s and subsequently emerging as an electric guitar hero to the burgeoning blues-rock generation both in America and in England. An effective and emotional vocalist as well, especially on slow blues, King actually had more hit singles as a singer than he did with his instrumentals. Born Fred Christion in Gilmer, Texas, on Sept. 3, 1934, he took his mother's surname as his stage moniker and spelled his name both Freddie and Freddy at different points in his career (verified by autographs signed both ways). The vital Chicago blues scene of the 1950s was his training ground, as King absorbed the music of Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and others, including Hound Dog Taylor (who provided the inspiration for King's instrumental smash “Hide Away”). Especially during his tenure with King/Federal Records in the early '60s, King was at the forefront of the modern Chicago blues movement along with fellow guitar aces Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush. In 1963 King moved back to Texas, where he would become an idol among rock audiences, especially when he was working with Leon Russell's Shelter label. His star was continuing to shine ever more brightly when he was hospitalized with a sudden illness and died on Dec. 28, 1976, in Dallas. -- Jim O'Neal

Magic Sam

Magic Sam (Samuel Maghett) was at the forefront of the new electric blues movement in Chicago that is often called the West Side style, because many of the artists often performed or recorded on the West Side, although some lived on the South Side. A vibrant and dynamic performer and an exceptional singer and guitarist, Sam was poised to take his career to a new national level when his life was cut short by a heart attack at the age of 32. Born on Feb, 14, 1937, in a rural community east of Grenada, Mississippi, that now lies submerged beneath Grenada Lake, Sam, unlike most of his blues contemporaries, was raised in a community where fiddle music, hoedowns and square dances held sway over the blues among the African American population. Samuel Maghett carried these musical influences with him to Chicago in 1950. Blues guitarist Syl Johnson, who later became a nationally known soul singer, recalled that Sam was playing “a hillbilly style” at the time, and Johnson began teaching him blues and boogies. Also influenced by the boogie of John Lee Hooker, Sam developed a house-rocking blues style unparalleled in its rhythmic drive; it may well have had roots in the dance tempos of the reels and breakdowns he learned in Grenada, and he even recorded a “Square Dance Rock” in Chicago. Sam was better known, however, for the heartfelt vocals and stinging guitar work of his 1957-58 blues recordings produced by Willie Dixon for the Cobra label on the West Side such as “All Your Love” and “Easy Baby.” After performing under several stage names, he had settled on “Magic” Sam-to rhyme with his surname. The youthful energy and spirit of Sam, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Freddie King modernized Chicago blues into an explosive, electrifying new medium in the late 1950s and early '60s. Sam remained a popular nightclub act during the 1960s and his star was on the rise after recording two acclaimed albums for Delmark Records and turning in legendary festival performances in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in Europe, but he died of a heart attack on December 1, 1969. His music has continued to influence generations of blues, R&B, and rock musicians. -- Jim O'Neal

Ray Charles

No other artist has starred across such a range of genres as Ray Charles, whose records hit the No. 1 position at various times on Billboard's pop, R&B, jazz, and country charts. But blues was one his primary roots, along with gospel, and from the two he created soul music. As he said in a Rolling Stone interview, 'Maybe I put together two things that hadn't been put together before, but, hell, give credit to the church singers and the bluesmen who I got it from. I got enough credit. Let people know that it didn't come from me. It came from before me. . . . But they didn't get no money for it, and I did.' Ray Charles Robinson, who dropped the Robinson early in his career to avoid confusion with boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson, was born in Albany, Georgia, on Sept. 23, 1930, and raised in Florida, where he started playing piano. He picked the distant port of Seattle - as far from the sunshine state as he could get - to pursue his career in 1948, and by the next year he had his first hit with this group, the Maxin Trio, with “Confession Blues.” Under the sway of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown in his early years, Charles came into his own during a stint with Atlantic Records where his secular adaptations of gospel songs (such as “I've Got a Woman,” with its music taken straight from a gospel record he had just heard, “It Must Be Jesus” by the Southern Tones) broke barriers and brought him both fame among rock 'n' roll and R&B fans and criticism among the religious community. Charles recorded many blues during his career, including the Atlantic album “The Genius Sings the Blues” and a number of hits written by heralded blues composer Percy Mayfield. Earlier in his career he played piano for Lowell Fulson, then one of the country's top blues acts, and also played on Guitar Slim's blues smash “The Things I That I Used to Do.” After receiving almost every conceivable award the music industry could offer, including induction into the Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, Ray Charles died in Beverly Hills on June 10, 2004. -- Jim O'Neal

Leroy Carr

The term urban blues is usually applied to post-World War II blues band music, but one of the forefathers of the genre in its pre-electric format was singer-pianist Leroy Carr (born March 27, 1905, in Nashville, Tennessee). Teamed with the exemplary guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis, Carr became one of the top blues stars of his day, and most of the most influential of all time, although he lived only until the age of 30. Carr composed and recorded almost 200 sides during a seven-year recording career, including such classics as How Long, How Long, Prison Bound Blues, When the Sun Goes Down, and Blues Before Sunrise. His blues was expressive and evocative, recorded only with piano and guitar, yet as author Sam Charters has noted, he was 'a city man' whose singing was never as rough or intense as the country bluesmen's; and as reissue producer Francis Smith put it, 'he, perhaps more than any other single artist, was responsible for transforming the rural blues patterns of the 1920s into the more city-oriented blues of the 1930s.' He died in Indianapolis on April 29, 1935 -- Jim O'Neal

