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Top 10 Times Rockstars Took On The Magic Of The Blues

Posted by Thomas Spillane on

It is well known that almost every style of modern music started somehow with the blues.

It’s virtually impossible to listen to any rock ’n’ roll music and not hear the smokey influence of the blues dripping from each aspect. Without blues there would be no rock ’n’ roll, so it’s only natural that many rock bands and musicians have paid their respects to the sublime genre. This is our list of top tracks where rockstars have taken on the blues and made something magical. Enjoy.

10. Hard To Handle - The Black Crowes

Kicking us off is The Black Crowes 1990 breakthrough single. A classic Otis Redding tune, the nineties blues-rockers manage to keep the playfulness of the original while beefing it up with big riffs and even bigger solos. The Black Crowes bring an urgency to this cover not found on the original.

9. Ball 'n' Chain - Big Brother & The Holding Company

Originally a smooth blues track by Big Mama Thornton, Big Brother & The Holding Company took “Ball ’N’ Chain” to a different level. Influenced by the sixties psychedelic scene they were swimming in, the band extended the track to nine-minutes with extended solos and jam breaks. Hugely influenced by Big Mama Thornton, vocalist Janis Joplin takes the famous raw energy of the blues songstress and shoots it into the sky with howls and cries.

8. Champagne & Reefer - The Rolling Stones w/ Buddy Guy

Not many rock bands are known for their undying respect for the blues more so than The Rolling Stones. With almost too many blues covers to choose from, this rendition of “Champagne & Reefer” with blues legend Buddy Guy pokes through. Originally a song by Muddy Waters, they play it with a flawless spontaneity and improvisation that the blues is really all about. A fitting tribute for one of the all time greats.

7. Back Door Man - The Doors

A classic blues staple, “Back Door Man” was written by Willie Dixon for Chess Records. Originally performed by Howlin’ Wolf, The Doors put their own psychedelic spin on the blues standard. Vocalist Jim Morrison’s signature raucous scream has been one of the only voices to compete with the howl of the wolf.

6. When The Levee Breaks - Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin made this track so much their own that many remain unaware that it isn’t originally theirs. Originally written and recorded by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, the 1929 blues track tells the story of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The scarcity of the musical arrangement is replaced by a crushing riff from Jimmy Page and a mammoth drum sound from John Bonham.

5. Meet Me In The City - The Black Keys

Always the blues aficionados, The Black Keys are one of the only modern day bands that keep the spirit alive and well. In 2006 the duo released an EP titled Chulahoma, made up of covers of one of their favourite blues artists, Junior Kimbrough. Not very well known during his lifetime, Junior Kimbrough has become a blues legend since his passing in 1998 with this cover from The Black Keys helping to spread his work.

4. I Put A Spell On You - Creedence Clearwater Revival

“I Put A Spell On You” is one of the most covered songs of our time, played in a multitude of different genres. Originally composed by Screaming Jay Hawkins in 1956, everybody from Nina Simone to Marilyn Manson have tried their hand at the tune. It is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rendition at Woodstock that epitomises the sixties hard rock take on the blues.

3. Death Letter - The White Stripes

“Death Letter” is the signature song of bluesman Son House. Not unlike the previous entry, it has been covered by a myriad of popular artists, ranging from the Grateful Dead to John Mellencamp and the Derek Trucks Band. It is Jack White’s electric take on the blues tune performed live at Blackpool that screams new life into it.

2. Ain't No Sunshine - John Mayer

Originally performed by Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of John Mayer’s favourite covers to play. Having performed many different takes at many different events, it is his 2010 performance of the song at the Crossroads Guitar Festival that takes the cake. Sporting a sublime soul and sticky little blues licks, this version has showed many what John Mayer is actually capable of with a guitar in his hands.

1. Catfish Blues - Jimi Hendrix

“Catfish Blues” is an ancient blues staple that dates back to the 1920s. The first popularised version of it is arguably “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters, released in 1950. Many have tried their hand at this legendary blues standard but barely any, have bested Jimi Hendrix. The guitarist had a knack for capturing the atmosphere of an entire blues club in his guitar playing alone, and his rendition of “Catfish Blues” is a prime example of this.

What did you think? Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments!

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