Blues Hall of Fame - 019 - Ray Charles

November 17, 2017

Ray Charles, blind since the age of 7 and orphaned at 14, did blues, jazz, and gospel as well as anyone before or since.

And, by doing them all together at once, he pioneered what we soon came to recognize as Soul.

That’s right. Ray Charles is the father of that whole genre.

Furthermore, he took these forms of Black American music, mingled them just enough with contemporary pop sounds and had massive crossover success. Ray Charles was one of the very first African American artists to be granted full, creative control of his career by a major record label.

Ray Charles had a nickname. Some say it was given to him by Sinatra himself. However he got it, it stuck, and people referred to him as "The Genius."

Pretty appropriate, don’t you think?

This is his story.

 

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Blues Hall of Fame - 018 - Fats Domino

October 25, 2017

Fats Domino was born into a musical, French Creole family in the Lower 9th in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1928. His first language was Creole French.

His talents blossomed early. His musical gifts, along with with his laid back and easygoing demeanor, created a lot of demand - everybody wanted to work with Fats.

He had his first hit by the time he was 21, and he invented New Orleans-style rock n roll with it. That 1949 hit for Imperial Records - "The Fat Man" - sold over a million copies by 1953 and is considered the first rock n roll record to achieve that feat. A succession of hits soon followed: "Aint that a Shame", "Blueberry Hill", and "I’m Walkin’".

By the end of his career, Fats Domino had sold more records than any other 1950’s rocker except for Elvis Presley.

 

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Blues Hall of Fame - 017 - Don Robey

October 4, 2017

Gatemouth Brown once said of Don Robey, “He pulled off something in America that no one else ever pulled off. We had the only world-renowned black recording company.

That “recording company” included the legendary Peacock and Duke record labels, boasting stars like Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, Little Richard, and Big Mama Thornton. It also included chains of retail record stores, pressing plants, print shops, a booking agency, and a circuit of nightclubs. It was a giant musical eco-system all under Don Robey's ruthless thumb.

Don Robey launched the careers of countless stars and shaped the business side of rhythm and blues music for generations.

This is his story.

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Blues Hall of Fame - 016 - Rufus Thomas

September 22, 2017

We continue the series with the “world’s oldest teenager,” Rufus Thomas.

Rufus Thomas contained multitudes, as they say. His talents and the personality behind those talents knew no bounds.

Rufus’ professional career began at the age of six taking small roles in theatrical productions on Beale Street. As a teeneager he starred on the vaudeville and minstrel show circuits that criss-crossed the south. He was a singer, a dancer, a comedian, a radio DJ… and what’s truly incredible is that he excelled at all of those things.

From Beale Street to Sun Records to superstardom at Stax. Vaudeville, blues, rock n roll, soul. Even funk! Rufus did it all.

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Blues Hall of Fame - 015 - Sam Phillips

September 7, 2017

We continue our series with one of the most electrifying individuals in the history of popular music, maverick producer Sam Phillips.

Sam was an audio engineer, a talent scout, a producer, a studio owner, and a record label owner. He approached all of these endeavors with unbridled enthusiasm, an unparalleled sense of showmanship, and keen understanding of the levers of human psychology.

His "laboratory" (aka Memphis Recording Service) delivered groundbreaking efforts from B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker, James Cotton, and countless others. 

In fact, Sam Phillips' legacy was established long before Elvis walked through his front door.

This is his story.

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Blues Hall of Fame - 014 - John Lee Hooker

August 23, 2017

Is there a bluesman more iconic than John Lee Hooker?

His face, his eyes, his austere silhouette on stage, that deep southern drawl, that one-chord boogie... everything about the man was distinct and original.

Where did it all come from? Like many bluesmen of his generation, he grew up in the country and didn’t have much use for school. He much preferred skipping class and practicing guitar. Yet John Lee wrote some of the most original and most influential blues songs of all time: Boogie Chillun, Boom Boom, One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. And he crafted a completely unique sound along the way that continues to influence musicians to this day.

This is his story.

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Blues Hall of Fame - 013 - Roy Brown

August 9, 2017

Roy Brown may be best known for writing the iconic, genre-warping song "Good Rockin’ Tonight."

Brown had a hit with it, then it was re-recorded by his hero Wynonie Harris, who also had a hit with it. Just a few years after that, further cementing the songs rightful place in music history, Elvis Presley recorded the song for Sun Records.

But there was more to Brown than Good Rockin'. You know that powerful, quivering, pleading, shouting manner in which most of today’s great singers sing? We take it for granted these days but it wasn’t always like that.

That style of singing comes from the African American church. And when Roy Brown first brought that feel and phrasing to blues music, it was a social and cultural taboo.

That’s right,  all that good rockin and all that soulful shouting that took over popular music can be traced back to the blues of Roy Brown.

This is his story

 

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Blues Hall of Fame - 012 - Muddy Waters

July 28, 2017

We continue the series with the man who brought electricity to the blues, and the blues to the big city, Muddy Waters.

Born McKinley Morganfield in 1913 in Issaquenna, MS, he grew up on the Stovall Plantation just outside of Clarksdale. There, young Muddy fell under the influence and tutelage of the travelling bluesmen that came to perform there. Bluesmen like the great Son House and the king of the delta blues himself, Robert Johnson.

Muddy moved to Chicago in 1943, taking with him his acoustic guitar and repertoire of delta blues songs and riffs. Feeling ignored by the crowds in the busy Chicago clubs, he traded in his acoustic for an electric guitar and the rest was history.

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Blues Hall of Fame - 011 - Louis Jordan

July 12, 2017

No one had more fun than Louis Jordan. You can hear it in his music. As “King of the Jukebox”, his high energy, hip-shaking “jump blues” enjoyed the kind of crossover success people once considered unimaginable. In his heyday, Jordan had at least 4 hits that sold over a million copies.

Just a poor kid from the cotton fields of Brinkley, Arkansas, Jordan developed a highly efficient approach to music. He stripped the 15-piece jazz orchestra down to five essential instruments, and kept those five instruments busy. He laced swing with boogie-woogie, brought in the electric guitar (and later the electric organ), and at the end of the day, what do you think he ended up with?

That’s right…. Louis Jordan gave us rock n roll.

This is his story.

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Blues Hall of Fame - 010 - Skip James

June 21, 2017

It's hard to believe that Skip James almost drifted into obscurity.

Like most enshrined in the Blues Hall of Fame, he was an absolute original. A genuine musical innovator. 

These days Skip James is considered by many to be the greatest of the delta blues singers. His songwriting, vocal stylings, and otherworldy ability on the guitar and piano influenced everyone, including a young Robert Johnson.

But back in the 1930's, when he was cutting records for Paramount, he didn't look like he had much of a future ahead of him. The Great Depression wiped out his record label, so James gave it all up and went dormant for decades.

But re-discovered by music lovers in the 60's folk revival, James 2nd act proved more powerful than his first.

This is his story.

 

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