1981 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Tampa Red

Few figures in blues history have been as important as Tampa Red, 'The Guitar Wizard.' From his recording debut in 1928 until his retirement in the 1950s, record companies released more 78rpm records by Tampa than by any other blues artist. Most of those records featured Tampa's own compositions (under his legal name, Hudson Whittaker), including songs that would gain renewed popularity time and again when re-recorded by artists such as B.B. King, Elmore James, Little Walter, Fats Domino, Albert King, Junior Wells, Freddy King, Clarence Carter, and the slide guitarist most influenced by Tampa's style, Robert Nighthawk. Tampa waxed the first versions of such classics as 'It Hurts Me Too,' 'Crying Won't Help You,” “Don't Lie to Me,” “Love Her With a Feeling,” “You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone,” “Let Me Play With Your Poodle,” and “She Want to Sell My Monkey.” His influential 1934 version of “Black Angel Blues,” originally recorded by Lucille Bogan, predated Robert Nighthawk's version by 15 years and B.B. King's rendition, “Sweet Little Angel,” by 22. Tampa's “Anna Lou Blues” became “Annie Lee” when recorded by Nighthawk and “Anna Lee” when Elmore James tackled it. Slide guitarists again came into prominence, but none could ever match the mellow beauty of Tampa's bottleneck sound. (On Tampa's early records he said he used the actual neck of a whiskey bottle he had fashioned to fit his finger. Later, when he played an amplified Gibson, he owned a metal slide as well as a solid steel bar.) Tampa Red was born as Hudson Woodbridge in Smithville, Georgia. The year has been cited as 1900, 1903, 1904, or 1908; the headstone on his grave lists Jan. 8, 1904, the date used in his state medical records. His parents died when he was young and he assumed the surname Whittaker after he went to live with his grandmother's family in Tampa, Florida. In the 1920s Tampa took a train to Chicago to make his name in music. In Chicago, Tampa began playing the streets and parties. He teamed with pianist Georgia Tom in 1928 to cut “It's Tight Like That,” one of the biggest “race” hits of the era, for J. Mayo Williams with Vocalion Records. Dorsey went on to become the dean of black gospel music. Tampa, meanwhile, continued to record all types of blues - hokum songs, party blues filled with double entendres, uptempo dance numbers, slow expressive blues, and guitar solos. He added a band, the Chicago Five, for many pop-styled Bluebird sessions. Influenced by the great Lonnie Johnson in his smooth, measured, and precise approach, Tampa was as capable of bringing playful joy, jive, and clever humor to his blues as he was deep pain and sorrow. Much of Chicago's before- and after-hours blues activity in the '30s and '40s centered around Tampa's house, where musicians gathered to room, rehearse and party. Tampa's popularity waned in the '50s as his health declined while the harsher electric blues from Memphis and the Mississippi Delta overtook the Chicago scene. He lived his last 20 years quietly with a friend at a South Side apartment, and, at the end, in a nursing home. He died on March 19, 1981. -- Jim O'Neal

Professor Longhair

No performer embodied the spirit of New Orleans more than Henry Roeland Byrd, better known as Professor Longhair. His lasting influence on the Crescent City scene belies the fact that he often struggled to make a living from music and had only one hit on the Billboard charts ('Bald Head,' 1949). His other works, especially 'Tipitina,' 'Go to the Mardi Gras,' and 'Big Chief,' however, rank as perennial favorites. Byrd, whose music seamlessly assimilated blues, boogie woogie, rumba, and the sounds of New Orleans' second line and Mardi Gras Indian rhythms, was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, on Dec. 19, 1918. He danced on the street in New Orleans for tips as a youngster and learned piano, guitar, and drums, but his professional musical career did not take off until after World War II. For a time he was a popular act in local clubs and recorded for several national labels, but he turned to one of his other skills -- card-playing -- to support himself. Finally a new generation of fans and musicians -- joined by others who remembered his glory days -- anointed him as the guru of New Orleans piano in the 1970s, and he was able to perform and record again to international acclaim. The New Orleans landmark nightclub Tipitina's was named for the song that became his signature tune. Longhair died on January 30, 1980, a day before the release of his Alligator album 'Crawfish Fiesta.' -- Jim O'Neal

Roy Brown

One of the premier shouters of the jump blues era, Brown has been called 'the first singer of soul' (in John Broven's Walking to New Orleans), 'one of the great blues lyricists of all time' (in Jeff Hannusch's I Hear You Knockin'), and the artist responsible for the breakthrough of New Orleans rhythm & blues. An acknowledged and obvious influence on Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Junior Parker, Little Milton, James Brown, Little Richard, and Jackie Wilson in the blues and R&B fields, Brown also had followers on the rock 'n' roll side by the names of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. He was a trendsetter both in his use of fervent gospel-styled singing in black secular music and in the infectious rhythms that helped pave the way for rock 'n' roll in songs such as 'Good Rockin' Tonight'  (written and recorded by Brown but a bigger hit for Wynonie Harris) and 'Rockin' at Midnight'.  Though never again as commercially successful as he was in 1948-51, when he had 15 records on the charts, Brown continued to perform and record now and again in later years, still boasting the magnificent voice that enthralled and inspired listeners when he was 'the mighty, mighty man' of rhythm & blues. Despite his accomplishments as a rock pioneer, he was somehow largely bypassed during the 1950s rock 'n' roll boom when his followers were headlining shows around the country. Brown died in Lake View Terrace, California, near San Fernando, on May 25, 1981. A New Orleans native who also lived in Eunice, Louisiana, and Houston before he moved to Los Angeles, Brown was born on Sept. 10, 1920, according to official documents revealed after his death. (His bios usually cited a 1925 birth date.) - Jim O'Neal (Revised from O'Neal's entry in the first edition of The All Music Guide.)

Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland

Asked to name the greatest blues singer of all time, many blues artists have chosen and will continue to choose Bobby “Blue” Bland - as have untold numbers of listeners throughout his incredible career. Bland's uncanny ability to infuse suave, sophisticated vocals with raw emotional depth as well as a highly romantic appeal is all the more remarkable considering his lack of formal education. Born in rural Rosemark, Tennessee, near Memphis, on Jan. 27, 1930, Bland sang gospel as a youngster and came up hearing blues, field hollers, and country music; the smooth pop stylings of Tony Bennett and Perry Como were also strong influences. In Memphis, where he started singing on amateur shows at the Palace Theater, Bland became friends with B.B. King, Rosco Gordon, and Junior Parker, and to get into the scene he joined them as a chauffeur or valet. His own talent was soon recognized by Sam Phillips, who recorded Bland's first sides in 1951, and Bland began a decades-long association with Duke Records in 1952. He and Duke labelmate Parker toured together for years in a “Blues Consolidated” package. Bland began piling up hits including “Farther Up the Road,” “I'll Take Care of You,” “I Pity the Fool,” and “Turn On Your Lovelight,” some of them tender love songs, others dripping with blues feeling, and still others enlivened by the sanctified rhythms of the church. A star in soul music as well as blues, Bland kept himself surrounded by top-notch band musicians, producers, and songwriters as he continued to sweep audiences off their feet and add to an amazing legacy of records for Duke, ABC, and Malaco. As a vocalist who didn't play an instrument onstage, Bland never crossed over to guitar-crazed white audiences as much as B.B. and other bluesmen did, but he attained a royal place of honor in the blues pantheon and has continued to enthrall his faithful legions over the decades. -- Jim O'Neal

Blind Willie McTell

Blind Willie McTell was a master bluesman whose recorded legacy has earned him an exalted ranking among the greatest of all time in his field but, as was the case with any number of others, he enjoyed minimal rewards for his talent during his lifetime and did not live to reap the benefits of any blues revival. Known for his musical knowledge, expertise, and versatility as a guitarist and singer, McTell excelled on 12-string guitar and as a street singer learned to play songs that would please any audience, black or white. He was able to record prolifically, both for major record labels and the Library of Congress, among others, and made classics such as 'Statesboro Blues', 'Dying Crapshooter's Blues' and 'Broke Down Engine Blues'  but none were widespread hits and his fame was concentrated in his native Georgia. One of the rare instances of national press coverage of his records occurred only because a Down Beat writer objected -- several years after their release -- to the lewdness of the 1932 McTell-Ruby Glaze sides 'Rollin' Mama Blues' and 'Mama, Let Me Scoop For You'. Still, McTell -- whose family name was actually McTear or McTier -- was able to support himself for most of his life as a traveling musician; he gave up the blues for gospel music at the end. His birth date has been given as May 5, 1901, and 1903. He died at Milledgeville State Hospital on Aug. 19, 1959. -- Jim O'Neal

1980 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees


Big Bill Broonzy

Big Bill Broonzy was the royal ambassador of the blues in his day, setting a precedent for the expansive pathways later charted by B.B. King. Broonzy was one of the most prolific recording artists of the 1930s and ‘40s, a well-known figure among African-American audiences before he crossed over to the white folk audience in the 1950s. He was the first blues guitarist to play at Carnegie Hall in the legendary Spirituals to Swing concert in 1938 – chosen to replace Robert Johnson, who had died a few months before the show. In the 1950s, Broonzy took his blues to Europe and gave many audiences there their first chance to see an authentic American bluesman. A songwriter and session musician of note, he was also a master storyteller and author of Big Bill Blues>, the first book written by a blues singer. Although he became known in the ‘50s for the folk-blues style he had adapted for his new audiences, he was a formidable guitar picker in his younger days and an artist whose vocals, lyrics, and arrangements kept his music viable in the commercial jukebox blues market until a new postwar generation took over the blues. And Broonzy was acknowleged for his help in bringing the newcomers along; one of the most famous photos of Broonzy shows him shaking hands with a young admirer named Muddy Waters in Chicago. Despite his acknowledged stature in the blues world, Broonzy said that, until his last few years, he never a livin made a living from his music alone and always held one day job or another. While Big Bill’s musical accomplishments cannot be questioned, the published details of his biography need revision. Bill always claimed that he was born in Scott, Mississippi, on June 26, 1893. But Broonzy historian Robert Riesman talked to family members in Arkansas and researched piles of documents, and from his work it appears that Bill was in Lake Dick, Arkansas, in 1903, never lived in Mississippi, and chose the surname Broonzy over the name he was born with, Lee Conley Bradley. The reasons are up for speculation, but at any rate Broonzy did a fine job in his stories and songs of connecting the blues with Mississippi and with the African-American experience, and in fact is honored with a historical marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail in Scott. Big Bill died in Chicago on Aug. 15, 1958. --Jim O’Neal

Muddy Waters

When the Blues Hall of Fame conducted balloting for the first group of inductees in 1980, Muddy Waters received more votes than any other artist. The kingpin of Chicago blues during its glory days, Muddy later emerged as godfather to generations of blues and rock musicians around the world who believed in the credo Muddy sang: “The blues had a baby and they named the baby rock 'n' roll.” Muddy - whose real name was McKinley Morganfield, named after the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley -- was born on a plantation near Rolling Fork, Mississippi, on April 4, 1913, or 1914, according to census documents and Social Security application (1915 is the date given in most biographies). He was raised on the Stovall plantation near Clarksdale, where he developed into one of the Delta's leading bluesmen, brandishing a powerful style influenced by his idol, Son House, as well as by Robert Johnson. He first recorded in 1941 at his house on Stovall for the Library of Congress. Decades later the house became a tourist shrine, and now rests inside the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. Muddy left his job as Stovall's top tractor driver when he moved to Chicago in 1943. There he began a long-lasting association with Aristocrat and Chess Records in 1947. He gathered top-notch band members such as Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, and Otis Spann, and ruled the roost in Chicago during the 1950s and into the '60s when he began to tour regularly on the college, concert and festival circuits for newfound young white audiences. The Rolling Stones, Johnny Winter, and many others not only adapted Muddy's music to rock 'n' roll, but also recorded and performed with the master. Muddy Waters died in his sleep on April 30, 1983, content in the knowledge of his accomplishments, influence, and lasting legacy. -- Jim O'Neal

Willie Dixon

Widely regarded as the premier blues composer of the post-World War II era, Willie Dixon (born July 1, 1915, in Vicksburg, Mississippi) was also probably the single most influential figure in shaping the Chicago blues sound of the Chess Records heyday in his roles as writer, arranger, producer, and bassist. The recordings of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor, Otis Rush and innumerable others bore the Dixon stamp. He frankly admitted that such artists could perform his songs better than he himself could; hence he did little recording on his own (apart from some early work with blues harmony groups like the Big Three Trio) until fairly late in the game. His growing renown for songs like Little Red Rooster, Seventh Son and Hoochie Coochie Man enabled him to start touring and recording with his Chicago Blues All Stars from the late '60s through the '80s. Much of his important later writing was in a socially conscious vein, dedicated to world peace and to improving the human condition. Dixon founded the Blues Heaven Foundation to secure the blues its rightful respect, protection and recognition and to educate present and future generations about what he liked to call 'the facts of life' -- the blues. Dixon, who decided to leave the cold Chicago climate behind, spent his final years in sunny southern California, where he passed away on Jan. 29, 1992, in Burbank. Blues singers and admirers paraded in a New Orleans-style procession at Dixon's funeral in Chicago, where Louis Farrakhan spoke of “the wound that is the blues” in an oratory Dixon no doubt would have loved. -- Jim O'Neal

Little Walter (Jacobs)

Marion Walter Jacobs revolutionized the way blues harmonica was played with his swooping, amplified attack in the early 1950s. He remains the model to which multitudes of blues harpists aspire; questions continue to circulate about the harmonicas, microphones, and amplifiers he used to achieve his sound. But when asked want kind of amp Walter used, one fellow musician retorted simply, “Whatever he could borrow.” For Walter, the question was not about equipment; it was about feeling and technique. Little Walter was born on May 1, 1930 (by most accounts, although his biographers now believe it may have been 1928 or 1929), in Marksville, Louisiana, of mixed black, white and American Indian creole ancestry. Walter grew up playing accordion-like music of the region on his harmonica and picking up what he could from harmonica players he heard on the radio (mostly white country players at that time). He began to hone his blues style after hearing the two Sonny Boy Williamsons, Big Walter Horton, and others, rambling around Louisiana for a few years before establishing himself on the bustling blues scene in Helena, Arkansas. After his second trip to Chicago, Walter decided to stay, and hooked up with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Baby Face Leroy Foster, Louis and Dave Myers, Floyd Jones, and others who were formulating the classic Chicago blues sounds. Like many blues harp men of the era, he played much in the mold of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson at first, but as he experimented with amplification and began to incorporate jazz phrasing into his work (influenced especially by saxophonists), he emerged as the most innovative and influential musician ever to play harmonica. After a few early sessions in Chicago beginning with some for the Maxwell Radio Shop's Ora Nelle label, Walter recorded as a member of Muddy Waters' band for Chess in 1950, and in 1952 Chess gave Walter a chance to cut some sides of his own with the band. The first tune of the session was the jumping instrumental Juke, which soared to No. 1 on the rhythm & blues charts and inspired Walter to leave Muddy to go on tour as a featured act. He hired the Aces (Louis and Dave Myers and Fred Below), who had been playing with Junior Wells, as his band, and Wells took Walter's place in Muddy's group. Walter ended up with more hit records than Muddy or any of Chess' other blues icons of the era, including the instrumentals Off the Wall, Sad Hours, and Roller Coaster and others spotlighting his vocals, such as My Babe, Blues With a Feeling, Mean Old World, and Last Night, all on Chess' subsidiary label, Checker, but his star had faded by the 1960s. A wild streak and a rough life on the streets took their tolls, and when Walter finally made it to Europe in 1964, he was but a shadow of his younger self, and back in Chicago he was relegated to low-paying gigs. On the night on February 14, 1968, according to drummer Sam Lay, Walter called to tell him he'd been hurt in a fight with his girlfriend's brother, who was angry that Walter had pawned her watch. He died the next day. The official cause of death was listed as coronary thrombosis. -- Jim O'Neal

B.B. King

Riley B. King became the most popular blues artist among African American audiences early in his recording career, in the 1950s; during the late '60s and '70s, he widened his appeal to become not only the most recognized bluesman in the whole country, but in the whole world. It was not merely his enormous talent that made him King of the Blues, it was his unending drive for self-improvement, his professional demeanor, and his ability to serve as the worldwide ambassador for the blues. B.B. has taken the blues places it had never been before, and it's hard to imagine anyone ever filling the gigantic role he has played the blues. King was born on a plantation in Berclair, Mississippi, near the two towns which both claim him as a native son, Itta Bena and Indianola, on Sept. 16, 1925. He learned to fend for himself early in life when his father left and his mother died, but after winding up at his grandmother's, he got a taste of blues from her record collection. He began playing spirituals but found that when he performed on the streets of Indianola, passers-by would reward him with thanks for playing religious songs -- but with money for playing the blues. He pursued his blues career in Memphis, winning talent shows and earning a spot on WDIA spinning blues records and advertising a tonic called Pep-ti-kon. King made his first records for the Nashville-based Bullet label but scored his big breakthrough with the 1951 RPM Records release 3 O'Clock Blues, one of four King singles to hit No. 1 on the R&B charts (the others were You Know I Love You,1952; Please Love Me, 1953; and You Upset Me Baby, 1954). King's records also began to show up on the pop charts in the 1960s and peaked with the crossover hit The Thrill Is Gone in 1970. His performing style, and his guitar playing in particular, influenced just about every bluesman who followed, as well as rock, R&B, and jazz performers. B.B. King soon became a household name, a guest on talk shows, TV specials, and political events, constantly touring the globe while trying to learn the languages wherever he went, spreading the word about the blues. He enjoyed flying his own plane until doctors recently told him that, now in his 80s, he couldn't go solo -- at which point he announced he would give up piloting since it was no fun if he couldn't do it by himself. B.B. never forgot his roots, and began taking time off his regular schedule every June to return to Indianola to play a local festival and give performances in other parts of the state as part of the annual Medgar Evers Homecoming celebration, held in memory of the slain civil rights leader. Indianola's new B.B. King Museum promises to be a world-class establishment, only befitting of the most world-class of all blues musicians. -- Jim O'Neal

Charley Patton

While Robert Johnson may be the artist most associated today with the title “King of the Delta Blues,” if such a title had been bestowed back when the music was first being recorded, the premier royal figure would by nearly all historical accounts been Charley Patton. While Johnson's music set the pattern for many followers who rose to international fame in the blues and rock worlds, he did not loom as large a figure in his lifetime as Patton did in his -- in terms of artistry and entertainment, if not in a literal sense (Patton was reportedly only about five and a half feet tall, belying his heavy-voiced growl). Patton helped define not only the musical genre but also the image and lifestyle of the rambling Mississippi bluesman. Born on the Sam Herring plantation near Edwards, Mississippi, sometime between 1885 and April 1891, according to various documents (the subject of considerable debate among scholars, since Patton's age is a significant issue in discussions of the chronology and development of Delta blues) Patton was of mixed black, white and native American ancestry. In the early 1900s his family moved to the Will Dockery plantation. Patton's travels took him to Louisiana, Memphis, Chicago, and elsewhere, but he spent most of his time moving from plantation to plantation in the Delta, entertaining fieldhands at jukehouse dances and country stores, acquiring numerous wives and girlfriends along the way. His most popular and influential record was his first release on Paramount, which paired “Pony Blues” with “Banty Rooster Blues.” Other Patton songs were noteworthy for their references to specific people, places, and topical events in the Delta. “High Water Everywhere,” a dramatic two-part account of the death, disaster and despair wrought by flooding of the Mississippi River, is often regarded as his masterpiece. His songs offered social commentary, delved into conflicting and complex personal emotions, and provided propulsive music for dancing, all performed with instrumental virtuosity and sometimes finding Patton employing multiple spoken voices to create his own cast of characters. Guitarist John Fahey, who wrote the first book on Patton, called him the “Pilgrim of the Ominous” and “a pioneer in the externalization through music of strange, weird, even ghastly emotional states.” Patton died in or near Indianola, Mississippi, on April 28, 1934. -- Jim O'Neal

Jimmy Reed

Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed was one the first bluesmen to achieve “crossover” success, scoring hits on both the rhythm & blues and pop charts with “Honest I Do,” “Big Boss Man,” “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” and others. Few blues artists have ever developed the widespread appeal with both black and white audiences that Jimmy Reed had. Reed toured the country as a headliner on rock 'n' roll shows and was a favorite act on Southern college campuses during an era when African Americans could not even attend most of the schools where he played. Reed's easygoing vocal delivery and basic blues beat were ready-made for singing along and dancing, and most of his songs dealt with the everyday joys and problems of love and romance. Legions of listeners were inspired to take up the guitar or harmonica because Reed made the music sound so effortless. Reed was born on the Shady Dell plantation in Dunleith, Mississippi, on Sept. 6, 1925. He began playing with his longtime partner, guitarist Eddie Taylor, in the Delta and resumed in Chicago in the 1940s. The unique Reed-Taylor sound became one of the predominant styles in blues after Reed began recording for Vee-Jay Records in 1953, and his songs have been recorded hundreds of times by blues, R&B, rock, and country singers. Reed's career might have reached even greater heights had he not had to deal with epilepsy and alcoholism. He died on tour in Oakland, California, on August 29, 1976. His children, some of whom had sung or played blues with him, embraced gospel music and formed the Seeds of Reed Ministry and a publishing company, Seeds of Reed Music. Jim O'Neal

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith, 'The Empress of the Blues',  is regarded by many as the greatest female blues vocalist ever. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 15, 1894, Bessie Smith was a protege of Ma Rainey who surpassed her mentor to become the No. 1 blues act of the 1920s. Her life and death were the stuff of legend, frequently memorialized in books and stage productions. Her music has been constantly revived over the years by leading jazz and blues vocalists. Among her most recognizable classics were 'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do', 'The St. Louis Blues', 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out', 'Careless Love Blues' and 'Empty Bed Blues'.  Altogether she recorded more than 200 sides from 1923 to 1933, many of them featuring her powerful, dramatic singing backed only by piano (Clarence Williams, Fletcher Henderson, James P. Johnson, et al.), others adding horns (Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, and Don Redman, to name just a few). When the vaudeville blues styles of the '20s went into decline in the Depression years, Smith persevered, and though she did not record again after 1933, she was still hitting the road on a Southern tour with the Broadway Rastus show when she suffered fatal injuries in auto accident on Highway 61 on Sept. 26, 1937. Stories that she died after being refused admittance to the white hospital in Clarksdale made good copy for sensationalist articles and dramatic scripts, but no evidence was ever produced to verify such a story; local reports indicate that she was taken (as were all African Americans who needed hospital care when facilities were segregated) to the G.T. Thomas Afro American Hospital (now operating as the Riverside Inn), where she passed away. Tourists at the Riverside can now even rent 'the Bessie Smith room' for a night. The Bessie Smith Performance Hall at the Chattanooga African American Museum is named in her honor. -- Jim O'Neal

Otis Spann

Otis Spann, the first piano player inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, did more than anyone to define the pianist's role in postwar Chicago blues. His rock-solid support of Muddy Waters throughout the '50s and '60s was superb, and during his last decade Spann was able to record an impressive number of his own albums, which showcased the depth of his blues even more convincingly. Many of Spann's recordings were made with various configurations of the Muddy Waters band, but among his most memorable sessions were those pairing him with only a guitarist or a drummer. Spann's rumbling piano and ruminant vocals were sometimes reminiscent of the previous Chicago blues piano king, Big Maceo Merriweather. Ironically, Spann's only minor hit single, “Hungry Country Girl,” recorded with the Fleetwood Mac band, was not released until after his death from cancer on April 24, 1970. His age was officially listed as 40, based on a March 21, 1930 birthdate that appears in various documents, but many who knew Spann thought him to be considerably older. (Bio adapted from an entry in the All Music Guide.) -- Jim O'Neal

T-Bone Walker

Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker is widely acknowledged as the father of electric blues guitar, the first bluesman of note to not only amplify his guitar but to elevate its role as a solo instrument within a band context. His sophisticated single-string solos and distinctive chording influenced nearly every modern blues guitarist who followed, including all the Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie), Little Milton, Gatemouth Brown and a host of Texas and West Coast pickers, and even distortion pioneers Pat Hare and Willie Johnson. In his day Walker was also hailed for his singing, dancing, and showmanship, which included acrobatics such as playing the guitar behind his head and doing the splits. Born May 28, 1910, in Linden, Texas, Walker began performing in Dallas and toured as both a musician and dancer with various bands and revues. His recording career took off after he moved to California, where he cut “I Got a Break Baby” and “Mean Old World” for the brand new Capitol label in 1942. After a historic stint at the Rhumboogie club in Chicago during World War II, Walker emerged as one of the top stars on the national “race” charts with a series of hits for the Los Angeles-based Black & White and Comet labels, most notably the original version of “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad),” which became a staple in the repertoires of countless blues, R&B, jazz and rock bands. Walker continued to record top-notch material and many of his subsequent songs were picked up by other blues guitarists, but none of his records, even his fine sides for Imperial, ever hit the charts after 1950. Health problems hampered his career although he was still giving masterful performances in the 1970s. Walker died in Los Angeles on March 16, 1975. -- Jim O'Neal

Sonny Boy Williamson (No. 1) (John Lee Williamson)

John Lee Curtis Williamson, known to bluesologists as 'the first Sonny Boy' or 'Sonny Boy No. 1' because he preceded another famed bluesman ('Rice' Miller) who also used the SBW moniker, can rightly be considered the forefather of the postwar Chicago blues style. It was he who brought the harmonica to prominence in the blues and he who pioneered the harmonica-led small combo format that defined the Chicago idiom in its 1940s development. But those elements came together earlier in St. Louis, where Williamson was based when his recording career began in 1937. St. Louis is where the critical processes of urbanization and ensemble development often took place for bluesmen up from Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, and it has been said that the blueprint for postwar Chicago blues was drawn up in St. Louis by Sonny Boy and his contemporaries. The roots of Williamson's music came from the fertile blues scene of Jackson, Tennessee, where he was born on March 30, 1914. Williamson was nicknamed Sonny Boy by his grandmother; after he established his name as a recording star, he learned that another blues harmonica maestro was also calling himself Sonny Boy Williamson or Williams on KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas, in the 1940s. By some reports, Sonny Boy No. 1 went to Helena to resolve the legalities; at any rate, Sonny Boy No. 2 was soon free to use the name because John Lee Williamson was murdered on the streets of Chicago on June 1, 1948. Recalled as a fun-loving, popular, but sometimes hot-headed character, Williamson contributed a wealth of memorable works to the discography of the blues, including “Good Morning (Little) School Girl,” “Blue Bird Blues,” and “Hoodoo Hoodoo” (the “Hoodoo Man Blues” of Junior Wells fame). His vocals and harp playing were widely imitated and many of his songs survived in the repertoires of artists like Wells, Snooky Pryor, Billy Boy Arnold, and Little Walter. -- Jim O'Neal

Sonny Boy Williamson (No. 2) (Rice Miller)

Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 was one of the premier harmonica players in blues history and one of the most remarkable and poetic blues composers. Born on a Glendora, Mississippi, plantation under the name Alex (also sometimes cited as Aleck) Miller, he was widely known as Rice Miller or Sonny Boy No. 2 -- in deference to John Lee Williamson, another legendary blues harmonica ace who had recorded earlier as Sonny Boy Williamson. A colorful character, sensitive singer and charismatic performer, he left an impressive musical legacy through his recordings of 'Eyesight to the Blind,'  'Help Me,' 'Your Funeral and My Trial,' 'Fattening Frogs for Snakes,' 'Nine Below Zero,'  'Mighty Long Time,' 'Unseeing Eye,' and many others made for Trumpet Records in Jackson (1951-1954) and the Chess/Checker company in Chicago (1957-1964). He was also the first star of blues radio broadcasting in the South, famed for his live performances on the influential King Biscuit Time radio show out of Helena, Arkansas, which began in 1941. Williamson's estimated birthdate of December 5, 1912, is based on census data and recollections of his sisters. The inscription on his gravestone reads 'Aleck Miller, Better Known as Willie 'Sonny Boy' Williamson, Born March 11, 1908.'  A trickster who was often in trouble with the law, he also confounded authorities and interviewers by using various other names and birthdates. (Willie Dixon recalled that Williamson's rationale was: 'It ain't none of their business. They don't even know me.') Williamson songs such as 'Don't Start Me Talkin'' and 'Keep It To Yourself' reflected his guarded, suspicious nature, which may well have been influenced by a harsh childhood environment in a locality once notorious for lynchings (including a spate in the years preceding Williamson's birth and again in 1955 when Emmett Till was murdered). During his career Williamson teamed with Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Joe Willie Wilkins, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy, and became somewhat of a celebrity in England in the 1960s, performing and recording with a young Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds, the Animals, and others. When Williamson returned to Helena, he told friends he had come home to die. He resumed broadcasting on King Biscuit Time but on May 25, 1965, he failed to show up for the show and was found dead in his room. Helena now celebrates his legacy through the activities of the Sonny Boy Blues Society and the King Biscuit Blues Festival. (Adapted from Mississippi Blues Trail marker text by Jim O'Neal.) -- Jim O'Neal

Lightnin’ Hopkins

A true giant in blues history, Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins cut an imposing figure on the Texas blues scene and set standards across the country for postwar down-home blues. His work not only influenced countless country bluesmen but also many of the younger urban blues stylists who considered him the epitome of “cool.” Born in Centerville, Texas, on March 15, 1912, according to most bios (or 1911 according to other data), Hopkins began his recording career in the company of pianist “Thunder” Smith in 1946 for Aladdin Records. Some of his subsequent records for Modern, Gold Star, Aladdin and Sittin' In With hit the Billboard R&B charts from 1949 to 1952. He recorded electric country blues and boogies for the black R&B market as well as acoustic guitar albums for the folk market; throughout a lengthy and prolific recording career he was a consistent, engaging, and immediately identifiable artist who made dozens of outstanding records. Whether traditional or topical, acoustic or electric, whether recording solo or with a small combo, Hopkins was a natural: a master musician, singer and blues poet/storyteller. His songs might hark back to Blind Lemon Jefferson or they might deal with the latest breaking news. According to producers who recorded him in the 1960s and afterwards, Hopkins had his own rules for recording sessions: he insisted on being paid in cash for each song, one song at a time, and each song would only be performed once. As famous and successful as he was in music, Hopkins, who was usually seen wearing dark shades, considered gambling to be his true profession, and no doubt he was as slick an operator with the cards as he was with his guitar. Hopkins died in Houston on Jan. 30, 1982. Jim O'Neal (Revised from O'Neal's entry in the first edition of The All Music Guide.)

Son House

If ever a performer embodied the emotional depth of the blues, it was Eddie James “Son” House. A preacher at times, a barrelhousing bluesman at others, House was forever, and fiercely, torn between the sacred teachings of the church and the secular lure of the blues life. House, a major influence on both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, was born near Lyon, Mississippi, probably on the Thomas F. Keating plantation, on March 21, 1902 (or 1894, according to the Social Security application he filed in 1943). Through his association with Delta blues legend Charley Patton, House made his first records for the Paramount label in 1930. Masterpieces though they were, record sales were at a low ebb, as the Depression had just struck, and only a handful of House's 78s are known to exist, according to collectors' journals. House and other Delta bluesmen, including Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, and Willie Brown, performed mostly at weekend parties, suppers, and dances held at sharecroppers' houses. He worked the fields or drove a tractor, though he preferred to sing or preach. When the spirit called, he would deliver sermons by invitation at various churches, only to resume his nightlife as a bluesman. In 1941 House recorded for a Fisk University-Library of Congress recording team led by Alan Lomax and John Work III at Clack Store near Lake Cormorant, Mississippi. Lomax, who returned to record House again in 1942, later wrote: “Of all my times with the blues, this was the best one.” House had long been retired from music in 1964 when blues aficionados Nick Perls, Phil Spiro and Dick Waterman drove to Mississippi to look for him, only to learn he had moved to Rochester, New York, in 1943. They made national news in Newsweek magazine when they located him there on Father's Day, and Waterman became House's manager and guided his comeback career. Of several albums House recorded in the '60s, the most notable was the 1965 Columbia LP, “Father of Folk Blues”. His concert performances were chilling in their passion and intensity, as he seemed to go into a trance-like state when he sang, striking guitar chords with heavy blows, rising from his chair only on occasional to sing a spirited a cappella gospel song. House performed little after the early '70s, and from 1976 until his death on October 19, 1988, he lived in Detroit. Jim O'Neal (Bio adapted from Mississippi Blues Trail marker text.)

Howlin’ Wolf

Howlin' Wolf cut one of the most awe-inspiring figures in blues history on several levels -- in his fearsome physical presence, his roaring howl, his onstage persona and offstage legend, and of course in the lasting legacy of his powerful songs and style. Though often characterized as rough and raw, Wolf had loving and vulnerable sides to his life and his music, some of that attributable to a harsh upbringing and rejection by his mother, who disapproved of his singing “the devil's music” until her dying day. Wolf was born Chester Arthur Burnett, possibly on June 10, 1910 (some documents place his birth a year earlier or later). His birthplace was probably somewhere between Aberdeen, Mississippi, the town he always claimed, and West Point, where a statue of Wolf has been placed claiming him as a native son of nearby White Station. Wolf left home for the Delta at 13 and found an inspiring role model in the rough-voiced, hard-living champion of the Delta blues, Charley Patton. After taking lessons from Patton at Will Dockery's plantation, Wolf began performing on his own as a guitarist, although he would eventually become better known for his harmonica playing. His growling vocals were offset by his signature falsetto moans, influenced by the yodels of Jimmie Rodgers. Wolf came to prominence in West Memphis, Arkansas, in the late 1940s and early '50s when he was leading what might be regarded as the first high-energy blues band, which featured the hot-handed and hot-headed guitarists Willie Johnson and Pat Hare (both known as pioneers of electric guitar distortion). He cut his first records in 1951 for the Chess and RPM labels in Memphis and West Memphis, some of them produced by Sam Phillips, who later borrowed a line from an old country gospel song to come up with the unforgettable quote: 'When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'' The connection with Chess Records led him to move to Chicago in 1954. His legend continued to grow as he recorded and performed in the company of his protégé Hubert Sumlin, producer Willie Dixon, guitarist Jody Williams, and others. His legendary live performances led many blues singers to incorporate elements of Wolf's singing or stage antics into their own acts, in fact spawning a number of singers who performed under names such as Little Wolf or Howlin' Wolf Jr. He continued to travel back to Mississippi, Alabama, and Memphis to perform, and in many areas of the South his music exerted a more lasting influence than did that of his main rival, Muddy Waters. Wolf's music was also a cornerstone for the white rock bands in America and England who adapted the blues in the 1960s and '70s. Considering his enormous influence and the number of times his songs have been covered by blues and rock bands, Wolf had surprisingly few records -- only five in the U.S. -- that ever made the Billboard R&B charts: his two-sided debut single 'How Many More Years'/'Moanin' at Midnight,' 'Who Will Be Next,' Smokestack Lightning,' I Asked for Water,' and 'Evil.' None made the pop charts in the U.S., although 'Smokestack Lightning,' first released in 1956, hit the British charts in 1964. Though he appeared on the television show Shindig with the Rolling Stones, who idolized him, and had opportunities for more high-profile exposure in the rock 'n' roll world, he often chose to stay close to his roots and perform at small neighborhood blues taverns in Chicago in his later years. Wolf died at the Hines V.A. Hospital in Hines, Illinois, on Jan. 10, 1976. His biography, Moanin' at Midnight by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, was published in 2004. His legacy is celebrated in West Point, Mississippi, at the annual Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival and at the Howlin' Wolf Museum. Jim O'Neal

Elmore (Elmo) James

One of the most immediately identifiable guitar riffs in the blues is the “Dust My Broom” run played by Elmore James and copied countless times by other slide guitarists over the years. Elmore didn't create the riff or the song, but he played it with such intensity and perfection that his renditions became the standards. The title “King of the Slide Guitar” was bestowed upon him when a headstone was finally placed on his grave in 1992, 29 years after his death. James excelled both in slide guitar boogies and wrenching slow blues, with the echoing slide wailing as mournfully as his keening voice (in its own way as unmistakable as his guitar sound). Elmore James was born January 27, 1918, in Richland, Mississippi. He reportedly admired Robert Johnson, Kokomo Arnold, and Robert Nighthawk, and by one account, he not only knew Johnson (who recorded “I Believe I'll Dust My Broom” in 1936) but played against him in a guitar battle (according to a witness who told the story to the manager of Elmore's estate, Pat LeBlanc). But it was to be another famous Delta bluesman -- harmonica wizard Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller) -- who would become James' most notable partner during the 1940s and early '50s, working the juke joint circuit and performing on live radio broadcasts, including “King Biscuit Time” in Helena, Arkansas, and other programs. Williamson was the first musician many listeners in the region ever heard use an amplifier, and James amplified his guitar as well, applying a knowledge of electronics he acquired while working in a radio repair shop in Canton. James appeared as a sideman on several of Sonny Boy's records for the Trumpet label in 1951 and made his own debut (as “Elmo James”) when he cut one historic hit -- “Dust My Broom” - on the same day he was accompanying Sonny Boy on eight tunes. Elmore subsequently recorded at various locations for the Bihari family's Flair, Meteor, and Modern labels. “I Believe,” a powerful reworking of “Dust My Broom” on Meteor, outdid the original on the R&B charts, and though Elmore continued to record without scoring another big hit during his lifetime except for “The Sky Is Crying,” which charted in 1960, he still came up with many a masterpiece, songs that have become far more well known today than they were when he was scuffling, in poor health, trying to make a living moving between Mississippi, Chicago, Atlanta, and other bases. Among the records which have since come to be regarded as classics were “Look On Yonder Wall,” “Shake Your Moneymaker,” “Anna Lee,” “Done Somebody Wrong,” “Rollin' and Tumblin',” “The Sun Is Shining,” “Hawaiian Boogie,” ”Hand In Hand,” “I Held My Baby Last Night,” “Standing at the Crossroads,” “The Twelve Year Old Boy,” “Cry For Me,” and an uptempo rocker that was only issued years after his death - “Madison Blues,” which has been performed by many modern-day blues and rock bands (perhaps most famously by the original version of Fleetwood Mac, whose Jeremy Spencer specialized in Elmore imitations). “It Hurts Me Too,” from Elmore's final New York session, would become his last single on the charts - but not until 1965, two years after his death. He had just returned to Chicago from Jackson to do a show for blues disc jockey Big Bill Hill when he suffered a fatal heart attack on May 24, 1963. Jim O'Neal

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blues recording began as primarily an uptown vaudeville form, sung by women who worked the theater circuit, accompanied by trained jazz musicians, and composed by professional songwriters. The first artist to take the blues back “down home” on a national scale was Blind Lemon Jefferson, the “King of Country Blues.” He was the first male blues recording star, and by far the most popular country bluesman of the 1920s in terms of record sales. In 1974 blues authority Pete Welding wrote: “There is scarcely a blues performer alive, major or minor, who has not acknowledged his debt to Lemon, remarking either on the striking character of his instrumental work, or on the high quality of his songs, many of which have become staples of the blues repertoire . . . Along with guitar virtuoso Lonnie Johnson, Lemon was probably the most widely influential blues artist of the 1920s. He undoubtedly paved the way for Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, Big Bill Broonzy, the urbane city blues of the 1930s, the so-called 'Bluebird Beat,' T-Bone Walker, and by extension, the modern electric blues of HIS emulators. He saturated, as well, the blues traditions of his native state, as is readily apparent in the work of Texas Alexander, Smokey Hogg, Lil' Son Jackson, Lightnin' Hopkins, and scores of others.” Among Jefferson's most recognizable songs are “Match Box Blues”, recorded not only by Carl Perkins and the Beatles but by Albert King; “Jack o' Diamonds Blues,” a favorite among Texas bluesmen; “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” a folk-blues standard; “Blind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues,” “That Black Snake Moan,” “Rabbit Foot Blues,” “One Dime Blues,” and “Bad Luck Blues.” His songs have been recorded by bluesmen from all parts of the country, from Detroit and Chicago to Mississippi to the Piedmont and East Coast to Texas, Oklahoma and California. Jefferson, a native of Couchman, Texas, was born on Sept. 24, 1893, according to the 1900 census, or Oct. 26, 1894, according to his registration for the World War I draft (required even though he was blind). By the time he was in his twenties, Lemon had moved to Dallas and had become successful enough, playing the streets, brothels, and other affairs, to buy himself a car, get married, and find himself a recording contract. He traveled far and wide, preceded by the fame of his records wherever he went. In Chicago, where he recorded most of his sides for Paramount, Lemon reportedly earned most of his income from playing house rent parties. On Dec. 19, 1929, less than two months after his final recording session, he died from causes that continue to be questioned. According to Welding, “Some accounts allege foul play, while others attribute his death to overexertion, heart failure, freezing to death in the bitter winter cold of Chicago, or some combination of these causes.” His body was shipped back to Texas for burial. Decades after his death a marker was finally placed on his grave, and today there are fans who visit the site and recall the words he sang: “See that my grave is kept clean.” -- Jim O'Neal

Robert Johnson

Once in a lifetime it seems that an artist from a musical genre outside the mainstream will transcend his particular style to become a popular icon in his own right. Delta bluesman Robert Johnson achieved such transcendent status -- but not in his lifetime. Johnson died on Aug. 16, 1938, reputedly poisoned at a juke joint near Greenwood, Mississippi, having enjoyed only one hit record (“Terraplane Blues”) during his brief recording career. But in the years following Columbia Records' LP reissues of his 1936-37 recordings, Johnson's stature began to grow, as did the mythology surrounding the obscure details of his life and death. As both blues and rock bands began resurrecting his songs, and as various critics, historians and screenwriters theorized, analyzed, researched and even fictionalized the history and mystery of Robert Johnson, the legend exploded. The most fantastic scenario (for the movie “Crossroads”) had him selling his soul to the devil at a lonely country crossroads in Mississippi. When Columbia repackaged Johnson's recordings as a boxed set in 1991, the public was so captivated by the spectre of the haunted blues poet that the set became the best-selling vintage blues reissue ever, not just in America but in Europe and Japan as well. College students who had never owned a blues record now had the Robert Johnson box on their shelves. Johnson's records sound startlingly original to listeners who have never heard much blues from the '30s, and his style and his songs have reappeared in the music of so many famous blues and rock performers that his music has been cited as the source point of rock 'n' roll. But musicologists have traced every piece of music he recorded back to earlier sources -- back primarily to the bluesmen who were the true stars of the 1930s: Leroy Carr, Kokomo Arnold, Peetie Wheatstraw, Lonnie Johnson, Johnnie Temple, Roosevelt Sykes, Blind Blake, and Charley Patton, among others. Yet Johnson did undeniably achieve something special and unique in the poetic, emotional quality of his original lyrics and guitar playing, and in the passion and intensity of his vocal performances. However, rather than citing him as the source from whom all blues has flowed ever since, a more realistic assessment would be to see Johnson as the gifted chemist who took all the blues he'd heard, added a volatile new trace element or two, funneled it all into his own mixture, and distilled it into a modernized form that was ready-made to be accessed, adapted, and amplified by a particular group of artists (including Muddy Waters and Elmore James) who followed and rose to greater fame, a process that extended to rock 'n' roll through the recordings of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and many more. The history of Johnson's life has been harder to document than that of his songs. Various birth places, birthdates, and death sites have been cited, and headstones have been placed in three different graveyards. But the most commonly accepted bio is that he was born on May 8, 1911 (or 1912 according to one census report and the age [26] listed on his death certificate) near Hazlehurst, Mississippi, and lived as a boy in Memphis and on the Abbay & Leatherman Plantation in Robinsonville, Mississippi. Johnson's early guitar playing did not impress veteran Son House, one of the key influences on Johnson's style, but at some later date when the two met, House was amazed that Johnson had become a spectacular guitarist. It was House's story, related to interviewer Pete Welding, that gave rise to some of the speculation about Johnson's involvement with the supernatural: “He must have sold his soul to the devil to get to play like that.” In the interim Johnson had actually spent some time back in Hazlehurst, where he had found a guitar mentor in Ike Zinnerman . Johnson began traveling, entertaining crowds wherever he went with a reputation for being able to play any song after hearing it just once. Johnson made his classic recordings, including “Hell Hound on My Trail,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “I Believe I'll Dust My Broom,” “Love in Vain,” and “Cross Road Blues,” at sessions in Dallas and San Antonio. The fascination with Robert Johnson, the man, the music, and the myth, is nowhere so evident today as in the Mississippi Delta. Blues pilgrims from around the world continue to arrive in Clarksdale or Greenwood asking for directions to Johnson's grave or searching for “THE” crossroads. But some of Robert Johnson's secrets can never be unearthed. -- Jim O'Neal

Memphis Minnie

In the 1930s and '40s Memphis Minnie's singing, songwriting, spirited demeanor, and superlative guitar playing propelled her to the upper echelons of a blues field then dominated by male guitarists and pianists. On her own or with her first husband, Kansas Joe McCoy, or her last spouse, Little Son Joe, Minnie cut a colorful figure and left an impressive cache of blues recordings that would influence blues and rock performers for generations to come. Minnie's real name was Lizzie Douglas; she often claimed she was born on June 3, 1897, in Algiers, Louisiana, but in census records and on her Social Security application her birthplace was listed as Mississippi. She grew up in Tunica and DeSoto counties, where she began performing with guitarist Willie Brown and others. Known as “Kid” Douglas in her youth, she had become Memphis Minnie by the time she made her first record in 1929 with Joe McCoy. “Bumble Bee” was their big hit, and has been recorded by many other blues singers, although in later years their most recognized song would become “When the Levee Breaks,” now famous as a Led Zeppelin recording. The couple relocated from Memphis to Chicago, where Minnie later took on a new guitar-playing husband, Ernest Lawlars (or Lawlers), a.k.a. Little Son Joe. Minnie recorded prolifically throughout the 1930s and '40s, scoring hits such as “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” “Please Set a Date,” “In My Girlish Days,” and “Nothing in Rambling.” Her showmanship and instrumental prowess enabled her to defeat the top bluesmen of Chicago, including Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy, in blues contests. Minnie gained a reputation as a downhome diva who could handle herself, and her men, both on and off the stage. In 1958 Minnie returned to Memphis, where she died in a nursing home on August 6, 1973. (Adapted from Mississippi Blues Trail marker text.) -- Jim O'Neal

John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker rolled several successful blues careers into one lifetime and went out on top, the reigning “King of the Boogie” and earthy elder of rock 'n' roll. His “Boogie Chillen,” featuring only Hooker and his guitar, created a sensation in 1949 as the most low-down blues stomp ever to hit the No. 1 spot on the race/rhythm & blues charts. His continuing success with raw blues, including slow, ruminating numbers like “I'm in the Mood” (another No. 1, in 1951) inspired a spate of down-home blues recording as companies scrambled to find another bluesman who could match Hooker's feats. But in terms of chart success, none ever did - nor did any ever equal the deep, resonant quality of Hooker's voice or his ability to personalize any type of song into a moody, meditative blues. Later, recording with a band, Hooker enjoyed renewed popularity on the R&B circuit and crossed over to rock 'n' roll as well with hits such as “Boom Boom,” simultaneously adapting to the folk boom by playing alone and acoustic when the coffeehouses called. His (and producer Bernie Besman's) habit of recording prolifically and marketing songs to as many labels as possible, under pseudonyms if necessary, eventually resulted in a market overload, and Hooker's recording career hit a lull. He still enjoyed top-level blues stature as a live performer, though, and in 1989 and the '90s he hit new peaks of popularity through a series of collaborations with rock stars who were only too honored to record with their idol. Hooker savored the adulation and lived to a ripe old age - probably a more advanced age than any of his confusing biographies gave. He claimed Aug. 22, 1917, and 1920 as his birth dates at various times, but census data from Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, indicates he may have been born in 1912 or 1913. His rise to fame began in Detroit, his home for more than 20 years until he moved to California in the 1960s. During his final years “The Hook” extended his endless boogie invitation to the public by opening a nightclub, the Boom Boom Room, in San Francisco. On June 21, 2001, Hooker died in his sleep at his home in Los Altos, California. Jim O'Neal


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